How to spend a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon: Discover the best things to see, do, eat and drink in Stratford in this two-day itinerary for Shakespeare’s hometown, with museums, theatres and boat trips.
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The Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon is world famous for its links with playwright William Shakespeare, who was born there in 1564. And you can easily fill a weekend visiting the sights where Shakespeare and his family lived, worked and died, as well as seeing his words come to life at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre.
But there’s lots more to this historic riverside town than just the Bard, with boat trips along the River Avon, historic pubs and churches, and even a tropical butterfly garden. So here’s my two-day Stratford itinerary to help you plan the perfect weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, with what to see along with some great places to eat, drink and stay.
How to spend a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon
Check into your accommodation then start your weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). This Art Deco riverside theatre was built in 1932 on the site of an older theatre dating from 1879. It was originally known as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre before being renamed the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961.
There are regular performances of classic plays by Shakespeare and other writers from his time, and they also commission works from modern playwrights. Big-name actors from across the world appear on stage here. And although some plays sell out, you can often pick up last-minute tickets – with prices from £10 if you don’t mind standing.
Whether you’re seeing a show or not, the RSC’s rooftop restaurant is a good spot for dinner, with views out across Stratford. On show days they do a pre-theatre menu with two or three courses for £29/£35. Otherwise Loxley’s Restaurant and Wine Bar on Sheep Street is a cosy dinner venue, serving dishes like honey-roast duck and spicy prawn linguine.
After breakfast, head back in time to Shakespeare’s Stratford. Start at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, where you need to pre-book a timed entry slot in advance. It’s one of a group of sites around Stratford linked to Shakepeare and his family which are run by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. And you can save money with a combined ticket.
The Shakespeare’s Story Ticket (£25 adults/£20 concessions/£15 children) is valid for 12 months and covers entry to the birthplace plus New Place and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, so it’s worth buying if you plan to visit at least two of them. (The Trust’s two other properties – Hall’s Croft and Mary Arden’s Farm – aren’t open to the public at present).
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is the 16th-century half-timbered house where it’s thought Shakespeare was born in 1564, and where he spent his childhood and the first five years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway. Before you get inside there’s a museum which takes you through a timeline of Shakespeare’s life with artefacts and furniture from the era.
Then you can take a look around the house, which is set up as it would’ve been at the time, including a replica of Shakespeare’s father’s glove-making workshop. It’s surrounded by gardens, with actors in period costumes who’ll recite a verse or two for you.
Next walk down Bridge Street towards the River Avon, past the RSC theatre. If you want to find out more about the theatre’s work, there’s a free exhibition called The Play’s the Thing on the first floor of the Swan Wing, with costumes and props from past performances. It’s also free to climb the 32-metre-tall RSC tower to check out the views from the top.
Walk across the Bancroft Gardens, which was originally the site of warehouses and wharves next to the Stratford to Birmingham canal. And if it’s a sunny day, stop for a scoop or two from the Ice Cream Barge. Then cross the Clopton Bridge and walk along the opposite bank of the river for great views back to the theatre, with boats and swans sailing by.
To get back across the river, take the vintage chain ferry, a local institution which has been making the two-minute journey back and forth ever since 1937. It was the last of its kind to be built in Britain and a one-way trip costs a bargain £1 per person.
Just next to the ferry stop is the Dirty Duck pub (or The Black Swan, to give it its proper name). It’s long been a haunt of actors appearing at the RSC theatre, and you can see signed photos and the odd bit of table graffiti in their Actors’ Bar. Today it’s run by Green King and does hearty pub grub lunch dishes like fish and chips and steak and ale pie.
After lunch, follow the River Avon south to Holy Trinity Church, the oldest building in Stratford. This church was where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried. It’s free to look around, but there’s a small charge (£4 adults/£1 children) to go into the chancel to see Shakespeare’s burial site, next to his wife Anne Hathaway and daughter Susanna.
Look out for the epitaph on the grave, which warns anyone who might want to dig up his bones that they’ll be cursed. You can also see a funerary monument on the wall of the chancel – a carved sculpture of Shakespeare holding a quill and paper.
From the church, head to Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall. Along the way you’ll pass Hall’s Croft, the Jacobean house where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived with her doctor husband John Hall (though it’s not currently open to the public).
Shakespeare’s Schoolroom is an interactive museum that takes you back to the 16th century. Downstairs is the Guildhall where local merchants would meet and worship – you can see fragments of 600-year-old medieval wall paintings in an old chapel which were only uncovered in 2016. And upstairs are the classrooms of King Edward VI School.
It’s thought Shakespeare would have studied Greek and Latin here, and maybe even written his first plays. ‘Master Thomas Jenkins’ takes you through a day in the life of a 1570s schoolboy, and you can have a go at a Latin lesson or writing with a quill.
Then finish your tour of Shakespeare’s Stratford at New Place, just along the road. This was the site of Shakespeare’s family home for 19 years and he died there in 1616. The house itself was demolished in 1759 but you can find out about it in a museum inside the house next door, and take a walk around the restored Great Garden and Knot Garden.
Before dinner, call into Cafe Cocktail for drinks, a cute bar with a creative cocktail menu mixing up classic recipes and their own concoctions. Then head back to Church Street for dinner at Salt. This Michelin-starred restaurant is the place to come for a special meal.
Their eight-course dinner tasting menu uses top-notch British produce like St Austell mussels and Hampshire deer, and you can also pair it with matching wines.
Start your Sunday at Yorks Café on the High Street with a freshly roasted coffee and pastry. Then head across the river to the Stratford Butterfly Farm. You’re guaranteed tropical weather year-round inside their greenhouses, which come complete with waterfalls, pools and rainforest plants, and are home to over 250 species of colourful butterflies.
Some of their butterflies come from conservation projects in Belize, and others are bred at the farm – you can see them at different stages of their life cycle in the caterpillar room. Other residents include snakes, reptiles, frogs and spiders in the Minibeast Metropolis.
Then take a relaxing boat cruise along the River Avon. Canal and River Tours run 40-minute tours which start from the canal basin near the RSC theatre. Tours run hourly from 11am and take you through a working lock and along the river past Holy Trinity Church.
Or Avon Boating run 30-minute trips between Clopton Bridge and Holy Trinity Church on board their wooden Edwardian boats (except in winter), departing from Bancroft Gardens. Both tours include a commentary with stories about Stratford and the River Avon. And you can often see local wildlife, with kingfishers and herons as well as the swans.
Next stroll down Sheep Street for Sunday lunch at Lambs restaurant. It’s located inside a character-filled Grade I listed building from the early 16th century, which has its original wooden beams and wonky ceilings. Make sure to book in advance though as it gets busy.
They do a tasty traditional roast, with rib of beef, loin of pork or lamb served with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and seasonal veg – plus a couple of veggie options.
After lunch, head to the village of Shottery, where you’ll find the last of the three Shakespeare Trust properties – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (check opening hours first as it closes in winter). Shottery is 1.3 miles west of Stratford, a 30-minute walk or short drive.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was the childhood home of Shakespeare’s wife. The Hathaways were a family of sheep farmers and this pretty, thatched cottage started as a simple farmhouse with three rooms in 1463. It was extended by Anne’s brother, who added an extension and a second floor. And the Hathaways’ descendants still livdd there until 1911.
You can take a tour around the house (though watch your head if you’re tall), with guides on hand to tell you about life in Anne’s day. And it’s surrounded by a lovely Tudor cottage garden, with an orchard and sculptures inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
Finally, finish your weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon back in the town centre. Call into Honey Blue, a popular café tucked away off Sheep Street that’s known for its fantastic hot chocolates. They’re rich and creamy, with a whole range of toppings including candyfloss and the ‘Burnt Hat’ which comes with a giant brûlée marshmallow on top.
And if you fancy a Shakespeare-themed souvenir to take home, you can pick up gins, vodkas and rums from the Shakespeare Distillery shop – known as Judith’s School of Spirits – on the High Street. Their Jester Spiced Rum is a winter favourite. The distillery is just outside Stratford too and does tours and tastings if you want to learn more.
Map of things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon
How to get to Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon has two train stations – Stratford-upon-Avon and Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway, which is 1.5 miles outside the town centre. It takes 2.5–3 hours from London Marylebone to Stratford by train*, normally with a change of train at Leamington Spa or Dorridge. Or it’s 50 minutes by direct train from Birmingham Moor Street.
If you’re driving, Stratford-upon-Avon is 105 miles (2.5 hours’ drive) from London or 35 miles (50 minutes) from Birmingham. Overnight car parking is available at the Bridgeway (CV37 6YX), Church Street (CV37 6HB) and Arden Street (CV37 6PA) car parks.
There’s also a Park and Ride car park on the edge of Stratford (CV37 0RJ). Parking is free, you just pay for the bus in and out of town – or it’s a 40-minute walk along the canal.
The nearest airport is Birmingham International, which is a 45-minute drive away from Stratford-upon-Avon. Or you can take the train from the airport to Birmingham New Street, then it’s a five-minute walk to Birmingham Moor Street station where you can catch a train to Stratford. The whole journey takes around 1.5 hours.
Stratford-upon-Avon is fairly small and easy to get around on foot. The main sights are concentrated in the town centre other than Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, which is 1.3 miles to the west in Shottery. It’s a 30-minute walk each way, or Stratford’s hop-on, hop-off City Sightseeing bus calls at the cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm (currently closed).
Where to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon
The Hotel Indigo* is split in two, with a half-timbered Tudor building at the front and a modern, light-filled annex at the back. Bedrooms in the old part have quirky layouts and original features, and contemporary rooms are more spacious. It has a central location right opposite New Place, with a restaurant, cocktail bar, library and courtyard garden.
The White Swan* is another historic Tudor building, with parts dating from 1560. It’s run by the Fullers pub group and has 41 bedrooms. Character rooms feature four-poster beds, rolltop copper baths and oak beams. Or the simpler Classic rooms are good value.
Or head outside Stratford for a romantic stay at the Ettington Park Hotel,* a fairytale Gothic-style mansion six miles out of town. Lavish interiors feature wood-panelling, vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows, with 47 bedrooms split between the main building and garden annex. There’s also a restaurant, indoor pool, spa and sauna.