Stratford-upon-Avon is a small city big on charm! With its Elizabethan streets, hidden alleyways and points of interest at almost every turn, Stratford is perhaps best seen on foot. Alternatively get your bearings by taking an open top bus tour with Guide Friday .
While many cities have specific districts, given the size of Stratford-upon-Avon it is arguably its individual streets that characterise particular features or moods:
For shopping look to Bridge Street, Stratford-upon-Avon's central street packed with a combination of old and new buildings. High street names include British Home Stores (with its two floors of family clothing, home ware and lighting), Jaeger for chic tailoring and Marks & Spencer. Additional shopping can be found in High Street and Wood Street, home to the department store Debenhams and individual shops such as Britain's oldest cheesemongers, Paxton & Whitfield , and shoe specialists Jones Bootmaker.
For eateries, inns and pre- or post-theatre dinner go west of Bridge Street to Sheep Street, a delightful mixture of shops and intimate restaurants. Look out for Cafe Rouge for a taste of France or Thespians specialising in Bangladeshi food, Northern Indian dishes and Kashmiri Baltis. For a traditional English pub there is the Rose & Crown , a former hostelry dating back to 1596, or the Garrick Inn resplendent in olde worlde charm, at the top of Sheep Street in High Street.
Henley Street, at the northern end of Bridge Street, is headily reminiscent of days gone by and marks the heart of all things Shakespearean. The Shakespeare Centre , which houses early editions and originals of the Bard's work, is here as is Shakespeare's Birthplace —the very house in which the great man was born. The Bancroft Gardens on the southern edge of the town centre, with its impromptu street performers and The Gower Memorial (depicting Shakespeare and four of his best loved characters), indicate that this is an area in which you are bound to be entertained. The great bastions of dramatic art are all here: Royal Shakespeare Theatre , home to the world famous Royal Shakespeare Company, the galleried Swan Theatre on Waterside and The Other Place in Southern Lane.
Head out of town in any direction, either by car or by public transport and you will find Stratford-upon-Avon's outlying villages:
Shottery: A small village to the west of Stratford-upon-Avon that draws visitors to Anne Hathaway's Cottage .
Wilmcote: A quintessential English village, home to Mary Arden's House and the Shakespeare Countryside Museum.
Wellsbourne: Set to the east of Stratford-upon-Avon and renowned for the Wellsbourne Watermill , this small town neighbours some of Warwickshire's finest countryside.
Welford-on-Avon: A traditional English village to the west of Stratford-upon-Avon famed for its white washed thatched cottages. For idyllic out of town accommodation, why not consider Bridgend Guest House in its stunning riverside setting?
For visitors who use Stratford-upon-Avon as a base from which to explore Shakespeare Country and Warwickshire, or even further afield to the edge of the Malverns or the Cotswolds, then a car is essential. Your reward? A plethora of picturesque towns and villages rich with historical charm and much, much more.
Alcester: A market town lying c.10 miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon boasting a picturesque high street with half timbered buildings filled with small shops and tea rooms. If you find yourself here look out for Ragley Hall , one of the finest stately homes in the area.
Warwick: Rich in heritage and architecture, Warwick is a must for antique, craft and gift shopping or bookshop browsing. If time allows, a trip to the 'finest mediaeval castle in England'— Warwick Castle —is a must.
Leamington Spa: A short distance north east of Stratford and renowned for its stunning array of regency and Victorian terraces, the recently refurbished Royal Pump Rooms have added to the town's impressive character.
Henley-in-Arden: Another delightful market town well worth a visit for its Heritage Centre and for those of us who cannot resist prize winning ice cream at Henley Cafe !
Mickleton: Stop off here en route to the Cotswolds, to the south west, and savour the delights of The Pudding Club (for lovers of great British puddings) in this most traditional of English villages.
Evesham: Famed for its fine fruits and home to one of the top 10 hotels in the British Isles, the Evesham Hotel , this historic market town lies to the west of Stratford along the River Avon.
Broadway: A delightful Cotswolds town that is within striking distance of Stratford-upon-Avon. Its main street is a mixture of flower-strewn cottages, country pubs and individual shops. If you have time on your hands take a look at Broadway Antique Clocks or turn back time to memories of childhood and visit Broadway Bears & Dolls .
Whichever area you choose, be prepared—The Heart of England captures the hearts (and minds) of all who visit, making a return journey a necessity!
Stratford upon Avon town centre is so designed that you are always within easy walking distance of the river, the theatres and, most importantly for some, a host of fine cafes, pubs and restaurants.
Bridge Street and Sheep Street butt onto Waterside where the theatres are situated. Around this area you will find the variety of eating and drinking places that are typical of all that Stratford has to offer. Almost every building is at least four centuries old, and wherever possible the look and feel has been lovingly preserved and blended with the new and comfortable. This may mean that in some cases that access for the disabled is restricted, but when they can owners are keen to help and accommodate all visitors. And here is the key to visiting Stratford—the friendliness and good humour of the staff and the pride they take in the quality of the service offered is genuine.
Brewery owned pubs such as the Encore on Bridge Street, the Pen & Parchment on Bridgefoot and the Rose & Crown on Sheep Street are traditional pubs offering real ales, carveries and a select menu at a reasonable cost, with no cost at all for the history lesson. Along the Waterfront and past the theatre you will find the Dirty Duck (alias the Black Swan) where you can be safe in the knowledge that world famous Shakespearean actors have also supped.
The continental links to Stratford are apparent from the choice of Italian and other Mediterranean fare on offer. De Alto (Waterside) and IJ's Restaurant and the Cafe Pasta round the corner on Sheep Street are good examples. The Cafe Rouge shows just how close Stratford can be to France as even the waiters are French. For proven gourmet quality Opposition on Sheep Street has been recommended by Egon Ronay himself. Close by, Lambs Restaurant is an excellent economical option.
The majority of cafes and restaurants cater for theatregoers. The normal opening hours are often changed to suit the times of shows for both pre- and post-theatre bookings. As Stratford town takes the nuisance of passive smoking seriously, you will find that there are designated areas for smokers in most places.
You will also find that Chinese and Indian food is well represented. If you love Shakespeare and spicy food you have certainly come to the right place. Egon Ronay is only one of the recommendations for Hussains on Chapel Street. In the heart of the town, Usha has a five star Master Chef Roll of Honour and closer to the theatre, Thespians is a balti specialist. Chinese calm can be found in the Relax restaurant serving the best cuisine from Hong Kong.
Fast food can be had from Pizza Hut on the High Street and Pizza Express on Ely Street. Both offer quality food and a no fuss service, whilst the Cafe Uno has fast homemade pizza and other Italian dishes.
For entertainment and speed you could try Yates's Wine Lodge on Windsor Street where on designated evenings there is live music and a DJ, or go underground to the Cask & Bottle on Union Street or to O'Neills cellar on Warwick Street—all frequented by a younger set. To find the Stratford of today with a real local colour, try the Lamplighter on Rother Street, the Oddfellows Arms on Windsor Street, or the Queens Head on Ely Street.
On a different tack, English afternoon tea can be found throughout the town, notably in the Hathaway Tea Rooms on the High Street. If you want to explore the countryside, Garfords or Tisanes in Broadway specialise in teas in ancient stone buildings. Broadway is 15 miles south of Stratford and is recommended as a special area in the heart of the Cotswolds. Henley-in-Arden is just 8 miles to the west of Stratford and tea there should be taken at the Henley Cafe .
Sunday lunch is a tradition often enjoyed in a country inn. The Black Swan in Henley-in-Arden offers home made food and fresh vegetables, the Kings Arms in the village of Mickleton (5 miles south of Stratford) is a recommended lunch stop for hikers, whilst six miles east of Stratford is the sixteenth century Antelope Inn. Or you could go more bit up-market to the King's Head in the village of Aston Cantlow (six miles west of Stratford), offering continental and local cuisine and specialising in Aston Cantlow duck. Other out of town eating and drinking can be found at Olivier's Brasserie and the Horse & Hound in Broadway, the Pudding Club in Mickleton and at the Jago Restaurant in Henley-in-Arden.
So all in all, quite a feast is in store whatever your preferences.
This can be booked in advance from the Civic Hall, the Tourist Information Centre or online.
Begin your day with a leisurely breakfast and make your way to Bridgefoot in time to catch an early Guide Friday bus at 10a. (You can hop on and off this bus at any of the stops but you'll have to buy your entrance tickets for Mary Arden's House and for Shakespeare's Birthplace separately.) Relax for the first four stops and enjoy listening to your guided tour: Shakespeare's Birthplace (leave this until last), Nash's House and garden in Chapel Street, Shakespeare's Grammar School and the Theatre. Three miles out of Stratford the bus will stop at Mary Arden's House in Wilmcote, home of Will's mum. You will probably want to spend a couple of hours here at least, as this is a countryside museum and farm with something for everyone. Buy a light lunch from the excellent Druckers and retire to the picnic area to enjoy the view.
Only when you are totally refreshed do you hop on to the bus again (they come every 15 minutes). The next stop is Anne Hathaway's house in the village of Shottery. Only if you are of a strong tourist disposition attempt to 'do' this house as well! Reserve your resources for the next stop at Shakespeare's Birthplace —you are going to stand in the room where he was born. This completes your tour and you should go and rest until it is time for your evening visit to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre .
Morning 1. The Walk. The day is either Thursday or Saturday and the time is 10:30 in the morning. Meet your guide—the author, actor and director Jonathan Milton—and your fellow walkers at the RSC Swan Theatre on Waterside. The walk and talk will last about two hours and will finish up again at the Swan Theatre.
2. Shakespeare Heritage Trail . Select this walk if you want to go it alone at your own pace. Buy your ticket to visit three of the Shakespeare Houses either at the Shakespeare Centre or at any of the Shakespearean properties. Begin the walk outside of the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street and follow the directions on the leaflet. As this takes about two or three hours, it will be complete by lunchtime.
Lunch A pub lunch would now seem to be in order. The Dirty Duck is just across the road from the theatre, but if that is full up, try the Rose & Crown .
Afternoon 1. Active. A leisurely afternoon Boating on the river would seem to be a good idea as you have been on your feet all morning. Go down to the river just by the Boathouse restaurant and hire a boat. If you are in a romantic mood hire a punt or if you have energy to spare then a rowing boat or canoe would be suitable. To enjoy this experience to the full, hire your boat for two hours—the cost is very reasonable.
2. Non-active. Avon Cruises. Go to Bancroft Gardens (just before the theatre) to take a cruise and enjoy a trip on a passenger launch. There is no need to book as this runs continuously every half hour. This leaves you time to take in the Stratford Brass Rubbing Centre on the Avon Bank Gardens. Good fun and you will have some new pictures to frame. 3. Cultural. Book your theatre tour in advance for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre . Be at the theatre on the Waterside just before 1:30p. This is an exciting tour taking in every aspect of the theatre. It lasts less than an hour so still leaves time for a trip on the river.
Back in town it will be time for tea in the Hathaway Tea Rooms on the High Street.
Evening Book a meal for 9:15p. Out of town, try either Jago in Henley-in-Arden or the King's Head (Aston Cantlow). Of course you can also try one of any of the excellent choices of places to eat in town. For a pre-dinner jaunt, meet at the Country Artists Fountain by the Waterside next to the RSC Theatre where Grimm's Ghostly Tour makes an entertaining finish to the day. After a slow and hair-raising stroll through the town, you will need the comfort of that excellent dinner you booked earlier.
Bike Tours Stratford Bike Hire provides and delivers bicycles in Stratford, Warwickshire, and the Cotswolds. This allows travelers to tour Shakespeare's birthplace in an environmentally friendly way.