Nestled amid the rolling green hills in the heart of England lies the charming market town of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Strolling down the cobbled streets lined with timber-framed Tudor buildings that dip down to the river feels like walking through the pages of a fairy tale.
Naturally, this picturesque riverside spot is best known for being the birthplace of the legendary William Shakespeare.
Visitors come from around the world to see where the Bard grew up and watch plays performed by the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company. But beyond its Shakespeare connections, Stratford-upon-Avon has much more for travelers to uncover.
This local’s guide shares insider tips on how to experience the real Stratford-upon-Avon. It will visit hidden gems off the usual tourist trail, recommend cozy accommodations and affordable food, and suggest fun ways to soak up the town’s enchanting spirit.
Whether one is a fan of the Bard or just loves immersing themselves in England’s history and culture, Stratford-upon-Avon is sure to capture the heart.
Disclosure: This post does contain affiliate links that I earn a small commission for at no extra cost to you. Any purchases you make through my links help keep the site running. Thanks in advance for your support!
What To Do In Stratford-upon-Avon: A City Guide
A Brief History of Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon has been an important settlement since Anglo-Saxon times. First mentioned in the 8th century, it was an agricultural community and river crossing point.
By the 12th century, Stratford hosted markets and fairs. It continued growing in prosperity and was granted borough status in the 13th century.
The town’s most famous son, William Shakespeare, was born here in 1564 and baptized at the Holy Trinity Church.
His birthplace on Henley Street is now a top tourist attraction. The Royal Shakespeare Company founded in 1961 is a centrepiece of Stratford’s modern identity and economy.
With its postcard-perfect Tudor buildings and peaceful river setting, it’s easy to see why visiting Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the most popular things to do in the West Midlands area of England.
For literature lovers, Shakespeare sites like his family homes and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre offer the chance to step into the life of the famous Bard.
And landmarks like the oak-beamed Guild Chapel and vast Harvard House open a window into how this market town prospered and grew in importance during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Whether you’re already a fan of Shakespeare’s works or simply eager to soak up the history and pastoral beauty of provincial England, Stratford deserves a spot on any West Midlands travel itinerary.
Wandering the town’s narrow lanes and riverbanks, it’s not hard to imagine why this place so inspired one of history’s greatest writers.
Top attractions in Stratford-upon-Avon
If you are taking one of the many unforgettable day trips from London to Stratford-upon-Avon, you’ll want to make the most of your limited time by focusing on the top attractions:
No trip to Stratford is complete without visiting the house where the world’s most renowned playwright was born and grew up.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is an atmospheric 16th-century half-timbered building on Henley Street. Inside you can see furnishings from the period and exhibitions about his life and works. Make sure to explore the gardens too.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
See Shakespeare performed in the town where he was born. The Royal Shakespeare Company puts on plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the smaller Swan Theatre year-round.
Backstage tours are also available to see the inner workings of this renowned company. For discounted tickets, opt for standing room or restricted view seats.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Take a short trip out of town to Shottery village to visit the thatched cottage where Shakespeare’s wife grew up.
The Hathaway family lived here for several generations and it has been beautifully preserved, complete with period furniture like the courting chair said to be given to Anne by William. The cottage garden is lovely too.
Holy Trinity Church
Stroll by the idyllic riverside setting of Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was baptized and buried. His burial site inside is marked by an engraved stone.
Notable features include the 12th-century font, the Bard’s bust overlooking his tomb, and 15th-century wall paintings.
River Avon riverfront
The River Avon weaves through the heart of Stratford, with willow-lined banks and pretty boats moored up.
Walk or cycle along the traffic-free paths and enjoy views of the town. Look out for the swans gliding by. Stop for a picnic or drink at one of the waterside pubs and cafes.
Other Stratford attractions
Beyond the Shakespeare sites, Stratford has many other attractions to enjoy. Harvard House is an elegant Tudor home filled with period furnishings.
Visit New Place and its adjoining Nash’s House. Take in the fine art collection at the Shakespeare Gallery. Relax in the perfumed gardens of Hall’s Croft, home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna. Learn about Stratford’s industrial past at the Museum of Mechanical Art.
Top things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon
Take a Shakespeare walking tour
Joining a walking tour is a great way to explore Stratford and learn all about the Shakespeare connections around town.
Guides will animate the Bard’s work with passion and humor. Choose between general overviews or themed tours like In the Footsteps of Shakespeare.
Watch a Royal Shakespeare Company play
Make time for a play while you’re in Stratford – it’s hard to beat seeing Shakespeare performed by the RSC in his hometown.
Opt for a production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or a smaller, more intimate Swan Theatre.
Go backstage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company by taking a backstage tour.
These provide a fascinating glimpse into everything that goes into staging their impressive productions.
Take a Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall tour
Shakespeare went to school in this atmospheric building from ages 7 to 14. Take a tour to learn about Tudor’s schooling and see artifacts like his school desk. The impressive guildhall dating to 1420 hosts temporary exhibitions.
Cruise along the River Avon
See Stratford and its countryside surroundings from a new perspective by taking a river cruise. Sightseeing cruises depart regularly and last 40-50 minutes. Or hire a boat and pilot it yourself upriver past the verdant banks.
Shop in the historic center
Wander Stratford’s old streets like Chapel Street, Henley Street, and High Street to visit independent shops showcasing art, fashion, books, and antiques.
Don’t miss the elegantly timber-framed buildings too. Stop for afternoon tea or lunch at one of the cafes or teashops.
Relax in the Bancroft Gardens
These beautiful riverside gardens offer a tranquil spot to unwind between sightseeing.
The manicured lawns and flowerbeds overlooking the River Avon are perfect for picnicking on a sunny day. Kids will enjoy the play area too.
Where to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon
The Stratford-upon-Avon YHA hostel offers private rooms and dorms right in the town center near the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Another affordable pick is Ambleside Bed and Breakfast, with tidy rooms and a continental breakfast. The Falcon Hotel has basic but comfortable rooms above a historic pub.
Charming options include The Croft Guesthouse, with quaint rooms in a Tudor townhouse. The Arden Hotel has smart, updated rooms in a great location by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The Woodstock Hotel offers a warm welcome and delicious breakfast by a peaceful canal.
For upscale luxury, Four Pillars Hotel mixes modern style with a 14th-century coaching inn. The Townhouse incorporates striking contemporary design in a period building. Or check into Church Street Townhouse opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for boutique chic.
Where to eat and drink in Stratford-upon-Avon
Kickstart your day with a full English breakfast at locally loved Bensons Restaurant and Tea Room, or Edward Moon’s. For lighter bites, grab coffee and pastries at Patisserie Valerie or a smoothie bowl at trendy Fig.
Relax over lunch at The Opposition, an elegant gastropub facing the River Avon. Stop by Church Street Tavern for gourmet sandwiches and Stratford Ale. Enjoy afternoon tea on the lawn at Hotel du Vin.
Foodies flock to Salt for its seasonal tasting menus and river views. The Vintner offers creative British cooking in a cozy cellar setting. Lambs is a friendly locals’ favorite serving classic English food.
Pubs and bars:
The Garrick Inn is Stratford-upon-Avon’s oldest pub, with a great beer garden. Sip real ales at the characterful Old Thatch Tavern. Enjoy riverside drinks at the waterside Bear Freehouse. The Windmill Inn mixes old-world pub charm with great cocktails.
Unwind over coffee and cake al fresco at hip No.10 Tea Room. Grab artisan pastries at The Fourteas or cool off with gelato from Hooray’s.
Author bio: Billy is a travel blogger from Birmingham, UK. Born deaf in both ears, Billy has always loved geography and travel since a young age, but communication barriers and challenges meant a lack of confidence to go out and see the world.
For the past decade, Billy has taken epic global adventures on a budget – whether it’s European city breaks or months backpacking around Asia. Through his blog: BRB Gone Somewhere Epic, Billy dismantles the myth that travel is too expensive and that you can still enjoy hidden gems even in popular tourist destinations.