Had the pitter-patter of baby William’s feet not trodden the boards of the Henley Street home of the Shakespeares, you certainly wouldn’t be reading this before you visit Stratford-upon-Avon. It would simply be another medieval market town in the middle of England: pretty, but insignificant.
But wobble across the boards a knee-high William Shakespeare did, as his first words became sentences that became ideas that became some of the world’s most beloved pieces of literature.
You can follow in those first unsteady footsteps at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, just one of many historic buildings worth seeing when you visit Stratford-upon-Avon. Some boast connections to the Bard — the homes of his wife, mother, and daughter, for example — while others are simply sublime in their stripy Tudor finery.
The legacy of Shakespeare continues to shape Stratford. Without Will, there’d be no view of the rooftops from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, no dizzying array of amazing cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs, and no statues for the essential Stratford selfie.
So, while the crowds flock here in summer for picnics, boats and ice creams, it is to William Shakespeare that Stratford-upon-Avon will forever be inextricably, unashamedly and rather lovingly linked.
Stratford-upon-Avon: the basics
How to get to Stratford-upon-Avon
I’ll be honest with you: transport links to Stratford-upon-Avon have room for improvement. Lots of room.
There are slow, direct train services from Birmingham Snow Hill (around 45 minutes with West Midlands Trains) and London Marylebone (Chiltern Railways; two hours. Plus more frequent indirect services) but, stuck at the end of a branch line, Stratford-upon-Avon station is not the busy point of arrival it should be. If you do arrive at the station and walk into town, forgive the building works and overgrown plots – this area is mid-makeover.
There’s a park and ride scheme from Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway Rail Station, on the edge of town, but without a dedicated bus lane in and out you’ll reach central Stratford no faster than the cars (in fact, much slower by the time you’ve parked and waited for the next bus). Still, if you’re staying all day or visiting overnight you could save on town-centre-parking charges by using the park and ride. It costs just a pound to leave your car at the Parkway after 9am, £4 for an overnight stay until late the next day. Bus tickets cost £2 or a bargain £3 for up to a group of five, return.
Other bus and coach companies visit Stratford-upon-Avon and make central drop-offs from destinations near and far.
The nearest airport to Stratford-upon-Avon is Birmingham Airport (25 miles; 45 minutes by road). It’ll take two train changes and about 90 minutes to travel between Birmingham International (at the airport) and Stratford-upon-Avon. Bus or coach journeys also involve a change at Coventry and an hour and a half of your day. A taxi costs £40-50.
Car parking in Stratford-upon-Avon
As a Stratford local, I have to grudgingly admit that driving is the easiest option to visit Stratford-upon-Avon (you’ll understand my grudge if you see the stagnant rivers of vehicles on the main roads every Saturday and Sunday morning in summer).
Stratford-upon-Avon car parking is plentiful; the council-run sites charge roughly £1 an hour up to four hours (it’s cheaper per hour if you stay longer than that) or £2 overnight (4pm-8am). Bridgeway Multi Storey is a popular choice for visitors. Spaces with private parking operators include those at the Marina, by the Crowne Plaza, which cost £4 all day (between 9am and 6pm).
For cheap car parking in Stratford-upon-Avon at the weekend, Stratford Hospital (access off Arden Street) offers all-day parking for £2.50 on Saturdays, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. It’s a five-minute walk to the town centre.
On-street, paid-for parking in Stratford-upon-Avon town centre is limited. Free parking anywhere central is almost non-existent during the day.
How to get around Stratford-upon-Avon
It’s a compact town and all the major attractions, including Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, are within a reasonable and flat walk of up to 30 minutes.
If you’re visiting from overseas and plan to see more of the countryside, historic properties and other attractions close to Stratford (such as Charlecote Park and Warwick Castle), consider car hire in Stratford-upon-Avon. Hertz has a rental office at the railway station, while Enterprise has an office 20 minutes by foot from the town centre.
Other useful information
There are three large supermarkets in Stratford-upon-Avon: Morrisons (Alcester Road, the closest to the town centre), Tesco (Birmingham Road), and Waitrose (Shipston Road). Tesco operates 24 hours a day, from Monday at 6am until Saturday at midnight; Sunday hours are 10am-4pm. In-store pharmacies, photo shops, phone shops and currency exchange bureaux generally open until 8pm.
In the town centre, Sainsbury’s Local in Bridge Street opens daily between 7am and 10pm and stocks many essentials.
In restaurants and cafes, tipping for good service is polite but not compulsory in Stratford-upon-Avon. As a guide, 10-15 per cent is about right. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip but about 10 per cent of the fare (or rounding it up) is a nice gesture.
Stratford is busy during the months of June, July, August and September, especially at weekends. For thinner crowds, more pavement space, and the best deals on accommodation, attractions and dining, visit Stratford-upon-Avon in spring or autumn. For even hotter deals in Stratford-upon-Avon, visit in the middle of the week.
If you’re a local, a frequent visitor or even if you’re staying for just a couple of nights, look at the online deals on annual attraction passes. In March 2018, online entrance to Shakespeare’s Birthplace cost £15.75. A 12-month pass for all five of the trust properties cost just £4.50 extra, at £20.25. For the cost of coffee and a slice of cake (and as long as you visit more than once) the upgrade is well worth it. Find out more about savings on the Shakespeare Family Homes annual ticket.
If you only have a day to spare when you visit Stratford-upon-Avon and you collect Tesco Clubcard points, consider turning £2.50 of Clubcard vouchers into a £7.50 spend at the birthplace properties. Clubcard points can only be redeemed against standard admission to one property (no annual passes, for example), but it’s a cheap way to visit one house.
Have your eye on a special restaurant? Sign up to their social media pages on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and watch out for offers.
Every Friday, at midday, a limited number of £10 RSC rush tickets are up for grabs online for shows the following week. You’ve got to be quick (and not mind where you sit).
Locals with a CV37 postcode can grab £10 on-the-day tickets in person or by telephone (01789 403493) for best available seats. The box office opens at 10am.
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