Take a break from the busy cities of the UK to visit the quaint town of Stratford upon Avon. Just two hours North of London is the birthplace of William Shakespeare, waiting for you to visit.
On a rare study break, I travelled from Oxford to Stratford upon Avon by train for a historic day trip.
Although I’m doing a literature degree, the town felt like an escape from books and work. Shakespeare is present in every corner of the lovely town, but no one is forcing you to analyze his marketing mix!
Every little town in the UK seems to have great historic significance. I intended to take advantage of it, and of cute cottages for Instagram content, by making a series of day trips throughout the UK countryside.
This obviously didn’t happen. Thanks to COVID-19, I was forced to return to Canada years too early.
If I can’t be walking on cobblestones and smelling Costa Coffee wafting from a three-hundred-year-old building, at least I can write about it!
- 1 Tips for Visiting Stratford Upon Avon
- 2 Things to Do in Stratford Upon Avon
- 3 Suggested 1 Day Stratford Upon Avon Day Trip Itinerary
- 4 Enjoy Your Stratford Upon Avon Day Trip
Tips for Visiting Stratford Upon Avon
1. Parking is Scarce
Parking is difficult in this historic town. Like most of the UK, the roads were clearly built for horse and buggies.
You can park in lots on the edges of town, but these fill up quickly.
Most people choose to take the train into Stratford upon Avon to avoid the parking charges and struggle with finding spots.
If you’re planning a Stratford Upon Avon day trip, it’s easier to take the train.
2. Wear Good Shoes
Be prepared for a lot of walking. Stratford may seem small, but there’s a lot of walking to see the best sights.
Wear flats or thick wedges to avoid catching your heels in the cobble stones (which I was tripping over in sneakers). Be prepared for them to get dirty walking along the Avon river and from dirt on the road.
3. Pack a Camera
You’ll regret it if you don’t take photos of this gorgeous town!
Stratford upon Avon is stunningly photogenic – maybe even more so than Oxford (although my memory cards would argue that).
You don’t need anything super fancy – an iPhone will do – but be prepared to capture the beauty of the swans gliding along the Avon or the architecture of Shakespeare’s first home.
4. Arrive Early
Like most places, Stratford gets busier as the day goes on. To avoid line ups and have tourist-free photos, try to arrive early in the day.
You don’t need to get there at 6am. Aim to arrive before 11am.
Dinner time is also very busy, as people arrive for shows and to dine out. Don’t plan to arrive late if you haven’t made bookings.
Things to Do in Stratford Upon Avon
Although Stratford upon Avon is a small town, there’s plenty to fill your day trip.
The town has things to do for history buffs, literature lovers, shopping fanatics, photography wizzes, and even adventure travellers. Whether you’re travelling solo or with a group, you’ll find things for everyone to enjoy.
Free Things to Do
What’s better than travel? When it’s free!
I’m always looking for ways to save money so I can afford to go on more trips. Free activities are a great way to do that.
I’ve included a bunch of great free options to explore during your Stratford upon Avon day trip.
1. Walk Along the Avon River or Canal
The Avon river is where Stratford get’s the end of its name (upon Avon).
This waterway is essential for the town. It was a huge part of their history as a market town, as villagers could use the river and canal to bring their wares to sell.
The Avon river is lovely to walk along. Keep an eye out for the beautiful white-necked swans that live in the river.
Grab an ice cream from a street vendor, pack a picnic, or sit at a riverside restaurant to eat while you enjoy the views.
Snap photos of the brightly painted boats as they sail along the canal.
Paid add on: Rent a boat to sail along the Avon river. There are a selection of vendors renting punts (think gondolas), canoes, rowboats, and small motor boats. It’s a unique way to explore the 3 mile river.
2. Explore Stratford on Foot
Stratford upon Avon is small enough that you can walk to most monuments easily. The roads are well kept and buildings are maintained so almost anywhere you go has lovely views.
The Almshouses, old tudor style homes, are a great photo stop along your route.
On the main street, try to spot Shakespeare on the door front of HSBC Bank.
Wander the streets to discover hidden restaurants and pieces of Shakespeare’s heritage. Although they cost money to enter, you can view the outside of his family’s homes.
Read more about Shakespeare’s homes in the “Shakespeare’s Stratford” section.
3. Bancroft Gardens
Had I visited a little later in the year, my entire Stratford upon Avon day trip post would just be about this garden.
Luckily for you, it was too chilly out in January to lounge on the green hills with a book for hours on end.
Bancroft gardens lie at the two bridges over the canal. It’s a medium green space featuring a swan fountain and a large sundial. More notably, it houses Shakespeare’s memorial, a large monument surrounded by some of his most famous characters.
If you’re looking for a chill day, pack a blanket to lounge on the grass overlooking the Avon. You can easily pass hours people watching, reading, or eating a few too many ice creams.
4. Visit the Original Diagon Alley
Like every British town, Stratford claims a hand in the making of Harry Potter.
The alley, dubbed Magic Alley, did exist prior to the publication of Harry Potter, and it was said to have a similar feel.
We’ll never know what’s the truth, especially since they’ve moved it to a larger alley to accommodate tourists.
Head to Bell Court to add some wizardry to your day trip.
5. Walk to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
1 mile from Stratford upon Avon is the birthplace of Shakespeare’s wife. You can walk he route to her cottage in Shottery for free. You’ll get to see lovely gardens and cottages along the way.
Paid ad on: You have to buy a ticket to actually enter her cottage. [Price in “Shakespeare’s Stratford upon Avon” section.]
6. Look for Nature Trails at Mary Arden’s Farm
Your Stratford Upon Avon day trip is quickly filling up with cottage pictures by now!
This farm – think cottage – is the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mum.
I’m not so into Shakespeare that I need to see every home in his family tree, so I skipped the fee of going inside.
For a free visit, wander the gardens and look for nearby nature trails to take you through the forest.
The farm is a fair walk from the city. If you follow the canal path it is roughly 2 hours. If you’re not up for the walk, you can take a city bus to get closer.
7. Stratford Farmer’s Market
Return to the town’s roots by visiting a classic farmers market. You’ll have to plan your Stratford upon Avon day trip accordingly, as they only run from 9am – 2pm on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month.
If you get the timing right, head to Rother Street to browse local produce and wonder if Shakespeare walked the same roads looking for lettuce.
8. Stratford armouries
Looking for a museum to add to your Stratford itinerary? Head to the free Stratford Armouries.
Oddly the museum is best known for its vintage tea room and the play barn. But it is a legitimate museum. They offer galleries on Winston Churchill and the Wellington bomber.
I didn’t make it on my day trip but I’m hoping to go back to learn who the Wellington bomber is.
9. Take a Picture of the Most Photographed Costa Coffee in the World
Thanks to its gorgeous architecture and the company’s decision not the rebrand the building, this is the most photographed Costa Coffee shop in the world. Some even argue that it’s the most photographed coffee shop of any type.
I’m not sure about that, but it is really pretty!
10. Browse Used Bookstores
In the land of Shakespeare, is it any wonder why I would put in used bookstores?
Stratford is full of little book shops that you can duck into to browse or escape the all too common British rain.
I loved ‘The Chaucer Head Bookshop’ for its incredible antique second-hand books.
There are a number of tour companies that can help organize your Stratford upon Avon day trip.
Although I love solo travel and discovering things on your own, sometimes you need a guide.
I prefer walking tours so you can get a feel for the city as you explore. Stratford offers this and more!
1. Stratford Town Walk
Since I didn’t know the history of the town – and I’d already melted my brain with research – I decided to let someone else teach me what to do in Stratford.
Stratford Town Walk was the highest rated (and cheapest) tour, so I booked them immediately.
They offer walking tours every week day a 11am, and weekends at 11 am and 2pm. Tickets cost £7 per adult (cash only!), with no booking required. You’ll get a city map and a bunch of free vouchers for things around Stratford – including a discount on the Shakespeare packages.
Note: Due to the coronavirus, the walking tours currently cost £10 per person and are composed of smaller groups.
Stratford Town Walk takes you around the city centre, from the Avon to the Holy Trinity Chapel. Along the way, you’ll discover that there’s more to the city than Shakespeare. But you’ll also learn a lot about Shakespeare (I didn’t even know he had kids!).
2. Stratford Town Ghost Walk
You can get a more haunted experience from the same company that does the daily historic walking tours. Every Saturday evening, join the Stratford Town Ghost Walk for haunted stories of the small town.
I was too much of a wimp to stick it out, but I’ve heard excellent reviews.
3. Canal and River Cruises
If you don’t want to rent your own boat to explore the Avon, book a guided cruise!
These water-based tours last about 45 minutes and come with an audio guide so you can learn more about Stratford upon Avon from it’s namesake.
You can book ahead with a company like Stratford Town Walk or find a number of vendors on the riverbanks.
4. Open Air Bus Tours
This is my least favourite option for touring Stratford upon Avon on a day trip because I don’t think you’ll see at much.
The bus tours are more accessible for visitors, but the roads aren’t particularly accessible for the buses.
Besides, a double decker bus looks hugely out of place in Stratford. They’re much better suited to London’s busy streets.
Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon
Stratford upon Avon is most famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
You literally can’t go a block without finding some reference to him, be it a store name, a statue of Puck, owl statues (it’s unclear how these relate), or one of his ancestral houses.
A Stratford upon Avon day trip is not complete without at least looking at some of these historic monuments.
1. Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford (with RSC Tower)
Watching a show at the Stratford upon Avon theatre is a must do if you enjoy Shakespeare’s plays. The town is well known for their performances of his classic works.
You have to book ahead to attend a play. Don’t be like me and miss out because you were too indecisive about times!
If you’re not into plays, why not tour the beautiful 1930s art deco building. For a small fee (£3) you can climb the attached RSC tower for the best views in town.
2. Shakespeare’s Birthplace
This house on Henley Street is the site of Shakespeare’s birth. You can visit the outside to see the classic Tudor architecture for free, but going inside requires purchasing a ticket.
Shakespeare’s birthplace is a popular stop for tours. If you want a clear photo, visit very early!
3. New Place (and Knot Garden)
In 1575, Shakespeare moved to the house now known as the ‘New Place’. Here he wrote works like ‘The Tempest’.
Unfortunately, the original structure was demolished. But the Shakespearean society has worked to designate the area a heritage site to preserve the memory of Shakespeare.
You can visit the new cottage or explore the gardens in the back.
The Knot Garden is particularly famous for its beauty. No, it’s not a bundle of ropes all knotted together for kids (which oddly was what I first pictured. Just me?). It’s a garden planted in an intricate design.
Visit in spring and summer to see their true splendour.
4. Hall’s Croft
Hall’s Croft is named for Shakespeare’s son-in-law. This was where Dr. John Hall and Susanna Shakespeare lived. You can see the remnants of his work in the medicinal herb garden that grows at the property.
5. Holy Trinity Church
If you’re only going to pay to visit one Shakespearean site on your Stratford upon Avon day trip, let it be this one.
Holy Trinity Church is the burial site of Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway, Susanna Shakespeare and Dr. John Croft.
Their tombs lie in a special area beneath the altar and require an extra payment to see. When I visited it was £1.20.
Holy Trinity Church is where Shakespeare was baptized, where he prayed and where he was buried. He likely used the ancient church door knocker, so visitors are sure to touch it on their way in for a connection to the bard.
Aside from Shakespeare, it’s a beautiful little church with colourful stained glass windows and a medieval baptismal font.
It has restricted hours because it is an active church. Visitors are welcome from 11am to 1pm.
There is no access on Tuesday or Sunday mornings due to church services.
6. Mary Arden’s House
Mary Arden’s House is where Shakespeare’s mum was raised. It is only open in the summer months as it is further from town and adjacent to a working farm.
7. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Anne Hathaways’ cottage is the famed girlhood home of Shakespeare’s wife.
This thatched farmhouse is on the top of every Instagram list for the region.
The cottage is only open to visitors in the summer, but you can still enjoy the outside all year round.
8. Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall
It’s unclear if Shakespeare ever actually attended this school, but they assume he must have since it’s the only school that was applicable for him at the time.
Now the school offers tours of where they claim he was inspired to become a playwright.
I think it’s a bit of a tourist trap and better suited for kids who can pretend to be in an old classroom.
9. Cost of Visiting Shakespeare’s Stratford
You’ll notice I didn’t include all of the prices above. That’s because the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has created a great ticket that grants you access to all of the Shakespeare houses for a lot less!
The Shakespeare Family Homes 12-month or ‘Full Story’ ticket costs £20.25. It comes complete with unlimited visits to all 5 birthplace properties (listed below) for 1 year!
I know this is a post about visiting Stratford upon Avon for a day trip, right? Well, it’s actually cheaper for a day trip too!
Let me break it down for you:
Shakespeare’s Birthplace costs £15.75 (adult, one day)
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage costs £11.25 (adult, one day)
New Place costs £11.25 (adult, one day)
Hall’s Croft costs £7.65 (adult, one day)
Mary Arden’s Farm costs £13.50 (adult, one day).
So even if you only visit 2 locations, you’re saving money!
Note: Due to Coronavirus this deal is not being offered. Only the Shakespeare Birthplace is open to the public. Tickets cost £7 per adult due to restricted access.
Keeping with its market roots, Stratford is still well known for its shopping.
If you’re looking for some new clothes or a cool antique, add shopping to your Stratford upon Avon day trip.
There are tons of shops hidden around the city with cool finds.
Sheep Street (yep, that’s its real name) is known for its quirky selection.
The Shakespeare Centre Craft Yard has unique selections like the Teddy Bear Shop.
For designer boutiques, head to Meer Street.
For foodie shoppers, Paxton and Whitfield is a cheese lover’s paradise.
Classic stores can be found at Bell Court, the main shopping mall in the town.
Museums and Butterflies
Unfortunately, not everything that isn’t to do with Shakespeare is free in Stratford.
You’ll find those things in this list.
1. MAD Museum
Also known as the Mechanical Art and Design Museum, MAD is a museum unlike any other. It celebrates machines and mechanics with exhibits like high tech robots or marble runs.
2. Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm
Spend a day feeling like the queen of the fairies at the Butterfly Farm. Become a butterfly landing post in the green house and discover their life cycles behind the scenes.
If you like insects and arachnids more than I do, check out the Mini Beast Metropolis and Arachnoland sections of the farm. They house the world’s largest spider (that was a bit no thank you from me!).
3. Afternoon Tea in Stratford Upon Avon
Sticking to classic British traditions, afternoon tea is a Stratford upon Avon must do.
In fact, it’s so popular that you’re unlikely to get a spot if you don’t reserve ahead of time.
There are tons of places for classic (or slightly modern) afternoon tea to add to your Stratford upon Avon day trip. Check them out:
- Anne Hathaway’s Cottage Cafe
- The Four Teas (my location of choice for a good cream tea)
- Shakespaw Cat Cafe (I don’t care that I’m incredibly allergic, that pun alone makes it worth it)
- Hobsons Patisseries
- Rooftop Restaurant at the Royal Shakespeare Theatres (to enjoy your tea with a view)
Suggested 1 Day Stratford Upon Avon Day Trip Itinerary
That was a lot of information, wasn’t it?
Are you completely lost as to how to plan your Stratford upon Avon day trip?
Then check out this 1 day itinerary that’s perfect for sampling all that Stratford upon Avon has to offer!
9am: Arrive in Stratford upon Avon via train or bus
9am-10am: Walk or boat along the River Avon
10am: Get a tea and snack to picnic in Bancroft Gardens.
11am – 1 pm: Stratford Town Walk tour (Holy Trinity Chapel included for additional fee)
1 – 2pm: Lunch in town (ask your guide for recommendations depending on your mood)
2pm: Use your discount code from the tour to buy tickets to the Shakespeare sites. Visit Shakespeare’s birthplace
3pm: Visit the Knot Garden
3:30pm: Head to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Visit the cottage and have afternoon tea (prebook)
6pm: Head back early or have dinner in Stratford upon Avon.
7pm: Take the train home.
Enjoy Your Stratford Upon Avon Day Trip
I can’t tell you how nice it was to finally write this guide after the Coronavirus kept making me put it off. It’s been hard thinking of England and all of the amazing things there are to do there when I’m back in Canada.
Granted, I have been learning a lot of amazing things about Canada (as you can see in my Ultimate Canadian Bucket List for Adventure Travellers and my Guide to Muskoka, Canada’s Cottage Country Capital).
But I desperately miss the UK and all of the exciting day trips I’d had planned.
Reliving my Stratford upon Avon day trip was bittersweet. I loved the day trip more than I thought I would – there’s so much more to the city than just Shakespeare. It made me want to book a dozen day trips all across the UK – which was first cut short by weather and schoolwork, and then cut short by the virus.
Hopefully you can visit this amazing town and discover the serenity I found there.
Stratford upon Avon is a very underrated day trip from London or Oxford that you’re sure to love.
Do you prefer day trips or longer trips?
SHARING IS CARING!