10 Things to Know About Stratford Upon Avon Before You Visit

Thinking about visiting the historic home town of Shakespeare? Here are 10 things I learned from my visit to Stratford Upon Avon... 

It gets really busy
If I'd believed the scenic photos on Instagram, I'd imagine that Stratford Upon Avon was a sleepy, quiet town with empty streets, a river and huddles of cosy, timber-framed buildings. Having been there, I can tell you that it does get busy. When the Shakespeare buildings are open there are groups of tourists queuing (be prepared and ready to queue and have your bag searched) along with local shoppers and holidaymakers. With that said, you can still get that perfect photo opportunity in front of Shakespeare's Birthplace - you'll just have to wait for people to finish walking past, first - or visit early in the morning. 

Skip the hotel breakfast
Our hotel offered a £9.99 breakfast (per person), taken in their dining room. We decided to skip this and venture back into the town to fend for ourselves, and we're so glad we did. There are lots of brunch and breakfast places to choose from, including The Deli and The Boston Tea Party. I'm sure the hotel breakfast would have been lovely, but we started our second day at a cafĂ© in Henley Street called The Food of Love, eating pancakes and a bacon sandwich and sipping on a cappuccino as we gazed over the pavement at Shakespeare's Birthplace. Best breakfast ever.  

You'll probably need to pre-book for the Shakespeare Homes
We pre-booked Story Tickets for the three Shakespeare homes. This means (at the time of writing) that you need to get to the Birthplace for your allocated time slot, but you can visit the rest of the homes later, up to the expiry date on your ticket (at the time of writing, the homes were only open for part of the week so do check this before travelling). The homes can get busy, and we had to queue for around 20 minutes for the Birthplace and 15 minutes for entry to Anne Hathaway's Cottage - but went straight into New Place without queueing. Signs at the Birthplace stated that tickets for the day were sold out, which would be disappointing if you'd hoped for a spontaneous visit on the day. Check the details on the website and pre-book, just to be safe. 

Anne Hathaway's Cottage is out of the main town
The thatched cottage where Shakespeare's wife grew up (and where he probably came to see her) is a beautiful, picturesque Medieval and later Tudor building. But be prepared for a 20-25 minute walk from the main town. They do have a car park, but if you're travelling by foot you walk through a park and a series of short alleyways through a housing estate. I think it looks further on the map than it feels walking there - plus you can see other sights along the way, like the timber-framed buildings on Tavern Lane and white-washed The Bell Pub. 

Don't miss the rest of the town's history
In Stratford, Shakespeare is everywhere - but don't miss the other interesting parts of town. The Garrick Inn is opposite New Place and parts of it are said to date from the 1300s - and then there's The White Swan from c1450. There's the Queen Victoria Jubilee Monument and also The Guild Chapel, founded in 1269. The Holy Trinity Church has a number of memorials to other interesting Stratfordians, and also a Sanctuary Knocker that dates from 1258. The best way to see Stratford is by walking, and you'll spot so much more of the town's history this way. 

You won't go hungry
As you'd expect for a place that accommodates over a hundred thousand visitors a year, there are a lot of places to sit, have a rest and refuel from all your sight-seeing. There are all the usual chain restaurants - McDonald's, Bella Italia, Carluccio's, Miller and Carter, Costa Coffee... and then there are the independents. We saw a tea room just along from the river that's been in operation since the late 1800s and there's another 1940s-themed tea room there too. There's a market along the riverside selling waffle cones, hog roast sandwiches, burritos and fried rice. In Stratford there's fine-dining, historic pubs, takeaways, ice cream stalls... you definitely won't go hungry and food is never more than a couple of doors away. 

There are a LOT of historic buildings 
Stratford has maintained its historic character really well, and there's a Medieval or Tudor timber-framed building pretty much everywhere you look. Part of the town is Georgian, too. It's a great place for history lovers. Just be careful not to bump into anything while you're looking up. 

Look out for the quirky independent shops
We loved The Nutcracker Christmas Shop directly opposite Shakespeare's Birthplace, on Henley Street (and bought a bauble for our tree). There's also a Harry Potter shop, a crystal shop and a shop with everything you could ever need for your dog. You might like to go into the Shakespaw Cat Cafe on Union Street, too. It's easy to get so wrapped up in the Shakespeare theme that you can miss these interesting smaller shops that are great for browsing and maybe picking up a souvenir from your visit. 

It has a bit of everything
It's like the perfect town. You've got good food, history, architecture, boats, statues, theatre, parks, the river, a market and modern shops. It's pretty, very clean and tidy and there's a coffee shop every few paces. It's well-signposted too, so you'll be able to find your way around. 

You'll need a couple of days to see everything
We arrived into Stratford at 10.30am, stayed the night and then boarded our train home just before 3pm the next day. We saw all the Shakespeare Homes, enjoyed a slow lunch and got to know our way around the town on the first day and then visited Holy Trinity Church, walked by the river, did some shopping and browsing and had lunch before wandering back to the station. I don't think we could have done everything- and had the same experience - in one day. There are lots of B&Bs and hotels in Stratford and we found them priced reasonably, considering that we visited in the peak of summer, too. 

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