There are so many reasons why a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon is the perfect weekend break for theatre and art lovers.
Whilst towns across the UK race to become the next ‘hipster hotspot’, Stratford-upon-Avon strives to preserve its character and its cultural ties to Shakespeare.
This pretty market town in the West Midlands England is the 16th-century birthplace of one of the most famous writers of all time, William Shakespeare.
Weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon
Given the town’s connection to Shakespeare, Stratford is the perfect place to have a weekend theatre break full of culture, performance and history.
Disclosure: Content created from a press trip with the Royal Shakespeare Company
You can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace
Shakespeare’s house is a fully restored 16th-century property. It is thought to be the location of where Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years.
It is referred to by locals as ‘the birthplace’, in the sort of solemn tone normally reserved for addressing the UN.
The birthplace is actually one several of Shakespeare related properties in the area that you can visit.
Here you can walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps and wander through the house where he grew up and view rare artefacts.
Shakespeare’s birth house
One of my favourite things about ‘the birthplace’, is that there is ‘live theatre on-demand’ in the gardens.
As you wander through the shrubbery you will hear famous passages being delivered by professional, properly kitted out actors.
There are not many English gardens where you hear “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, as you potter around.
Shakespeare’s birthplace prices
This ticket includes entry to three Shakespeare properties. Choose from five different Shakespeare locations.
Properties include Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (home of Shakespeare’s wife), Hall’s Croft, Mary Arden’s Farm and Shakespeare’s New Place.
The Shakespeare family homes ticket starts from just from £19.50 and is a great value for history and art lovers visiting the city.
Looking for more UK travel inspiration? Check out my article on 11 best English Cities you need to visit’ to plan your next staycation.
Do a tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company
The Royal Shakespeare Company, [RSC], is a 1,040 seat thrust stage theatre owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This impressive theatre is devoted to the works of Shakespeare.
Here you will find a huge variety of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as modern theatrical performances.
A great way of learning more about the RSC and the works of the Bard is by going on a backstage tour of the RSC.
Behind the scenes tour Royal Shakespeare Company
This guided tour takes you into the public and private parts of the theatre and are full of insider knowledge and information on how performances are created.
I can honestly say I had no idea what a ‘thrust stage’ was until our friendly tour guide explained it was a type of staging and not just innuendo.
You can also visit the family-friendly exhibition, ‘The Play’s The Thing’, to learn more about the long history of plays of the RSC.
There are interactive exhibits as well as the opportunity to take selfies with a variety of hats.
Obviously, all the children had to wait their turn as I took 4000 selfies, it is important to teach kids patience right?
Take a guided tour of Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon
Have an experienced tour guide bring the history of the town to life as you walk past all the major sights of the city.
On this fun and informative tour, you’ll walk past iconic sights such as:
- Shakespeare birthplace
- The guildhall,
- The Edward medieval school
- Royal Shakespeare theatre company
- River Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon guided tours start from £16 and price varies by group size.
Stroll along the scenic Stratford Upon Avon canal paths
There are some picturesque walks in Stratford Upon Avon, especially when you wander around the picturesque canal paths.
On this canal stroll, you will see your fair share of boats, birds and most importantly a fair selection of pubs.
Husband Luke can normally be persuaded to have a walk if he knows there is a pint of Guinness at the end of it.
Stratford to Birmingham canal walk
The 26-mile long canal runs from Stratford-upon-Avon all the way to Birmingham.
The whole canal route can be walked if you are feeling particularly ambitious?
There are also some rather lovely strolls to be had around the Recreation Ground.
Here you’ll find lovely river views and a bandstand featuring musical performances throughout the summer season.
Have dinner at the swanky RSC Rooftop Restaurant
On the third floor of the RSC, you will find the contemporary rooftop restaurant.
This swanky theatre restaurant serves modern British cuisine and has rather lovely views of Stratford.
If you are looking for pre-theatre dinner this is the place to come, the menu and service definitely have the ‘theatre-goer’ in mind.
There’s simple yet delicious dishes and fast service so you don’t miss that Front of House call time.
Typical menu options include Mexican vegetable and three-bean chill, Pot roast pork collar and Crab linguini.
Take a trip to Anne Hathaway’s cottage
The former home of Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway is an adorable, fifteenth-century thatched cottage.
The Cottage now functions as a museum to its former residents. As you explore inside, knowledgeable staff will regale you with dramatic stories of the family tree.
My favourite stories included how various generations cashed in on the family name by selling bits of broken off furniture, those rascals!
The cottage is also surrounded by beautiful gardens complete with shrubbery, sculptures, orchards, woodland walks.
There are also little huts where you can listen to some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, it is all ever so romantic!
So long as you don’t mind snap-happy tourists walking by as you try and kiss your beloved.
Catch a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company
Normally, the idea of going to watch a Shakespeare performance conjures up images of a fusty old theatre populated by a stuffy, affluent crowd of ‘arts patrons’.
I was therefore surprised at the incredibly modern architecture and atmosphere of The Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre.
We went along to see the RSC’s ‘Victorian styled take’, on Shakespeare’s classic comedy, Twelfth Night.
We arrived for a pre-theatre dinner at the RSC’s rooftop restaurant and I was initially surprised by the mixed crowd.
It was far more metropolitan than I had imagined? Sure, there was the horde of older people that I had expected, but there were also young couples and families.
What’s on at RSC Stratford?
It was suddenly showtime and as we made our way to our seats, we became aware of the scale of the theatre.
The RSC’s thrust stage auditorium holds just over 1000 people and it was packed to the rafters for this show.
As the play unfolded, we thoroughly enjoyed the story of unrequited love, performed splendidly by a talented cast.
The lines were perfectly delivered and the performances were so incredibly crafted that it was not difficult to follow along. This is despite the fact we were both unfamiliar with the play.
The Shakespearean dialogue was actually easier to comprehend than the rather tangled storyline.
Shakespeare plays Stratford upon Avon
You will need to pay careful attention to this hilarious but bizarre love story. Plot points include ‘boy meets girl, but girl has disguised herself as a man’. But of course.
There is also a lost twin brother in a shipwreck, a Duke pining after a lady in mourning and comedic duels.
The trick is to limit your wine consumption before and during the show, as you want to stay sharp to fully comprehend the elaborate storyline.
It was a fantastic experience to see Shakespeare’s work come to life in a sophisticated performance. There were also beautifully detailed and ornate sets as a backdrop.
If Shakespeare isn’t quite your thing, there are modern plays on offer at the RSC throughout the year.
Have a vintage tea at the Fourteas Cafe
This Vintage-themed cafe takes you back to the 1940s with ration book menus, jolly good British decor and an original Anderson shelter in the garden.
It’s the little decorative 1940’s touches here that make an afternoon tea here so special.
I highly recommend a fruit scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream.
Have dinner at the Waterside Brasserie
The Waterside Brasserie located in the gorgeous Arden Hotel offers a stylish, fine dining experience in the heart of Stratford.
Pop your glad rags on and prepare yourself for a culinary sensation with dishes carefully crafted using fresh, local produce.
Choose from the à la carte menu or if you are seeing a show, the Pre-theatre dinner or lunch menu.
Menu Waterside Brasserie
Typical menu offerings at the Waterside Brasserie include Hereford beef two ways, Roast pheasant supreme and wild mushroom and spinach risotto.
The dishes are of discernable quality, with complex flavours and textures that are beautifully balanced.
Helpful waiting staff are also on hand to recommend wines and are happy to answer questions about the menu and the ingredients. It is definitely a dining experience to remember!
Climb the RSC Tower and view Stratford from above
The RSC’s large tower came about after an ambitious three-and-a-half year remodelling that saw the transformation of the theatre.
The new tower pays homage to the long-gone water-tower that used to form part of the theatre in days gone by.
You can purchase tickets to the tower for a mere £2.50 per adult. You can then enjoy panoramic views of the city from the top of the tower.
Now admittedly the tickets are so reasonably priced as once you have admired the view, there isn’t a whole lot else to do.
Once you have taken a few quick snaps, remarked how ‘very high up’ you are, you have frankly exhausted all options.
That’s not to say the view isn’t worth it mind. Despite the rain that morning we had a pretty clear view of the pretty town and the river.
If you descend the tower via the stairs, there’s also a small exhibition installed on the walls.
Have high tea the Orangemabel Cafe
Orangemabel is where you come for fabulous cakes, teas and lunches in a highly Instagrammable venue.
Have high tea served on vintage china and take in the beautiful decor. This cute teashop is full of what I like to call ‘Pinterest goals’, as well as serving up delicious cakes and sandwiches.
I would highly recommend one of their enormous sandwiches for lunch, it will set you up for the rest of the day!
Where to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford-upon-Avon has a brilliant range of accommodation if you’re looking for somewhere to stay for your theatre break weekend?
Choose from Boutique hotels, guest houses and a range of Airbnb properties.
Some of the best places to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding area include:
- The Arden Hotel
- DoubleTree by Hilton Stratford-upon-Avon
- Hallmark Hotel
- Hotel Du Vin Stratford
- The White Swan Hotel
We stayed at the Arden Hotel for our weekend break in Stratford-upon- Avon. It’s a beautiful, boutique hotel that is right on the doorstep of the RSC theatre, making it a great choice of hotel for theatre fans.
Every inch of this sophisticated hotel is Instagrammable. From the views of the river, the suave lounge area and the pretty plates of food served in the restaurant.
There is a real mix of contemporary and history here, with elegant furnishings and a classic style champagne bar.
Boutique hotel Stratford-upon-Avon
Friendly and informative staff showed us around the hotel and pointed out various interesting features of the hotel.
We learnt about the hotel’s history and what actors have stayed there whilst starring in a Royal Shakespeare Company play.
The champagne bar is the ideal place for a pre-dinner cocktail or two.
Staff will delightedly regale you with various, scandalous stories of the stars who have stayed at the hotel. For obvious legal reasons, I cannot possibly repeat these salacious stories here.
Arden Hotel rooms
Our room had a very definite ‘country manor’ vibe. There’s fancy wooden furniture, plush chairs, neutral tones and flashes of olive green.
The room had all the amenities you would want from a 4-star boutique hotel.
Room features included a desk area, TV, coffee making facilities, mini-fridge, ironing board, safe and lovely seating area.
The best part of our stay was making full use of the lovely big bath. One cannot simply stay in a lovely hotel and not have a ‘champagne bath’.
The staff are friendly and efficient and the restaurant serves fantastic food, including a rather lovely breakfast to start your day with.
Is Stratford-upon-Avon worth visiting?
Our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon certainly exceeded our expectations. I initially thought it was a town for bored pensioners on coach trips.
Luckily, I came away realising it’s a vibrant and historic market town, with so much to offer.
Yes, it capitalises heavily on its historic, Shakespeare connections. There are also lovely walks, shopping areas, quirky cafes and canal boat tours.
I would really recommend a visit to Shakespeare’s hometown to discover a new love for the Bard and quaint English towns.
Have you ever been to Stratford-upon-Avon? What did you think of my article on top experiences in Stratford-upon-Avon? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
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