Updated: May 21, 2015
Stratford Upon Avon - Shakespeare's Birthplace:One of the top tourist destinations for travelers going to England besides London is Stratford Upon Avon. The quaint town is located about 2 hours from London and considered a great day trip. You can take the train or a bus from London, but I highly suggest renting a car so you can take your time and drive through the Cotswolds on your way up to Stratford. The small towns along the way, Stow on the Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh, are what make for great memories. You will notice as soon as you enter the city centre of Stratford the tourism that exists here. You will find large tour buses, a McDonald's restaurant and lots of souvenir shops along the main roads. I personally would say it's a bit overdone, but if you visit in the off-season the crowds shouldn't be too bad. I was there in March 2009 and we had no troubles getting into or out of the city area with our rental car.
The main draw for visitors is to see the birthplace of William Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest poet and playwright of all time. The town sits along the River Avon and the setting is beautiful. I would say that 3 hours is plenty if you want to see most everything, although a few extra hours for eating and taking a stroll would be a good idea. Just up the road is Warwick Castle and we also suggest a quick tour of that if you have time. Try going on a weekday to get away from the weekend crowds, but otherwise enjoy the history of Stratford and do the walking tour we have mapped out below.
Stratford Upon Avon MapLots of visitors to our site want to know - Where exactly is Stratford Upon Avon? The good news is that it's within a day trip from London whether you are traveling by train or car. On my most recent trip to England I had rented a car at Heathrow and drove through Oxford first and then up to Stratford Upon Avon. To get an idea of the exact location, go to the Map Here. It's northwest from Oxford (and London for that matter) and you can get there on the M40 or from the A429. From the A429 get off on the A3400 and heads toward town. You will eventually cross the River Avon on Bridge Foot and your best bet is to go down Wood St. to the city center and find a place to park. If you are arriving from the M40 take the A46 exit towards Stratford and then the A439 into the main town. Once you get into Stratford there are several parking structures and there is ample street parking if you can find it. A better detailed map of Stratford Upon Avon can be found here. This map shows you parking structures located with a "blue P". All parking is within an easy walk to the major attractions.
Walking Tour - Stratford Upon Avon:Stratford is a small town and definitely worth the effort to take a "walking tour". We have supplied a sample route below with major stops along the way. There is a fee you must pay if you want to enter the buildings associated with William Shakespeare and we would say it's worth the price ($9 GBP - about $15 US). Start your tour on Henley St. at the Shakespeare Center where you pay your admission and get a ticket that will let you into each house along the way. Right next door is Shakespeare's Birthplace which is a small house that has an upstairs. The tudor house has been restored over the years and it currently is setup to resemble what it would have looked like when Shakespeare was about 10 years old. His father (John) worked out of the house and had his own room - you can see examples of what his work looked like in the house. Along the way you can stop and listen to guides give you a storied history of the times and the house. The tour of the house and garden should take about 20 to 30 minutes at most.
As you leave the gift shop (you have to exit this way) - take a left and head down Henley St. At the corner Henley and High Street take a right. High Street turns into Chapel St. and after about 5 minutes of walking you should see New Place/Nash's House on the left side of the street. This is the house where Shakespeare spent his last days before dying in 1616. The Elizabeth Knot Garden is beautiful in the spring and summer, so leave a few minutes to see it if you visit this stop along the way. As you head back out onto Chapel St. take a left and continue along Chapel St. which turns into Church Street. Follow Church until you come to an intersection where you turn left onto Old Town. As you head down Old Town you will see Hall's Croft on the left hand side of the street. This is the building where Shakespeare's daughter Susanna lived with her husband Dr. John Hall. He was a wealthy doctor during that time and the house has an impressive garden once behind the walls. As you leave Hall's Croft take a left and continue down Old Town past Southern Lane and turn the bend in the road towards the right which is considered Mill Lane. You can't miss Holy Trinity Church off on the left. There is no fee to enter the church but they will ask for a donation as you get close to the burial spot of William Shakespeare on the inside. You can take pictures of the gravesite when you are inside the church. Shakespeare's wife (Anne) and daughter (Susanna) are also buried here. The other two houses to visit are Mary Arden's Farm and Anne Hathaway's Cottage. To get to Mary Arden's Farm (the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother) you will need to leave the town of Stratford Upon Avon and follow Birmingham Road. Signs will lead you to the famous farmhouse - it's about 3 miles outside of town. The house is a great place for kids to get out and enjoy the activities on site. As for Anne Hathaway's Cottage, it's located in the hamlet of Shottery just on the outskirts of Stratford. It's walkable from the city centre but probably easier if you drive or take the bus. The cottage is where Shakespeare's Wife, Anne Hathaway, grew up. You can scroll out on the map above to see the location of the cottage and farmhouse.