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The 15 best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon

Discover the best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, a historic market town and birthplace of William Shakespeare

Written by
Kayleigh Watson
Caroline Mills

It's no big secret that Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, so understandably much of this darling market town in England is given over to all things Will. Sure, as the town’s most famous son, Shakespeare is the headline act for many visitor attractions.

But when it comes to the best things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Bard ain't the only thing going on. Among the quaint streets of timber-framed buildings and riverside cafés in this pretty town are modern museums, peaceful boat trips and more, for a start, including some darn fine, delectable gin. Read on for our pick of best things to see and do. 

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This guide was recently updated by Caroline Mills, a writer from Stratford-upon-Avon. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines

What to do in Stratford-upon-Avon

The Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. The Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

What is it? The Royal Shakespeare Company has three theatres in Stratford. With a striking riverside location, the flagship Royal Shakespeare Theatre is where you can catch many of the Bard’s famous works while, next door, the more intimate Swan Theatre stages plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries and later writers. Performing arts centre The Other Place (see below) is 100 metres away, on Southern Lane.

Why go? All the world’s a stage, but there’s no better place to watch Shakespeare’s plays than his hometown. Come early for a pre-theatre meal in the third-floor rooftop restaurant with remarkable views over the River Avon. If you’re just not sure about sitting through a full-on production, you can book a backstage tour to see behind the scenes of the world-class theatre, climb to the top of The Lantern for above-rooftop views over the town, or visit The Play’s The Thing, a free, permanent, and interactive exhibition about creative theatre processes.

MAD Museum
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2. MAD Museum

What is it? The Mechanical Art and Design Museum on Henley Street is the only permanent venue for this type of art in England. Sourced from artists and inventors all around the world, the interactive sculptures – or ‘kinetic art’ – include marble runs, 3D faces and flying mechanical birds.

Why go? It’s not often that science and technology marry so well with art and design, but this is where the left-hand and right-hand sides of the brain get to work together. Run by a local family, kids and big kids alike will enjoy the treasure trove of whirring gizmos on display. Each artwork is given a light-sensitive button; wave your hand over the top and it bursts into life. There’s also a have-a-go studio to create your own masterpiece. Don’t miss MAD’s mini museum, housed in a red telephone box, at the north end of Henley Street, too.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

3. Shakespeare’s Birthplace

What is it? Owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, this carefully restored timber-framed house on Henley Street is where Shakespeare was born and spent his childhood. 

Why go? Discover the place that was the prologue to Shakespeare’s life. Check out rare artefacts from the Trust and take a trip back in time with the captivating, costumed guides who will bring Shakespeare’s story to life. An exhibition before you enter the house guides you through his colourful life story and introduces some of the words and phrases attributed to him that have become part of our everyday usage. Bedazzled? Yep, he invented that.

4. Green Intentions

What is it? Stratford’s first zero-waste coffee shop, with waste reused, repurposed, recycled or composted.

Why go? This cheery little café – there’s only six tables – has sustainability at heart. Alongside its homemade quiches, soups, and cake, it serves the best coffee in Stratford, using fresh-ground beans from Monsoon Estates (based in town), and a fantastic cuppa, served in fancy teapots. Green Intentions is located in the Antiques’ Centre (more granny’s house clearance than high-brow collectables) off Ely Street, which is a great place to rummage for a bargain.

Bancroft Gardens
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5. Bancroft Gardens

What is it? With its central location overlooking the theatres and the Avon, this pretty, riverside garden is one of the best places to bag a spot, spread out a blanket and indulge in a sunny afternoon picnic. 

Why go? There are plenty of grass areas and park benches that surround Stratford’s canal basin, with decorative barges from which to pick up a baguette and ice cream for lunch. Take a short boat cruise along the river to see famous sites from a duck’s-eye view. If you want to row your own way, hire cute rowing boats by the hour – they’re each named after a different Shakespeare character. For a selfie with the Bard, his statue appears among flower beds on the east side of the marina.

6. Shakespeare's Distillery

What is it? Established in 2015, Shakespeare’s Distillery is an artisan gin and rum distillery that’s certified as being a carbon neutral business.

Why go? Like many a spot in the town, the distillery takes inspiration from the Bard himself, including characters from his plays and ingredients available during Tudor times. The small team offers a range of experiences for visitors to choose from, from a tour, tasting session and gin school to cocktail masterclasses and a 60-minute cruise along the River Avon. The distillery is three miles out of town, but you can book a gin tasting and pick up a bottle to take home from its High Street shop, slap-bang in the centre.

Anne Hathaway’s cottage
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Anne Hathaway’s cottage

What is it? If you arrive at Anne Hathaway's Cottage expecting the home of a Hollywood actor, we’re sorry to inform you there’s been an awkward mix-up. It’s not that  Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare buffs, however, won’t be disappointed with a visit to this picturesque 500-year-old cottage and the poignant love story behind it.

Why go? Forget Juliet, this is real-life ‘Shakespeare in Love’. The half-timbered and thatched farmhouse was the childhood home of Anne; amorous Wills courted her here before she became his bride. The pretty cottage has its original furniture and features, and the romantic gardens are the stuff sonnets are made of.

8. The Other Place

What is it? While not required as a theatre for current RSC productions, The Other Place has been transformed into a public space with café bar and warm building for tourists and the local community alike.

Why go? There’s a buzzy creative vibe about the space that has a different feel to your average café; all the theatre gubbins and lighting gantries are on show above, there are glitzy theatre costumes on display and cosy armchairs to wallow in alongside communal tables and quiet work booths. Come here for a coffee and a catch-up with mates, come here with your laptop to work quietly, come here to warm up and rest your feet after a wander around town. Board games, a bulging bookshelf and, on Tuesday afternoons, kids and grown-up activities await.

Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm

What is it? The UK’s largest tropical butterfly attraction is an ideal rainy-day activity. Wander through the Butterfly Farm to see exotic plants and gurgling waterfalls while hundreds of free-flying butterflies flutter around you.

Why go? Get up close to appreciate these dainty insects and learn about their lifecycle from caterpillar to chrysalis and beyond. For those into the less attractive members of the insect world, there’s a minibeast metropolis of centipedes, beetles, stick insects and a bird-eating tarantula. Shiver.  

Countess of Evesham

10. Countess of Evesham

What is it? Also known as Stratford’s ‘Orient Express’, this 70m restaurant cruiser drifts up and down the Avon along some of its prettiest stretches.

Why go? The Countess of Evesham allows you to dine on the River Avon in a unique setting, with fresh, traditional food on a seasonal menu that changes monthly. Opt for lunch service for a peaceful afternoon floating away past the theatres and Shakespeare’s Holy Trinity church and into the countryside, or a three-course meal on the leisurely evening cruise; the riverbanks are lit at dusk, making dinner a truly romantic occasion.

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