A Shakespearean Guide to Stratford-upon-Avon
This article was originally published on the City Girl Network website in 2019. I reworked it for this blog in 2023.
Nestled on the river Avon, in the county of Warwickshire, lies Stratford-upon-Avon. The quaint little town near the Cotswolds is probably best known for being William Shakespeare’s home town. As a certified* ‘Shakespeare fan girl’, I knew I had to go and visit.
If you’re interested in tracing this famous playwright’s life through an adorable town, this article is for you!
*My English teacher used to be overjoyed by me actually enjoying Shakespeare, unlike absolutely everybody else in class.
How to get there
The easiest way to check how to get to Stratford-upon-Avon is to have a look on the National Rail website. From most places around the UK, including London and Manchester, you will have to change once, but depending on your route, this might differ.
Where to stay
In true Shakespearean fashion, there is a Mercure Shakespeare hotel with rooms named after his plays — which was the obvious choice for me. The beds are comfy, and the rooms are spacious and cosy. Plus, the location is really good. If AirBnBs are more up your alley, there is a good selection of those, too.
How to get around
Walk! Everything except for Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm is within a mere few minutes walking distance of each other. Even the above are only 30–45 minutes by foot. So, I highly recommend putting your comfy shoes on and getting those miles in!
Shakespeare’s Story Ticket
To make your sightseeing experience a bit easier, the Shakespeare birthplace trust offer a Story Ticket (previously called 'The Five House Pass'). It is valid for 12 months during which you get unlimited access to Shakespeare's Birthplace, Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Shakespeare's New Place. It’s £25.00 for adults and £12.50 for kids and you can buy it online.
What to do
SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHPLACE Right in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon is the house in which it all began: Shakespeare’s Birthplace. As you enter, you see a film about the impact Shakespeare’s work had on literature and language. Did you know that his works comprise nearly 1 million words, many of which he invented and which we still use today?
At the time, this was the largest house on Henley Street. Shakespeare grew up here with his parents and siblings, and spent the first years of his married life with Anne Hathaway in this very building, too. There is also a beautiful garden area in which actors occasionally act out a scene from one of his plays.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a lovely place to start your journey through his life, right in the city centre on Henley Street, CV37 6QW.
SHAKESPEARE’S NEW PLACE After you’ve learned about Shakespeare’s upbringing and the first years of his married life, it’s time to head over to New Place, which is a short walk away.
He bought this place in 1597 and lived there until he passed away in 1616. At the time, it was the largest house in the borough and the only one with a courtyard. Shakespeare paid £120 for it; for comparison, the average yearly salary of a school teacher was £20.
The house itself hosts an exhibition about the history of the building as well as Shakespeare’s time there. You can learn more about how his life had changed since becoming a famous writer, how his wife was living her life with a husband who commuted to London a lot and how his children’s childhood was very different from his own.
Together with his birthplace, New Place will give you a good impression on how Shakespeare’s life was turned around after becoming the famous playwright we know him as today. 22 Chapel Street, CV37 6EP.
ANNE HATHAWAY’S COTTAGE A 30-minute walk from Stratford-upon-Avon’s town centre is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage; a beautiful building at which the young William Shakespeare courted his bride-to-be. Whilst the walk is not the most scenic, the cottage is definitely worth the miles — as is the huge apple orchard you’re greeted with when you enter.
The very knowledgeable staff can tell you a little more about William’s and Anne’s relationship, their scandalous marriage (he was only 18 when they got married; she was 26) and life together. Take your time exploring all the different rooms, props and stories, and when you’re done, have a look at the beautiful garden.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is open from 9am – 5pm. I highly recommend going first thing in the morning and taking the tranquillity and peaceful silence all in. Find it at 22 Cottage Lane, Shottery, CV37 9HH.
HALL’S CROFT Hall’s Croft is the former home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall, a physician who was renowned for his work. They were a wealthy couple and could afford to have this house built for them in 1613/1614. After Shakespeare’s death in 1616, Susanna, John and their daughter Elizabeth moved into New Place.
There is an exhibition on the first floor about medicine and how it was viewed at the time. And as with all mansions, this one comes with a beautiful garden, too.
Hall’s Croft is definitely a hidden gem and something you shouldn’t miss. You can find it in Old Town, CV37 6BG.
HOLY TRINITY CHURCH AND THE GARDENS It might not look like much, but both in the rain and in the sunshine, this place is equally mesmerising and captivating.
The church itself, in which Shakespeare was baptised, married and buried, is beautiful. As you walk towards it, there is an avenue of lime trees, which are said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.
Admission is free, however, to visit Shakespeare’s grave in the Chancel, it’s £3. In fact, you’ll not only find Shakespeare’s grave, but also Anne Hathaway’s, John Hall’s, Savanna Hall’s and Thomas Nash’s.
The real winner, however, are the grounds surrounding it. You’ll find nothing but silence and peace; the water sparkles, the leaves rustle and it really gives you a chance to breathe.
Just a stone’s throw away from Hall’s Croft and New Place, find the Holy Trinity Church at Old Town, CV37 6BG.