Jackie Harding: ‘To be, or not to be in Stratford-upon-Avon, that is the question’

Stratford-upon-Avon is a small town in the county of Warwickshire, close to the centre of England and about a two-hour drive from London. It is most famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the location of the prestigious theatre company the Royal Shakespeare Company, known as the RSC.

But there is more to the town than its Shakespeare connections and it is a great base from which to explore the beautiful Cotswold countryside. 

What to do

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

This beautiful 16th century house is worth visiting even if you are not a Shakespeare fan. It was where the writer was born, lived as a child and where he spent his first five years of marriage and is great to get an idea of how a business man (his father was a glove maker) and his family would have lived during this period.

Plus: A Shakespeare’s Story Ticket costs 26 pounds (30 euros) and covers all three homes and is valid for 12 months.

Minus: This is the number one tourist spot so be prepared for lines although the tickets are timed. Pre-booking is essential.

(Photo from Flickr)

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

This relates to Shakespeare’s wife, not the American actress. This beautiful 500-year-old (1463) farm cottage, lived in by the same family for 13 generations, is also worth a visit. Its beautiful English cottage garden and sculpture, inspired by some of “The Bard’s” more famous plays, still houses some original furniture. 

Plus: Covered by The Shakespeare Story Ticket.

Minus: Closed during the winter and is not in the centre of town (Well, it is a farmhouse!) It’s a 30-minute walk or 7-minute drive. 

The Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre

If you are staying overnight, then this is a wonderful opportunity to spend the evening with a prestigious theatre company.

Stratford-upon-Avon has three RSC theatres:

• the RSC Theatre (Shakespeare’s plays dominate here)

• the Swan Theatre (plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries)

• and The Other Place (new plays in a more intimate setting)

All are worth a visit. If you are interested in theatre life, then the RSC has events from backstage tours to director talks to watching understudies rehearse.

Plus: This respected theatre company has alumni like Dame Judy Dench, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Michael Gambon … name a great and they have been with this company. So, what can be bad?

Minus: Can’t think of one!

Stratford Town Walks

Stratford Town Walks provide an easy stroll through the town with a history lesson thrown in and some discounts with local tourist venues, shops, and eateries. They also offer a Ghost Walk on Saturday evenings. Check out their website.

Plus: 10 pounds for two hours of entertainment and is available 365 days a year.

Minus: Goes ahead rain or shine. So, for your two hour walk you may need an umbrella.

Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm

This is one of the UK’s largest butterfly exhibits and is close to the town centre. Housed in a large greenhouse with tropical plants, some tropical animals such as poison frogs and iguanas and hundreds of butterflies in their natural habitat. 

Plus: an entertaining indoor exhibition that kids and adults will enjoy, especially on a rainy day.

Minus: Can get crowded.

All photos by Jackie Harding unless noted

River Fun

A 45-minute boat trip takes you through the canal lock onto the River Avon where you pass the RSC theatre, the church where Shakespeare is buried and through some idyllic countryside whilst being entertained by an audio tour.

There is also the Countess of Evesham, a 21-meter restaurant cruiser that is available for lunch cruises during the summer and evening dinner cruises. You can also rent motorized punts, row boats, motorboats, a large canoe, and an electric launch if you fancy being independent on the river.

Plus: Adult friendly with a romantic dinner on the water or kid friendly fun on the water in a row boat.

Minus: Book ahead as these are popular.


The town of Stratford-upon-Avon seems to have all the usual chain stores you find in most UK towns plus a selection of antique stores. On the first and third Saturdays of the month there is also a farmers’ market. If you are looking for Shakespeare memorabilia, then this is definitely the place!

Plus: High Street stores with good selections.

Minus: Very few independent stores. The town’s shopping felt a bit generic. There were quite a few empty stores. An unfortunate sign of the UK economy.

Where To Sleep

There is a plethora of small hotels, bed & breakfasts, guest houses, caravan parks and some riverside lodges. Stratford-upon-Avon also has some higher quality hotels such as The Welcombe Hotel Best Western, The Arden, The White Swan Hotel and Hotel Indigo.

Where To Eat and Drink

Again, there are all the chain restaurants but dotted about are some great local places worth the visit and some really great English pubs.


The Dirty Duck is just opposite the RSC theatre so you might bump into an actor or two having a drink or dinner. Trading since 1738 this is the place for good beer and pub food.

The Rose and Crown is another old rambling pub that has been open since 1596. 

The Garrick is my personal favorite. This pub was built in the 1400’s and can be found next to The Harvard House (the owner’s grandson went on to found Harvard University). This place is like stepping back in time or stepping into The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade in Harry Potter! Very atmospheric with friendly locals and the usual “pub grub” and beer.


Carluccios is a chain restaurant that serves good quality Italian food.

Lambs Restaurant is in another ancient building, dating back to the 16th century, Lambs restaurant serves delicious local produce in a wonderful setting. I definitely recommend this place. Delicious food with gluten free options.

The Opposition Bistro is Lambs sister restaurant, which again uses local foods and creates a delicious menu.  Both restaurants serve a pre-theatre menu.

Salt ~ A Michelin-starred restaurant that is definitely worth a visit if you have saved up! Lunch is 85 pounds per person and dinner 120 pounds. You can see the menu here.

The Fourteas Tea-Room is a 1940’s themed tearoom where you can enjoy breakfast or an Afternoon Tea (think sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, as well as homemade cakes) whilst listening to Glenn Miller or Vera Lynn. Sounds swell.

Shakespaw Cat Café ~ a café where you can snuggle with a cat and eat cake? Sign me up! This concept, started in Taiwan and popular in Japan, gives those of us who love cats but can’t have one, the opportunity for cat cuddles with your coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. 

You must book ahead for the 80-minute time slot and there is a fee for entrance but, it’s for a good cause as the café also provides shelter and fostering to rescue cats from Peppers Pet Rescue. You can just visit for 6 pounds (7 euros) per head or choose a package, which vary from a coffee or tea 9 pounds 10 euros) per head on up to afternoon tea 28 pounds (33 euros) per head. 

Stratford-upon-Avon is definitely worth a visit and is a great jumping off point for the delightful and picturesque Cotswolds and its charming villages. 

Plus: The wealth of beautiful old buildings, amazing quality theatre and, if a Shakespeare fan, lots of associations with The Bard.

Minus: Very crowded in summer but there is a reason it’s on the tourist “must do” list and the rather bland shopping opportunities.

But as Shakespeare wrote, “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

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Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here

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