Stratford Upon Avon is Juliette’s home town and the birthplace of Juliettes Interiors (you thought we were going to say William Shakespeare, didn’t you?). It’s also home to our admin office and a small team of admin staff. As our travel plans have been seriously curtailed this summer, we are all spending at least part of our staycation in Stratford. Instead of wasting this enforced staycation doing nothing in particular, we’ve decided to treat this the same as we would any other holiday by being tourists in our own town. Here, the Juliettes team share their insider knowledge with their favourite places and things to do. Whether you come on a day trip, a short break or a longer holiday, there is plenty to do, see, eat and drink. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about Shakespeare. Although quite a bit of it is.
Situated at the northern edge of the Cotswolds, Stratford Upon Avon is a small but charming market town. You could walk around the whole town in about an hour, but not if you want to stop and experience any of the delights on offer. You’ll find crooked little Tudor houses, cobbled alleys, hidden courtyards and bustling markets. Photo opportunities abound so keep your eyes peeled. Make sure you look up as there are some spectacular facades up above the very ordinary shop fronts. Parking in the town centre is not easy but there are several large car parks just on the edges of town, only a few minutes’ walk away. So, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of Stratford to see if we can tempt you to come for a quick staycation.
Top 10 Things To Do on a Stratford Upon Avon Staycation
This is first on our list because it will take you to just about anything you want to see on a Stratford staycation. Whether it’s Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the River Avon or the Butterfly Farm, there is a bus stop within walking distance. The distinctive, bright red double decker buses have live commentary in English plus recorded commentary in 7 languages. To be honest, apart from Mary Arden’s Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, you could probably walk but this is a much more leisurely way of getting around, and you have the commentary to tell you what to look out for and where.
Because we live here, we don’t often visit any of these – but we’ve made more of an effort on our staycations this year. Thanks to covid, not all the properties are open for summer 2021 but three are still welcoming visitors. Shakespeare’s Birthplace on Henley Street is the most-visited (but not necessarily our favourite). Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery was the family home of William’s wife (and, in our opinion, more interesting). We still haven’t done New Place, the site of the grand house Shakespeare had built on High Street when he was rich and famous. For any fans of Upstart Crow with David Mitchell, this was the second largest house in Stratford. None of the building remains but a massive archaeological dig has unearthed all sorts of treasures so we’re looking forward to going before the end of the summer.
Known by locals as The Jam Factory, the theatre is a magnificent example of Art Deco architecture with some very recent additions, including a rooftop restaurant and the viewing tower, from which you can see the whole of Stratford in all directions. Insider fact: Designed by Elisabeth Scott and opened in 1932, it was the first notable building in the UK designed by a woman. Set in the beautiful Bancroft Gardens, they are currently showing The Comedy of Errors in the specially-created outdoor Garden Theatre – and there are still tickets available. Even if you don’t go to see the play, there is a great gift shop, the Rooftop Restaurant and the Riverside Café and terrace. It’s a lovely place to sit and watch the swans go by.
MAD stands for Mechanical Art and Design and this is a fantastic, interactive and hands-on collection of mechanical art and automata. Think of Wallace & Gromit, Scrapheap Challenge and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang all rolled into one. Insider fact: Did you know, until very recently, the actual Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car lived here in Stratford, just round the corner from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage? MAD Museum actively encourages kids (big and small) to touch things, to press buttons and to unleash their inner inventor. If you have children (and even if you don’t) this is a brilliant place to spend a morning. Tickets must be booked in advance during the school holidays.
Just across the river from the Bancroft Gardens and the Canal Basin is Stratford upon Avon Butterfly Farm, the UK’s largest tropical butterfly paradise. Winner of the Muddy Stilettos Award for the Best Family Attraction 2021, you can spend hours wandering through tropical rainforests, spotting hundreds of the world’s most exotic butterflies. They have a range of different areas to explore, with lots of other insects and invertebrates (arachnophobes beware). Poison dart frogs, leaf cutter ants, tarantulas – if you like that sort of thing.
Shakespeare’s newest play – a gift to King James for his birthday – has gone missing. Working as a team, you have one hour to find the clues, solve the puzzles and retrieve the script before the curtain goes up. Or, if you’ve had enough of Shakespeare by now, you can join a world of witches, wizards and evil curses in the Chalice of Champions escape room. This is really fun for all ages 8 and above. Even our teenagers put their phones away and had a great time.
We found this absolutely fascinating, and we learnt things we never knew about our own home town. Find out more about the lesser-known history of Stratford, with stories of fire, flood, plague and medieval medicines. OK, so there is still a fair bit of Shakespeare but plenty of other fascinating facts to keep you entertained. These walks take place every day at 11 am, starting at the Swan Fountain on Waterside (you can just about see the silver swan in the photo below). More of a stroll than a walk, the route is flat, wheelchair-friendly, and takes around 2 hours, so you’ll be back in time for lunch. Dogs are very welcome. You must book in advance.
As Philomena Cunk (aka Diane Morgan) says in Cunk on Britain, “School in Shakespeare’s day and age was vastly different to our own. In fact, it was far easier because he didn’t have to study Shakespeare.” She has a point! However, even Stratfordians love seeing this amazing Tudor schoolroom. You get to sit in Shakespeare’s actual classroom, take part in lessons, brush up on your Latin and have a go with a quill. You can even dress up for a Tudor selfie.
The Guildhall is home to a series of recently-discovered and very rare 15th century religious wall paintings. In fact, it was William’s father, John Shakespeare, who was responsible for whitewashing over these Catholic paintings during his tenure as Bailiff (or Mayor). They are an incredible find and historians are still finding out more about them. One in particular has been recognised as a Category 4 Artwork, putting it on a par with the Bayeux Tapestry. Well worth a visit.
In a building often described as the most haunted in England, this living history museum uncovers the lives of everyday folk in Tudor times. Behind a magnificent set of gates and at the end of a 400-year-old cobbled courtyard, the building is old, creaky and crooked, with narrow passageways, uneven floors, low beams and wonky steps. Like so many Stratford buildings, these are all original – not some Disney-esque recreation. It is a small, family-run enterprise with interactive and hands-on exhibits, a throne to sit on, a not-very-comfortable four poster bed that you can lie on (unlike the ones in the Shakespeare properties), and even a set of stocks for you to sit in if you’ve been naughty. TV’s ‘Most Haunted’ has been filmed there, so it’s no surprise that they also offer an evening Ghost Tour. None of us have taken advantage of that – we’re not brave enough!
BOATING ON THE AVON OR THE STRATFORD CANAL
Weather permitting, we’re hoping to go rowing as part of our staycation. It’s something none of us have done for ages. You tend to forget about the things on your doorstep. Whether you fancy a rowing boat, punt, canoe or motor boat, a canal or river cruise or a luxury dinner cruise, the River Avon and the Stratford upon Avon Canal offer options for all budgets. The only thing we don’t have is swan-shaped pedalos (not in keeping with the town, apparently). If you want a pedalo, you have to go over to St Nicholas Park in Warwick. In Stratford, the major operators are Avon Boating, Canal & River Tours and The Countess of Evesham. They all offer a slightly different experience so check them all out and see which takes your fancy.
If That’s not Enough for One Staycation
There were so many other things that very nearly made it into our Top 10. If you have time, check out a few :
- Harvard House (ancestral home of John Harvard, founder of Harvard University in Massachusetts)
- Holy Trinity Church (Shakespeare’s final resting place. Possibly)
- The American Fountain (once a very fancy clock tower and drinking trough with a great story behind it, now a very fancy clock tower and floral arrangement)
- The Big Wheel
- Mini Golf at The Recreation Ground (known as The Rec)
- Our Friday, Saturday and Sunday Markets
- Shakespeare Distillery Tours, Shop & Gin Cruise
- The Dirty Duck (real name: The Black Swan Pub)
Our Favourite Places to Eat
Stratford upon Avon is a small town but has a surprising number of really good eateries, from traditional pub grub to high class cuisine. If you just want to wander around and see what takes your fancy, two of the best areas are Sheep Street (for small, independent restaurants and lovely old buildings) and Bell Court (for some of the bigger chains, wine bars and our brand spanking new cinema). However, this would leave out some absolute gems so it’s best to give yourself plenty of time and go for a gentle wander so you don’t miss anything. If your feet are just too tired, we do have Just Eat and Deliveroo who will deliver to your hotel. Just don’t expect a massive choice. You’re not in Kansas now, Toto. So, where do we go when we want something special on our staycation?
The Vintner, Sheep Street
Oak beams, flagstone floors and some seriously lovely food. This is always Juliette’s favourite. Sometimes she even takes the team there for lunch. It has so much character and you’ll find plenty of locals eating here as well as tourists. A great place to while away an hour or two.
El Greco, Meer Street
Opposite the American Fountain, this is one of Karen’s all-time favourites. At lunchtime, they do a Greek mezze menu (the moussaka is to die for – says someone who can’t stand aubergine) or a choice of classic Greek specialities. The evening menu includes a spectacular sharing banquet with 22 different dishes. Great for special occasions or people who can’t make up their mind. They also have a gluten-free menu, and the best chips in Stratford.
Lamb’s of Sheep Street
A few doors away from The Vintner, this is another wonderful independent restaurant and one of the oldest buildings in Stratford, possibly built during the reign of Henry VIII. Tish’s favourite this time. Ingredients are always locally-sourced and the food is delicious. Not a budget option but we think it’s worth it.
Obviously, we want you to stay in Stratford for your staycation. However, this is a beautiful area to explore if you’re feeling more adventurous. If castles are your thing, both Kenilworth and Warwick are only a short drive away. Kenilworth Castle is a place where children can run around and let their imaginations run wild. The most complete part of the castle is Leicester’s Gatehouse, built by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to impress Queen Elizabeth I.
Warwick Castle is a very different proposition. Now part of Merlin Entertainment, it is much more commercialised but it is a superb example of a Norman motte and bailey castle – originally built in wood by William the Conqueror. It is now one of the best-preserved castles in the country. This summer, you’ll find Zog, Horrible Histories, falconry demonstrations and a massive trebuchet. Learn about Richard Neville Earl of Warwick (known as The Kingmaker), watch jousting tournaments or dare to visit the dungeon. And at the end of a tiring day, you can even have a mini staycation in a log cabin, a glamping village or the tower! It’s a few years since any of us have been but we do remember having picnics on the green and scaring ourselves silly in the dungeon.
As we mentioned at the beginning, Stratford is on the edge of the Cotswolds. This is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – recently renamed Cotswold National Landscape! It is jam packed with honey stone and thatched cottages, rolling hills, pretty villages, tea rooms, markets, pubs and independent shops. A Cotswold staycation would need its own post but these are just a few of our favourite places – all within easy driving distance of Stratford or there are tours available. Click the Cotswolds link above for more information.
- Broadway (fabulous shops and a wonderful tower, all alone on top of the hill)
- Moreton in Marsh (largest street market in the Cotswolds, every Tuesday)
- Bourton on the Water (home to an amazing model village and river football)
- Snowshill (field upon field of lavender and a tea room that serves lavender scones)
Well, we’re off to buy our bus tickets. No packing required. Let’s hope the weather behaves but, if not, we’ll sit downstairs on the bus and take advantage of some of the indoor activities on offer. Happy Staycation and we’ll see you in September.