This handy guide to a Stratford upon Avon weekend break features a (large) sprinking of Shakespeare, a misting of magic, and some pretty delicious places to eat…
Stratford upon Avon has been on my UK hit list for a couple of years now, and for my recent birthday, we spent a weekend exploring the home of Shakespeare. As a former drama student, I’ve always been quite the fan – so spending my birthday weekend in his birthplace seemed like the perfect plan. But as I discovered – there’s plenty more to Stratford beyond the Bard too…
We arrived in Stratford early on Saturday afternoon, slightly later than planned because some daft human (me) muddled up our stations…so as soon as the train pulled in to the station, I was ready to get straight down to exploring this welcoming Warwickshire town.
World of Wizards: Magic Alley
If you’re a fan of the wizarding world, Magic Alley is a must-visit. Because, quite obviously, this shop, attraction and cafe is all about all things magical…which is why it was pretty much the first stop on our Stratford upon Avon itinerary.
It has touches of the Potterverse, but mostly delves into a wizarding world that goes way beyond Hogwarts and Harry. It’s primarily based around the Chronicles of Wizard’s Thatch series of books by Dave Matthews, with some Shakespeare and Dr Who references too.
As we moved around the rooms, we had a quiz sheet to fill out, and there are a range of interactive things to do, like trying on some snazzy robes and writing a letter to be sent via ‘owl post’. At the end we were presented with our Wizarding Certificates and Broomstick License.
After the attraction, we settled down in the Café for a Butterbeer – which I actually liked better than the HP Studio Tour ones…
Stratford upon Avon River Walking
Originally we’d looked at hiring a rowing boat on the River Avon, but because the sun was out in force, the queue was massive. If you’re really keen to get paddling, I’d suggest booking in advance!
Instead, we strolled around the riverside area – which was way busier than I’d expected for a West Midlands market town. Obviously the sun had brought out the crowds – although with the gorgeous views, it wasn’t surprising!
Shopping in Stratford upon Avon
For a relatively small town, Stratford upon Avon has plenty of shopping opportunities. Of course, there are your big high street names: New Look, Accessorize and Waterstones – but it’s the smaller, independent shops that really caught my eye.
Henley Street, where you’ll also find Shakespeare’s Birthplace, is a good bet for more unique and unusual shopping – alongside the expected novelty gift shops and plenty of Harry Potter memorabilia. The Stratford Sweet Shop has walls lined with colourful sugary treats in cutesy jars – and the obligatory box of fudge or tin of biscuits for the office snack table.
Festive obsessives can get their fix in the Nutcracker Christmas Shop – because yep, it’s open all year round! Away from the brick and mortar shops, we stumbled across the Saturday Market on Airfield, which sells produce, clothing, homewares and gifts.
Greek Meze at El Greco Restautant
I’d been recommended El Greco by a few people over on Twitter, so we headed there for a meze-style late lunch.
The sun was still shining, so we took a table outside – the perfect way to enjoy our mixed meze. I’m always a sucker for pitta bread dipped in taramasalata, and the generous portion provided enough for some serious scooping.
Some parts of the meze impressed a little more than others – namely, the spinach and cream cheese parcels, lamb kofte and halloumi – but overall, it was a delicious, fresh tasting meze, perfectly enjoyed in the springtime sunshine.
The Old Thatch Tavern
Before making our way to our hotel for the night, we popped into Stratford upon Avon’s well-known Old Thatch Tavern for a pint. It’s pretty small inside, but we grabbed a table near the door and soaked up the timbered charms of this cosy little inn.
Hallmark Welcombe Hotel, Stratford
Usually when I’m shooting off on a UK city break, I’ll lay my head down in affordable, no-frills accommodation. But for my pre-birthday weekend, MyHotelBreak got in touch asking if I’d like to experience a stay in one of their carefully selected UK hotels for a staycation. I decided on the Hallmark Welcombe Hotel, just outside of Stratford upon Avon in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside.
The Hallmark Hotel The Welcombe, originally built in 1866, caught my eye, with its traditional Jacobean style build, and stunning gardens.
As we were celebrating, the hotel gave us a lovely upgrade to one of their four poster suites, and I felt like a Tudor QUEEN sleeping in the glorious, curtained bed.
After chilling out in the room for a bit, we headed down for our included meal. Dinner service was unfortunately quite slow, but the food itself was enjoyable – particularly the whole baked camembert we devoured as a starter.
In the morning, we took a stroll into the gorgeous grounds. There’s also a spa and fitness suite that you can take full advantage of during your stay.
A bed and breakfast package starts at £50.85 per person for a basic double room (based on two adults sharing). The dinner package starts at £73.35, and includes £23pp towards your evening meal. A room only stay starts at £40.05. Book your stay with MyHotelBreak.
Stratford upon Avon’s Shakespeare Trail
The main bulk of our Saturday afternoon was spent in pursuit of the Bard – with Stratford upon Avon being William Shakespeare’s home town, it’d be rude not to, really.
First stop: where it all began! If you’ve only got the time/inclination to check out one of these spots, Shakespeare’s Birthplace would be it.
From birthplace to final resting place, Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church is where you’ll find Shakespeare’s grave. Complete with an inscribed curse upon anyone who moves his bones…
We didn’t have the time to get out to two other locations; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) and Mary Arden’s Farm, but if you’re looking for the full Shakespeare experience in Stratford, they’re a short drive from the town centre.
An Italian Lunch at Wildwood
As it was Mother’s Day, all the local restaurants seemed super busy at lunchtime – but we managed to get ourselves a table at Wildwood, lured in by the promise of pizza. I’m always lured in by the promise of pizza.
We started with some arancini balls that had a gorgeous consistency and plenty of warming cheese; as well as some of the best calimari I’ve had in a while.
Of course, I had to tuck into some birthday weekend pizza! The Italian smoked ham & rocket pizza was inspiringly fresh, with a generous amount of topping, a thin base with a just-crisp-enough crust and a rich tomato sauce.
Stratford upon Avon’s Tudor World
Remember the Horrible Histories books? The Terrible Tudors was my favourite. I even had the Smelly Old History scratch and sniff book for the Tudor times, because I was the coolest of kids.
Turns out, Tudor World does pretty well in replicating the sights and smells of Tudor days gone by. With exhibits including a typical bedroom, life at sea and what happened when the plague doctor paid a visit, it’s a fun, interactive little spot
Budget Travel Tip: We used DaysOutGuide to get two-for-one entry to Tudor World and Shakespeare’s Full Story with our rail tickets – saving us £30.50 on the price of the two attractions for both of us. If you’re travelling in the UK by train and want to save money visiting attractions, it’s kinda a no-brainer.
The Garrick Inn
With an hour to kill before our train back to London after our Stratford upon Avon weekend break, one final drink was in order – and where better to go than to the oldest pub in Stratford, The Garrick Inn, for a pint of ‘Shakesbeer’? This olde-worldy pub has plenty of original features, and a relaxed vibe.
Getting to Stratford upon Avon
Our advance trains cost £17 for a return to Stratford from London, with a Two Together railcard – so if you’re booking ahead of your trip, you can get some really cheap train deals! It took around 2 and a half hours with one change, so it’s pretty easy to maximise your weekend adventure.