Half-timbered Tudor houses, a busy canal and a friendly, country-town feel are the things that impressed me most about Stratford-upon-Avon in England's Midlands. My visit to Stratford was a brief one, en-route from York to the Cotswolds, about 25 minutes away, but it was a couple of very enjoyable hours. Shakespeare's old haunt certainly offers plenty of fun things to do.
We arrived by car and followed signs to a car park just across the River Avon from the town centre. Crossing the bridge back towards town and following the path alongside the river with its hub bub of canal boat activity, we arrived just in time to see a barge passing through the lock by the lovely Bancroft Gardens. It's here that the Avon meets the canal basin and the gardens are a pretty spot to stop and watch the activity.
I could have stood and watched the boats for hours but time was limited and there are so many things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon that we didn't want to waste a minute. Off we headed to the town centre. Restaurants and souvenir shops lined the street opposite the Bancroft Gardens but we walked a couple of blocks to the heart of town and the pedestrian-only Henley Street.
After admiring the many half-timbered Tudor houses lining the streets, it was time for a bit of refreshment at the lovely Hobsons Patisserie. Never have I seen such a huge selection of cakes - and all very reasonably priced. We enjoyed a lovely cuppa and cake alfresco whilst watching Stratford-upon-Avon go about its business.
As much as its friendly, market-town appeal pleases its visitors, there's something else that makes Statford- upon-Avon so popular with toursits today. William Shakespeare. England's most famous author was born and died in the town and his memory lives on with a number of houses linked to Shakespeare on the main tourist trail. As the saying goes 'When in Rome .....', so it was off on the Shakespeare trail for us, too!
Stratford-upon-Avon's hop on hop off bus has a one hour circuit around town via the most important sights. Tickets are valid for 24 hours but as we were catching the last bus of the day and guaranteed the driver we wouldn't be back tomorrow (unfortunately), he offered us a discount on our tickets. We weren't able to get off at any of the 10 stops (as there were no more buses operating that day) but we still got the chance to see Shakespeare's birthplace, his wife Anne Hathaway's cottage (where she lived before they were married), Holy Trinity Church (where Shakespeare is buried) and a number of other important town landmarks.
The informative commentary provided via headsets gave us a great insight into life in Shakespeare's time - the mid-1500s to early-1600s. After our hour-long tour, and with our heads full of fun (and sometimes frightening) facts from the Tudor period, it was time to farewell lovely Stratford-upon-Avon.
Top things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon
City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus
Tickets are valid for 24 hours and cost GBP12.50 per adult/GBP10.50 per senior/GBP6.50 per child.
Entry fees apply to the five 'Shakespeare Houses' which are managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Admission is GBP19 per adult for all five properties or GBP12 per adult for the three in-town houses. Individual tickets are also available.
Wander the streets
Enjoy the olde-world charm of Stratford's streets lined with half-timbered and thatched-roofed buildings.
You deserve a treat from Hobsons Patisseries on Henley Street. With such a large selection of cakes on offer, you might have trouble stopping at one!
Relax in Bancroft Gardens
Spend some time watching the barges coming and going on the Canal. There's ducks to feed, people to watch, and a lovely lawn on which to relax.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company
Why not enjoy a performance of one of the Old Bard's famous works performed by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company? Regular performances are held at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre alongside the Avon River.
I'd love to hear what your favourite things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon are. Please tell me in the comments below.