Stratford-upon-Avon – land of Shakespeare, heart of the Cotswolds, my current town of residence. “Budget” isn’t usually a word you’d come across when researching it; Warwickshire seems to be one of the most expensive places to live, and the restaurant and hotel prices aren’t exactly a backpacker’s dream.
Still, after living here for the last year, I’ve been able to see that it is possible to visit Stratford and do a lot of the usual touristy stuff – seeing a Shakespeare play at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, visiting his birthplace, possibly even doing something non-Shakespeare (Heaven forbid!) -without breaking the bank too much. I want to point out that nowhere has asked me to advertise them, and I am receiving no compensation whatsoever for any endorsements that I may seem to give! Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, these are my suggestions for a “budget” weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon:
By train: A single off-peak train ticket from Birmingham is currently £7.50, or £7.60 for a same-day return. Birmingham is just 45 minutes away by train, and from many UK locations you’ll possibly need to change in Birmingham anyway. My advice is firstly to check www.thetrainline.com for ticket prices – you’ll see that travelling at certain times is much, much cheaper than others. For example, from London (Marylebone), a journey can be as low as £6 one way if you choose the right time. If nothing looks cheap, try looking up the price from your destination to Birmingham – strangely, it will sometimes me much cheaper to buy a ticket to Birmingham and then a separate one to Stratford-upon-Avon, rather than buying one ticket. This, of course, makes no sense, but there we go – I paid £17 + 7 from Pwllheli, rather than the £56 I was quoted when I searched for Pwllheli-Stratford.
By bus: If you don’t mind a slower journey, you can get a National Express bus to Stratford-upon-Avon for around £17 round trip from London, for example, or £25 from Manchester. A cheaper option is to take a Megabus to
Birmingham – these can be as cheap as £2 from London! Once you’re in Birmingham, grab a train to Stratford or, alternatively, catch a coach from Birmingham coach station with Johnson’s coaches – £5.20 for a single, £6.20 for a return.
Driving/parking: You can work out how to get here, but it’s parking that can really get you in Stratford. For short term parking, try a few residential streets that are perhaps a 10 minute walk from the centre – some will allow you to park for 2 hours for free as a non-resident, while others(e.g. around Sanctus Road) seemingly have no restrictions. Of course, always check! Where you stay might have somewhere to park for free. For cheap parking, this spot on Birmingham Road (near No 1 Shakespeare Street) offers £3 parking all day. If you’re looking for something more secure, Bridgeway Multi Storey car park is free for the first hour, going to £10 for 24 hours.
Places to Stay
When my parents come to stay, they consistently find The Applegarth is the cheapest place to stay – from £32 for a double room – and they say it’s very nice and suits all their needs. From time to time, the Travelodge on Birmingham Road will be quite reasonable, but by that I mean £60-70 a night – quite a lot for a budget traveller. The cheapest signs I’ve seen are for the Queen’s Head pub on Ely Street – £20-30 a night, according to their sign – although I can’t find much about this and the reviews on Trip Advisor don’t seem great.
If you have a car and don’t mind being out of the centre, keep in mind that it’s just a 20-25 minute drive from Coventry or Redditch, where you’ll be able to find much cheaper accommodation (through booking.com, laterooms.com or something similar). I once stayed at the Stag at Redhill, which is about a 10 minute drive from Stratford – I think it was £50 for a room.
However, my favourite website for accommodation is Airbnb.com. If you don’t know it, it’s a website where anybody can rent out their private room, flat, house, whatever they’ve got. You can narrow your search depending on whether you want a whole flat to yourself or you’re happy using a bedroom in someone’s house. There are some places in Stratford on here for around £35 a night.
There’s also lots of camping sites around Stratford, although I don’t know much about them!
It’s hard to find really cheap food in Stratford, as it’s a tourist town. However, I’ve managed to find a few places. Of course, there’s a Wetherspoons (on Sheep Street) named The Golden Bee, which has affordable food and drinks and is perhaps one of the cheapest places to eat/drink in Stratford.
Other breakfast spots worth visiting, in my opinion, include The Yard of Ale – this is a little out of the town, perhaps a 25 minute walk up Birmingham. When you pass the Maybird Centre, where you can find lots of shops, a huge Tesco etc, you’ll eventually see it on your right. They do breakfasts from £2.95 for a full English, as well as £5 lunches, and the down-to-earth atmosphere is a breath of fresh air after being in the centre of Stratford for too long. Morrisons, just West of the train station, do some cheap breakfasts in their café! Also, if you don’t mind a bit of a walk again, The Squirrel does an all-you-can-eat breakfast every Saturday for £3.95 (from 10am-2pm)!
Closer to the centre, Spoonfuls do cooked breakfasts for around £5. Then again, if you’re on a real budget, you can grab something from McDonalds (hmm), Greggs, Sainsbury’s (all on Bridge Street, right in the centre) or something similar…
Lunch-wise, I’m a big fan of Fresh and Funky on Greenhill Street. They’ll make any salad, panini, bagel or baguette you ask for – you’re not limited to their already extravagant menu, and it’s normally around £3 (most central cafés will charge £5+ for the same thing). There’s also a baguette bar called Fresh on the High Street, which seems to have a similar menu and pricing – but is a bit busier due to its location.
Another lunchtime favourite of mine is The Courtyard Café, located in The Minories (a small street between Meer Street and Henley Street) – you’ll probably see chalkboards advertising it on either side. They have a generous special board, with everything made on site and around £5 (I paid £5 for duck curry and rice, which was lovely). The whole place is decked out in 1970’s style, with retro magazine and comic pages everywhere and delicious home-made cakes, so it’s also great for coffee and cake in the afternoon. However, I’ve seen some reviews saying that the owners turn people away at lunchtime if they just want tea… I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve seen how busy the place can get around lunchtime!
If you prefer to eat a lot at lunchtime, you can find some pretty good lunch deals on the weekdays, for example Bamboodle (Union Street) does a take-away lunch deal for £6.50 which goes until 5pm – so this can also be your early dinner! If the weather’s nice, you can easily take this to the Bancroft Gardens, the park around the theatre, and enjoy it on a bench while watching the swans, geese and dogs go by. If you like Thai food and want a restaurant lunch meal, Thai Kingdom (Warwick Road) is very nice and does lunch for £6.99 per person. Of course, the budget is starting to creep up now – you can always grab something from a shop again and eat it in the park!
For dinner, a lot of restaurants offer “pre-theatre” menus for around £13 for two courses, which isn’t bad. However, for our conscientious budget traveller, you could pop into The Noodle Box on Greenhill Street – any meat/veg with rice and sauce is £5, and they open from 5pm every day but Tuesday. The Squirrel again is very cheap with mains from £4, but I can’t vouch for the quality as I haven’t tried anything there yet. There’s always Wetherspoons, too. If you’re in town on a Tuesday night and there’s more than one of you, The Hole in the Wall (Birmingham Road) do amazing pizzas which are two for the price of one (so around £4 per pizza) – with toppings like duck in hoisin sauce, it’s worth trying – but be warned they stop taking food orders around 8pm.
A little bit out of centre, there are a couple of family pub/restaurants that I really like. You will pay a bit more, but if you’ve saved up on breakfast and lunch and want something a bit nicer in the evening, I’d recommend The Old Tramway Inn, down on Shipston Road (towards Waitrose) – you can get jacket potatoes or paninis for £5 or so, or things like lasagne for £8.95 or an 8oz ribeye steak for £14.95. The atmosphere is lovely and the food is wonderful – very big, quality portions (none of the pretentious nonsense that many places will serve!). If you’re driving, I also love the Armouries Arms, which is on the way to Wilmcote (where Mary Arden’s farm is located). They had tons of specials, ranging from delicious chicken, bacon and leek pie to Thai green curry, and mains were around £8-10.
Drinking and Nightlife
Hmm, this is where Stratford falls down. There’s really not much going on in the way of nightlife, especially now that the main “clubbing” spots (Chicago’s and Maisons) have closed. People usually party at Wetherspoons until the 1am kick-out, with perhaps a visit to No 1 Shakespeare – although they often charge £5 for entry, they have a dancefloor. The cheapest place for drinks after ‘Spoons is the Oddfellows Arms, a strange little place on Windsor Street (opposite the Picturehouse) where pints are something like £2.80, perhaps less. They even attempt karaoke on a Thursday night. After that, the only place still open seems to be Caz Bar on Union Street, which is a “Moroccan-themed bar” (I think it’s a strip club, but I still haven’t ventured there)…
There are a few open mic nights and pub quizzes around Stratford that you might enjoy, too. Check what the Picturehouse bar is doing, for example – there’s a board outside it listing events, which may include fun things like “drink and draw” as well as quizzes and music. The Lazy Cow hosts an open mic night every other Friday, and there’s often live music at No 1 Shakespeare Street. As for pub quizzes, the ones I know are Monday night at the Windmill (Church Street), Wednesday at the Hole in the Wall, The Squirrel on Sundays and The Old Tramway on Thursdays. There are sure to be more, have a look around!
That’s about it. If you want nightlife, go to Birmingham ;)!
Theatre: You can actually get tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company for as little as £14, if you don’t mind a
restricted view. The thing is, the “restricted” view is usually not that bad and won’t really ruin your enjoyment of the show. If you know someone who lives in Stratford in the CV37 postcode (e.g. if you’re using Airbnb), ask them to help you – people who live in this post code can get tickets for £10 if there are any left on the day of performance, as long as they can show proof of address.
There are lots of other theatre companies around Stratford who put on cheaper performances throughout the year – see what’s on at the Courtyard Theate, for one, or check out the Stratford Arts House. The Bear Pit theatre website also shows you what’s on in Stratford.
Shakespeare things: Well, I’m not going to write a lot about this. It’s around £25 for a ticket that gets you into all the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust places, but it lasts for a year. So, if you are in touch with anyone who’s been to Stratford recently, you could potentially use their ticket – the only identifying thing on the ticket is a signature. There’s an expensive bus that will take you around the sites, but you can walk to most of them. Ann Hathaway’s cottage would be a 30-minute walk or so, not bad for some people in good weather! As for Mary Arden’s farm, a train to Wilmcote only takes 7 minutes and costs £2 return (if they even check) – the farm is pretty near the station.
Non-Shakespeare things: Hmmm, well. There are a couple of other things to do here, such as visiting the MAD Museum, Magic Alley, the Tudor Museum or the Butterfly Farm…. at night, you can also check out Ghost Tours for around £6. However, for the budget traveller, the main thing I’d suggest is taking some nice walks. My favourite walks are through the park: cross the bridge near the theatre, walk through the park and keep walking until you reach another bridge. You can either cross it and start walking back to the centre, past the Holy Trinity Church and to the theatre again, or you can carry on even further south past the bridge until your only option is to turn left and up through the trees. If you carry on along this path you’ll eventually be walking along big, open fields. It’s a lovely walk, and you can intersect with the Greenway from here – just look for an old railway bridge that’s being walked on! The Greenway itself is a great walk or cycle path, check it out.
My other favourite walk is to go north along the Avon itself. To do this, start at the Stratford Tourist Information Centre and start walking towards the Holiday Inn (north). Just before the Holiday Inn, take the turn to the right and keep walking – not into the Marina car-park, of course, but to the naturey-bits! It’s a lovely little walk and it ends up near a piece of the river that some people like to swim in.
Nearby places to see: If you’re in the area, it might also be worth checking out some other nearby Cotswold villages. Chipping Campden and Broadway are really nice places to wander around, and I’ve heard good things about Bourton-on-the-Water, too. You can check the local bus schedules at Travel Lines SW, although it’s usually much easier to drive, if you have the option! Or, why not hire a bike in the spring? You can hire them for £15 a day at
Stratford Bike Hire or from £7 at the café on the Greenway – just enter the Greenway and look for the café inside an old train carriage.
For those of you visiting this part of the UK for the first time, it might be worth also visiting Bibury, “the most beautiful village in England” and one used in a few films, namely Stardust and Bridget Jones’s Diary!
On the train, it’s not far to Oxford, or perhaps you’d like to pop over to Bristol or Bath for a day or two. There’s also a lot to do in Birmingham, especially if you like shopping and good nightlife. It’s also a two hour drive to Stonehenge, if you fancy a bit of a day out – although that’s not really so cheap.
So, to summarise – the cheapest you can probably do this is a Megabus to Birmingham (£2) then a bus into Stratford (£5.20). Find a cheap room on Airbnb (£35), try getting theatre tickets on the day, and try asking around to see if anybody has Birthplace tickets that you can borrow! Realistically, if you want to eat out, see a show and visit the houses, you’re looking at something like:
Breakfast: £3 (Yard of Ale)
Lunch: £3 (Fresh and Funky)
Dinner: £5 (Noodle Box)
Theatre: £14 (restricted view)
Birthplace Trust: £25
Accommodation: £35 (assuming you just stay for one night)
Getting in (from London): £7.20
Total = £92.20.
Not super-budget, but still a lot less than the average tourist will pay here.
Of course, if you’re really nice and can perhaps offer me accommodation/food somewhere else cool in the world, you promise to cook for me or teach me something interesting etc., I might be able to put you up here for free…. it’s email@example.com… 🙂