Visitors who are not careful and selective could find a level of bad service, unappealing food and tired, overpriced accommodation that more customer-oriented English towns left behind decades ago.
Blame the BardShakespeare is responsible for both what's good and what's bad about Stratford-upon-Avon. There's no denying that this is a "must visit" place for anyone interested in literature, theatre, western culture and English history. But it is also a place where sheer volume has allowed some local innkeepers and restauranteurs, to take visitors for granted.
Stratford-upon-Avon - The GoodBecause of the Bard:
- picturesque, 15th to 17th century architecture - half-timbered buildings, thatched roofs - have been preserved in pristine condition.
- the Royal Shakespeare Company was founded here in Victorian times. It is a genuine treasure of world culture and a terrific place to see a play.
- the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, founded in the 19th century, has turned five Shakespeare houses into outstanding visitor attractions.
Stratford-upon-Avon - The BadBut, also because of the Bard, millions of visitors have come here from all over the world for hundreds of years. And they come regardless of the quality of much of what they find. For some, the captive audience is a licence for lack of effort. As a result:
- Hotel accommodation within the town can be second rate, tired and, in my opinion, over priced.
- It is hard, though not impossible, to find fairly priced, good quality meals. And, for a town with so many visitors ready and willing to spend money, there are, surprisingly, no really notable restaurants.
- At least one heavily promoted attraction is hardly worthy of a substandard theme park.
- On national holidays and school vacations, the crowds are astounding.
How to Avoid the PitfallsIt is still really worth visiting Stratford-upon-Avon for a day or two. Just keep these pointers in mind:
- Avoid the obvious. Don't look for good food or great rooms in the prettiest half-timbered buildings - unless someone has specifically recommended them to you. They've been trading on their visual charm for years. I've recently been served the worst afternoon tea I've ever had in England in one such place. And, to add insult to injury, it was expensive!
- Avoid UK national holidays and school vacations when every school child in the UK, France and Germany is on a school or family trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. The Waterside area gets as crowded as Times Square on New Year's Eve.
- Skip "attractions" that are clearly hyped for tourists. "Shakespearience" is one that's worth a miss. Save your money and spend it across the road on an RSC production instead.
- Ask a local. Local people go out for meals and drinks too. Find out the places they like. The clerk in the wine store directed me to a trendy cocktail bar in, of all place, the Holiday Inn.
- Avoid restaurants that look "fancy". They are likely to be expensive and pretentious. Nothing is worse than being served mutton presented as lamb. When it comes to food and drink, the simpler the better in Stratford-upon-Avon.
- If you stay in town, go for simpler in accommodations too. Within the town limits, an unpretentious B&B will probably be friendlier, more comfortable and better value for money than the mid-priced hotels. Check out our recommended B&B accommodations in Stratford-upon-Avon.
- Try staying just outside the town. A few country house hotels on the fringes of Stratford-upon-Avon are very charming. And, depending upon the time of year, pretty good value too.