Eating on the go
I only got to spend a day here summer 2006 but I would suggest buying produce off the local street market sellers as a quick, cheap alternative for lunch. I bought loads of fruit and tomatoes (loving food anyway!) from one seller and happily sat in the sunshine watching the swans.
Sellers can be found all around the town in summer, and prices are usually reasonable, makes you feel better than pouring money into a supermarket or chain restaurant as well :) Eating beautiful mini tomatoes in the sunshine on the green :)
It's spring and the flowers are a'bloomn'!
We went in spring, the blossoms were out in full bloom as were the colourful flower beds!
This is a stunning time to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, not only because it is a beautiful time of year for the flowers, but because
(a) there are other people there but it isn't too crowded, as it does get in summer when the hordes arrive!, and
(b) even though it is spring, not summer, and there is a chill in the air, the skies were blue, perfect for picture taking!
The nearby manor house of Compton Verney makes a good "day out" from Stratford. It's very accessible by car - a ten minute drive. It is not so accessible by public transport, but I did manage to find the right bus that leaves from the high street in town, and which deposited me at the front gates of this grand house just twenty minutes later.
Compton Verney was designed by the architect Robert Adam, an 18th builder for the well-heeled. He had also been involved in renovations of Kenwood House, which is featured on my London page. However, Compton Verney is best known for being a particularly well preserved example of the landscape engineering of Lancelot "Capability" Brown, who was loved for his seeming ability to improve on nature, that is, to make the landscape fit idealized concept of natural perfection, even if took a lot of work to reach that goal. From the guidebook: "Between 1768 and 1774, Brown removed the baroque setting of the house. . . He transformed the formal gardens, rides and vistas into a naturalistic landscape of shrubberies, parkland with specimen trees and clumps, and belts of woodland planted along the valley sides. Encircling carriage drives and paths were laid out around the pleasure grounds, lake and parkland, from which 'set piece' views to the facades of the house could be enjoyed."
It's been turned into an art gallery, housing an interestingly eclectic assortment of pieces owned by the "Peter Moores Foundation." The art gallery is very well designed to allow in maximum light, and I think most paintings in look their best in this kind of prosperous but domestic setting. The Foundation specializes in 18th century British portraiture, baroque Neapolitan art, and Chinese bronzes. I told you it was eclectic! The current "special" exhibit was dedicated to the portraits of John Constable, the greatest of English landscape artists - kind of a reminder that British identity is much connected with its lived-in and imagined environment. Which may be why the British are often tuned into environment issues before other people.
Stratford Butterfly Farm
Across the footbridge by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the river, there are signs and a short walk to the Butterfly Farm. A tropical park, with information centers on lots of insect type things, it's something a bit different to do in Stratford to get away from the hordes of Shakespeare-ites :)
Before actually going into Shakespeare's house, you go thru a small exhibition which tell you about Shakespeare's life and his career. Then you can walk thru various rooms and see where the Shakspeare family ate, slept and John Shakespeare (William's father) glove-making shop. There actuallly was a man there demonstrating the process of glove-making and was quite knowledgable about not only William but the whole Shakespeare family. In fact, all of the staff seemed more than willing to answer Any questions you might have about the house, the times, or about Shakespeare.
If you are only staying in town and have the time, I would highly recommend getting a 3 in 1 ticket to see shakespeare's birthplace as well as new place/Nash's house and hall's croft. Or if you have access to a car or you can take a hop-on-hop-off tour bus --I would get the 5 house ticket which also gets you into Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Mary Arden's House (both located a few miles outside of town). You will definitely get more for your money.