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Stratford, the West Midlands and Birmingham

Photo by Alison Plummer The Almonry, Evesham

Stratford, the West Midlands and Birmingham Itineraries

Birmingham for First-Timers

Great Days Out around Stratford-upon-Avon and the West Midlands

Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon in 2 Days

Stratford for Families

From the heart of Shakespeare's England to the magical Welsh border and the bright lights of Birmingham

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Discover Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare country, many people’s idea of England, with ‘black and white’ timbered Tudor houses, castles, grand manor houses and gorgeous gardens. Beautiful villages, woodlands, rolling countryside and patchwork fields tick the photo-opportunities all the way to to the Malvern Hills and the Welsh border country beyond.

Just a stone’s throw from Stratford, Birmingham is a world apart from the country pleasures on its doorstep. It’s an industrial city with a heart of gold – literally if you consider the historic, quirky Jewellery Quarter at its heart.


Stratford, the West Midlands and Birmingham

Major centres are Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, Worcester and the West Midlands’ counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire.  Birmingham has major shopping, imposing Victorian architecture, galleries, museums, clubs, entertainment, dining and nightlife. It has a young vibe and LGBTQ scene with cafes, bars and nightlife centred around Hurst Street. The city is a place to shop, see a show or an exhibition, have a night out. Like London, but different. See Birmingham for First-Timers.

England is small(ish) so it’s tempting to go for the well-known landmarks to fit everything in, travelling by motorway between destinations. But to appreciate the real England, you’ll navigate the side roads, turning off down lanes to discover villages tucked away off the beaten track. Many of these have a signature parish church and clusters of houses that were there in the times of Henry V111 and earlier.

Photo by Alison Plummer


===> See the RELATED links below to explore local itineraries.


Motor museums and family attractions

Towns and cities full of character are ripe for exploring and the local history helps put it all into context. Imagine standing in an ancient chapel dating from 1056 or a visiting a Roman Villa that was the height of modernity in the 4th century. Lovers love the romance of hideaways in the countryside from country pubs and self-catering to boutique and landmark hotels. Anyone remotely interested in historic houses and gardens can indulge big time in middle England. Heritage car fans indulge at museums including the British Motor Museum and the Morgan Motor Company factory  at Malvern while canal boating is fun on the intricate network of canals.

Families also find plenty to amuse with destinations such as Warwick CastleTelford and Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire feature the world’s first iron bridge with ten Ironbridge Gorge museums to visit.

Adventurers adore the challenge of central England’s vast network of walking tracks and paths for both extensive hikes and local rambles. Cycling is a rewarding way to tour the countryside around places including the Malvern Hills, Herfordshire and Shropshire. Local to  Stratford-upon-Avon is The Greenway, a surfaced path for cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users. This is a five mile section of the West Midlands Cycle Route linking Oxford to Derby via Birmingham. Bike hire is readily available in most areas.


When To Go

Spring, summer and autumn are the best times – and  daylight saving (end March to end September) adds quite a few hours to the day in the summer months.

Winter is December, January, February (and it can unofficially last into March, weatherwise) when there are fewer hours daylight, can be cold and frosty and it may snow. Definitely not the best time for hiking or road trips. That said, the lead up to Christmas and New Year is a magical time for city breaks in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and Birmingham or romantic country weekends in and around Broadway, Worcestershire or Chipping Campden, close to Stratford. Just wrap up warm and watch the weather forecasts in case of ice and snow.

For those able to pick and choose times, mid to end of April, May and June are beautiful months and quieter before school holidays (July/August). September/October likewise, after school holidays. Keep in mind airline high and low seasons and search for flights just outside the peak times. Travelling with families, plan/book ahead for the best fares.

Nothing can stop the rain, England is an island and the weather forecasts can be bewildering, with all the seasons one day. Lightweight layers (see what to pack and wear) make the greatest sense with a long waterproof/windproof jacket. Buy one made for the occasion when you are here.

How Much Time To Spend

If you have time to travel around on a country road trip, allow a week or more. Stratford-upon-Avon is always busy so you might plan to spend, say, two or three nights there and then move on.

Most destinations are within a day’s drive of Stratford but to explore Shropshire, Herefordshire and the Welsh borders it would be better to stay in or around Ledbury or Ludlow.

Birmingham is the ‘big city’ hub of the Midlands with an international airport welcoming many airlines. Shopping, entertainment, galleries, clubs, dining and nightlife are its city centre drawcards and train is the way to travel for a day visit or a city break of a night or two.

 

High and Low Season

Shoulder season: Easter to May; mid-September to October

High season: June, July, August (July/August is the UK school holiday time

Low season: December to February/pre Easter

Weather and Climate

England is an island and the weather forecasts can be bewildering, with all the seasons one day.

Winter is December, January, February (and it can unofficially last into March, weatherwise) when there are fewer hours daylight, can be cold and frosty and it may snow. Definitely not the best time for hiking or road trips. That said, the lead up to Christmas and New Year is a magical time for city breaks in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and Birmingham or romantic country weekends in and around Broadway, Worcestershire or Chipping Campden, close to Stratford. Just wrap up warm and watch the weather forecasts in case of ice and snow.

Nothing can stop the rain,

Time Zone

British Summer Time (BST) UTC/GMT + 1 hour

Ends October – 1 hour

What To Pack and Wear

Take comfortable walking shoes (you will live in them).

Pack light, buy as you need is the best advice. Travelling around on road trips means maybe a different place to stay every two nights or so and heavy luggage really gets in the way, especially at pub stays where you probably have to haul cases upstairs. Of course you can taken overnight bag with you for the things you really need but who can really bear to leave their luggage in the car?

England’s weather is unpredictable so lightweight layers make the greatest sense with, essential: a waterproof/windproof jacket. A gilet/vest is a UK staple as is the wool jacket aka a cardigan – if you are from overseas you will soon understand why the shops are full of woollen jackets, padded vests and so on.

Pure wool and real cashmere are wonderful travelling companions in England, looking good and keeping you warm. Options such as merino in everything from thermal pieces to streetwear. The hiking and outdoor shops are a good place to shop for light, versatile clothes. Hikers and bikers do your usual thing with water/windproof in mind.

Summer? While the shops will be full of bright summer holiday wear for hopeful Brits who are holidaying abroad, you must still plan for cool nights.

What it Costs

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in £.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than £10 per person
$$ => Tickets £10 – £20 per person
$$$ => Tickets £20 per person

Sleep — Out of town/rural
$ => Rooms less than £45 for a double
$$=> Rooms £45 – £75 for a double
$$$ => Rooms £75 for a double

Sleep — Large Cities
$ => Rooms less than £75 for a double
$$ => Rooms £75 – £110 for a double
$$$ => Rooms £110 for a double

Eat
$ => £4 – £8 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => £8 – £20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => £20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop         
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than £20 per person
$$ => £20 – £40 per person
$$$ => £40 per person

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

10%-15% is usual in restaurants with table service. Some places add a service charge to your bill. Taxis are tipped 10% or up to the nearest pound.

Car parking costs can really add up. Stratford-upon-Avon has 11 council car parks at the time of writing.

Park and Ride is one answer to parking in England’s towns – Stratford upon-Avon has this facility with all-day (£3 before 9am and £1 after 9am) and buses to the town centre every 10-15 minutes,  £2.00 for an adult day return. Child return 90p after 9.00am.

Transportation

Stratford-upon-Avon has good train connections with London (to/from Marylebone Station) and Birmingham (New Street Station) and connections around the country. An excellent service through the heart of England counties is from London’s Paddington Station via Reading (with rail/air connections to Heathrow Airport by coach), Oxford, the Cotswold towns and villages of Hanbury, Charlbury and Moreton-in-Marsh, Honeybourne (close to Broadway), Evesham, Pershore, Worcester, Malvern and Hereford.

Trains allow you to explore city centres easily, but hiring a car means you can discover the villages laneways and go off the beaten track as you please. Car hire is readily available international and local companies, from airports, some railway stations, cities and towns. Many like Avis also offer one-way hire and drop-off to your accommodation in suitable areas. Most overseas visitors book before they arrive; ex-pats and overseas regular visitors may go for a local company (RK Services of Evesham, for example) for short or long-term rental.

Coach and bus travel between cities is another option, National Express is a coach company with inexpensive network.

Background

Cuisine

Local specialities and produce are key ingredients for dishes to look for on your travels and England has gone wild for its produce – the counties of the West Midlands boast some of the finest fruit and vegetables, local meats, game and cheeses.
The Vale of Evesham is the home of asparagus (May and June) as well as plums and other stone fruit and vegetables grown in the market gardens there.

Worcestershire, Shropshire and Hereford are also the homiest fine apple orchards forbidder and vineyards producing English wine and sparkling wines that have been hitting the headlines. Add to this UK favourites such as Cornish crab, seafood and lamb, Scottish salmon and beef from Aberdeen and you have the making of British fare at its finest.

Where to eat is another matter – the English love their pubs while local restaurants can be found in towns and often in hotels. The Potting Shed menu at The Dormy House near Broadway serves steaks, fish and lamb cooked in the charcoal and wood-fired oven, also Potting Shed Mussels, slow-cooked pork-belly and a creative range of starters such as parsnip hummus with fried haloumi, crisp bread and pomegranate.

Pubs feature strongly in the West Midlands. They are everywhere and pub grub is hearty with staples such as fish and chips, steaks, salads, sausages, pies (hope for home-made) and the famous Sunday carveries with a choice of roast meats/turkey and plenty of vegetables. The English love their Sunday roasts and you may have to book. If the car park is full it is probably a good choice. Not every pub gets it right though and not all cook their food on the premises – ask around for recommendations.

Many National Trust properties have cafes on site for coffee, light lunches and afternoon teas. There are plenty of cafes around with coffee shops in Stratford and tea shops many smaller towns. The Broadway Deli in Broadway gets it right, a gorgeous deli on all levels with a cafe menu of great coffee, light lunches, delicious sweet things, juices.

Evesham has a little cafe near the lovely Almonry Museum serving all kinds of good things including vegetarian and gluten- free food.

Recommended Reading

Shakespeare.

Soundtrack for a Road Trip

Elgar, for driving around the Malvern Hills.

Videos

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