You won't need a car if you're staying in Stratford, as you can walk across town in 30 minutes, but if you're driving here, the M40 and A46 get you there from London in under two hours. To the north, Birmingham and Coventry are close; to the south, Cheltenham and the Cotswolds are also an easy drive.
The nearest international airport is Birmingham (www.birminghamairport.co.uk), a 40-minute drive from Stratford-upon-Avon, with flights to New York and Paris, among others. Domestic carriers fly in daily from across the UK, including from Edinburgh, Cork and Belfast.
Chiltern Railways trains run from London Marylebone to Stratford-upon-Avon every two hours; there are also services from Paddington. Stratford station is a 12-minute walk from the hotel (or, if your luggage is heavy, there's a taxi rank at the station). In summer, you can also arrive by steam: the Shakespeare Express takes a scenic 60 minutes to chuff its way into Stratford from Birmingham via Henley-in-Arden (www.vintagetrains.co.uk). Stratford has good links across the UK, with regular direct trains to Oxford, Warwick and Birmingham.
Country code for the UK: +44. Stratford-upon-Avon: 01789 (drop the initial zero when dialling from overseas).
Do go / Don't Go
Things are quieter in the winter months, when the riverside boat operators shut up shop, but come summer, the streets are alive with strollers and sightseers.
Farm produce plays a big role on local menus, with veg from the Vale of Evesham, hefty beef and hearty pork from Warwickshire's farms; Ragley Estate is particularly well-known for its traditionally butchered meats (+44 (0)1789 778228; www.ragleyhall.com). Look out for beers from the county's many microbreweries. Stratford's finest serve up Pure Gold and Mad Goose from the eco-friendly Purity Brewing Co, which also offers brewery tours and tastings (+44 (0)1789 488007; www.puritybrewing.com) - it's about 25 minutes outside Stratford. Also worth looking out for are Wild Boar and Saddleback Bitter from Warwick's Slaughterhouse Brewery (+44 (0)1926 490986; www.slaughterhousebrewery.com).
The town centre is compact enough to explore entirely on foot, but if you're exploring further afield or want your luggage ferried to the station, try Ideal Taxis on +44 (0)1789 290444. There are cab ranks at Rother Street, Union Street, and outside the train station. You can ring the Bridgefoot taxi rank on +44 (0)1789 269999.
10-15 per cent is standard, but many restaurants now automatically add a discretionary 12.5 per cent to your bill, so be careful not to tip twice (unless you want to).
Pounds Sterling (£).
Opera glasses; hankies for emotional denouements; deck shoes, for rowing alongside the swans on the Avon.
Stratford's star turns are of course the well-trodden Shakepeare trail and the regenerated Royal Shakespeare Theatre (www.rsc.org). Now seating 1,040 around its main thrust stage, the historic site has hosted some of the world's leading leading ladies and gents, including Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren. For a whistlestop tour of the main Shakespearean sites, hop on and off the open-top bus tour of Stratford (www.city-sightseeing.com), which takes in significant 16th-century sites such as Anne Hathaway's cottage and Shakespeare's birthplace.
Stratford is home to the UK's only genuine Venetian gondola; hire Rosanna (complete with velvet-upholstered seats and charming gondolieri) by the hour from £80 to add a romantic plot twist to your Smith getaway (+44 (0)1789 267073; www.avon-boating.co.uk).
There's a pleasing array of browsable boutiques, bookshops and high street favourites lining the old town centre, especially Henley Street, Meer Street and Sheep Street. If you love rooting through knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, the Ely Street Antiques Emporium (+44 (0)1789 204180) has Dinky cars, vintage phones, costume jewellery and retro ceramics galore (plus a sweet little tea shop). For womenswear, head to VH & Co at 8 Sheep Street (+44 (0)1789 266699), the clothing branch of Meer Street interiors shop Vinegar Hill, for pretty classics with a twist - we love the two-tone wool coats, knitted ponchos and accessories. Mosaique on Wood Street (+44 (0)1789 295820) is a luxe boutique with Missoni, Moschino and Nicole Farhi. And if you've left the ankle-biters at home, assuage your guilt at Curtis Brae (+44 (0)1789 267277; www.curtisbrae.co.uk), a Sheep Street store that specialises in traditional teddy bears and Russian dolls.
With a viewing platform at 26m, the new RST tower gives glorious views of four counties on a clear day. Book a visit in advance (£2.50 a person) and get your bearings while you peer across Bancroft Gardens, up the Avon and over the theatre plaza into Stratford.
Take a leafy stroll through Bancroft Gardens and play 'spot the Shakespearean character': the park is dotted with sculptures of or relating to the playwright (plus there are nice views back across the swan-studded river). In summer, you might catch impromptu open-air performances from wandering minstrels and modern-day jesters.
March Cheltenham races, including Gold Cup (www.cheltenham.co.uk). April At the end of the month, the bard's birthday is marked with theatre events and a procession for Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations; it also kicks off Stratford's annual literary festival (www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk). May-December Horse-racing at Stratford-upon-Avon (www.stratfordracecourse.net). July The Stratford River Festival brings waterborne larks, music and more to the river Avon (www.stratfordriverfestival.co.uk). October Cheltenham Festival of Literature (www.cheltenhamfestivals.co.uk).