With the exciting new Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) now open, and the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) about to launch a season of new productions, spring is a perfect time for theatre-lovers to plan a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. On a two-day getaway you can enjoy one or two performances by the renowned RSC and visit a host of Shakespeare-related sites in Stratford without a car. Direct trains from London's Marylebone Station reach Stratford in about 2 hours.
Seeing a Shakespeare play performed in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company should be your first priority. Founded by legendary director Peter Hall, the RSC is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011 by presenting a host of new productions, including Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Merchant of Venice.To find out what's playing and to book seats, visit the RSC Web site, www.rsc.org.uk.
The Arden Hotel (Waterside; tel. 01789/298682; www.theardenhotelstratford.com), located just steps from the theatre, is the nicest, newest, and most convenient place to stay in Stratford. Most of the 45 luxuriously furnished rooms feature large marble bathrooms with walk-in showers and soaking tubs; some have views of the Avon. You can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea in the cozy hotel lounge, and dine on updated versions of classic English cuisine in the romantic Waterside Brasserie and Champagne Bar, decorated with photographs of great RSC actors like Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench. Doubles with full English breakfast run from £165 to £315. Enjoy lunch or dinner at The One Elm (1 Guild St.; tel. 01789/404919; www.oneelmstratford.co.uk), a new and highly regarded restaurant just a few minutes' walk from the theatre. The restaurant offers a menu that mixes hearty pub favorites (meat and fish pies, sausage and mash) with more classic offerings such as pan-fried fish, lamb shanks, and aged Aberdeenshire steaks. Expect to pay about £15 for lunch and £25 for dinner, and be sure to book your table in advance. You can also dine before or after a play in the new Rooftop Restaurant and Bar (www.rsc.org.uk/eat), a lively, smart-casual restaurant at the top of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a menu that focuses on traditional and updated English cuisine; book in advance for a table overlooking the Avon with its resident swans.
Stratford is a pleasure to explore on foot, and has more than enough attractions to fill a two-day visit, including the Shakespeare Birthplace (£12,50; Henley St.; tel. 01789/204016; www.shakespeare.org.uk), where the Bard was born in 1564, and Holy Trinity Church (Trinity St.; tel. 01789/266316), where he was laid to rest in 1616. The two-hour Stratford Town Walk (£5; www.stratfordtownwalk.co.uk), offered daily throughout the year, is an enjoyable way to explore Stratford and see all its Shakespeare sites on one well-planned and highly entertaining outing. Daily tours of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre (£6.50; www.rsc.org.uk/theatretours) offer a front-of-house and behind-the-scenes look at the exciting new home of the RSC. One non-Shakespearean attraction worth visiting is the Butterfly Farm (£6.25; Tramway Walk, Swan's Nest Lane; tel. 01789/299288; www.butterflyfarm.co.uk), one of the world's largest butterfly habitats, where a fascinating assortment of gorgeous butterflies and moths flit and flutter and perch on visitors.
But the play's the thing in Stratford, so hie thee to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to enjoy your matinee or evening performance of a great Shakespeare play performed by the world's leading Shakespeare ensemble in the town where the Bard of Avon lived for most of his life.
For more information on planning your trip to Stratford and other places in England, check out www.visitengland.com.