If you need a good reason to visit Britain this spring -- something more substantial, say, than the lure of acres of red poppies in full bloom, the romantic scent of century-old wisteria entwining stately manor houses, or the hope of catching sight of Hugh Grant pushing a pram or three -- then get ready to book passage because your moment has come. There are several good reasons, both historic and cultural, to cross the Atlantic in the next few months -- you might even get a ticket to the shortened London run of a new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Just don't forget to stop and smell the spring flowers.
Olympic Park opening
WHETHER you had tickets to any of the events at London's Olympic Park in 2012, you've certainly never seen it as you can this spring. Several of the world-class sporting venues in Stratford (as in East London, not Upon-Avon) are opening for public use this March and April in the newly landscaped athletic oasis, rechristened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Take a dip at the Aquatics Centre, or satisfy your need for speed at the Velodrome cycling track. For the first time, visitors will also be able to ascend the DNA-like spiral of the ArcelorMittal Orbit for views over the park from 80 metres high.
Better still, the park is only a six-minute ride from St. Pancras Station in central London, thanks to the so-called Javelin Train. Not even Usain Bolt can move that fast.
STONEHENGE has a new look. No, bored Brits have not rearranged those monolithic slabs, but the highway that once distracted from this ancient Wiltshire monument has been redirected, so the 21st century no longer intrudes upon the timeless mystery of the site.
As part of the transformation, a $48.5-million visitor centre opened in December, providing interactive exhibits and a display of prehistoric objects, including antlers that were used to dig trenches on-site and rock tools that shaped the great Welsh bluestones and sarsens that form the henge. One case holds skeletal remains excavated nearby, alongside an eerily lifelike recreation of the man.
The star of the show remains the circle itself, which visitors reach via a short shuttle ride from the welcome centre. Without the roar of passing traffic, you can ponder its meaning in peace.
Esteemed burial ground? Alien landing strip? Or crude predecessor of Legoland? You decide.
Adults $27, children $16. Entry must be pre-booked.
The Bard's birthday bash
THIS April marks the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's debut on the world's stage (that is to say, his birthday).
In addition to celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26 and 27, London is hosting several events in Shakespeare's honour throughout the year.
Devotees can book tickets to the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition Shakespeare: Our Greatest Living Playwright, to Sept. 28; tour Middle Temple Hall, where Twelfth Night was first performed in 1602; experience Shakespeare's London with London Walks; visit the archeological remains of the Rose Theatre, where Henry VI: Part I and Titus Andronicus were performed; and see a stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre, premièring July 1.
This year heralds the public opening of the 350-seat, $12.5-million Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, as well.
The indoor, candlelit theatre is the latest addition to the Shakespeare Globe complex in London, which also features an open-air Elizabethan replica of Will's famous playhouse on the banks of the Thames (shakespearesglobe.com).
Visit shakespearesbirthday.org.uk and visitlondon.com.
First World War centenary
A century ago this year, the Great War broke out in Europe. To commemorate the lives of those who fought and died in the First World War, hundreds of venues around the U.K. are planning special exhibits, lectures, commemorative concerts and theatrical performances.
One of the most anticipated dates is the July reopening of London's Imperial War Museum, which contains a comprehensive First World War collection. Its revamped galleries include a Mark V tank and Sopwith Camel biplane, love letters, souvenirs from the front, photographs, films and a recreated trench featuring a soundscape that conjures a sense of the troops' daily lives (iwm.org.uk).
Elsewhere in London, the National Portrait Gallery hosts The Great War in Portraits (Feb. 27 to June 15); the Tate Modern features 100 Years Later: Conflict, Time, Photography (Nov. 19 to April 6, 2015); and Royal Museums Greenwich is staging Forgotten Fighters: The First World War at Sea (Aug. 1 to Aug. 1, 2015). Visit 1914.org.
An affair to remember
BRITISH composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, best known for The Phantom of the Opera and Cats, has unleashed a new theatrical extravaganza in London. Stephen Ward the Musical may not have the same ring to it as the titles of Webber's earlier productions, but it's got everything you could want from a drama: sex, lies and spies.
It tells the sordid story of one of England's most infamous scandals, the Profumo Affair, which centred around the relationship between John Profumo, secretary of state for war in 1960s Britain, and a showgirl named Christine Keeler, reputedly the mistress of a Soviet naval attaché. Stephen Ward introduced Profumo to Keeler, a liaison that eventually led to the downfall of the Conservative government. Stephen Ward was scheduled to run through May 31 at the Aldwych Theatre, but now will close on March 29. Tickets from $27 (stephenwardthemusical.com).
For an immersive experience, book a Stephen Ward Theatre Break at Cliveden House, the lavish country estate (now a five-star hotel) where Profumo and Keeler met. The package includes cocktails and a three-course dinner at One Aldwych, followed by a ticket to the musical. Guests spend their first night at One Aldwych before transferring to Cliveden House, where they'll be treated to a guided tour of the grounds, dinner at the recently opened restaurant, Andr} Garrett at Cliveden and a one-night stay. From $1,094 per person; valid through May 31 (clivedenhouse.co.uk).