It’s not going to take anyone too long to realise these days that Stratford isn’t always “on-Avon”, so much as definitely “on-Course”…to becoming the next big thing when it comes to planning a day trip, attending a major festival, or taking a short-break in London…
1. From Stratford to The West End. Theatre Royal Stratford East which stands at the heart of Stratford’s “Cultural Quarter”, has a history of staging often controversial plays which then go to the West End and even Broadway. Joan Littlewood and her company were resident at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 1953, where she staged the British premiere of Mother Courage and her Children by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in 1955, and the first ever performance of Shelagh Delany's A Taste of Honey in 1958 - one of the plays dubbed a 'kitchen sink' drama because of their focus on working-class people in Britain, and which at the time was also regarded as truly shocking. One of the legendary productions of 20th-century British theatre, Oh What A Lovely War premiered at Theatre Royal Stratford East on March 19, 1963, before transferring to the West End later that year, and then opening on Broadway - where it was heaped with awards. A little over half a century after it first brought audiences to their feet, and a full century since the outbreak of World War I, it is set to be recreated in its original home in 2014.
2. Britain’s largest piece of Public Art. The first phase of the re-opening of Queen Elizabeth Park coincided with the first anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony - with the rest of the site, including Turner Prize-winning Anish Kapoor’s landmark ArcelorMittal Orbital, set to open next year. Already the largest piece of public art in Britain, when re-opened, The Orbital’s observation tower will offer visitors two viewing platforms from April 2014.
3. The largest tidal mill in the world. The House Mill, located on Three Mills Island, is a tiny parcel of “Olde England” in an otherwise urban landscape. The island is now a conservation area bordering the River Lea, famous for its film studios. The architecture and location - with its cobblestone streets, oast-house architecture, clock tower and old brick buildings - is home to the largest and most powerful of the four remaining tidal mills in Britain. The wheels stopped turning in 1941, but there are plans to restore them and bring the mill back into working use…and to also reintroduce London Gin to the premises.
4. London’s unique children’s storytelling centre. Discover Children’s Story Centre on Stratford High Street is a place where children and their families can enjoy playing, learning and making up stories together. The Centre has drawn plaudits from countless visitors, including Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, who visited in February 2013 to mark the centre’s 10th birthday.
5. Europe’s biggest and most popular urban shopping mall. Often described as Europe’s largest urban shopping and leisure destination Westfield Stratford City boasts over 250 shops - ranging from Primark to Mulberry - plus 70 places to dine. The 17-screen Westfield Stratford City’s Vue Cinema is one of largest, and most innovative all-digital cinemas in Europe; while Aspers Casino, with its two bars and an 80-seat restaurant, sets a benchmark in the UK for modern entertainment.
6. One of the favourite places to stay in London. Consistently in the Top 20 places to stay in the whole of London - according to TripAdvisor - Staybridge Suites in Stratford is a relaxing home-from-home. Guests can unwind here by the contemporary fireplace in the lounge or on the rooftop bar overlooking Queen Elizabeth Park.
7. Let the bullet train take the stain. Stratford International Station should one day see trains departing directly to Europe. But for the moment this is where visitors to Stratford can catch one of the four bullet trains an hour that carry passengers back-and-forth to St Pancras in just 6 minutes. Destinations in Kent are also easily accessible on Southeastern’s High Speed Network.
8. An astonishing transformation. The Manhattan Loft project - described by Deyan Sudjic, the director of the Design Museum in London, as “one of the most astonishing transformations the capital has ever seen” - will be a £250m 42-storey luxury residential tower next to Queen Elizabeth Park. A combination of living spaces, sky gardens, and extraordinary architecture, its plans also incorporate a design hotel by Harry Handelsman - the man whose property company rescued and recreated the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
9. Join the fly-high club. Just a short hop from Stratford, Club World London City is British Airways’ exclusive service transporting its passengers between the financial hearts of London City Airport and New York JFK. It's like having your own private jet, with: just 32 spacious all-business seats with fully flat beds; on-board mobile data connectivity; pre-clearance of US immigration on selected flights; gourmet dining; and dedicated support team for all travel needs.
10. Cycle, swim, or simply see Stratford’s stadia. The London Aquatics Centre and London VeloPark are two indoor facilities which, as well as being main venues for the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Paralympics, will both open to the public from April 2014.
For further information about spending time in Stratford, London, visit http://www.stratfordlondonapp.com/.
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