The World's Best Shakespeare Company

By Rick Steves

If you'll ever enjoy Shakespeare, it'll be in Britain. The Royal Shakespeare Company, undoubtedly the best Shakespeare company on earth, performs year-round in Stratford-on-Avon and in London. Seeing a play here in the Bard's birthplace is a must for Shakespeare fans, and a memorable experience for anybody. Between its excellent acting and remarkable staging, the RSC makes Shakespeare as accessible and enjoyable as it gets. If you're a Shakespeare fan, see if the RSC schedule fits into your itinerary.

The Royal Shakespeare Company makes it easy to take in some theater, thanks to their very user-friendly website, painless ticket-booking system, and chock-a-block schedule that fills the summer with mostly big-name Shakespeare plays (with a few more obscure titles to please the die-hard aficionados, as well).

Stratford: Performances take place most days. Shows generally last three hours or more, with one intermission; for an evening show, don't count on getting home much before 23:00. There's no strict dress code — and people dress casually (nice jeans and short-sleeve shirts are fine) — but shorts are discouraged. If you're feeling bold, buy a cheap standing ticket and then slip into an open seat as the lights dim — if there's not something available during the play's first half, something might open up after intermission.

Saturday evening shows — the most popular — are most expensive. You can book tickets as you like it: online, by phone, or in person at the box office. You'll pay by credit card, get a confirmation number, then pick up your tickets at the theater 30 minutes before "curtain up." Because it's so easy to get tickets online or by phone, it makes absolutely no sense to pay extra to book tickets through any other source.

Tickets go on sale months in advance. Saturdays and very famous plays (such as Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet) sell out the fastest; the earlier in the week the performance is, the longer it takes to sell out (e.g., Thursdays sell out faster than Mondays). Before your trip, check the schedule on their website, and consider buying tickets if something strikes your fancy. But demand is difficult to predict, and some tickets do go unsold. On my last visit, on a sunny Friday in June, the riverbank was crawling with tourists. I stepped into the RSC on a lark to see if they had any tickets. An hour later, I was watching King Lear lose his marbles.

Even if there aren't any seats available, you can sometimes buy a returned ticket on the evening of an otherwise sold-out show. Ask for details at the box office.

London: The RSC performs at various theaters throughout the year. To get a schedule, contact the RSC in Stratford.