The Henley Royal Regatta is the true mark of summer. It’s quintessentially British, bursting with style, and a magnet for the young, rich and famous – or for anyone who loves a good day out in the sun!
For many regatta fans, it’s one of the most important sporting events in the annual calendar. But for most, it’s what comes with the sport that really counts and by that, we mean the genteel crowds, the fashionable attire, the highly spirited atmosphere, the Pimms fuelled festivities and of course the stunning country backdrop of Henley on Thames.
In this beautiful Buckinghamshire town set along the quaint riverside, classy celebrations commence every year across the first weekend of July and although it’s very much a tradition amongst the locals, many visitors also travel from all over the UK to be a part of this sophisticated sporting soiree.
We’ve been sourcing luxury holiday homes for Henley Regatta guests and other prestigious events around the UK for almost a decade and the excitement of such a classically British shindig never loses its charm. If you’re visiting the area in the beginning of July, don’t miss out on this iconic calendar date. It’s a wholesome, fun day out for families and big groups alike. Whether you’re looking for something sophisticated to do for your hen do or you want an inclusive event that’s suitable for the kids too, we couldn’t recommend the Henley Regatta more as a great daytime activity and here’s everything you need to know before visiting…
What is It?
The Henley Regatta is an annual British rowing event which takes place on the River Thames in the month of July. Set along the beautiful riverbank in Henley on Thames, this regal event dating all the way back to 1839, has become a true English tradition and is a classic annual affair for the people of Buckinghamshire. Crowds get dressed up and gather along the river to watch the 5 day regatta filled with head to head knock out competitions, with boats racing over a course of 1 mile, 550 yards. Like other similar racing events such as the Henley Women’s Regatta, the Henley Masters Regatta and the Henley Town and Visitors’ Regatta, the Henley Royal Regatta is hugely popular and attracts international teams to come and race the course of The Thames.
What’s particularly exciting about this rowing spectacle is that it brings together the spectrum of rowers, from Olympians to amateur oarsmen, giving everyone a chance to race together. Competitive spirits are higher than ever with the knock out races and the crowds invest their full attention on the boats and give the rowing teams support, cheering them on from the sidelines. This wonderful summer event is the top sporting occasion of the year for many rowing fans but it also attracts people from all across the nation and there are affordable Regatta enclosure tickets available to the wider public, plus children’s tickets for families and daily car parking passes for those travelling from further afield.
A Little Bit of History
The Henley Regatta first began in March 1839 and has remained to be a prestigious event ever since. Put forward by Captain Edmund Gardiner during a Henley public meeting, the regatta was created for amateur rowers rather than professionals. The regatta was first staged in 1839 and became such a success that it expanded from one day to two by the following year. By 1886 it became a three day event, by 1906 it was extended to four days, then by 1986 it was agreed that it was such a momentous occasion that the regatta should be held across five days.
In 1879, the definition of an “amateur” was officially released by the town as it was soon understood that every country had their own definition of what constituted as an amateur. The original definition reads: “No person shall be considered an amateur oarsman or sculler, or coxswain; 1) Who has ever competed in any open competition for a stake, money, or entrance fee. 2) Who has ever taught, pursued or assisted in the practice of athletic exercises of any kind as a means of gaining a livelihood. 3) Who has been employed in or about boats for money or wages. 4) Who is or has been by trade or employment for wages a mechanic, artisan or labourer.”
Today, the regatta is organised and run by a self-electing body of Stewards and many of these are former rowers who have lived and breathed the sport their whole lives. And today, there is an exciting mix of both professionals and amateurs who compete together.
Regattas can often be misunderstood to be something accessible only to the affluent middle and upper class. But with affordable Regatta enclosure tickets and family tickets available, it’s actually a very inclusive event for anyone who is up for a good time. Although rarher glam and with some strict dress rules in certain enclosures, the day can be just as affordable as a night out or a day at the spa, and it makes such a fantastic alternative summer activity to the horse races or other sports occasions. If you don’t fancy purchasing a ticket to be inside the Regatta stands, you can join the hundreds of locals who come and watch from the riverside – this is completely free and you can watch the races whilst soaking up the atmosphere without a dress code.
For serious rowing fans and avid oarsmen, the regatta is a must. But in some respects, this posh affair is less about the boats themselves and more about the occasion. An excuse to get dressed up, drink Pimms and enjoy the glorious British summer, the Henley Royal Regatta is a good old fashioned knees up for everyone involved. And much like how strawberries and champagne serves as the side dish to Wimbledon or the sea of intricately made sinamay headpieces set the tone for the Royal Ascot, the nautical fashion show and boater’s hats really help to mark the occasion at the Royal Regatta. It’s a style party as much it is a sporting event and it’s suitable for families with children, groups, hen parties or couples looking for something glamorous to do in the day, or for holidaymakers who have come to experience the UK for the first time.
Information About the Event
The Henley Royal Regatta takes place every July, lasting for five days over the course of the first weekend in that month. Each year, the regatta runs from Wednesday to Sunday with races in the following order:
Wednesday – heat races
Thursday – heat races
Friday – Quarter final races
Saturday – Semi-final races
Sunday – Finals
There’s no denying that this annual party is very much focused on the fashion choices of its guests; if you’re attending this year, remember that you’ll need to dress to impress. There will be a strict dress code in place for certain enclosures and stands so if you have a ticket, be sure to check before attending. Conventionally, spectators in the Steward’s Enclosure are required to dress in accordance with the traditional dress code rules which is lounge suits or formal jackets for men (with a tie or cravat) and dresses and skirts below the knee for women.
For spectators without a ticket, there is no formal dress code to follow. However, it’s become customary to arrive smartly dressed; some women will wear a dress with summer heels or comfortable loafers whilst men may arrive in blazers and stylish boater’s hat. It’s not unusual to witness rows and rows of beige boater’s hats or straw hats, and the nautical theme is certainly encouraged in footwear too. If you have a pair of boat shoes or deck shoes, this is the perfect time to take them out for a spin!
Although for most attendees, there’s no real dress code, the general consensus is to be smart, tasteful and comfortable!
Where to Watch
Ticket holders will have a prime spot in their enclosures, with the Steward’s Enclosure being the most exclusive area to hang out. This enclosed section of the site is only open to members and their guests but there are other hospitality enclosures which can be accessed with a pre-paid badge which acts as a ticket. Typically, these hospitality enclosures will offer seating areas, a lovely bar area, a tasty food menu, and unobstructed views of the river.
Also along this 1.5 mile stretch of the bank, you will find other enclosures which are open to the public with no pre-paid badges available and no dress code. If you don’t like the idea of enclosures, crowds will also gather all along the riverbank and find a comfortable spot on the grass to sit and watch the day go by. So whether you want an ultra-glam affair or you just want to plan a low-key day out with your friends and family, there are so many options to suit your vibe of the day.
Tickets and Prices
Tickets for the Henley Regatta can either be purchased direct from the Henley Regatta website or you can call the Badge Office direct on 01491 571 900. The office opening hours are from 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 4pm Monday to Friday.
Tickets can range from £20 to £35, depending on the day and there are a maximum of 10 tickets per online purchase. So if you are booking as a larger group, tickets may need to be bought using two separate credit cards. The weekend tickets (especially the semi-finals on Saturday) sell out extremely quickly so if you want to attend at the weekend rather than Wednesday and Thursday, be sure to book your place in advance.
To make the event more affordable for families, children’s enclosure badges are free of charge when going with an accompanying adult. And for those travelling from further afield, daily car parking tickets starting from £30 are available to buy online or over the phone with the Henley Badge Office.
How to Get There
The event takes place in the gorgeous town of Henley on Thames and the Royal Regatta headquarters can be found on Henley Bridge, facing onto the River Thames with the most spectacular views. If you are driving there, the full address is Henley Royal Regatta Headquarters, Henley Bridge, Henley, Oxfordshire – and the postcode to key into your SatNav is RG9 2LY.
For those travelling from London, there will be trains running from Paddington to Henley throughout the duration of the races, so you can take a 50 minute direct journey to/from the Regatta with no stops or changes on the way. On the Friday and Saturday of the event, there are usually special buses travelling between Reading Bus Station and Henley Coach Station, so anyone coming from Reading or surrounding areas will have a convenient travel option for a very reasonable price.
Eating and Drinking
The Steward’s Enclosure has a number of bars, including a specialist real ale bar and a tasty menu which is available to members only. At the Regatta Enclosure, there’s usually a dedicated restaurant serving everything from three course lunches and sharing platters to afternoon tea and luxury dessert dishes. The bar also serves a choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, with Pimms, champagne, Prosecco and a traditional Regatta drink, “The Royale”.
The town of Henley is also home to numerous cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars and throughout the five day event, there’s a wonderful buzz in the whole area. With nightclubs being filled with after parties at night. So whether you’re looking for a fun day out or a glam occasion that runs late into the evening, you’ll always find somewhere to go, something to do, and places to serve copious amounts of food and refreshments.
Here are some top tips for first time Henley Regatta visitors!
- Book a private house for large groups – if you’re coming with a large group such as a hen party, stag do, or with a group of friends for a big birthday celebration, we recommend getting accommodation nearby. Although there are good transport links to/from London and also from the Reading area, public trains and coaches can be crowded and a rented house in Henley could be the most relaxing option. We specialise in luxury party houses for large booking and we have many homes available in this area.
- Don’t worry if you don’t have a hat – hats are not compulsory for the day. However they are customary for the Steward’s Enclosure and a popular item of clothing to wear in the Regatta Enclosure also. But don’t worry if you don’t own a hat as there is a Regatta shop on-site selling a range of hats, fascinators and boater’s straw hats.
- Plan ahead for the event – tickets for the Saturday tend to sell out quickly and car parking spaces for the Regatta site get filled up too. If you’re coming from quite a distance, book your travel and enclosure badges in advance. And don’t forget to leave ample time for shopping for your outfit!
- Drink Pimms and Royales like a pro – do like the Regatta loving locals and rowing club members, and fill your day with refreshing Pimms or try the traditional drink called “The Royale” which is a mix of Pimms and champagne.
- Enjoy live music nearby – if you want to soak up the atmosphere in the local area or you want somewhere to carry on the party after the river events are over, head to The Angel on the Bridge for some live music.
- Be prepared for all weather – in the peak of summer, we can all pray for hot weather but if it happens to be rainy or drizzly and the grass is wet and muddy, it’s a good idea not to wear beige, cream or light coloured footwear and trousers in case you get dirty! Heels can get stuck in the grass so wedges are sometimes a better option than stilettos. If we experience heavy rain over the 5 days, wellies are permitted at the event (apart from in the Steward’s Enclosure where strict dress codes still apply).
If you’re looking for fantastic accommodation for the Regatta to really top off your stay then try our two magnificent properties Chimney Corner and Reddish Manor where you’ll be wowed during the event and afterwards when you get home too. Get in touch for more information.