A guide to the Henley Regatta
What makes Henley Royal Regatta so popular is that it strikes the perfect balance between major sporting event and sophisticated social occasion. Whilst there are plenty of rowing fans cheering on their teams, there are plenty of others who simply enjoy a sunny day out in a beautiful setting – there’s something for everyone at this quintessentially British affair. If this is your first time attending the Regatta, here is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare and what to expect.
What is the Regatta?
The Henley Royal Regatta – to give it its full title – It is a world-famous rowing event which takes place over five days in July on the River Thames at Henley, its namesake. First held in 1839, the Regatta is unique as it pre-dates any national or international rowing organisation, making it subject to its own rules and regulations. The competition originated as one for ‘amateurs’ rather than professionals, but over the years it became apparent that the meaning of this term differed widely from country to country – now, anyone from Olympic athletes to those just starting out can race against each other. Unlike other regattas, each race is a head-to-head knock out competition, over a course of a mile and 550 yards. This year, there have been a total of 660 entries from universities, schools, independents rowing clubs and more, 501 of which are from overseas.
Facts aboutHenley Royal Regatta
- The total cost of staging the five-day regatta is now almost £3,000,000
- It is one of the few major sporting events with no reliance on commercial sponsorship
- Spectators can watch up to 90 races in a single day
- The regatta has been known as Henley Royal Regatta since 1851 when Prince Albert became the first royal patron
- 1993 was the first year that women competed over the full regatta course
Henley Royal Regatta 2019 Dates
The Regatta always runs over the course of the first weekend in July; 3rd to 7th July this year. Here’s a brief rundown as to what you can expect from each day:
Wednesday 3rd July – Heats
First race: 9.00am|Last race: 7.45pm
Thursday 4th July – Heats
First race: 8.30am|Last race: 7.40pm
Friday 5th July – Quarter Finals
First race: 8.30am|Last race: 7.40pm
Saturday 6th July – Semi Finals
First race: 9.30am|Last race: 7.40pm
Sunday 7th July – Finals
First race: 11.30am|Last race: 4.30pm
Prizegiving Ceremony: 5.00pm
How to get tickets for the Henley Royal Regatta
Admission badges for Stewards Enclosure – where you will have an unrivalled view of the rowers as they cross the finish line – are only available to members and their guests. Within the enclosure there are a number of viewing options: the Members’ Grandstand (reserved seating) the Fawley Grandstand (unreserved seating) and the Floater (members only). There are a variety of ways to purchase tickets, depending on what time you book them.
If the Steward’s Enclosure’s six to ten year waiting list is a step too far, the Regatta Enclosure is your best option. Situated a little further down the Berkshire bank, it is open to competitors, supporters and the general public, and offers a glamorous but slightly more relaxed atmosphere. With riverside seating and an open grandstand, there are plenty of spots to sit and take in the day’s events. Admission badges can be purchased online and entitle you to come and go as you please throughout the day.
That’s not all: there are plenty of hospitality options available as well. Whether it’s a private Riverside Chalet complete with live entertainment or an exclusive day on Temple Island – a private spot for 40 guests where you’ll see the start of the race – you’re spoilt for choice.
Let’s not forget that there’s the option to charter your own boat, moor it on the booms that delineate the regatta course, and observe from there. Or, simply pack a picnic and set up camp on the riverbank – but be sure to get there early as there will be plenty of others doing the same.
How to get to Henley
If you’re getting the train there, a special timetable operates between London Paddington and Henley for the duration of the event. There’s also be a late-night bus service operated by Reading Buses that runs from Henley to Reading on the Friday and Saturday evenings.
As there is limited parking on site, drivers are asked to book spaces in advance. It’s advisable to head to Henley (use postcode RG2 2LY) and then follow signs to the event.
Henley Royal Regatta dress code
There are so many different areas of Henley Royal Regatta that what’s appropriate to wear can differ, dependant on your location. As is fitting for such a traditional event, the dress code errs on the formal side, but that’s not to say that clothing must be dull – in keeping with its summery situation, there is always plenty of colour, pattern (nautical stripes, of course) on display.
Steward’s Enclosure dress code
-Dresses or skirts with hemlines that are at least knee length
-No skirts with slits, trousers or culottes are allowed
-Hats aren’t required, but certainly won’t go amiss
-Lounge suits, jackets or blazers, complete with a tie or cravat
-No jeans or shorts will be allowed in
It’s also worth noting that children over the age of 13 must follow this dress code too and that you can’t make or receive phone calls in the Steward’s Enclosure – this is taken very seriously.
Regatta Enclosure Dress Code
There’s no specific dress code to adhere to here, but most people enter into the spirit of the event and dress up. You’ll see plenty of men in blazers, polo shirts or (presumably) well-earned rowing attire. For women, there are floaty dresses aplenty and wedge or block heels are also a wise idea to avoid sinking into the grass. For security reasons, only small bags and handbags are allowed.
It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed, so, if visiting any of the hospitality areas, adhere to the same dress code as the Steward’s Enclosure.
Food and drink at the Regatta
What’s a good day out without excellent food and drink? Whilst many people opt for a riverside picnic, remember that you’re not allowed to bring your own refreshments into any of the enclosures. Watching the rowing is exhausting work, but luckily there are plenty of restaurants and bars to satisfy. Highlights include:
Luncheon Tent (Steward’s Enclosure)
A three-course lunch, afternoon tea and champagne tea are on offer here – tickets must be bought in advance.
Seafood Restaurant (Steward’s Enclosure)
Exactly what it says on the tin, this restaurant takes no reservations – perfect for an impromptu lunch.
The Fawley Bar (Steward’s Enclosure)
Amongst the drinks on offer are two unique Henley-themed cocktails.
The Coffee & Liqueur Bar
Ideal for an afternoon pick-me-up.
The Deli (Regatta Enclosure)
Serving a wide selection of food and drink, including baguettes, salads and hot dishes.
Moet Ice Imperial Bar (Little Lion Meadow)
Open to all, this is an excellent spot to buy a cocktail before taking a stroll along the Thames.