I remember hearing the name “Henley” tossed around in the US among my rowing friends – it was such a prestigious event, a massive deal to know somebody who was competing there. It seemed similar to Boston’s Head of the Charles, but prettier and classier and, well, very English. When I was younger, my friends sister came back from racing at Henley Royal Regatta and all she could talk about was how great Pimms were – they even brought some back to the US! It sounded like such a lovely event to be a part of and I really wanted to go. A day spent on the river, basking in the sunshine, sipping Pimms is basically a perfect day. So when I first came to live in the UK in 2014, Henley made my UK Bucket List and just sat there for awhile.
For Sean, it’s was completely different story. He went to boarding school in Henley-on-Thames; used to work the Regatta; rowed at school and therefore knew a load of people rowing in the Regatta. For him, it was quite a normal thing – and I don’t think he really understood why I was so excited to go.
Then we finally had the chance to go together!
And I have to say – I was immediately sold. We probably saw a total of two boats the entire day since we were hanging out a bit down the river, but it was so nice spending the day on the riverside with friends. Also, I love a good excuse to dress up!
Henley-on-Thames is a lovely little town with historic buildings and churches, riverside pubs and restaurants, and a huge rowing community. With the regatta in full swing, the atmosphere was amazing!
Continue reading for highlights from our visit, a guide on what to wear, and tips for surviving the day:
Walk along the Thames
I think this is a given when in a town like Henley. It was so nice to have the sun shining on us as we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the river. Boats were pulling up and pulling away, people were laughing and joking around with friends, cheers erupted every time a boat came in from racing, and we even saw a boat full of Elvis impersonators drive by!
Stop for a break at Hotel du Vin
We stopped at Hotel du Vin after we were done with the regatta for the day and they have such a lovely courtyard. It was all done up for the regatta with a DJ and such, but I imagine it’s a nice little haven during the day when the regatta is not happening. It’s a great alternative to a pub if you want to pop in somewhere for a drink and some nibbles!
Our friend’s dad is a member of the Leander Club, so that’s where we spent the whole day. Unfortunately you cannot see the races from the club, but you can see the GB olympic team getting their boats prepped for practice. There are also lovely views of the river and a great little dock you can sit on. There are other enclosures along the river – some members only and others you just have to buy tickets for in advance. It’s nice to have somewhere to go, so I recommend planning in advance and buying a ticket or reserving a table somewhere.
Who doesn’t love a cheeky Chinese meal every once in awhile? This place definitely makes our Henley-on-Thames list because it was a life saver when it came to dinner time! We were absolutely starving and chose the first Chinese we could find, but the meal was actually amazing – the best takeaway I’ve had in awhile. Highly recommend 🙂
The Old Bell
We didn’t go into this lovely little pub, but we passed it and I mentally added it to my to-do list. It’s in the oldest building in all of Henley, dated all the way back to the 1300s! If you’re a history lover, this is definitely the pub to stop in while you’re out and about in Henley.
I highly recommend a visit to Henley when the Regatta is on; however, if you aren’t around the area in July, I can now tell you it is worth a visit at another time as well, even if just to walk around for a few hours! Also, watching the sunset from the bridge is just incredible.
The whole gang.
What to Wear
If you have tickets to an enclosure, dress is more formal. Women must wear dresses that touch the knee, but hats are optional. Men are required to have a shirt, jacket, and tie on at all times. Of course, it is safest to check the dress code of the place you are going ahead of time. If you’re just picnicking and wandering around, there is no dress code. But, hey, who doesn’t love an excuse to dress up in your summer best?
The key here is to drink lots and lots of water! Not only will it help with how you feel the next day, but it will help you stay hydrated in the July sun & heat. If you’re prone to sun exhaustion, bring a hat. And don’t forget sunscreen! It’s all to easy to get carried away drinking Pimms and having a laugh, but it’s a different story if you wake up the next morning burnt to a crisp and majorly dehydrated. However, on that note, this is also England. Pack your umbrella no matter what the forecast says and make sure your friends pack theirs too (so you don’t have to share!).
Food and drink associated with the event will be marked up in price, so plan to bring your own picnic and drinks to enjoy before going in. It’s also wise to carry cash in case you come across an area that will not accept your card – or if you need to get a taxi back.
If you are planning to return to a location outside of Henley, book a taxi in advance. They, too, mark up their prices, so make sure you agree on a price you’re willing to pay when you’re on the phone booking.
Most of all, have fun! This event brought back so many university memories at Head of the Charles in Boston and is well worth the trek outside of London.
What’s your favorite annual sporting event?
Let us know which ones we should check out in the comments below!
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