About This Festival
If you have a penchant for Merchant & Ivory films, you’ve been called a "preppy" at some point in your life, and you love champagne with strawberries, the Henley Royal Regatta is the festival for you. A highlight of the British elite's summer sporting calendar and social season, the Henley Royal Regatta is well-suited for a comedy television series as there’s much to parody here. But, it’s one of the best-run and supported sporting events in the world, and there’s a reason they call it “the Royal” - there's a good chance you might see some of the royal family attending the events.
Figure Out Which Side of the River to Be On
Unless you have serious blue blood, you’ll most likely find yourself on the south side of the Thames River with the general public in Berkshire. The north bank across the way is luxury land: private compounds, sponsors' tents, and the exclusive Phyllis Court Club, a place you aspire to visit some day once you’ve made your rounds with the aristocracy. The good news is that the views of the regatta are perfectly fine on both sides of the river. Just know that roaming and trying to sneak into swanky parties is pretty much a no-no here. And, if you try getting into the Stewards’ Enclosure, they’ll figure it out pretty quickly as these upscale folks sport traditional and old-fashioned dress from the 19th century.
Who Comes to the Henley Royal Regatta and How Do They Dress?
The Henley Royal Regatta isn’t really as stilted as we’re making it sound. You’re likely to see Olympic rowers; a large share of healthy, college-aged enthusiasts; and jetsetters from all over the world who converge on this lovely English countryside each year. If it’s your first time, it can feel like you’ve crashed a reunion. The dress code if you want to go more upscale than Ralph Lauren is “expensive” for ladies and “status” for gentlemen. That means women are wearing conservative summer designer dresses or skirts down to the knees and men are wearing blue blazers and maybe a bow tie while they’re lamenting the passing of the Iron Lady. The drinks of choice are Pimm's and lemonade, champagne, and the ever-trusted gin and tonic.
Watching the Henley Royal Regatta Races
There are 20 events in total and nearly 200 races, with the most prestigious row being the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights where you’ll see a few Olympians. Dozens and dozens of crews from all over the world converge making for a truly international event. And, after years of prohibiting women from participating as part of a crew, there are now women’s races as well. Best of all, the races are side-by-side rather than multi-lane events. This is a less forgiving format and creates more competition. We recommend that you and your regatta compatriots each pick a rowing team and then become groupies for that team. Follow them around, root for them, and stage the age-old tradition of throwing the member of your group whose team gets the best results into the Thames.
Get Out of Your Boat and Into a Car
The Thames River Valley, not far from the prestigious university town of Oxford, provides some of the loveliest country roads anywhere in the world and with pubs and B&Bs dotting the landscape, it’s a magical place to get lost. Great for running and biking as well. Ask for a hiking map from a local as there’s a wonderful collection of country walks in the area.