As the best known and most prestigious regatta in the World, the Henley Royal Regatta attracts spectators of all ages to picturesque Henley upon Thames, where over 200 rowing races of an international standard take place over five days in July. Make enjoying the regatta with your family easier with our handy all you need to know guide.
Take a riverside seat with your family to watch the historic Henley Regatta.
History of the Henley Regatta
The Henley Royal Regatta has been held annually since 1839, when it was originally part of a wider programme of events meant to entertain locals and visitors. As the years went by, the rowing competitions proved so popular that they quickly became the main attraction. Over the years, the occasion expanded from a single afternoon to five days of non-stop action on the Thames – with as many as 90 races taking place!
What to See
The rowing is of course the main attraction, with 20 different events including rowing teams varying in size from single rowers to teams of eight. You can expect to see rowing teams from all around the world competing, as well as local clubs from across the UK, with levels of ability varying per category. The Grand Challenge Cup for eights is the biggest and most prestigious prize, dating back to the very beginnings of the regatta. The Britannia Challenge Cup for club crews and The Prince Albert Challenge Cup for student crews always make for exciting viewing. Young spectators are sure to find the junior competitions especially interesting.
Unless you’re part of the exclusive Members’ Club then the Regatta Enclosure is the best place for families to watch the rowing action in comfort. With seating alongside the river and in an open grandstand, you’re guaranteed a great viewing point, as well as comfort and dining facilities. Children of all ages are welcome in this less formal enclosure, and the fact that admission is free for under 14s accompanied by an adult can make it a good value option for family groups. There’s also no dress code enforced, so the kids can wear whatever they’re comfortable in and you can keep your outfit practical for a family day out.
When to Go
If you only want to visit the Henley Regatta for one day, make it the last day of the event. Known as Family and Finals Day, you’ll be treated to the most nail-biting races and lots of child-friendly activities too. The Barn Bar sets up fenced off kids areas for Family Day, with play equipment, games, competitions and lots more to keep little ones happily occupied between races.
Where to Stay
As you might expect, the hotel accommodation in Henley on Thames itself quickly gets booked up for regatta dates – and those who do manage to book a local hotel should expect to pay premium prices during Henley’s most popular period. However, the larger towns of Reading and Windsor are each a mere 30 minutes away and will offer more choice when it comes to staying over. Both also offer plenty of family friendly attractions if you wanted to make more of your Henley Regatta break. In Reading, Beale Park is popular for its animal attractions, playgrounds, lakes and gardens. Windsor Castle and the nearby Legoland Theme Park both make excellent days out for families.
Where to Eat
Those with tickets for the Regatta Enclosure can enjoy delicious food and drinks from the Enclosure restaurant and bar, so they don’t miss a moment of the rowing. There are also numerous places to eat and drink dotted along the river, including The Start Bar and The Barn Bar. You’re also within strolling distance of the many pubs, cafes, restaurants and food stalls in Henley town centre. Antony Worrall Thompson’s gastro pub, The Greyhound, is a popular choice for burgers and steaks. Or you can the visit child-friendly Henley Piazza for Italian ice-cream, snacks and refreshments. Alternatively, you can simply spread out your picnic blanket on a patch of grass by the riverside. If you are planning a picnic however, be careful not to set up in a narrow spot as you’re likely to get trampled by the passing crowds!