TOAST's Guide To Henley Royal Regatta

How to enjoy the most famous regatta in the world

The World’s best-known regatta and one of Britain’s most loved sporting events, Henley Royal Regatta is here for its 168th year so TOAST shares our guide to enjoying this very British social occasion.

Running for five days from the 28th June to the 2nd July 2017, Henley Royal Regatta (HRR) attracts thousands of visitors and features over 200 races of an international standard with some of the World’s top oarsmen competing. 

A quintessentially British event, HRR was founded in 1839 hosted by Henley's residents and its Mayor as a family attraction which soon became focused on competative amatuer rowing. Today, now run by a self-electing body of Stewards, Henlery Royal Regatta is all about the rowers (and maybe a bit of summer time drinking), with the races being head-to-head knock outs with crews from around the world, racing one another over a course of 1 mile. Now so popular is the event that entries have had to be limited and the event extended to five days to allow qualifying races to be held in the week running up to the main event.

In true tradition, the banks of the River Thames from Henley’s bridge to Temple Island each year are transformed into a sporting arena like no other. Covered in row upon row of candy-striped tents, white picket fences, and traditional boathouses providing an array of hospitality areas and VIP lounges, the regatta is akin to a great British garden party, crammed full of spectators in straw-boater hats and stripped club blazers, whiling away a summers afternoon quaffing Pimms whilst watching the hundres of boats racing. 

So without further ado, it's time to grab your picnic gear and get ready to enjoy the best of Henley Royal Regatta with TOAST’s ultimate guide. 

TOAST’s Guide To Enjoying The Best Of Henley Royal Regatta

The Enclosures

There are a number of enclosures at HRR, most of which are by invitation only or for members and guests. 

The Stewards Enclosure is the best vantage point, positioned at the finish line and next to the competitors. With it’s very strict dress code, and code of conduct, Stewards is open only to Stewards, members and their guests (with some exceptions if you’re lucky enough to be in the know). The Stewards Enclosure is limited to 6,000 members and is so popular there’s a ten year waiting list. But if you can’t wait that long, the second best option is the Regatta Enclosure.

The Regatta Enclosure is on the Berkshire bank and downstream from Steward’s Enclosure and is open to competitor, supporters and the general public. A comfortable riverside spot, the Regatta Enclosure is a great place to spectate.

There are also a series of charming club houses for members only, which include Remenham, Leander and Grosvenor Club enclosure, the only place where you can see both the start and finish of the race, and the best spot for the Saturday evening fireworks.

There are plenty of other hospitality options from the picturesque banks of Fawley Meadows or at the private oasis of Temple Island – just pic your spot on the HRR website.

HRR Crowd Credit Henley Royal Regatta Official

Henley Royal Regatta HRR Official Imagery

Get On The Water

If you’d like to get closer to the boating, you can also reserve your own mooring for the regatta, or take advantage of the wide range of local boating companies like Hobbs of Henley, offering front-row seats to the action, with the option to reserve your spot on one of their cruise boats, and sail down the river in pure luxury.

Henley Royal Regatta Boating Official Photo Credit HRR

The Riverbank

If you don’t have enclosure tickets, fear not. As long as you get there early, you can claim a spot on the riverbank to pitch up and host a picnic or better still, reserve a spot in the VIP Picnic Pavillion, or set up your very own BBQ in one of the open spots on the riverbank. Visitors go all out at Henley and there’s never a spot of grass to be found after midday.

HRR Summer Setting HRR Official

HRR Riverbank Henley Official

Royal Connections

In 1851 H.R.H Prince Albert became the Regatta’s first royal Patron. Since his death, the reigning Monarch has continued in the role. During the course of its history, members of the Royal Family have often visited the Regatta. Most recently The Princess Royal attended in 2010.

Food & Drink

There is a plethora of fine dining restaurants, food and drink stalls, bars and hospitality options. However, HRR can be quite expensive and you will always need to have some cash ready as there aren’t many cashpoints in the area. The best idea, though is to pack a picnic – take a look at our guide to planning the perfect picnic, and our top pic for posh picnic hampers.

Pimms is the drink of choice at HRR with an estimated 150,000 pints of Pimms and Lemonade consumed over the event, but beware of Pimms’ devilish cousin, the Royale. One part Pimms, 10 parts champagne, which could see an early end to your HRR experience if your choose this tipple.

For beer enthusiasts there’s plenty of choice of local ales. The famous Barn Bar is the largest public bar on the Regatta course and has been operating since the 1930’s. Just on the riverside it’s the perfect spot to enjoy the racing, summer sun and the Regatta atmosphere. Entrance is free all days except Saturday when tickets can be pre-purchased at a reduced rate of £10 pp for the Saturday here. (On the day price is £15 pp).

Family Fun

If you’re bringing the family this year, you’re in luck! Sunday’s the best day with the Barn Bar featuring the highly acclaimed children’s entertainers Sharky and George providing a fun-packed day of imaginative, interactive games, adventures entertainment and fun activities.

Sharky and George Kids Party

Night Life

Some enclosures like stewards close early so it’s advisable to pre-book tickets to any of the other venues or bars to guarantee you can find a spot. The Redgrave VIP, named after Great Britain’s Greatest Rowing Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave CBE, is an exclusive area offering daybeds, a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the day and evening events and nightclub China White has a residency at Henley, offering an array of entertainment, DJ’s and VIP hospitality in their exclusive marquee. But, be warned after a day of drinking the night life at HRR can be a little hit and miss, attracting a rather disheveled crowd and more party atmosphere.   

End With a Bang 

For over 100 years, the Saturday night of HRR has ended with a dramatic display of fireworks which can be seen across the riverbank. From 10.30pm it's the most wonderful way to end a perfect summers day, but remember, even though the fireworks are on Saturday, the final racing is actually on Sunday. 

Rowing Jargon to Help You Navigate Henley Royal Regatta

  • Cox – A ‘cox’ or ‘coxswain’ is the non-rowing crew member responsible for steering, coordinating strokes and calling out commands to the crew during races. They sit at the front of the boat (normally 8’s), or if bow loaded, at the back, you’ll likely just see the top of their heads but you’ll hear their commands loud and clear.

  • Crab – The term used when a rower takes a stroke and their blade hits the water at the wrong angle and twists their blade in the wrong direction - showstopping!

  • Sculling – Rowing in a small boat of one, two or four people, using two oars to propel the boat through the water

  • Eights – Eights are the boats that hold eight rowers and the cox. Rowers in eights use just one oar and are either bow side (left) or stroke side (right) rowers

  • Fours – Fours are boats rowed by four rowers with one oar each and with either a cox, or coxless (no cox) so steered by the crew

  • Quads – Quadruple sculls are competitive rowing boats rowed by four people all with two oars each to propel the boat by sculling

  • Single Scull – A single sculling boat is designed for just one rower, rowing with two oars to propel the boat through the water

  • The Stroke – The rower sitting nearest the front of the boat is the stroke. He or she is responsible for setting the stroke rate and pace of the boat

  • Engine Room – The middle rowers are known as the powerhouse and generally the biggest and strongest rowers providing the boats power.

 For more picnic ideas and Pimms suppliers to help you see out this year's Henley Royal Regatta, take a look at TheEdit, otherwise, have a spiffing time!


- Explore the vendors featured in this article -

Search our Little BLACK BOOK for hand-picked experts & suppliers