Dates for the 2020 Royal Regatta; begin on Wednesday 1st through to Sunday 5th July 2020.

he Henley Royal Regatta, (or Henley Regatta, its original name pre-dating Royal patronage), was founded in 1839 and is world famous for its rowing races. The Henley Royal Regatta is held annually on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames, England. The regatta is organised by a self-electing body of Stewards, who are largely former rowers themselves.

The regatta lasts for five days (Wednesday to Sunday) ending on the first weekend in July. Races are head-to-head knock out competitions, raced over a course of 1 mile 550 yards (2,112 m). The regatta regularly attracts international crews to race. The most prestigious event at the regatta is the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights, which has been awarded since the regatta was first staged.

As the regatta pre-dates any national or international rowing organisation, it has its own rules and organisation, although it is recognised by both British Rowing (the governing body of rowing in England and Wales) and FISA (the International Federation of Rowing Associations). The regatta is organised by a self-electing body of Stewards, who are largely former rowers themselves. Pierre de Coubertin modelled elements of the organisation of the International Olympic Committee on the Henley Stewards.

What to call the regatta? Always refer to it either as ‘Henley’ or ‘Henley Royal Regatta’ – not the mere ‘Henley Regatta’. The Regatta has been Royal since HRH Prince Albert became its first royal patron in 1851, with every reigning monarch since consenting to become a patron.

Where to watch? The best place to watch from is the Stewards’ Enclosure which is on the finish line, but you need to be either a member or a guest of a member to get in.

The next best option for those keen on following the racing is the Regatta Enclosure, just along from Stewards’. It’s a good spot, and children of all ages are welcome there – the dress code is more relaxed, too.

Henley Royal Regatta
Crews from the Cambridge 99 Rowing Club and Vesta Rowing Club battle it out for a place in the next round of the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.
Henley Royal Regatta
Henley Royal Regatta

Alternatively get there early, take your picnic and a rug then bag a spot on the riverbank. You could also charter a rowing boat and moor on the booms.

What to wear? Henley is smart and there is a dress code, but not the same as as Royal Ascot, (see below).

Ladies should forget wedding-style frocks, separates and fussy hats. Instead think along the lines of tea dresses and simpler straw headgear. It can get chilly by the river, so take a wrap or jacket for later.

Trying to get into the Stewards’ Enclosure in a dress or skirt above the knee is a major faux pas. Every year sees incredulous, leg-baring women being turned away at the entrance – embarrassing and a real nuisance for your host.

Ladies - Henley Dress Codes
Ladies – Henley Dress Codes, Examples.

So play it safe, follow the dress code and wear a frock that definitely covers the knee. Don’t even think about wearing trousers, a jumpsuit or culottes. Every morning at Henley sees girls being turned away from Stewards’ and then racing off into the town centre in search of a remedying knee-length number.

nother tip: forget stilettos as they will sink into the grass. In addition, your host may suggest that you walk to the start, which is well over a mile along the riverbank from the Leander Club and Stewards’ Enclosure. So make sure your footwear is up to it – wedges work best.

Henley Dress Codes
Henley Dress Codes

Gentlemen, crew, club and team blazers are fine if they have been earned. (Like club ties.)  Otherwise men should play it safe and wear a plain blazer or linen suit. A Panama goes down well though, and can be a pate-saver on a scorching day.

Henley Dress Codes - Team Colours.
Henley Dress Codes – Team Colours.

Gentlemen are requested to wear a jacket and tie (or cravat) at all times, unless permission is granted by the Stewards for gentlemen to go shirt-sleeved (usually only in the hottest of temperatures).

And if it rains? Old Henley hands will always have wellies at the ready. And umbrellas and raincoats.

Mobile phone etiquette. You are forbidden to be seen to make or receive calls on your mobile in the Stewards’ Enclosure but it is acceptable to use your phone as a camera. The Stewards employ bowler-hatted Regatta officials to politely request you to cease and desist.

Repeat offenders are expelled from the Stewards’ Enclosure and their badge numbers recorded. Excruciating.

What to watch out for. Henley Royal Regatta is seen as the pinnacle of a rower’s career, starting at schoolboy and girl level, with strong competition in the junior men’s Fawley Cup and Princess Elizabeth Cup (known as the “PE”), and for junior women, the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup.

Henley Regatta
Henley Regatta.

Prize giving on Sunday afternoon is always made by an esteemed sportsman or sportswoman – in recent years that has included Sir Ben Ainslee, Victoria Pendleton CBE, Sir Chris Hoy, and Dame Kelly Holmes, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Dame Katherine Grainger and James Cracknell.

Updated: 4 January 2020.

  1. Henley Royal Regatta – Information for Spectators and Tickets.
  2. Henley Royal Regatta – Hospitality.