Visiting Henley for the Royal Regatta or the Festival this July? Make a weekend of it with our guide to where to stay, what to do and where to eat.
Recently voted by The Times as one of the best places to live in the English countryside, Henley-on-Thames is a lovely little town in Oxfordshire, perfect for a weekend away. Located, as the name suggests, on the River Thames, it’s the perfect place to relax, have a long lunch and stroll through the cobbled historic centre with its many independent shops. Much of the town’s activity is focused on enjoying the river, but with numerous country walks, little museums and infamous summer celebrations, there’s something here for everyone.
What to do?
The Henley Royal Regatta, 28 June – 2 July
Without a doubt the most famous regatta in the world, Henley Royal Regatta is one of the biggest summer sporting and social events in the country. Established in 1839, the regatta takes place annually over the course of five days, putting on over 200 races for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re there for the races or simply to enjoy the atmosphere, Henley Regatta is a great day out for anyone with its charming views of the town and river, as well as the festive ambience of the enclosures, bars and restaurants.
Some enclosures have strict dress codes, so check before you go. However, on the whole Henley Regatta is much less formal than other events of the season, with lots of colours and sports blazers giving you a real chance to express your individuality. If you’re not sure what to wear, read our guide.
Henley Festival, 5 – 9 July
One of the best festivals of the year is the Henley Festival, spread over five days in July and boasting a stellar music, food and comedy line-up. With headliners Pet Shop Boys, Blondie, Chaka Khan and Jess Glynne this year, it’s set to be huge. Henley is the country’s only black-tie music festival, so be sure to get your glad rags on before dancing the night away. But if it’s food that gets you excited, this is definitely the festival for you: prepare to enjoy the likes of Snob Lobster and Champagne, The Spice Merchant and the Riverside Restaurant which is Europe’s largest field dining experience. Henley Festival also supports independent artists and galleries, so don’t miss the sculpture gardens.
There’s lots to do in Henley separately from the two events it is most famous for. Take a leisurely walk around the town centre to discover its history, including the pub where Charles I once drank, then take in the beauty of the river and surrounding Chiltern Hills on a public cruise or by rowing down the Thames yourself. If you have a particular penchant for ale, don’t miss the Henley Ale Trail organised by local pubs for you to discover locally-crafted ales while visiting interesting buildings and meeting the locals. The River & Rowing Museum is great for a family day out with its immersive Wind in the Willows experience enjoyed by children of all ages, while if you’re looking to experience the surrounding countryside there are numerous organised treks and rambles to country pubs. Find more detailed information here.
Where to eat?
If you’re after the real Henley experience, pack a posh picnic and take it to the parkland adjacent to the Thames to enjoy the riverside lifestyle. Mill Meadows is more manicured than Marsh Meadows, and during the summer there is often a band playing on the bandstand there.
Inspired by both British and French cuisine, Hotel du Vin’s bistro is one of the best in town. Try their signature Sunday lunch which begins with a French market-style buffet of fresh seafood, charcuterie, pâtés and freshly-baked breads.
Using only fresh, local produce, Shaun Dickens serves up his modern interpretation of classic British dishes in this stunning riverside setting. Eat al fresco on the deck when the weather’s nice.
Serving up seasonal dishes and the best fish of the day, family-run The Three Tuns is a local favourite. Try the special of the day.
And a little further afield…
Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin star restaurant is just twenty minutes away by car. Famous for its 14-course tasting menu, The Fat Duck promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime multisensory culinary experience.
Make the most of your location near Marlow and book yourself a table at Tom Kerridge’s Michelin-starred pub, Hand & Flowers for a properly good and hearty meal. The chocolate and ale cake is incredible. Marlow is full of lovely boutiques and charming shops, so why not spend the afternoon wandering the streets?
Where to stay?
Escape to the surrounding countryside for a memorable weekend getaway…
Hidden between Marlow and Henley-on-Thames is delightful 17th-century Danesfield House Hotel, an impressive retreat from the city. The sprawling house hosts 79 bedrooms, all finished uniquely with complimentary and traditional interiors. Around the house, you stumble upon the original historic features of the house, such as the Great Hall, with its impressively high ceilings and grand fireplace perfect for cosying up next to with a cup of tea, or after dinner cocktail. Outside, the grounds include miles of land, trailing down to the river banks; formal gardens with topiary and neat box hedging; tennis courts and many walking paths for ambling about on. Dining at the hotel is a treat, with a traditional and classic menu which delivers in every way you expect, from the beautifully cooked salmon to the bloody good rice pudding. The Oak Room dining room is a stylish setting for the evening, designed by one of the best interior designers in the UK, Anouska Hempel. The friendly staff help to make you feel at home at Danesfield House, so grab a cup of tea and get cosy in the Grand Hall – even if only for a night.
Hurley House is a newly-refurbished boutique hotel with 10 beautiful bedrooms and an excellent restaurant. Think cosy country English pub styling with a luxe twist. Free-standing baths, worn leather armchairs and room one even has its own terrace for afternoon drinks in the sun (or, you know, English drizzle). The crowd is family-friendly and a mix of locals and the city crowd escaping for a night or two, while the restaurant is run by Michael Chapman, formerly head chef of Michelin-Starred The Royal Oak at Paley Street. With a chic but cosy clean country vibe (think Babington on a smaller scale), Hurley House is an easy-to-reach country escape that’s the perfect stop-over for a day in Henley, Marlow, Oxford and more. The food is hearty, English indulgence with a wine selection worth writing home about.