6 of the best things to do in Henley
River walks, boat trips and afternoon tea in Henley
If you can tear yourself away from London’s bright lights and many attractions, we recommend spending at least one day out of the city. One of our favourite towns is Henley, just an hour out of London by train, in the Chilterns, south Oxfordshire.
Henley’s high profile Royal Regatta is a highlight of the UK summer sporting calendar. Usually, the event is a chance for rowing aficionados worldwide to compete in up to 100 races a day along the Thames, cheered on by spectators in straw boaters and striped blazers. And, of course, in keeping with all traditional British summer scenes, jugs of Pimms and strawberries and cream are on the menu!
Sadly, this year, Regatta Week will not take place at the end of June 2021 as usual, although an August date is being considered. The Henley Festival, offering live music, restaurants, bars and an opportunity to ditch festival wellies for black tie and long dresses, usually follows Regatta Week.
But even without these events, there’s plenty to see and do in the town, starting with the River and Rowing Museum which celebrates everything the river has to offer. After that, see if you can squeeze in at least a couple of these Henley attractions.
Henley is a quintessential English market town, with 300 buildings ‘of special architectural or historical interest’. Highlights include the grand Victorian town hall, an original Tudor building, St Mary’s Church and, just behind it, the Grade I listed Chantry House. The Old Bell pub, which dates back to the 14th century, is the oldest building in Henley.
If you fancy a spot of shopping, you’ll find all the high street chains, as well as some charming independent boutiques.
Walk along the river
A walk along river-facing Thames Side will take you past the 16/17th century The Old Granary. From here, you can stay on the town side of the river and walk towards Shiplake, following a small riverside path.
Alternatively, cross over the town’s historic bridge and head left towards the Leander Rowing Club. This is the training ground for the UK’s leading rowers such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. You’ll pass the magnificent Fawley Court, said to have been Kenneth Graham’s inspiration for Toad Hall in the children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Soon after, you’ll see Temple Island, home to an ornamental folly in the form of a temple, constructed in 1771. This is the start of the Henley Royal Regatta course. Continue along the river until your reach Hambleden Lock and weir.
Visit Hambleden Mill & village
Hambleden Mill is a historic watermill which was built for grinding flour but has now been converted into flats. Continue into Hambleden village for the full British experience. This archetypal English village features brick and flint cottages and the 12th century St Mary’s Church which is often used as a film location.
Rent a boat
If you like the idea of a lazy couple of hours on the river, there are several options available. Take a scheduled public cruise down the Regatta course and around Temple Island or pick up a rowing boat from Hobbs of Henley’s boathouse. As you drift down the river, you’ll pass stately homes, riverside restaurants, historic bridges and wildlife.
Indulge in afternoon tea
Once you’re back on dry land, there’s just one thing left to do. It’s time to tuck into a traditional afternoon tea, complete with dainty sandwiches and freshly-baked scones topped with a dollop of jam and cream!
Visit the gardens at Grey’s Court
If you’ve travelled by car and want to explore the local area, Grey’s Court is a striking 16th century mansion owned by the National Trust, just 5 miles from Henley. The gardens are the big attraction, divided into charming walled gardens which are set amongst medieval ruins. They’re at their best in spring, when the wild cherry trees are flowering and the 130 year old wisteria is in full bloom.
Getting to Henley
Trains between London Paddington and Henley-on-Thames depart regularly and take around 1 hour.