Dust off your gilet and mix up a flask of Pimm's. It's time to watch London's poshest annual sporting fixture: the boat races. And this year they're taking place Easter weekend!
What is the boat race?
There are actually two boat races, pitting elite rowing teams from Oxford and Cambridge universities against one another, in a bicep-bulging dash along the Thames from Putney to Mortlake.
It started with the men's inaugural fixture in 1829 — a head-to-head thrashed out annually between 1856 and 2019, world wars excepted. The only other time the race didn't happen was in 2020 due to Covid 19. In 2021, the races took place 'behind closed doors' in Cambridgeshire.
The women's race first ran in 1927, although it didn't become an annual event until 1964. It wasn't until 2015 that the women first raced the same course, on the same day as the men.
When are the 2024 boat races?
Both boat races take place on Saturday 30 March 2024. That's unusual, because they're usually on a Sunday, but this is an Easter weekend special. If the weather's decent, it would be one of the busiest in a while.
The women's race begins at 2.46pm. The men's follows at 3.46pm. Talk about precise.
2024 marks the 78th women's race, and the 169th men's race.
Who are the current boat race champions?
The winner of the 2023 men's race was Cambridge, who have the overall record of 86-81.
The winner of the 2023 women's race was Cambridge, who have the overall record of 47-30.
So Oxford have things to prove in 2024.
What route do the boat races take?
Both races navigate the same route. A four-mile, 374-yard dash along the Thames, westward from Putney to Mortlake.
The women's course record is held by Cambridge from 2022's race: 18 minutes, 23 seconds. The men's record is also held by Cambridge, set in 1998: 16 minutes, 19 seconds.
As we said, Oxford have everything to prove.
Where's the best place to watch the boat races from?
Pick a spot most places along the banks of the Thames between Putney Bridge and Chiswick Bridge, and you should be able to see the boats. There are a couple of official fan zones set up along the route, where you'll find large screens to watch the BBC coverage, bars selling Chapel Down English sparkling wine and Shepherd Neame brews, food villages, toilets, fun family activities and seating:
A handful of other vantage points come recommended:
- Putney Bridge (for the very start of the race)
- The Pier House, Chiswick Pier: One of the best vantage points along the course — and there's food (Salt Beef Shack, Abdul's Moroccan and Super Scoop gelato), a bar (with Fuller's beer and hot drinks) and a huge screen showing the races. It overlooks Chiswick Eyot, a point where trailing teams often make their move.
- Chiswick Bridge (for the very end of the race): although it's said Barnes Bridge actually commands better views.
We recommend you get to any vantage point at least a couple of hours before the races start. Warm clothes aren't a bad idea either — it's springtime in London, so...
Is Hammersmith Bridge closed to spectators for the boat races?
We predict that, as has been the case for some years now, Hammersmith Bridge won't open to spectators, owing to safety fears (it's currently undergoing long-running repairs). In 2023, the bridge closed to all traffic (inc. bikes and pedestrians) on the day of the races at 11am and reopened at 6pm. We'd expect something similar for 2024.
Where's the best pub to watch the boat races from?
Now you're talking. Plenty of riverside drinking establishments are strung out along this stretch of the Thames, providing a decent view of the river, and a pint to go with. Get there bright and early or — if you can — book a table in advance.
- The Boathouse, Putney: Positioned just behind the starting line, so good for seeing the boats gather. We're promised a 'stunning clear view' of the Thames, 'roaring atmosphere' and special set menu for 2024.
- Duke's Head, Putney: Live music and a BBQ are on the cards for 2024 — let's hope for sunshine!
- Crabtree Tavern, Hammersmith: Hosts a Boat Race Day festival in its garden, with live music, asado grill and Pimm's on tap.
- Blue Anchor, Hammersmith: Home to a terrific terrace overlooking Hammersmith Bridge, which'll undoubtedly be packed.
- The Dove, Hammersmith: A classic riverside Fuller's pub that apparently has the world's smallest bar. It also has a pretty itsy terrace — a nifty place to spectate from, if you can secure a spot.
- The Black Lion, Chiswick: "The very best place" to watch the races from according to themselves (well they would say that), in past years they've had a marquee and a Pimm's bus.
- The Bull's Head, Barnes: A swish way to watch the action unfold — a £55 ticket gets you access to the pub's Melrose Room, with a 'free' glass of Nyetimber wine, canapes, and most importantly, panoramic Thames views.
- Ye White Hart, Barnes: Making the most of its outdoor space by the river, this boozer will host a barbecue and al fresco bars, creating a party atmosphere on the banks. Maybe the Barnes White Rabbit will show up too...
- The Ship, Mortlake: Before you get tooo excited, this is a Greene King pub, however it does benefit from sitting on the finishing line, so if either race is a close run thing, this could be the most thrilling pint you've ever had.
What's the weather going to be like?
Too early to call! Keep an eye on the Met Office info closer to the time. (But as we say, always take plenty of layers — it invariably gets a tad chilly standing around outside.)
Are the boat races shown on TV?
Yep. Watched by about 15 million people. Both races are broadcast on BBC One on Saturday, with commentary usually beginning an hour or so before the women's race.
Any other boat races to watch in London?
Yes indeed! In fact, there are two races held on Friday 29 March 2024 — the Lightweight Boat Races, which follow the same course as the Boat Races. The Women's Lightweight Race starts at 2.13pm, and the Men's Lightweight Race starts at 3.13pm. It's a good alternative if you're not a fan of big crowds.
For more information on the boat races, including details on who's rowing, visit the official website.