Things to do in Boston: Head of the Charles Regatta

Each October America’s biggest regatta takes place along the Charles River. The race is one of three big regattas in the rowing world (the other two being the Henley Royal Regatta and the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta) and an American past time. The race just celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, and while it’s a bit younger than its British and Canadian counterparts, that doesn’t detract from any of the fantastic tradition and racing that the regatta stands for.

When I studied at Oxford University in 2014 I joined the St. Catherine’s College Crew team (Oxford divides its students into Colleges) and fell in love with the sport. Though I didn’t row much (lacrosse took up most of my non-academic time there) I gained an immense appreciation for the culture. Rowing is a highly demanding, extremely competitive sport with a history that stretches back to the 1800s. Hearing the blades swipe through the water in sync and watching the unity and cohesion of the rowers as they move back and forth is an experience that is unlike any other sporting event.

The race begins right near the BU Law Tower and proceeds towards Cambridge, Harvard, and MIT. The race is 3 miles long (which is more than twice the length of the Henley races) and features multiple bridges, a fierce almost-90-degree turn, and of course the unruly tidal patterns of the Charles. There are over 10,000 competitors each year, ranging from high school teams up to Olympians. This wide spread of experience makes it an extremely welcoming event; you can cheer on old teammates and classmates during one race and watch Olympian gold medalists during the next race.

For those unfamiliar with the rowing world, don’t feel unwelcome at the Head of the Charles. The race is as much of a Boston event as it is a rowing event. All along the 3-mile stretch are countless vendor booths, featuring food, give-aways, raffles, and more. The vendors are varied- I saw everyone from Ruth’s Chris steakhouse to Shell Gasoline- and there’s plenty to see. The event’s main sponsor is Brooks Brothers, which has multiple tents selling limited edition HOCR apparel and a main tent that has giveaways, a photo booth, and more. My favorite non-race part of the regatta this year was seeing all the unique independent jewelry and needlepoint vendors from the area that added a particular Boston charm to the race. Oh, and the dogs. My other favorite part was the dozens of dogs I met while walking the race route!

This year’s regatta was quite damp and overcast on Saturday, the only day I could attend (Sundays are for studying!), but that didn’t stop us from wholeheartedly enjoying the race in its entirety. We caught multiple races as we walked along the banks and perched atop the various bridges, visited almost all the vendors, and overall enjoyed the atmosphere of the regatta. There were LL Bean Boots a plenty, dogs galore, healthy sports rivalries, and of course the stunning autumn foliage framing the Charles, Harvard, and BU. If you’re looking for the most quintessential “Boston” thing to do, my pick is the Head of the Charles Regatta.


{ For more information and to plan for next year’s race, head to }


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