How to Spend a Perfect Afternoon in Henley-on-Thames
This post was originally published on March 9, 2018
It's the most surreal feeling when traveling - to step off the train platform and automatically feel at home. You've never even set foot in this town, but you know it's going to be a gem. That's how I felt about Henley-on-Thames.
When I was doing research for the trip to England that we just recently returned from, it was my mission to find the most quintessentially British towns that I could find for us to visit. Because it was a short trip, I wanted to stay in the same county, so my search was limited. We were headed to Newbury to see Highclere Castle, and after that we would stay in the bigger city of Reading, but for our last two days I was stuck as to what to do.
I googled "Day Trips from London" to get a sense of something that would be a fairly short distance from the airport, and after scrolling through plenty of suggestions, I discovered Henley. The Google images were enchanting; we booked our hotel that day. The final piece to the puzzle of our trip to England.
If you ever find yourself in Henley-on-Thames for the day (or two), here's a few suggestions on how to spend your time!
What to Do
When you go on TripAdvisor to find things to do in Henley-on-Thames, it will bring up a number of options that aren't really in the town but a short drive away. If you're like many travelers who don't rent a car, here are your other options!
Shopping: Okay, this seems a bit cliché because you can go shopping in any town, but hear me out. I'm not usually big on shopping, but Henley had me hooked with its adorable window displays and quirky antique stores. Bell Street is the main street for shopping, but really anywhere around the town center will have plenty of stores to choose from. My personal favorites were Asquiths Teddy Bear Shop and Tudor House Antiques! (Click on the right of the image below to scroll through)
St. Mary's Church and Henley Bridge: Maybe this is just an obsession of mine - I don't know. I love walking inside any open church that I find. It's really a walk back in time, and it's always so beautiful! St. Mary's is right on the water in Henley, often featured on post cards. Make sure you pop in to appreciate its beauty before walking out over the bridge for a photo op!
Royal Regatta: This is what Henley is primarily known for. As soon as you step off the train, a big sign saying "Home of the Royal Regatta" is there to greet you. We were not there at the time, but this is a rowing event that brings in loads of tourists each year to Henley. It's a sporting and social event all tied up in one. I wish we had been there at the right time to witness it!
Friar Park: While I like listening to the Beatles from time to time, I am not the world's biggest fan. When I saw "Friar Park" on the map, I honestly thought it was a pedestrian park we could go walk around in. We soon learned otherwise. Friar Park (for the musically ignorant such as I) is a Victorian mansion owned by George Harrison's wife, Olivia. Security is tight, so all you will get is a glimpse of the gate house, which is impressive even on its own!
Local Estates: When you search "Things to Do" on TripAdvisor for Henley, plenty of things come up. Nuffield Place and Grey's Court are at the very top. The problem is, most are a 10 to 20 minute drive away, so if you don't have a car, this isn't really possible. I love a good manor house, though, so definitely give TripAdvisor a look if you have the ability to drive out somewhere outside of town.
Where to Eat
Remember how I mentioned all the cute shops before? The cafes and pubs are just as charming. Here's a couple places I would recommend:
The Three Tuns: Make sure you have a reservation because this place can get very busy in the evenings. They have handmade pies and a cozy environment - and pretty decent prices to go along with it!
Patisserie Valerie: Okay, this is a chain restaurant, so you will find them in many towns, but I loved the location of the one in Henley-on-Thames. It sits right on the town square. Grab yourself a croissant and a cup of tea, and do a little people watching.
The Catherine Wheel Restaurant: This is a "good food for the price" restaurant. (Do with that statement what you will.) The menu is really extensive, so everyone will be able to find something good to eat! And with the building dating to the 1500s, it's dripping in history.
The Angel on the Bridge: Probably one of the more iconic restaurants in Henley, The Angel sits right on the water by the bridge and across from the church. During the Royal Regatta it would be the perfect place to get a look at all the action!
Where to Stay
Before we got to Henley, we'd stayed a couple nights in Reading at one of the worst guest houses we'd ever experienced. I won't go into details, but I will say that our accommodations in Henley were a breath of fresh air in comparison. We stayed at The Loch Fyne Henley. It's located right above Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill, directly in the middle of town. We were scared at first when we booked that it would be noisy right on the town square, but we had no problems whatsoever. The staff was friendly, the room was spacious, and the included breakfast was absolutely amazing. Definitely would recommend it! More information here.
I plan on making my way back to Henley-on-Thames for the Royal Regatta one day! Have you ever visited Henley? If so, what would you recommend doing?