Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, MA

Biggest 2-day rowing race in the world

Women's crew team competing in Head of the Charles Regatta

Elite athletes from around the world compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta, the biggest 2-day rowing (sometimes called "sculling" or just "crew") race in the world.

Held on the 3rd weekend in October when fall foliage colors begin to peak along the Charles River where the races take place, the Head of the Charles Regatta attracts over 9,000 local and world-wide rowers. 

Here in Boston, a massive crowd of up to 300,000 spectators turn out to watch along both sides of the river plus nearby bridges.  

My family usually heads to the Boston University Bridge, as the crowds are thinner there.  That's where I took all the Regatta photos on this page.

Go straight to the course map near the bottom of this page.

Head of the Charles Regatta seen from BU Bridge

Women's crew team competing in Head of the Charles Regatta

 

What to Expect at the Head of the Charles Regatta

With more than 55 exciting events involving almost 2,000 boats over the 2-day period, there's plenty to watch.  If you know someone who's racing, as we did when our friends' son competed on the MIT crew team, the regatta is super-exciting. 

Otherwise, it's simply a perfect excuse to be outside enjoying the October weather. The 3-mile race starts at Boston University's DeWolfe Boathouse near the the BU bridge and finishes just past the Eliot Bridge by the Artesani Playground in Brighton. 

Head of the Charles Regatta - top Boston October Event

Three members of the Cambridge Boat Club started the Head of the Charles Regatta back in 1965, and the race has grown ever since.  Members of racing clubs, college crew teams, and even high school teams converge to compete to be the best in their class.

A "head," in England, is a type of regatta, or boat race, in which boats depart at 15-second intervals on a 3-mile race.  The winner of each race is called the "head" - or, in these races, the "Head of the Charles."  

Race events start at roughly 15 second intervals - so it's an action-packed day with record-breaking numbers of sculls filling the river.  At just about any time, you can see numerous boats on the water.

In addition to the races, the event features displays by boat builders, a rowing and fitness expo, other sponsors, and, of course, food.  Reunion Village, an area filled with tents set up by participants and sponsors, provides a lively social and networking scene.

In addition, many of the university and private boat houses along the river host open houses, which can be a lot of fun to visit, especially since many of the sponsors offer free giveaways.

Crew teams in the Charles River, Boston, MA

 

Where to Watch the Race

Seven bridges span the river along the 3-mile race course, and you'll find excellent views from all of them. 

Many fans like the Eliot Bridge because the bend in the river at this point means you'll see the rowers display their skills as they navigate a hairpin turn right before they pass under the bridge.

By contrast, the BU Bridge oversees a calm stretch of smooth rowing - but spectators get more elbow room.

Spectators watching Head of the Charles Regatta from the BU Bridge

Spectators watching Head of the Charles Regatta from the BU Bridge

 

October Weather in Boston for Regatta Weekend

Keep in mind that October weather in Boston can be tricky.  During recent years, regattas have experienced everything from spectacular sunshine and blue skies to drenching downpours to heavy fog.  We even had a freak snowstorm a few years ago. 

When the weather is good, bring your camera because you'll see exciting action to photograph on the river, plus plenty of gorgeous fall foliage.  When the weather is bad . . . well, personally I find alternate indoor activities unless someone I know is racing, but committed fans will bring their umbrellas and windbreakers, and enjoy the races just the same.

 

Map Showing the Course of the Head of the Charles Regatta




Essentials:  Head of the Charles Regatta
  • When:  3rd weekend in October (check the Boston October Events Calendar for exact dates/times)
  • Where:  Excellent viewing spots can be found anywhere between the BU Bridge (near Boston University Central Campus) and the Eliot Bridge (near Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols Upper School campus).  The Boston side of the river borders BU and Allston/Brighton
  • Closest T stations: Red Line/Harvard Square or Central Square - about a 7-10 minute walk to the river from either station; Green Line B/BU Central - also an easy walk to the river (use a footbridge to cross Storrow Drive).  If you want to watch from the BU Bridge, take the Green Line to BU West.  You can also hop on the free shuttle buses that you'll see in the area.
  • Driving or parking:  Don't even think about it!   Aggressive towing will be in effect.  Boat trailers will take up any available space.  Memorial Drive will be closed between Western Ave and the Cambridge Boat Club at the Memorial Drive/Greenough Blvd intersection.
  • Where to stay: 
    Best views:  Doubletree Guest Suites, Courtyard Cambridge Marriott
    Close to the Regatta course: Harvard Square Hotel, Charles Hotel, Hyatt Regency Cambridge (all in Cambridge)
    Easily accessible to T/Green Line: Boston Buckminster Hotel, Hotel Commonwealth, Eliot Hotel (all in Boston)
  • Cost:   Free (for spectators) - although you'll find a number of "special" viewing areas, concessions, etc., for a fee
  • For more information:  Head of the Charles website

 

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Team of 4 in the Head of the Charles Regatta

 

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