Head of the Charles

Boston's Biggest Boat Race

Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston - 2018

Biggest 2-Day Rowing Race in the World

More than 11 thousand elite athletes compete in Boston's Head of the Charles Regatta, the world's biggest 2-day rowing (sometimes called "sculling" or just "crew").

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 top rowers from Boston and around the world. 

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If you are coming to watch, you'll be part of a massive crowd of up to 300,000 spectators lining both sides of the river plus nearby bridges.  

This year marks the epic event's 54th anniversary.

Women's crew team competing in Head of the Charles Regatta
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, 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 BU bridge and finishes just past the Eliot Bridge by the Artesani Playground in Brighton. 

Crew teams with fall foliage along Storrow Drive in the background
Crew teams with fall foliage along Storrow Drive in the background

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 on the Boston side of the river between the Weeks and Anderson Bridges and filled with tents set up by participants and sponsors, provides a lively social and networking scene.

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.

Head of the Charles Regatta
Head of the Charles Regatta with Beacon Hill and the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House in the background

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. 

Watching the race - photographed from the Boston University Bridge
Spectators watching Head of the Charles Regatta from below the Boston University Bridge

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.  The Eliot Bridge Enclosure provides (for a fee) viewing near the river, along with breakfast, lunch, and drinks.

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

Boston & Cambridge Hotels near the Head of the Charles Regatta

Courtyard Cambridge Marriott, overlooking the Charles River
Courtyard Cambridge Marriott, overlooking the Head of the Charles Regatta course

Best views: 

Close to the Regatta course (all in Cambridge):

Easily accessible to T/Green Line (all in Boston) :

Map Showing the Course of the Head of the Charles Regatta

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, you may want to find alternate indoor activities unless someone you know is racing, but committed fans will bring their umbrellas and windbreakers, and enjoy the races just the same.

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.
  • Cost:   Free (for spectators) - although you'll find a number of "special" viewing areas, concessions, etc., for a fee.   These include Reunion Village ($10 for one day, $15 for both), and the Eliot Bridge Enclosure ($90 for one day or $150 for both; includes breakfast, lunch, and 2 free drinks)
  • For more information:  Head of the Charles website
Head of the Charles Regatta

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