With historic towns, rolling countryside, world-class racecourses and a famous regatta (or two), there’s so much to do in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. As you can imagine, the annual events’ calendar is one of the countries full and varied.
There’s a lot going on in one relatively small area from May to December. The year starts calmly: if you’re looking for cosy country pubs, bracing walks and afternoons meandering around fascinating little shops, this is a lovely time to visit. The local attractions that close for the winter all re-open in time for Easter, and younger guests will have a choctastic choice of Easter egg hunts (step forward, Buckinghamshire’s National Trust estates).
When we get to May, the area springs to life with a programme bursting with marvellous annual events. Whether you’re here for the horses, the river or the music, there’s so much to choose from (you may even find yourself booking more than one trip…).
Here’s the Taplow House Hotel’s guide to the best local events and annual fixtures in and around Buckinghamshire.
The Buckinghamshire season starts in style with the Royal Windsor Horse Show, in the grounds of Windsor Castle. We hear it’s one of Her Majesty’s favourite equestrian events; and with show jumping, dressage and the outstanding pageant, many agree with her. You can also leave the arena to watch the Land Rover International Driving Grand Prix, or simply to enjoy the fabulous shopping opportunities…
If you like the idea of the grand prix, you may want to catch The Chiltern Hills Vintage Vehicle Rally, an annual event held at Weedon Park, Aylesbury. Have a look at the entry classes if you want to take part; or simply enjoy the spectacle and the food and drink stalls.
And speaking of food and drink… Pub In The Park in Marlow is a three-day annual feast hosted by chef Tom Kerridge. There’s incredible food served in a range of pop-up pubs and restaurants, drinks from craft beers to cocktails, and a fantastic music line-up. Want more music? Let’s Rock The Moor is the retro music event. Dig out the legwarmers and short-sleeved jackets, get backcombing, and head down to Cookham for the best in original eighties’ acts.
For a gentler spring weekend away, May sees the start of the National Garden Scheme’s open gardens. Here in Buckinghamshire, we’re fortunate to have many beautiful gardens taking part in the NGS programme, which opens up private gardens to raise money for charity. If you’re coming here in May or June, have a look at the NGS website first to see which local gardens are taking part.
And we’re back with the horses, and what’s probably the world’s most famous race meeting: Royal Ascot. The best horses compete for astonishing prize money, while visitors enjoy exceptional hospitality (in the most impressive hats). There’s a choice of enclosures for guests, from the exclusive Royal Enclosure to the more relaxed Windsor Enclosure (bring a picnic).
For a more modest but thoroughly enjoyable four-legged contest, Windsor Championship Dog Show is attended by almost 10,000 dogs, in a lovely setting near Windsor Castle. Dogs are welcome to spectate, and there’s a doggy hospitality tent!
Marlow Regatta is often seen as a precursor to Henley; however, this multi-lane regatta should simply be enjoyed for itself. Held at Dorney Lake at Eton College, rowers come from all over the world to compete in a variety of races.
June isn’t just about competitions – it’s a good time to enjoy the county’s flourishing arts and literary scene. Established in 1985, Bucks Art Weeks is a programme of pop-up exhibitions, open studios and arts trails across the county. Visitors can admire, buy or even try their hand at a variety of media, which includes paint, ceramics, textiles and jewellery. Buckingham Literary Festival is held every year in our lovely county town, with authors in conversation, plays, and pop-up talks in the Local Author’s Hub.
July sees the world’s most prestigious regatta take place on the Thames. The Henley Royal Regatta is a spectacle both on and off the water. Over 200 events take place over five days, and spectators have a choice of elegant enclosures, renowned for their excellent hospitality.
When the rowers leave, Henley doesn’t rest. It’s almost straight into the town’s other annual summer event, Henley Festival. Like most established festivals, there’s a mix of music and comedy (with some fantastic names on the bill), and a range of fabulous food and drink. However, unlike most festivals, there’s a strict dress code: these gigs are black tie only. There’s a separate Family Sunday aimed at a younger audience.
The Chiltern Traction Engine Club hosts the annual Chiltern Steam Rally in Prestwood every July. Over the weekend, visitors can see the engines literally under their own steam at the arena; and there are demonstrations, market and food stalls, fairground rides and non-steam classic vehicles on offer in the other fields.
The excitement continues at Ascot in July, with a series of meetings such as the Summer Mile Family Race Day and the King George Weekend. The racecourse has a programme of other events over the summer holidays, typically including open-air cinema.
There’s another Henley-based party in August: Rewind Festival. This is more of a typical festival than July’s upmarket offering (there’s camping and no dress code, for a start); however, it attracts some great musicians and comedians, and the choice of food is always fantastic. For a chilled-out, one-day festival, try Swanbourne Music Festival. This is a lovely day out for families, and combines big names artistes with local bands.
And now for something a bit more traditional: Buckinghamshire County Show. Bucks County Show has been going for over a century and a half, and for the last few years has been held near Aylesbury. There are livestock and equine classes, trade stalls and tractors – and a splendid food hall where you can stock up on some of the county’s finest produce.
It’s still all happening in Henley; and over the bank holiday weekend, Stonor Hall hosts the Henley County Craft Show. There’s always so much going on during the two days, including plenty for younger visitors. The local street food market (are you sensing a theme here?) is irresistible, and you can watch (or join in with) a crafting demonstration or workshop. Live music adds to the festival atmosphere.
The Kop Hill Climb is a brilliantly crazy, non-competitive race for vintage and interesting cars and motorbikes. If you’ve a yearning to drive an old car up a big hill - register now! Otherwise just go along for the sheer fun of it. There’s live music, food and drink, stalls and family entertainment. Kop Hill is in Princes Risborough, and this latest version of the century-old event takes place every September.
Race meetings continue at Ascot and Royal Windsor, and there are still NGS gardens open in September, making the most of that “second spring”. Windsor Castle’s September What’s On programme is worth looking at, with a choice of tours, talks, exhibitions and events.
Autumn starts in Buckinghamshire with the Ascot Beer Festival. This is run by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) every October, in the wonderful setting of the famous racecourse. There are over 200 ales, ciders and perries to sample; and to add to the atmosphere, there’s a German-style Bier Haus where you can soak up the beer with a Bratwurst or two, accompanied by a traditional German band. Racing continues during the Beer Festival.
Over at Royal Windsor racecourse, they’re holding their very own “Oktoberfest”. This one celebrates Windsor’s German links, and the beer and food on offer has a Bavarian theme. Guests are even encouraged to wear Lederhosen… The racing season ends with Royal Windsor’s much-loved Autumn Afternoon Racing, a relaxed approach to race-going, where you can book a “Fish and Chips Package” or amble through the Paddock Lane food stalls.
If you like your firework displays to have a stunning setting, try the Family Fireworks Weekend at Ascot. As well as the fireworks, there’s racing, a funfair and pony riding for younger kids (imagine saying you’ve ridden at Ascot…). Want to really impress the kids? Book to see the fireworks at Legoland in Windsor.
As soon as Bonfire Night’s over, the Christmas celebrations begin. Santa’s Sunday in Aylesbury signals the start of the festive season for many locals. Schools, businesses, bands and dancers take part in a parade that moves its cheerful way through the town. There are stalls and street food – and of course, the Man himself. A few days after this, Aylesbury hosts the county’s largest festive craft fair, which has a lively Christmas market-style atmosphere. There are other parades and Christmas lights switch-on ceremonies in Eton and Windsor.
Back at Ascot, you can combine a weekend of racing with a weekend of shopping, as the racecourse hold its annual Christmas Shopping Fair. High-end festive shopping at its finest, this is the place to go if you’re looking for unique, high-quality gifts. There’s also live music between races to add to the Christmassy atmosphere.
It’s agreed across the county that nowhere does Christmas like Waddesden Manor. The National Trust-managed home of the Rothschild family is an elegant, chateau-style house, and it lends itself beautifully to a simply stunning festive display. During Waddesden Manor’s annual Christmas Carnival, the house is lit up inside and out with lavish lighting displays and decorations inspired by the Manor’s art collection. The typical celebrations at Waddesden include pop-up shops in the stables and extra food stalls serving winter warmers, from waffles to hot pots.
There’s a great choice of other National Trust properties in Buckinghamshire, most of which have welcoming festive programmes that are guaranteed to give you that warm, fuzzy glow (we love the olde worlde feel at Canons Ashby, as well as the crisp winter outdoor walks at Stowe).
And to round off the year, the Christmas Racing Weekend at Ascot has races, cocktails, Father Christmas and huskies – most definitely something for everyone. There’s also carol singing and a fairground, as well as the younger kids’ pony riding sessions again.
Don’t forget to have a look at our own events programme at Taplow House Hotel, as we always have some fantastic festive celebrations, as well as themed days, cookery classes and special breaks all year round.
This is our guide to the main annual events in Buckinghamshire; however, there are lots of wonderful, one-off smaller events throughout the year, from food shows to live theatre. The Amersham Festival of Music has two main annual festivals (in the spring and winter); however, they also have a diverse music programme that runs all year. Buckingham itself has a range of proper local events, from a Pancake Race to a Christmas market.
Another special event to look out for is one of Frogmore House’s rare open days. Located in the Home Park of Windsor Castle, this Royal retreat opens its gardens and a selection of rooms to raise money for charities on just a few days each year.
Keep an eye on our events page to see what’s happening around Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton; or if you’re deciding when to stay, please contact us to find out what’s on. We have plenty of local knowledge to pass on and we’d be delighted to share our tips and suggestions with you.
Whatever event you’re attending, make sure you have a comfortable bed to sink into at the end of the evening. Have a look at the inviting rooms at Taplow House, and start planning your trip.