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Everything You Need To Know About The Head Of The Charles

Rowers preparing for the Head of the Charles Regatta. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Rowers preparing for the Head of the Charles Regatta. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 2 years old.

For many in New England, fall weekend plans are built around collegiate and professional football, baseball playoffs and the start of hockey season. But for one weekend in October, Boston rallies around another, less mainstream sport: crew.

The Head of the Charles Regatta is the largest two-day regatta in the world and an annual Boston tradition since 1965. Hundreds of thousands of spectators will line up along the Charles River this weekend to watch over 11,000 collegiate athletes from around the world race. From where to watch, to what to wear, here’s everything you need to know about this year’s Head of the Charles.

Rowing team from University of California training before the Head of the Charles Regatta. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Rowing team from University of California training before the Head of the Charles Regatta. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Basics

This is the 54th annual Head of the Charles. Over 800 schools, universities and organizations race along the three-mile course. In order to accommodate all of these competitors, race events start in roughly 15 second intervals. This means that at just about any time, you can see numerous boats — also known as sculls — on the water. If you’re looking to watch a specific race or cheer on friends and family, you can review the full race schedule here.

When It's Happening

The regatta takes place from Saturday, Oct. 20 to Sunday, Oct. 21. On Saturday, race start times go from 7:45 a.m. to  4:36 p.m. On Sunday, start times run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:49 p.m.

How To Get There

Memorial Drive from Cambridge Boat Club to Western Avenue will be closed on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the race. Officials encourage anyone not arriving with a boat on their car to utilize ride-hailing services or take public transportation. The course is within walking distance of numerous bus stops and three MBTA stations (Central and Harvard on the Red Line; BU Central on the Green Line). You can get more information on suggested transportation options here.

You Have To Drive? Don’t Worry.

You can find street parking on Birmingham Parkway, which is along the race’s shuttle route so you’ll have easy access to the main expo area. There will also be parking at Alewife Station and Harvard Stadium. You can find more information about both of those lots here.

Where To Watch

The course runs from the BU Bridge all the way around the Charles River bend past Harvard and into Allston. The busiest spectator area is at the Eliot Bridge on Soldiers Field Road. From this spot, viewers will be able to see teams make their last turn to the finish line. The BU Bridge is another popular spot, providing great views of both the race and the city’s skyline.

If you’re looking for a central location in the midst of the action, Christian Herter Park is your best bet for the day. The park becomes the center of the event because the regatta’s main expo tent and finish line are both located at opposite ends of the park.

The more challenging — and dangerous — areas of the course for the athletes include Weeks Footbridge, just above the Harvard Weld Boathouse; Anderson Memorial Bridge in front of the Harvard Newell Boathouse, and the Eliot Bridge in front the Cambridge Boat Club. These narrow and twisting sections of the course have historically resulted in crashes.

What To Wear

According to meteorologist David Epstein, spectators will be bundling up due to a drastic temperature drop this weekend. On Saturday, highs will be in the 60s with some clouds and potential showers, but Sunday will be time to dust off the winter jacket. With high winds and temperatures in the upper 40s, a hat and some gloves will be necessary for anyone heading to the water.

How To Avoid The Crowds

If you want a definite viewing spot with a more controlled crowd, there are a few places you can buy a ticket to get VIP service. But if you’re more into watching from your couch, you can catch all the action by live-streaming the races on The Rowing Channel.

And Don’t Miss Out On...

  • The award ceremonies and "Heroic Rower Stage." This is part of the Rowing and Fitness Expo at Christian Herter Park in Allston. If you are cheering on friends or family members, this is a great place to celebrate with them if they’re victorious.
  • Some cool swag. Spectators will also find more than 70 vendors at the Rowing and Fitness Expo. The space opens Friday at 8 a.m. and runs through whole regatta.
  • Free stuff. Weld Exhibition is home to the regatta sponsor booths, which are known to give out free samples. Some of this year’s sponsors include La Croix, Flatbread Company, 5-Hour Energy and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
  • Lots of food (and beer). There are four concession areas where spectators can grab a bite: Weld Exhibition, Attagar Row Expo, Reunion Village and the Eliot Bridge Enclosure. Across the four areas spectators will be able to feast on options from numerous local restaurants including Boston Burger Co. — though the latter two event areas are both ticketed locations. Those watching the regatta from Christian Herter Park can also quench their thirst at the Night Shift Brewing beer garden in the center of the park.

Meagan McGinnes Twitter Newsletter Editor
Meagan is WBUR's newsletter editor.

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