One of my favorite things about being a Brit living in the U.S. the past few years has been the opportunity to observe the cultural differences between our two great nations. I’ve noticed that for a country that fought a whole war to claim its independence from the British crown, Americans seem pretty fascinated by British royalty—much more so than native Brits. And I have to say, living in a country that has self-made “royalty” such as the Kardashians in the spotlight all the time, I've become more appreciative of the British royal family than I used to be.
If all the talk of Wimbledon right now is making you daydream about a quintessentially British summer filled with society social events, here are five other events that the Duchess of Cambridge (and other members of the Royal Family) often attend to add to your bucket list. Even if you don’t end up meeting and mingling with royalty, you’ll enjoy the loveliest of national pastimes and experience British culture at its finest.
If rowing is your thing, you’ll be in paradise at Henley; taking place annually in the pretty riverside town of Henley-on-Thames, the regatta is one of the best-known in the world. Over a five-day period in late June to early July, Henley showcases over 200 international standard races. Even if you don’t get particularly excited about rowing, it’s lovely to lounge in a deck chair by the river on a summer’s day, fanning yourself with the event program and refreshing your G&T as the day wears on.
There’s a strict dress code, and the entry fees vary a lot depending on which races you want to attend and where you would like to view them from. Most of the special enclosures require existing members to nominate new members, and there’s a waiting list of up to ten years for some. However, access to the main area is open to everyone, and it’s a very democratic first-come-first-serve situation when it comes to reserving a deck chair by the water.
In 1934 the owners of a beautiful Jacobethan manor house in the rolling green hills of the East Sussex countryside decided to start an opera festival, showcasing the best operatic talent from around the world. The festival, which runs from May to August, quickly became a favorite national summer tradition—as well as a world-renowned musical event. Attendees dress in black tie formalwear and pack elaborate picnics to enjoy in the beautiful grounds before and during the performances.
This event is worth the steep ticket price for any music lover, for the quality of the performance as well as the unique atmosphere and experience itself. Watching the regulars setting up their fancy picnics (think portable silver candlesticks and champagne) in all their finery is quite something, and will make you feel like you’ve stepped right into the pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead, Revisited.
03. Royal Ascot
It’s hard to beat the annual summer horse races at Ascot for iconic Britishness; it is, afterall, owned by Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen arrives at the races each morning in a horse-drawn carriage and a procession that announces the start of that day’s events. The dress code—for the ladies, long day dresses, no midriffs or shoulders on display, plus a hat; for the gentlemen, morning dress and a top hat—is strictly enforced, so you can channel your inner Eliza Doolittle à la Audrey Hepburn.
This is one of the British social events of the year, and is arguably more about the clothes, food, and drink than the actual horses. Guests are divided into different enclosures; the Royal Enclosure is the most prestigious, as it’s attended by members of the Royal Family, with members-only access and high security. There are a variety of different dining options across the different enclosures, from fine dining and champagne teas to “casual dining” and “high-quality street food."
The Chelsea Flower Show is another favorite summer event of the Royal Family; you’ll likely have seen pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge wandering through rows of beautiful roses this past May. The event is based in Chelsea, London, and lasts for five days in May; it is the most famous flower and landscape garden event in England, and people flock to it from around the world to see the top talent in floral design and growing. As well as being a great chance to get your fill of gorgeous flowers, it’s also a wonderful time to visit London in general, because the local businesses in Chelsea celebrate the event by decking themselves out with breath-taking floral displays.
05. Lord’s Cricket
Lord’s Cricket Ground in London is the home of British cricket, and you can’t get much more British than cricket. Picture an American baseball game and then replace the hot dogs with scones, cream and jam, and the pin-striped baseball trousers and jerseys with crisp white trousers, shirts and cable-knit sweaters. If you want to see a game in action and get a taste of this cultural phenomenon, catch the Eton versus Harrow match in June, an annual battle between two of England’s most famous boys boarding schools dating back to 1805 (apparently, Lord Byron played in the very first match). Both Prince Harry and Prince William went to school at Eton.
The grounds also include the oldest sports museum in the world, crammed full of cricket memorabilia, including The Ashes Urn. And of course if you’re peckish there’s a place to have tea; visit Lord’s Long Room in the Pavilion to enjoy the view of the cricket field while you eat a traditional afternoon tea.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons