More than 11 thousand elite athletes compete in Boston's Head of the Charles Regatta, the world's biggest 3-day rowing (sometimes called "sculling" or just "crew") event.

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. 

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 57th 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 60 exciting events involving about 2,000 boats over the 3-day period, there's plenty to watch.  If you know someone who's racing, the regatta becomes even more 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 and complete a 3-mile race course.  The winner of each race is called the "head" - or, in these races, the "Head of the Charles."  

With boats departing at such brief intervals, you can expect an action-packed day with record-breaking numbers of sculls filling the river.  At just about any time, you will 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 and beverages. 

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.

Watching the race - photographed from the Boston University Bridge
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

Six bridges span the Charles along the 3-mile race course, and you'll find excellent views from all of them, as well as several parks along the river.

Courtyard Cambridge Marriott, overlooking the Charles River
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.  Plus, you get an excellent view of the DeWolfe Boathouse where the race begins.

Other bridges between the Eliot and BU Bridges include:

  • Anderson Memorial Bridge, between John F. Kennedy St on the Cambridge side and North Harvard Street on the Boston (technically, Allston) site
  • Weeks Footbridge (DeWolfe Street on the Cambridge side and Harvard School of Business in Allston)
  • Western Ave Bridge (Western Ave on both sides of the Charles River)
  • Cambridge Street Bridge (River Street on the Cambridge side, Cambridge Street on the Boston side)

You can also get decent river-level views from along both sides of the Charles River.  One of the best and biggest is Magazine Beach in Cambridge, directly west of the BU Bridge.  Riverbend Park, between Western Ave and Kennedy Street in Cambridge, also provides plenty of viewing spots.

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) :

Find More Boston & Cambridge Hotels

More about how to save on Boston hotels

Map Showing the Head of the Charles Regatta Course

October Weather in Boston for Regatta Weekend

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 (coffee spots near the race course are always a good idea) unless someone you know is racing, although committed fans will bring their umbrellas and windbreakers in order to watch the races through the rain or snow.

One thing to keep in mind about Boston weather, no matter what the forecast may be:  It can change in minutes - for better or worse!

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 from 8am - 70m on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Cost:   Free (for spectators) - although you'll find a number of "special" viewing areas, concessions, etc., for a fee.   These include Reunion Village ($10/day), 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

More Fun Things to Do in Boston

More to Do in Boston in October

Events and things to do in Boston in October

More to Do in Boston in October

Events and things to do in Boston in October