Ultimate guide to Cheltenham Races

Cheltenham Races: the ultimate guide

Heading to Cheltenham Races? Perhaps it’s your first time as a race goer, or you’re a regular looking for tips to make the most of heading to the Races this March. Having been born and bred in Cheltenham, you could say I’m pretty familiar with heading to the races, navigating the racecourse, and knowing where to head after Cheltenham Races. In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about heading to Cheltenham Races, from outfit ideas to the best places for breakfast, the best hotels in Cheltenham, and the bars to visit afterwards. There’s tons of fun to have throughout a hectic week, and if you’re new to Cheltenham Festival, here’s everything you need to know about the four day fixture and why it’s such a big deal.

Quick tips for visiting Cheltenham

Get this: affordable car hire in Cheltenham, making it much easier for you to explore the town and the beautiful Cotswolds nearby.

Don’t miss: this budget-friendly self-guided audio tour of Cheltenham, highlighting all the very best bits to see in the town.

Flights: find the cheapest flights to nearby Bristol with Skyscanner.

Stay: Find the most affordable hotels in Cheltenham on Booking.com.

What is Cheltenham Races?

Cheltenham Races began back in 1815, with the races moving to Cleeve Hill and exploding in popularity. Nowadays, there are multiple race meets throughout the year from New Year’s Day Racing to the November meet at the end of the year. Cheltenham offers a unique racecourse, and the Cheltenham Festival is the most famous series of races, comprising Gold Cup Day – in fact, it’s the most important week in the jump racing calendar. Some even say it’s the Olympics of jump racing, and it’s all about the best of the best. There are over 28 races across four days in Cheltenham’s most celebrated week of the year, and the prize money up for grabs is well over £4 million. Cheltenham Festival brings together all the best horses, trainers, and jockeys for some of the best horse racing you’ll see in the year, and over 250,000 racegoers attend Cheltenham Races each year to join in on the revelry. Cheltenham Racecourse is unlike others you’ll find – it’s full of anomalies, ups, and downs to make the racing exciting, and there’s an atmosphere that’s pretty special.

Where are Cheltenham Races?

Cheltenham Races are held at Cheltenham Racecourse on Evesham Road in Prestbury Park. The racecourse offers some of the best jumping action in the world within the 350 acres at the bottom of the Cotswold hills. The racecourse is just outside of the historic spa town of Cheltenham in Gloucestershire – also known for being the heart of the Cotswolds. Cheltenham comes into its own in mid-March for the biggest week of the year – Race Week. Located in the shadow of Cleeve Hill, it’s one of the most spectacular racecourse in the world with sprawling views across the surrounding hills and countryside.

Jockeys winning
Photo credit: Cheltenham Races
Racecourse bars
The racecourse

When is Cheltenham Races?

There are various meets throughout the season, with Cheltenham Festival the pinnacle of them all. Here’s the official fixture list for Cheltenham Races 2024:

  • The Festival (Cheltenham Gold Cup) – Tuesday 12th – Friday 15th March 2024
  • The April Meeting – Wednesday 17th & Thursday 18th April 2024
  • Race Night featuring Hunter Chase Racing – Friday 3rd May 2024
  • The Showcase – Friday 25th – Saturday 26th October 2024
  • The November Meeting – Friday 15th – Sunday 17th November 2024
  • The Christmas Meeting – Friday 13th – Saturday 15th December 2024

Some of the links I’ve used in this post are affiliate – while it will make no difference to the price you pay, I may earn a small commission from the provider if you book something I’ve recommended. I’d never recommend anywhere I truly don’t love.

When is the Cheltenham Festival 2024?

The four days of the Cheltenham Festival 2024 take place from Tuesday 12 March to Friday 15 March 2024.

  • Champion Day – Tuesday 12 March. Champion Day celebrates the return of jump racing’s festival, where reigning and future champions come together, each keen to add their name to the Jump Racing Greats wall of fame.
  • Festival Wednesday – Wednesday 13 March. With action on and off the racecourse, Festival Wednesday features the Queen Mother Champion Chase, where the pressure is on for speed and jumping ability.
  • St Patrick’s Thursday – Thursday 14 March. Enjoy unrivalled celebrations at St Patrick’s Thursday with plenty of Irish merriment. Horses and jockeys do their best to eek closer to winning the Prestbury cup.
  • Gold Cup Day – Friday 15 March. The jewel in Jump Racing’s crown, the Gold Cup is the most prestigious trophy in horse racing – who will be crowned the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner 2024?

What time does Cheltenham Races start?

For each day of the Cheltenham Festival, gates open at 10:30. The first race is at 13:30, and the last race at 17:30. Even before the races begin, however, there is so much to do in each enclosure. Traffic can get a little crazy during Cheltenham Festival so I highly recommend getting there early and planning your journey accordingly. There are security checks before you enter the racecourse too.

What to wear to Cheltenham Races

Check out my comprehensive guide on what to wear to Cheltenham Races.

Think less cocktail dress and stilettos when it comes to what to wear to Cheltenham Races, and more tweed, fur, and pearls. We’re not at Ascot after all! Cheltenham Racecourse encourages punters to dress to feel their best, making sure you’re comfortable and relaxed. That said, Cheltenham Festival is a chance to dress up and you’ll find most men in tweed suits and women wearing hats, glamorous country attire, and knee high boots. As Cheltenham Festival is held in mid-March, the weather can be unpredictable. Here are some tips for what to wear to Cheltenham Races:

  • Be prepared for the weather – Cheltenham Festivals over the years have brought all kinds of weather from relentless rain to glorious sunny days. Dress for the warmth and incorporate elegant layering with polo necks, jackets, and smart overcoats. Don’t forget an umbrella!
  • Reconsider your fancy dress – fancy dress is welcomed at Cheltenham Festival if fun and colourful, but not if it could be deemed offensive or inappropriate. Fancy dress is not permitted in the Club Enclosure.
  • Adopt the ‘Cheltenham look’ – think smart winter outfits – country clothing, fur, tweed, and suits for men. Choose stylish boots in favour of stilettos, with plenty of accessories. Fedora hats are popular too.
  • No large bags – your bag will be searched as part of the security measures at Cheltenham Festival, and they will only permit appropriately sized bags. Otherwise, you could risk having to leave it.
  • Add colour for Ladies’ Day – on Ladies’ Day of the festival, female racegoers often bring a little more vibrancy to Cheltenham Races, with more colour and additional accessories like feathers.
What to wear to Cheltenham Races
The Shopping Village at Cheltenham Festival. Photo credit: Cheltenham Racecourse

Cheltenham Races outfit ideas: ladies

Although there isn’t a strict dress code, Cheltenham Festival is a little more special for the racing calendar and you’ll find most punters make an effort. Dressing up is part of the fun, after all! Ladies will typically wear smart winter outfits. Popular options include dress suits, fur stoles, and smart country attire. Great places to shop for a Cheltenham Races outfit include Holland Cooper, Fairfax and Favor, and Anna Lascata. Consider adding the following key pieces to your Cheltenham Races outfit:

  • A dress coat or tweed jacket – stay stylish while keeping warm
  • A flattering skirt – smarten up your outfit with a skirt that skims your silhouette. Tweed or suede skirts are a great option. If you fancy something a little more casual, fitted jeans can look good too
  • Cashmere knitwear – keep warm with soft cashmere or lambswool jumpers or cardigans
  • Stylish boots – high quality heeled boots bring comfort and style. Avoid stilettos as you could find them uncomfortable throughout the day. Suede and over the knee boots are particularly popular, as are Dubarry boots which you can pick up on Cheltenham’s Promenade
  • A stylish hat – elegant hats including fedoras, trilbys, berets, and faux fur hats can complete your Cheltenham Races outfit. Cashmere headbands also look great!
  • A luxurious scarf – finish off your look with a glamorous wrap or cashmere scarf to add it a little country chic to your look and to keep warm
  • Accessories – don’t forget the finishing touches! An ornate brooch, gloves, classic tote, and sophisticated jewellery will help you to achieve the ‘Cheltenham look’

Ladies’ Day outfit ideas

Ladies’ Day takes place on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival (Festival Wednesday). Each year, there’s a style competition where both ladies and gentlemen are able to win prizes. You’ll likely find many racegoers wearing bold styles, or perhaps a single colour head to toe to stand out. For most punters, Ladies’ Day is a great excuse to dress up and go over and above. While you’re encouraged to make an extra effort, ensure your outfit is still practical. Avoid stiletto heels, instead opting for stylish boots or a closed toe shoe with a block heel. Bold coloured coats and feathered hats are a Cheltenham staple, too.

Cheltenham Races outfit ideas: gentlemen

There’s no official dress code for Cheltenham Races, but nothing says ‘Cheltenham’ more than effortlessly slick country style. Tweed is the go-to, and as well as looking stylish it will also keep you super warm. Most gentlemen attending the Cheltenham Festival will wear a suit with a tailored overcoat for warmth. Think moleskin trousers, fedora hats, and smart brogues. Here are some of the key menswear pieces you might want to consider when it comes to your Cheltenham Races outfit idea:

  • A wool overcoat – overcoats are simple because you can wear them over clothes you might already own. They look super stylish and are relatively effortless.
  • Cashmere scarf – make sure you take either a wool or cashmere scarf to stay warm. An old-school knot is the best way to wear it stylishly and to keep it secure in the March winds
  • A tweed suit – a two- or three-piece tweed suit is a surefire way to look dapper at Cheltenham Races. Classic muted brown and green tweed makes up the non-official dress code at Cheltenham
  • Quality knitwear – a cashmere or wool jumper layered underneath your tweed jacket or overcoat can help keep you warm and smart for a day at the races
  • Brogues or boots – opt for a smart shoe with a good grip – brogues, chukka boots, and Chelsea boots are all good options
  • A tweed hat – as well as keeping the rain off, a tweed baker boy hat or a flat cap are often seen as part of many men’s Cheltenham Races outfit ideas
  • A tie – to add a touch of sophistication to your Cheltenham Races outfit, add a wool or silk tie for a pop of colour – although you’ll want to make sure it complements your tweed

Who goes to Cheltenham Races?

Over 250,000 people attend the four-day Gold Cup Festival in March, with over 70,000 on Gold Cup Day itself. As well as fun-loving punters, royalty and celebrities attend each year. You’ll find anyone from the likes of Alex Ferguson, Liz Hurley, and Jamie Redknapp in the crowd. Royalty are always a huge fan of Cheltenham Races. The Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Zara and Mike Tindall are all regulars to the Cheltenham Festival each year.

Where to stay for Cheltenham Races

Cheltenham has an amazing choice of hotels and accommodation, with some luxurious properties all over the beautiful spa town. Here are some of my recommendations

  • Ellenborough Park – Gloucestershire’s only 5-star hotel, Ellenborough Park is a luxurious country hotel connected to Cheltenham Racecourse via a private road. The hotel offers a Racing Breakfast and a private transfer service to make things simple.
  • No. 38 The Park – an elegant Cheltenham townhouse located on leafy Pittville Park, you can’t get much closer to Cheltenham Racecourse than No. 38 The Park. It also has an onsite restaurant serving pre-racing breakfasts.
  • Queens Hotel – the Queens Hotel is an iconic building on Cheltenham’s Promenade that has recently undergone refurbishment. It’s located on the edge of the chic area of Montpellier, and so is in a great spot for some of Cheltenham’s best bars and restaurants.
  • No 131 – a beautiful boutique hotel on Cheltenham’s Promenade, No 131 offers a little luxury. It’s also home to the fabulous Gin and Juice bar – the heart of the action on Race Day. There are a couple of dining options, too – Yoku (Japanese), and the No 131 Terrace serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

If none of these hotels are quite right, check out more hotels in Cheltenham.

Check out my guide to the best hotels in Cheltenham for the best places to stay when visiting for the Races.

Where to find the best pre-racing breakfast

For the perfect pre-race breakfasts (complete with a Guinness or 3!), check out my guide to the best breakfast spots in Cheltenham.

We all need to line our stomachs before a busy day of racing (and drinking), and tradition has it you need to fuel up properly with a Full English before spending the day at Cheltenham Races alongside a pint of Guinness. While I’d advise booking ahead, here are some of the best places for breakfast in Cheltenham:

  • Woodkraft (4.6* out of 5) – an artisan restaurant owned by MasterChef winner, Simon Wood. Woodkraft serves up tasty favourites like smashed avocado, and full breakfasts with Old Spot sausage and streaky bacon.
  • The Ivy Montpellier Brasserie (4.5* out of 5) – for a more sophisticated pre-racing brunch, enjoy a champagne breakfast with classics such as the Ivy Full English and organic granola.
  • No. 3 (4.8* out of 5) – owned by former England Rugby player and MasterChef winner, Phil Vickery, No 3 does the best Full English in Cheltenham. Enjoy fresh, locally sourced ingredients including a fried duck egg, thick honey glazed bacon, pork sausage, hogs pudding, and black pudding. You won’t leave hungry!
  • Penny Blacks (4.4* out of 5) – start your race day in nearby Prestbury, a short walk from the racecourse. Enjoy a Full English breakfast, complete with streaked smoky bacon, chipolata sausages, and potato rosti. Perfect for enjoying while you peruse the Racing Post.

How to get to Cheltenham Races

If you’re not fancy enough to be arriving via helicopter along with celebrities like Alex Ferguson or Zara and Mike Tindall, there are plenty of ways to get to Cheltenham Racecourse. Here’s how:

  • Train – trains from London to Cheltenham Spa take around two hours, with trains from Bristol and Birmingham each taking around forty minutes. From Cheltenham Spa station, it’s a ten minute taxi ride to Cheltenham Racecourse, or there’s a bus that goes directly during the Festival.
  • Car – car parking free, except during the November Meeting, and during Race Week. If you need parking, you can purchase a colour coded parking pass. Public parking is coded green.
  • Bus – there’s a dedicated rail service on race days, operating between Cheltenham Spa train station, Cheltenham town centre, and Cheltenham Racecourse.
  • Pick up and drop offs – there are signs to the Green car park for the November Meeting and the Festival (Gold Cup), which is ideal for picking up and dropping off.

Cheltenham Races tickets: which to get

With different enclosures and tiers, it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to which Cheltenham Races tickets to get. Tickets for the Cheltenham Festival are super popular, although often you can secure tickets for the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival. The Friday – or Gold Cup Day – does tend to sell out quickly, so I highly recommend booking well in advance. Here’s a summary of the three primary types of Cheltenham Races tickets – essentially an affordable, mid-tier, and an exclusive option:

  • Club Enclosure. In Club (the most premium Cheltenham tickets), you have access to all public areas and great views from the main grandstand and Winning Post. You can also see the Hall of Fame, and get close to horses and jockeys in the Parade Ring.
  • Tattersalls Enclosure. The middle ground between Club and the Best Mate Enclosures. Here, you get to be close to the Winners’ Enclosure, and right near the Winning Post. The best bit is the view from the Tattersalls grandstand viewing steps across the racecourse and the Cotswold countryside.
  • Best Mate Enclosure. The most affordable tickets, there’s an excellent atmosphere in this enclosure. There are some great views of the horse racing thanks to its position directly opposite the grandstand. It’s also right next to the finish line, guaranteeing a great position at a good value price.

If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious, you may want to consider the following:

  • Private Boxes for Cheltenham Festival. Guests receive all the luxury and convenience you could need for a great day at the races. Each box can accommodate up to fifty guests, with various packages on offer. All private boxes include a private bar, club admission, free car parking, an official racecard and betting services, a dedicated hospitality team, and private dining. You can also choose different views, from the parade ring, final fence, Cleeve views, and Chez Roux private boxes.
  • Panoramic Restaurant. The perfect spot for enjoying a delicious meal while catching the racing with a great view of the racecourse and Cotswold hills. Located on the fifth level of the grandstand that overlooks the Winning Post, you can enjoy a table for the day, breakfast rolls on arrival, morning coffee and biscuits, a five course à la carte menu, afternoon tea, and a car parking pass.

Where to watch Cheltenham Races

If you’re not able to travel to Cheltenham Races this year, don’t worry because there are plenty of ways to catch the races. The Festival is typically broadcast on Channel 4 throughout each day, meaning you won’t miss a gallop. Bars throughout Cheltenham will be airing the Races live for any days you won’t be there, as well as throughout the UK and beyond.

Restaurants for after Cheltenham Racecourse

Even the most committed of gamblers and racegoers will work up an appetite after a day at Cheltenham Races. You’ll likely be looking for somewhere to book a special dinner after all of those winnings. Be sure to book in advance to avoid any disappointment. Here are some of my recommendations for the best restaurants in Cheltenham for after a day at the races:

  • The Nook on Five (4.3* out of 5) – Cheltenham’s first rooftop restaurant, The Nook on Five is the perfect place for dinner after a long day at the races. Offering delicious modern British dining, the restaurant sources produce from the best local butchers, grocers, and fishmongers to create tasty plates of food.
  • YOKU (3.8* out of 5)- set in Cheltenham’s most desirable hotel (No 131), YOKU is an upmarket Japanese sushi restaurant, complete with cocktail bar. Operating a smart chic dress code, its signature dishes are giant sushi platters. Don’t miss the tasting menu, featuring miso black cod and salmon tacos.
  • Prithvi (4.8* out of 5) – Prithvi is undoubtedly one of Cheltenham’s most popular Indian restaurants. Offering a memorable dining experience, it aims to enhance and elevate Indian classics. Don’t miss the monkfish with coconut curry.
  • MUSE Brasserie (4.8* out of 5) – a French fusion restaurant, MUSE boasts not only fantastic cooking but beautiful interiors too. Don’t miss delicious dishes like the beef cheek bourgignon with mashed potato and honey roast vegetables.

Looking for somewhere to eat in Cheltenham? Check out my guide to the best restaurants in Cheltenham.

Bars for after Cheltenham Races

Looking to continue the festivities of Cheltenham Races into the night? Of course you are. Cheltenham has a great choice of bars and nightlife spots, so you won’t be left feeling disappointed. Many venues offer extended licenses throughout Cheltenham Races dates too. Here are some of the best Cheltenham bars:

  • The Retreat – Cheltenham’s Retreat is a town classic – a stylish wine bar with decadent red walls. Enjoy drinks with a guaranteed atmosphere after Cheltenham Races, and get ready to party after.
  • The Beehive – located in Cheltenham’s glitzy Montpellier district, The Beehive is a traditional pub that serves up a good pint. Enjoy your Guinness in good company at this fun pub.
  • John Gordon’s – an independent spirit specialist merchant, John Gordon’s is a classy wine and spirit bar. Serving up a library worthy range of whiskies and gin, you’re in great hands here.

Check out my guide on where to find the cheapest pints in Cheltenham.

There’s my guide to Cheltenham Races! Do you have any other tips? If so, let me know in the comments below.

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