For people who like to keep an eye out for new travel experiences, sports tourism can be a great solution. While those based in the U.S. have plenty of domestic options to satisfy their sports needs, there are a number of annual events around the world that make for incredible travel experiences and one-of-a-kind sporting exhibitions. And among these events is the UK’s Cheltenham Festival, which is a great place to start.
The Cheltenham Festival takes place every March over a four-day span in the borough of Cheltenham, roughly 100 miles northwest of London. This location alone makes the event interesting for travellers from outside the UK, as it offers a wide range of recreation even before you head to the racing tracks. To begin with, the town is situated just at the edge of the Cotswolds, a region of England absolutely packed with historical sites, beautiful gardens, museums, and other noteworthy attractions. Additionally, the town’s proximity to London makes a day or weekend trip to the big city perfectly manageable for a change of pace.
But the festival itself provides the real incentive to visit the Cheltenham area, as the four-day spectacle of professional horse racing is about as festive and enjoyable as any athletic competition in the world. It consists of four days full of races, with one particularly important event headlining each day of action. These four headline events are known as the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, the World Hurdle, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and each one brings seasoned champions to the tracks and holds major implications for the season in racing.
Beyond the signature races, each day at the Cheltenham Festival has an atmosphere or underlying theme that makes it unique. Betbright’s Essential Guide to the festival has a helpful and very thorough rundown of what makes each day unique, but here are some of the basic concepts, to paraphrase.
Champions Day (Day 1) is essentially marked by anticipation and energy, as the Champion Hurdle functions as one of the most important events on the British calendar. Many spectators have been waiting all year to attend opening day. Ladies Day (Day 2) is a time for fashion, with most spectators, and women in particular, taking the opportunity to celebrate the occasion with bold and playful styles, many of which you can view in Mirror’s reporting of this day in 2014. St. Patrick’s Thursday (Day 3) is “the festive one,” and essentially amounts to a party across the festival grounds to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day throughout the races. Gold Cup Day (Day 4) is a culmination that brings the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd to the tracks for the crowning race of the festival.
The total picture is a massive hodgepodge of entertainment: Food, drink, and fashion are constants; the racing action is as good as any in the world; the grounds are festive and the crowds cheerful; and the surrounding area is a beautiful mix of ancient and modern English culture. All of this makes Cheltenham a great place to start your 2015 travels.