The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta is one of the UK’s most outstanding celebrations of its maritime culture and history. If you’re considering a summer holiday in South Devon, this annual event is well worth attending. For over 178 years, this refined estuary town has made its regatta a highlight of the summer season, drawing visitors from around the world. Today, the regatta is a true spectacle with rowing, sailing races, and breathtaking air displays. This guide will explain why a visit to the 2023 Regatta between the 23rd and 26th of August, is a must-visit!
What is the Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta?
At its heart, The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta is a series of boat races. Originally a rowing competition, the regatta has since expanded to include sailing and a wide range of competitive sports including running and tennis. The event has broadened to include a Steamboat rally, air show, and street market. With military contributions from the Royal Navy (the Britannia Royal Naval College is just around the corner) and Royal Airforce, has become a celebration of our unique British culture.
The Dartmouth Royal Regatta is the #1 time of year to be in Dartmouth as the whole town gets out on the river and has fun! A warm welcome awaits you plus fabulous food and drink. There is literally so much to do and the atmosphere is always great.
The history of The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta
Origins of the Dartmouth Royal Regatta
The Dartmouth Royal Regatta is one of the UK’s oldest regattas, dating all the way back to 1822. The regatta was started as a set of three sailing races, a gig race. Townsfolk and guests were entertained by a military band playing at Dartmouth Castle and the whole event was topped off with a ball.
A Royal Commendation for the Dartmouth Regatta
The Dartmouth Regatta was initially, very much a local event. But in 1856 the Regatta received the Royal seal of approval from Queen Victoria herself!
The Queen, Prince Albert, and the Prince of Wales just happened to be travelling along the South Devon coastline to Plymouth in a flotilla. The nine boats including the State Barge had to make an unscheduled visit to Dartmouth a day before the Regatta to shelter from poor weather.
The Royal family came ashore and were received by the town’s mayor. The town laid on special illuminations and delighted the Queen with accounts of their upcoming races. Both Queen Victoria and her husband donated prize money for the Regatta races, and though the Royal party departed before the Regatta, Queen Victoria bestowed the title of ‘Royal’ on the Dartmouth Regatta.
The growth and expansion of Dartmouth Royal Regatta
With the royal seal of approval, the Dartmouth Regatta really took on. It began to grow in popularity, attracting participants from other parts of the country. The roster of events also expanded to include swimming, diving, and even a greasy pole competition. These events were designed to attract more spectators and make the regatta a more exciting event.
The Dartmouth Royal Regatta today
Dartmouth Royal Regatta has grown to become a week-long event that includes a wide variety of activities, including sailing, rowing, swimming, and air displays. It is a cultural highlight of the South West, attracting up to 90,000 visitors each year.
The Regatta is organized by a Regatta Committee in conjunction with Dartmouth Town Council. The Friends of Regatta, do an exceptional amount of fundraising with contributions to the £200K+ that is costs to put on the Regatta. An army of volunteers (from the town and further afield) works throughout the year to ensure that the whole program of events runs smoothly.
Information and updates on the 2023 Regatta can be found on The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta Website.
What’s on at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta?
If you are thinking of heading over to the Dartmouth Royal Regatta, you’ll be inundated with things to do. Here are some of the highlights:
Rowing is a really big thing in Devon, so you can expect a turnout from teams and enthusiasts from all over the country to take part in the rowing races held during the regatta.
You can watch teams from all over the country compete in everything from traditional wooden boats to sleek modern racing shells. The rowing races are central to the Regatta program and include:
- The Southwest Coastal Rowing League
- Local eight-oared rowing heats, semis, and final
- Long distance races
- Seine boat rowing
- The West of England ARA Championships
- Pilot Gig Rowing
- Bungee Rowing
- Waterborne Tug-of-war
The sailing races are one of the biggest draws of the Dartmouth Royal Regatta. You can watch the boats race along the River Dart, and see some of the best sailors in the country compete for prizes in Start Bay.
If you’ve been to Cowes Week earlier in the month, then Dartmouth Royal Regatta Sailing Week will have you back on the water and thrilled by the spectacle of beautiful boats and the folk who sail them!
There are usually 150 entries spanning several different classes of boats. Catch the drama and look out for:
Races are convened by the Joint Regatta Sailing Committee (JRSC) which includes Royal Dart Yacht Club (RDYC), Dartmouth Yacht Club (DYC), and Dittisham Sailing Club (DSC).
The Coronation River Parade
Every year there is a magnificent river parade in which all crafts can participate. It can be viewed all along the river.
In previous years there has been a Mayflower River Parade (2021) celebrating 400 years since the Mayflower and the QE2 Jubilee River Parade (2022). In 2023, a Coronation River Parade in honour of King Charles III will take place on Saturday 26th August at 14:30pm.
There are parade prizes for the Best Salute and Best Dressed Vessel & Crew. Every year a classic boat is awarded the famous Grockel Cup.
If you’re a fan of aviation, you won’t want to miss the air displays at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta. You can watch The Red Arrows and helicopters perform daring stunts and maneuvers in the sky above the river. It’s a thrilling sight and one that you won’t forget anytime soon.
The Royal Navy Guardship
The close ties between Dartmouth and the Royal Navy are evident, with the annual attendance of a Royal Navy vessel at the Regatta as a guard ship. The crew of the frigates and other vessels are hearty participants in all the events of the Regatta, and members of the public are often allowed onboard.
The Regatta Kon-Tiki Raft race
This hilarious raft race sees entrants launch all sorts of homemade vessels from the Higher Ferry Slipway, to see if their seaworthiness will get them to the Boat Float. Think of those magnificent men in their flying machines, complete with crazy costumes and a good drenching for participants.
Dartmouth Regatta Tennis Tournament
Dartmouth Tennis Club runs a week-long tournament during regatta week, including a Local and an Open event.
Dartmouth Regatta Road Race
Dartmouth Amateur Athletics Club put on a well-attended annual road race every Regatta, on Saturday afternoon. The race has been held every year since 1980 and attracts runners from across the West country and further afield.
There is a Junior Race, Main Race, and Youth Race that are run from Dartmouth up to Stoke Flemming and back. This run is not for the faint-hearted as it takes in one of the steepest hills for a race in the UK!
Music and Entertainment
Throughout the regatta, there is always plenty of live music and entertainment on offer. You can enjoy everything from local bands to national acts, and there are always plenty of different genres to choose from. Whether you’re a fan of rock, pop, or jazz, you’re sure to find something that you love.
One of the great things I’ve found about Dartmouth Royal Regatta Week is that is perfect for a multigenerational trip. There really is something for everyone, even MIL because the shopping is so good! Youngsters are more than catered for, with the following activities and events:
Throughout Regatta Week, there will be a variety of children’s entertainers performing on the main stage. From magicians to puppet shows, there’s something for everyone. Check the schedule to see what’s on and when.
Crabbing is a popular activity at the Regatta. Head down to the harbour with a net and some bait and see how many crabs you can catch. It’s a great way to keep the kids entertained for hours.
The treasure hunt is a great way to explore the regatta and discover all it has to offer. Pick up a map from the information booth and follow the clues to find hidden treasures around the event.
Waiters and Waitresses races, Barrel rolling races, and International Trolley Grand Prix
These are wacky races that are held in the streets of Dartmouth. These fringe events have taken place since the 1980s, and attract cheering crowds lining the streets.
Over the years, the regatta has also become an important fundraising event for local charities. In recent years, the regatta has raised tens of thousands of pounds for various charitable organizations including the RNLI, and local youth support organizations.
Where to eat and drink at the Dartmouth Regatta
Though the Dartmouth Regatta is not an official food festival, you’ll be in for a feast when you visit. If you’re looking for delicious food and refreshing drinks, the Dartmouth Royal Regatta has you covered.
One of the highlights of the regatta is the chance to sample some of the local specialties. From fresh seafood to traditional pies, there’s plenty to choose from. Be sure to try:
- Dartmouth Crab: A local delicacy, crab is caught fresh from the waters surrounding Dartmouth and served in a variety of ways.
- Devonshire Cream Tea: A quintessential English treat, this consists of scones, clotted cream, and jam, served with a pot of tea.
- Fish and Chips: We loved the tasty fish and chips from Rockfish in Dartmouth! The Wheelhouse is also very popular!
Bars and Pubs
When it comes to drinks, there are plenty of options available. Whether you’re looking for a refreshing pint of beer, a Pimms, or a fruity cocktail, you’ll find it at one of the many bars and pubs located throughout the regatta.
Some popular options include:
- The Floating Bridge: This historic pub is located on a boat in the River Dart and offers stunning views of the water.
- The Cherub Inn: Dating back to the 14th century, this traditional pub serves a range of local beers and ciders.
- The Dartmouth Arms: Located in the heart of town, this pub offers a lively atmosphere and a great selection of drinks.
How to get to the Dartmouth Royal Regatta
Getting to Dartmouth is not always easy. If you’re travelling from the South East or Midlands or North of England, it can feel like you are heading somewhere really remote. Even in Devon, Dartmouth can feel like a schlep. However, Dartmouth is well worth the journey. Here are your options for travel:
- By Car: Dartmouth is easily accessible by car via the M5 which will bring you into South Devon. Once you hit Exeter, switch to the A38, then A384, and head to Totnes. You can cross the Dart at Totnes and take the A381 that will take you down into Dartmouth Town. BTW: Parking is crazy in Dartmouth, so make sure you save yourself hassle and park at the Park & Ride near Sainsbury’s and Lidl in Dartmouth, then get the bus in.
- By Train: The nearest train station to Dartmouth is Totnes (GWR), which is approximately 12 miles away. From there, take the No. 92 bus that will take you straight to Dartmouth along a scenic route. Here is the 92 bus timetable from Stagecoach.
- By Bus: There are regular bus services to Dartmouth from surrounding towns and cities, including Plymouth, Torquay, and Exeter. Check the Stagecoach website for timetables and routes. National Express coaches travel into Totnes. If you travel from your destination to Totnes, just hop on the No. 92 to get to Dartmouth.
- By Ferry: If you’re coming from Kingswear, you can take the passenger ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth. It’s a scenic way to arrive and avoids any traffic congestion. There is also a car ferry across the Dart that can get you over to Kingswear and Torbay easily.
Where to stay for the Dartmouth Regatta
Here is a quick and easy breakdown of the accommodation options for the Dartmouth Royal Regatta. If you are cruising into Dartmouth and looking for a berth or mooring take a look at my article: The Complete List of Marinas and Moorings in Devon (+ VHF call signs).
Hotels in Dartmouth
There are several hotels in Dartmouth, ranging from budget-friendly to luxury. Some popular options include:
|Hotel (click for URL)||Address||Phone number|
|Dart Marina HotelPremier hotel with a commanding setting on the banks of the Dart||Sandquay Rd, Dartmouth TQ6 9PH||01803 832580|
|Waterfront HouseGreat estuary and sea views||19 S Embankment, Dartmouth TQ6 9BB||01803 835654|
|Best Western The Dartmouth Hotel, Golf & SpaChampionship Golf Course, Spa, and luxury self catering properties||Blackawton, Dartmouth TQ9 7DE||01803 712686|
|Best Western The Dartmouth Hotel, Golf & SpaChampionship Golf Course, Spa, and luxury self-catering properties||27-29 Victoria Rd, Dartmouth TQ6 9RT||01803 832572|
|Bayards Cove InnA beautiful, traditional inn in the heart of Dartmouth||27 Lower St, Dartmouth TQ6 9AN||01803 839278|
Bed & Breakfasts in Dartmouth
There are many bed and breakfasts in Dartmouth, offering a more cost-effective personal and homely experience. My recommended options include:
|B&B (click for URL)||Address||Phone number|
|Cherubs NestTastefully furnishes, yet cost-effective B&B in the heart of Dartmouth||15 Higher St, Dartmouth TQ6 9RB||01803 832482|
|The Dartmouth Boutique B & BTasteful accommodation, a short walk from town||7 Church Rd, Dartmouth TQ6 9HQ||01803 834 553|
|Capritia Guest HouseA warm welcome from a family-run guest house||69 Victoria Rd, Dartmouth TQ6 9RX||01803 833419|
|Hill View HousePleasant Dartmouth retreat with great prices if you book direct||76 Victoria Rd, Dartmouth TQ6 9DZ||01803 839372|
|Anzac Street Bistro B&BLocal, seasonal cuisine in this smart restaurant and B&B||Anzac Street Bistro, 2 Anzac St, Dartmouth TQ6 9DL||01803 835515|
Norton Park Chalets
This is the #1 option for any individual, couple, or family that wants a cost-effective stay in Dartmouth. This idyllic chalet park is a short drive or a few bus stops away from the heart of Dartmouth and one of the best places to make your base for a holiday in the South Hams.
>>Learn everything you need to know about Norton Park Chalets, including places to stay in my article: The Complete Guide to Norton Park Chalets, Dartmouth, Devon<<
Holiday Cottages in Dartmouth
Until I make my first billion, I will always be a self-catering chick. And with Lidl and Sainsbury’s on the edge of Dartmouth, you can keep the cost of your Dartmouth down simply by opting for a chalet or a well-equipped self-catering break. If you, like me can’t afford to sit in The Seahorse Restaurant and eat Dartmouth crab, buy a crab and follow along with Mitch Tonks online 😉
Here are some of my fave holiday cottages to live large at the Dartmouth Regatta:
|The Nest||Town centre||⭐⭐⭐⭐||2||1/1||No||Yes||WF/B/W/DW||Y(permit)|
|2 The Sail Loft||Town centre||⭐⭐⭐⭐||4||2/1||No||Yes||DW/W/WF||Y(permit)|
|Weight N Sea||Town centre||⭐⭐⭐⭐||6||3/1||No||Yes||D/WF||N|
|First Officer’s Quarters||16b Clarence Street||⭐⭐⭐⭐||2||3/1||Yes||No||W/DW/G/B/WF||N|
|Armada Cottage||Town centre||⭐⭐⭐⭐||4||2/2||No||Yes||G/C/DW/W/WF||Y(permit)|
D = dishwasher
W = washing machine
T = tumble dryer
B = balcony
BQ = BBQ
C = cot
WF = Wi-Fi
WB = Woodburner
F = Fireplace
G = Garden
Dartmouth Royal Regatta is a highly anticipated event that attracts both locals and visitors from all over the world. It is definitely an event to make a part of your social calendar if you love boats, sports, and one of England’s finest coastal towns.
Everyone will have a fun-filled trip to Dartmouth. With its stunning location, exciting water sports, and lively atmosphere, it’s no wonder that the Regatta has become one of the most popular events in the UK. So, if you’re planning a trip to Dartmouth, be sure to head down around the Regatta and experience the excitement for yourself.