Just 40 miles west of London and 25 miles south-east of Oxford, Henley sits at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and enjoys a wonderful stretch of the River Thames. Easily reached by rail or road, the town teems with delightful independent shops, brilliant pubs, lively cafés and great restaurants. Henley is also steeped in history and packed with interesting buildings, many with Georgian frontages covering older architecture – must-sees include St Mary’s Church, the Town Hall, Market Place and the 18th-century stone bridge.
Where To Shop
As an old market town, Henley has several small, quirky and independent shops. Some of our favourite for fashion and homeware include…
Fluidity has a good range of interesting designer collections that are stylish but, above all, wearable – think Stine Goya, Essential Antwerp, Baum Und Pferdgarten and Paige Denim to name just a few. It’s a lovely place to browse, and experienced staff are on hand to offer honest and helpful styling tips.
Anne Haimes Interiors’ retail shop has an ever-changing mix of furniture, lighting, mirrors, cushions, throws and many one-off pieces, together with displays of fabrics and wallpapers.
Biggie Best, founded in Cape Town and now South Africa’s largest independent home décor retailer, sells a range of covetable vintage-inspired homeware: from soft furnishings, mirrors and glassware to lovely handmade British soaps, cashmere accessories, cosy nightwear and jewellery.
Wild & Rust opened just over a year ago and specialises in stylish, sustainable homeware. Inside, you’ll find stunning one-off vintage and reclaimed pieces of furniture; a kitchen shop selling everything from tableware and handmade recycled glassware to vegan wax food wrap; a mood-boosting plant shop; a carefully curated wellbeing range of soaks and soaps, creams, balms, candles and herbal teas; as well as a certified organic CBD range made locally in the Oxfordshire countryside.
The literary minded should not miss these two gems:
Way's Bookshop, established in 1977, is a traditional antiquarian bookshop that buys and sells rare, vintage and selected second-hand books. Amongst the treasures, you may well stumble on that Penguin thriller you’ve always wanted to read, a beautifully bound classic, French novels, aeroplane or motorcycle manuals, or an old copy of The Beano annual.
The Bell Bookshop, which opened in 1966, is the ideal spot for browsing. As an independent bookseller, you’ll find titles the bigger chains often don’t stock, spanning everything from your childhood favourites to your current obsession. You’ll also be able to pick up a range of greeting cards, including some lovely, hand-picked art cards.
Where To Eat & Drink
Henley also draws in the crowds to its many restaurants, gastropubs, bars and cafés. Here’s our pick of its top eateries…
If you want to push the boat out (pun intended!), you can’t beat the Bistro at The Boathouse’s spectacular yet unfussy food, created by ex Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons chef Shaun Dickens. The river views through the floor-to-ceiling windows or from the terrace are similarly outstanding.
For more fine dining, book a table at Crockers, which is housed in a 17th-century listed building. Here, you can choose from two chef’s menus: one serving modern British food at the Thames Table, the other an eclectic pan-Asian menu at the Gardiner Table.
The Square is a cosy Portuguese restaurant known predominantly for its fish and seafood dishes, including bacalhau, the most famous Portuguese dish. There are good options for meat-eaters and vegetarians too.
If you’re after Italian food, head to family run Villa Marina where you will find classic dishes served in modern surroundings – look out, too, for the daily chef specials.
Hart Street Tavern, right in the centre of town, is a modern British restaurant championing the best local and seasonal produce, as well as sourdough pizzas made on site.
Just outside the town centre, in Binfield Heath, award-winning Orwells Restaurant is housed within an old 18th-century pub – though it’s far from a pub. The ethos is to serve nothing but the highest quality food in a relaxed setting, free from frippery and fuss. The menu is modern British and all ingredients are sourced locally – it even has its own smallholding and apiary where most of the fruit, vegetables and honey are produced.
PUBS & BARS
The Angel on the Bridge is located right by Henley Bridge and serves classic pub grub. People come here for the terrace overlooking the river.
HOF’s Bar offers customers a great selection of boutique wines from around the world, as well as draught beers, ciders and classic cocktails. It also has live music 6-9pm every Saturday evening.
The Little Angel is just the other side of the bridge. This quaint pub is perfect if you’re after a cosy spot for a few drinks next to the fire or in the snug. For warmer days, the courtyard garden is a real suntrap, made all the more enjoyable in the summer months when there’s a game to watch at the cricket club.
There are over a dozen coffee shops in town so you will be spoilt for choice. We like Spoon which is also great for a light lunch of seasonal dishes; Drifters for its buzzy atmosphere and delicious homemade cakes (try the carrot and pistachio slice); and Berries which serves great sandwiches as well as artisan iced drinks.
Where To Walk
When it comes to walking in or near Henley, there is something for everyone – from short guided historic tours and nature trails to riverside walks and long country rambles.
The best way to experience the town’s history is to follow the Henley Trail which guides you on a walk around all of the town’s historic streets and buildings. Download the trail by clicking the link above or pick up a copy from the information centre in the Town Hall.
There are also some glorious, shortish walks along the Thames. You have two options: stay on the town side and walk towards the village of Shiplake; or cross the historic bridge, turn left and head towards the Leander Rowing Club where so many Olympic rowers have trained – then you can continue towards Temple Island, which marks the start of Henley Royal Regatta course and where you may spot some local wildlife such as kingfishers and wading birds.
If you’re feeling more energetic, it is easy to get into the surrounding hills and woods for longer treks to country pubs.
Things To Do
As one of the top independent museums in Britain, the River & Rowing Museum is home to a collection of over 20,000 items that illustrate the history of rowing, the town and the River Thames. There is also an immersive ‘Wind in the Willows’ gallery, much loved by children of all ages; to top it off, there is a great little café where you can enjoy a light brunch overlooking the river.
If you fancy taking to the water to explore Britain’s most historic river or just want to relax and let the word drift by, head to Hobbs. This family firm boasts 150 years of experience and you can rent a rowing boat for an hour or so, or enjoy a lazy day out on a self-drive boat.
Four miles out of Henley, Stonor House is well worth a visit, if time allows. The Stonor family arrived 850 years ago and, today, William and his wife Lady Ailsa are the 29th generation to live here. Behind the red brick façade, Stonor is a collection of buildings, some of which date back to medieval times. The area now housing the Pantry Café dates from the late 12th century, with the chapel added around a hundred years later. Highlights include the grand Gothic hall, the 17th-century library and the long gallery which opens onto beautiful Italianate gardens.
For more information, visit Henley’s Tourist Information Centre.