In June, when society, sports, fashion, and culture meet for some of the most iconic events in the English social calendar, it's the start of The Season. Show up at London Victoria, Waterloo or Paddington stations in June or July and you could get caught up in a swirl of women in flower covered bonnets or surrounded by men in top hats and dove-colored morning suits. Maybe they're on their way to a very big summer wedding.
But it's much more likely they're heading to Royal Ascot or the Derby or another of the many English excuses to dress up and drink Pimms that pepper the months of June and July. They used to be exclusive events for socialites and celebrities but these days anyone with the price of a ticket - which may not be as much as you think - can hobnob with the rich and famous. Here's what's on:
At least 140 races around the world — including the Kentucky Derby — are named after this thoroughbred flat racing meet at Epsom Downs in the London suburbs. It was first run in 1780 and, according to legend, is named after Lord Derby, on whose estate it was run. He and his house guest, Lord Bunbury, flipped a coin for the honor of naming the race. So if not for the randomness of chance, they might have been running the Kentucky Bunbury for all these years.
The Derby Festival is a two-day event: Ladies Day is the first day and Derby Day, when the world's richest horse race is run, is the second.
The 2018 Derby was the 239 running of this special race and a horse named Masar galloped off with the more than £850,000 purse. And, by the way, they pronounce it "Darby" in these parts.
- When: The meet is held on the first Friday and Saturday in June with the main run on the second day. The next one, in 2019, will be run on June 1.
- Where: Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom, Surrey KT18 5LQ. The course is close enough to London to see the London skyline from the grandstand.
- Dress Code: There's a formal dress code for the Queen's Stand and a slightly less formal dress code for the Grandstand Enclosure. No matter where they are sitting, most people do get very dressed up. Women wear hats and, on Derby Day, men wear top hats and formal morning suits.Check the full dress code requirements for the Derby Festival here.
- Tickets: Tickets are available online. Prices for 2019 had not been annnounced at the time of this writing but in 2018 they ranged from £25 for the pedestrian area to £130 for the Queen's Stand.
- Getting there: Trains to Epsom Station leave regularly from London Victoria and London Waterloo. During the Derby Festival, there is a shuttle bus service to the racetrack.Check National Rail Enquiries for times and prices.
If you like opera, picnics and dressing up — really dressing up – you will love the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. This summer-long event at a fabulous, once privately owned, opera house on an East Sussex estate (it's owned and run by a trust these days), has been attracting opera lovers since 1934.
What makes Glyndebourne unique and a definite fixture is the dress code. It's strictly black tie — no exceptions.
And most people picnic and explore the grounds and gardens during the generous, 90-minute intervals. You could easily think you've wandered onto the set of Downton Abbey as women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos stroll and share elegant picnic hampers on the lawns.
- When: Throughout the summer with a full schedule of operas and events from mid-June to mid August. Operas scheduled for 2018 include Der Rosenkavalier, Madame Butterfly, Vanessa by Samuel Barber, and Pelleas and Melisande and several others.
- Dining: Audience members can bring their own picnics or order a very posh hampercatered by English cookery guru Pru Leith.
- Where: Glyndebourne, New Rd, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 5UU. Glyndebourne is about 12 miles from Brighton.
- Dress Code: Black tie for men, evening gowns for women. No exceptions for both matinee and evening performances.
- Tickets: Tickets go on sale to the public in March and are snatched up quickly, but returns are sometimes available throughout the summer. Weekday and weeknight tickets are easier to get than Saturday tickets. Expect to pay typical opera prices with most seats going for more than £100 and some as high as £300. Some standing room tickets with limited visibility are available for less.
- Getting There: Lewes train station, about 4 miles away, is the nearest rail connection. A free shuttle meets the recommended trains from London Victoria and returns audience members to the station in time to catch the London train. There are also trains from Gatwick Airport to Lewes. See National Rail Enquiries for train schedules and prices.
You can't get a more posh sport than polo and June is the month for the Cartier Queen's Cup Polo tournament. The final match, on a Saturday in mid June is the place to see international polo stars compete in this game of princes. In fact, bring your binoculars because you can expect to see movie stars, international celebrities, socialites, and royals — major and minor, from all over the world - at this event.
The final is the culmination of three weeks of intense competition at the Guards Polo Club, at Smith's Lawn in Windsor Great Park. And unusually, the final is the only day of the competition open to the general public.
- Where: Guards Polo Club, Smith's Lawn, Windsor Great Park, Egham, Surrey, TW20 0HP
- When: mid-May to mid-June
- Tickets: Grandstand seats in 2018 start at £55 with all day hospitality packages costing £350 per person. Car parking starts at £30. Tickets to the Cartier Queen's Cub Polo final go on sale in mid winter.
- Dress Code: Dress for the event is what the British call "smart casual" — collared shirts and smart jeans, chinos or tailored trousers for men; dresses, skirts or tailored trousers for women.
- Getting There: Sunningdale Station or Egham Station can be reached from London Waterloo. The Guards Polo Club publishes a list of local Surrey taxi companies closer to the time of the events. Or, if you are planning a really dramatic entrance, you could land by helicopter at Coworth Park, a five-minute walk. You need to ring Coworth Park on 01344 875 155 for permission to land.
The Royal Academy's annual Summer Exhibition is the world's largest open submission art exhibition. It has been held, without interruption, since 1769.
The academy describes the exhibition as a display of "works in a variety of mediums and genres by emerging and established contemporary artists."
That's something of an understatement. This is a juried art show that anyone can have a go at entering. A panel of art experts, all of them Royal Academicians, decide which artworks are hung or displayed. The show usually includes the latest works of the UK's leading artists but it is not unusual to see the work of talented amateurs and unheralded local artists displayed alongside Hockneys and Hirsts.
All the work is for sale and the profits benefit the academy's education programs. Much of it is surprisingly affordable. The RA celebrates the 250th Summer Exhibition in 2018, curated by British artist Grayson Perry.
- When: The exhibition opens to the public on June 12 in 2018 and runs to August 19.
- Where: The Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD
- Tickets: Tickets for the Summer Exhibition are bookable by time slot, online
- You can also try your luck on the door, on the day but you may have to wait in line for hours.
England is one of the few countries in the world where milliners reach the heights of high fashion designer celebrity. And milliners — hat makers and designers — go mad for June and Royal Ascot. It's the greatest hat showcase in the world. At one time, only Ladies' Day, traditionally on Thursday of the event, was the day for the fashion show-offs. But today crowds of women in outrageous hats attend pretty much every day.
Of course, it's, more importantly, a five-day race meeting in the Queen's backyard. They've been holding Royal Ascot since 1711, more than 300 years. The Queen, who awards the Gold Cup on Ladies' Day, is a keen fan and racehorse owner. In 2013, she wept tears of joy when her own horse won the Gold Cup — the first win for a reigning monarch in the race's history.
In 2018, Royal Ascot takes place June 19 to 23. Here's how to get to Windsor from London.
Rowing teams and individual rowers from all over the world gather in this Thames-side town on the Buckinghamshire - Berkshire border to compete in the series of knock-out races known as the Henley Royal Regatta at the end of June. (In 2018, the regatta begins on July 4 and ends July 8.) It's also an occasion for strawberries and cream, champagne or Pimms and lemonade, flowery hats for the ladies and smart dress for the gents.
Even if you're not interested in rowing, Henley is a fascinating event and a chance to see middle and upper-class English people at play. As with other posh sporting events, there are members only enclosures but also grandstands and enclosures where anyone with the price of a ticket can take part.
At the end of June, just about everybody in England becomes a tennis fan as the world's greatest grand slam tennis tournament takes over the airwaves and most of the news outlets — print and online — for 14 days. In 2018, the tournament begins on Monday, July 2 and ends July 15.
Getting a ticket for the final matches on the important show courts takes advance planning and luck (tickets are allocated by a ballot), but if you are willing to join the Wimbledon queue, there are several thousand last minute tickets available each day of the tournament. And if you sign up for the Wimbledon newsletter, you'll be notified of the daily online allocation (that sells out in seconds).