When it comes to National Hunt racing, no place does it better than Cheltenham Racecourse. ‘The home of jump racing’, as it is commonly called, has hosted some of the most prestigious National Hunt races that Great Britain has to offer for so many years.
As well as providing patrons with plenty of quality on the course, Cheltenham also provides a top-class experience off the course too. Boasting some truly excellent facilities, it is little wonder how this course manages to attract around 700,000 racegoers each year.
With so many people visiting Cheltenham during the National Hunt season, inevitably, some end up staying nearby. This means there is a solid collection of hotels within close range of the course including several that are within a reasonable walking distance.
Just a Stroll Away
Cheltenham has several highly-rated options near the city centre and the racecourse, such as Clarence Court Hotel and No. 38 The Park, which are both located in the Pittville area of Cheltenham. This is just north of the town centre where on foot you are looking at a 15 to 20 minute journey walking to the main gates. The closest option to the racecourse, of course, is the famous five-star Ellenborough Park, which has its own private track connecting the hotel to the racetrack and offers a shuttle on race days. Be sure to book these prime properties plenty in advance on race days to avoid disappointment.
No38 The Park is just a two-minute walk to the famous Pittville Park and only 15-minutes walk to the Cheltenham Racecourse. The restaurant offers a continental breakfast or cooked breakfast each morning, along with high standard room amenities with plenty of local restaurants within easy walking distance.
Once owned by the Duke of Wellington, the Clarence Court hotel is a charming Regency townhouse located close to the high street with easy access to the racecourse. The hotel has a bar and restaurant that serves British contemporary cuisine, as well as an indoor swimming pool and a fitness centre.
This five-star 90-acre estate is as close as you'll get to the racecourse being less than a mile away and just a 15-minute walk or a quick shuttle ride on race days. The property is a 15th century manor house and provides 61 elegant rooms, as well as a restaurant with locally sourced produce. Additionally, there is a spa with a sauna, steam room, hot tub, gym and heated outdoor pool.
Town Centre for Ease of Travel
To be honest, any hotel in the Cheltenham town centre will be ideal when it comes to getting to the racecourse. Even the Travelodge on the opposite side of town from the racecourse, for example, is just a 15-minute cab ride to the main gates. Additionally, many of the town centre options will be around a 30-minute walk. You’ll see the hoards of town centre dwellers making their trek up the hill on race days, as cabs will be chock-a-block with traffic and it will prove much more efficient to make the walk if you are able.
The Malmaison is located in the Montpellier district of Cheltenham and offers a brasserie on Friday and Saturday evenings with a light menu for snacks throughout the week. The hotel also offers a breakfast each morning and is within easy reach of all the Cheltenham sights of interest.
No131 The Promenade offers two restaurants, including a Japanese restaurant, as well as a gin bar and cocktail bar. The area is centrally located in Cheltenham with easy access to the train station, shops, restaurants and just over a 30-minute stroll to the racecourse. Even still, this will prove quicker than driving on race days when traffic is bound to be at a stand-still.
Located in Montpellier district of historic Cheltenham, Hotel du Vin Cheltenham features a French bistro with modern European cuisine. The hotel is just a 30-minute walk from the racecourse and also only 20-minutes from the train station, making it centrally located for those coming to the races who would also like to spend a bit of time in the town centre. The hotel is a beautiful old mansion house with a grand entrance.
Head to Gloucester Should Cheltenham Book Up
On very popular race days, such as the Cheltenham Festival in March, the town centre will be buzzing and it may prove difficult to find a hotel in Cheltenham itself given that they all book up months in advance. On top of this, the prices will be marked up massively and may be unattainable for many. We would personally recommend looking further afield in towns, such as Gloucester, where you can easily arrange a cab to the racecourse, which will take approximately 30 minutes with no traffic and perhaps a bit longer on race days when the roads leading to the racecourse are very busy. Be sure to book your cab well in advance, and to save money, consider walking part of the way to avoid getting stuck in the Cheltenham Festival cab queues.
Situated just off the M5, the Holiday Inn Gloucester offers a comfortable solution for those going to the Cheltenham races unable to find a hotel in Cheltenham. The hotel offers a breakfast buffet, as well as a restaurant with modern brasserie cuisine. Guests of the hotel are able to access the Spirit Health and Fitness Club for free, which has a gym, swimming pool, sauna and spa.
Another Gloucester hotel on the outskirts of town with a 25-minute drive to the racecourse, the Gloucester Robinswood Hotel is a popular choice for racegoers who could not find accommodation in Cheltenham itself and often has cab companies at the entrance to the hotel to help you arrange your ride to the racecourse on race days. The hotel provides breakfast and has a restaurant and bar, as well as a swimming pool and other spa facilities.
The Mercure Gloucester Bowden Hall Hotel is located on the outskirts of Gloucester but is just a 25-minute cab journey to the racecourse for the unlucky souls who could not source a hotel in Cheltenham town centre. The hotel is surrounded by beautiful grounds with a restaurant and bar and is sure to be filled with plenty of other racegoers during the Festival period.
About the Racecourse
Cheltenham holds 16 days of racing action across during the National Hunt season, most of which do not sell out, so visiting should not pose an issue most of the time. If you want to explore the racecourse in much more depth though, Cheltenham does offer guided tours on non-race days. With these, you can view usually restricted areas such as the stables, the Gold Cup, the weighing room and the finishing post. Note that these are only ever available on weekdays and required 30 people booked on for them to run.
It is advised that you pre-book your tickets rather than trying to purchase them on the day. If rocking up on the day, only card payments will be accepted. Any pre-booked tickets can simply be shown on your smartphone, or you can show a printed-out copy if you would prefer. Once in, you may find it useful to start using the official Jockey Club app as this comes equipped with a course map. This interactive map lists the location of all the facilities on offer and your distance from them.
Some of you may be more concerned about how to find the course itself though, rather than how to find the nearest bar once inside. For anyone driving by car, Cheltenham Racecourse is close to junctions 10 (north) and 11 (south) of the M5. After exiting here, a brief journey around the edge of Cheltenham will bring you to the on-course parking which is free on meetings except the Friday and Saturday of the November Meeting, and the Cheltenham Festival.
For Public transport users, you may notice there is a train station right beside the racecourse. Although originally established purely to take punters to the races, it has not done this since 1976. Cheltenham’s main railway station is actually ‘Cheltenham Spa’ but this is not as well-located and is situated around two and half miles from the course. It is, however, one of the calling points, along with Cheltenham Town Centre of both the ‘D’ and ‘E’ public bus services that run close to the racecourse. These both run regularly and stop at either ‘Racecourse Roundabout’ or the nearby Paddocks Lane.
Cheltenham has a slightly unusual course configuration given that it has both a ‘New Course’ and an ‘Old Course’ that partly run side-by-side but are partly separated. In addition, the New Course is not a perfect loop like you see at most courses with the result being that some races start from what is effectively a dead-end. This is something only the jockeys need to worry about though, you can just focus on picking the right horses.
For what is the undisputed home of jumps racing, it should come as little surprise that the fences horses must tackle during Cheltenham steeplechases are among the toughest around. This is something worth bearing in mind when placing bets as weak jumpers may well struggle to get themselves around the course cleanly.
With racing largely taking place in the winter months, Cheltenham Racecourse does not demand anything too fancy in terms of a dress code. If it is a particularly wet and windy day, feel free to take your warmest coat with you. Be conscious of your footwear choice if arriving by car too as two-thirds of the car park is on grass and can by muddy in rain.
Non-offensive fancy dress is permitted in some areas of the course but not during the Festival or the November Meeting. For these meetings, and in particular the Festival, smart attire is certainly encouraged. For Ladies, this can include wearing a classic dress and hat and for the gents, it means donning a suit.
Cheltenham racecourse has three main enclosures, the Club Enclosure, the Tattersalls Enclosure and the Best Mate Enclosure. For most meetings the first two are paired together for ticketing purposes, meaning punters have access to both. The Club Enclosure offers spectacular views from the Princess Royal Stand and gives you access to the winners’ enclosure, pre-parade and parade ring.
The Tattersalls Enclosure is something of a middle ground between Club and Best Mate. It offers much of the same access as the Club Enclosure but at a reduced cost (when sold separately). During the Festival and the November Meeting, this is also where the popular Guinness Village is located but specific tickets are required for this. Lastly, you have the rather more no-thrills Best Mate Enclosure that provides excellent value for money with tickets costing as little as £12. Despite the cheap price, patrons still enjoy a covered grandstand and an excellent view across from the finishing line.
The world-famous Cheltenham Festival is comfortably the biggest meeting to take place at the Gloucestershire based course. The hugely celebrated event usually welcomes in the region of 250,000 visitors across the five days, making it the most popular jumps meeting on the planet. This is not Cheltenham’s only prized asset though as the November Meeting is also a special occasion in their calendar.
This four-day meeting hardly needs any introduction given its current levels of fame. It is the king of all jump racing meetings and you will not find an experience quite like it. Unsurprisingly, several ticket types, across all days, do sell out and often quite quickly. This is certainly the case for the Guinness Grandstand which can have its allocated snapped up months in advance, despite charging £99 a ticket.
The way the festival is structured ensures there is a real balance of high-quality action across the four days, with each day having a standout race. Nevertheless, things do end in climactic fashion as the final day sees the most prized race of the lot, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. This contest often sees Cheltenham at its 75,000 capacity limit and as you can imagine, the atmosphere is something to behold.
As for ticket prices, these are consistent for the first three days of the meeting before experiencing a hike for Gold Cup day. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, you can get a spot in the Best Mate Enclosure for £44, the Tattersalls Enclosure for £59 and the Club Enclosure for £89. This is the cost for any adult or child aged six and above. On Gold Cup Friday these prices jump up to £63, £78 and £110 respectively. The cost for parking at the course remains the same across all days (£20). So, while the Festival certainly is not the cheapest racing experience, punters clearly feel it is worth it as year on year they keep coming back to this truly special event.
Although not a creatively named fixture, you do at least know instantly what time of the year this takes place. Spanning three days in November (Friday to Sunday), it always welcomes some very talented names, some of which go on to impress during the Festival four months later. It is a meeting with a real focus on entertainment too as there is plenty of live music to enjoy. For the meeting finale, things turn to more family-friendly entertainment. On this day, organisers set up areas for kids to let off some steam and they might even invite a TV cartoon character or two.
Organised racing at Cheltenham dates back to 1815 where it took place at Nottingham Hill, before moving to Cleeve Hill three years later. Proving to be a real hit among the locals, organisers scheduled a two-day July meeting in 1819 that featured a ‘Gold Cup’. This is not however the same Gold Cup that runs today as jump racing’s top trophy only officially began in 1924.
A Rocky Start
Despite its early successes, the annual fixture suffered a major setback in 1930 as months earlier Cheltenham’s Parish Priest had been preaching about the evils of horseracing. Striking a chord among much of his congregation, many violently opposed horse racing taking place in Cheltenham. Not only were rocks thrown at jockeys and their mounts but there was an arson attack at the course which ultimately destroyed the grandstand.
With the grandstand burned to a crisp, racing in Cheltenham moved to its present home of Prestbury Park in 1831. Despite the change, the action did return Cleeve Hill four years later as they managed to rebuild the former course from the ashes. All the efforts to revive the Cleeve Hill site were largely in vain though as the course didn’t come back for long. Between 1843 and 1850, the economic depression meant there was no racing at all as few people had enough disposable income to attend. A short-lived revival followed in 1851 but, four years later, and the County of Gloucester Races on Cleeve Hill Course, to give it its official title, held its last race.
1902: Cheltenham’s First National Hunt Festival
In the meantime, some steeplechase racing took place at the nearby Andoversford but local interest in racing around Cheltenham was falling by the end of the century. One man determined to revive some racing passion however was Prestbury Park course founder Mr WA Baring Bingham who purchased the site himself. He started by using the site as a stud farm but a few years later brought racing back to the location. In 1902, he introduced Cheltenham’s first National Hunt Festival.
Investment & Expansion
Jump forward to the 1960s and this was a major decade in the history of Cheltenham Racecourse. Initially, it saw the completion of the Tattersalls Grandstand, which helped accommodate the growing crowd numbers. Then, in 1964, the Racecourse Holdings Trust (now known as the Jockey Club), formed to protect the longevity of the racecourse. With their investment, further additions followed, such as the main grandstand in 1979, the parade ring in 1982 and a new stables complex in 1990. In the thirty years following their takeover, the Jockey Club invested over £80m into the course, helping to shape the world-class venue many enjoy today.