Given the sheer size and sense of importance of the Cheltenham Festival, it’s no major surprise that so many people want to be in attendance for it every time it rolls around. Whereas some in the racing world consider the Grand National meeting to be aimed at those less knowledgeable about the sport, the racing at Prestbury Park is adored by both casual racegoers and those that take things very seriously alike.
Whilst the week will be dominated by puzzling over which horses to bet on and which races will be the most entertaining, the first challenge faced by punters is getting to the Gloucestershire venue in the first place. Even those who are in attendance every year have to weigh up the options available to them and decide if there’s one that will be easier than another. Here we’ll explore all of the various options, from the most common to the most sublime.
Travelling To Cheltenham By Train
Let’s be honest, taking the train to a racecourse is always the most sensible option, especially if you’re the sort of person that likes to have a drink or two on race days. If you’re the kind of punter that likes to study the form book then getting the train will give you plenty of time to do that, too. Whatever your personality type, taking the train will always be a relatively pain-free experience as long as there are no problems on the line.
The good news for train passengers is that Cheltenham Spa Railway Station is just ten minutes in a taxi from Cheltenham Racecourse. Given that there are trains into Cheltenham from most of the major cities it’s no wonder that so many people choose this particular option. A train from London to Cheltenham Spa takes around 2 hours, whilst one from Birmingham will take about 35 minutes.
Services tend to run regularly when the Festival rolls around, so you can hop on a train from the likes of Bristol or Birmingham every half an hour. That means that you can be within the racecourse and filling your betting slip or buying your first drink within an hour of the train pulling out of the station, so it’s also about the quickest way of getting you to the course.
There are usually extra services from Birmingham during Festival week, so that’s probably the best departure point. The fact that it’s the Midlands means that people from all over the country can use it as their jumping off point, which makes it extra convenient.
If you’re someone that likes to make a real occasion of your trip to the races then you might want to consider getting the steam train there from Toddington. Various companies offer it as an option, with the train stopping right outside the Main Grandstand at the racecourse and allowing you to miss all of the mayhem that often ensues with people trying to get into the venue.
Driving To Cheltenham Racecourse & Parking
If you’re not a drinker or have been assigned the role of designated driver for the week then heading to Cheltenham by car is one of the most direct options available. It’s obviously one of the options most likely to be hit by a build-up of traffic, but you’ll be in the comfort of your own car with the music blaring and any company with you there to play games if that sort of thing helps you pass the time.
The traffic is at its worst during peak times, so doing your best to head there early will help you avoid the worst of the queues. Evesham Road, which is the A435, is usually shut during the Festival for Southbound traffic, meaning that it’s really only for use by raceday traffic. That’s something to bear in mind once you’ve left the M5, which is the best motorway for racegoers, and are starting to look to get closer to the venue.
The good news for drivers is that there is plenty of parking available. It’s free on racedays if you’re attending meetings other than the Festival and the November Meeting, so it might be worth doing a dry-run before the main event rolls around. During the Festival it is cheaper if you buy your tickets ahead of time than if you leave it until the day of the race, so make sure you’re prepared if you want to use your money for having a flutter rather than paying to park.
Coach & Bus Travel
Coach trips are similar to car journeys insomuch as you’re dependent on the traffic to ensure a smooth journey. The big difference, though, is the fact that you don’t need to worry about the responsibility of driving and can leave that up to someone else. Coaches can also get you much closer to the venue, with many being able to park as close to the racecourse as it’s possible to get.
There are numerous different coach companies offering travel to Cheltenham Racecourse during Festival season, so once again it’s a matter of shopping around to see which one makes the most sense to you. If you’d like to get the bus then services D & E offer special timetables during the Festival week. Make sure you’ve checked out the timings before you head to the bus stop in the centre of Cheltenham.
If you’re travelling to Cheltenham Racecourse by taxi then there are designated areas for you to be dropped off that will make life easier for you. They are usually about a five minute walk from the entrance, though if you have mobility issues then make sure that you speak to one of the stewards who will help you get even closer.
When it comes to how much it will cost you to get a taxi, the reality is that the answer depends very much on what time of day you’ll be travelling. Get there either earlier or late enough to have missed the major rush and you could whip straight in and it will cost you as little as £11. Head there later in the day, however, and you might be looking at closer to £30.
The same rules that apply to taxi travellers apply to those of you that are just looking to be dropped off by a friend or family member. Obviously you won’t have to pay them to do it as you would a taxi driver, but there are still specific locations within the racecourse’s outskirts where cars can stop to unload their passengers.
Race days are special occasions, giving you the chance to get dressed up and truly throw yourself into the spirit of the day. With that in mind, why not consider hiring a limousine for you and your fellow racegoers?
The exciting thing about limousine travel to Cheltenham is not only how important you’ll look pulling up and stepping out of the luxury vehicle, it’s also the fact that it doesn’t cost any more than normal car pricing for the privilege.
Obviously most companies will take care of this side of things for you, but if you want to get ahead of the game then you can pay for your parking in advanced for a reduced rate. It truly is one of the most glamorous methods of travel and will make for an unforgettable experience.
The closest airport to Cheltenham is Birmingham, which is about 1 hour 10 minutes by train. Bristol is another option open to you, though, as that’s around 1 hour and 20 minutes using the same method of transport.
If you’re flying from outside the United Kingdom especially to come in ands watch the racing then you might wish to spend some time in the capital during your visit. If that’s the case then Heathrow is probably the best airport to aim for as it will take you around two 2 to get to Cheltenham from there.
Gatwick is a little over 3 hours away on train, whilst Luton is the furthest at more than 3 and a half hours train journey from Cheltenham Spa. Obviously how much you’ll pay for your flight will depend on where you’re coming from and who you’re flying with, but train tickets will cost anywhere from £18 to £160 as dictated by the time of day and the day itself that you’re travelling.
If you really want to carry out your journey in style then doing so on a helicopter will certainly make it a memorable occasion. Helicopters are welcome to land at Cheltenham throughout the racing season, so there’s no restriction on days you can use this method of transport to get you to the races.
Cheltenham Racecourse works with a number of partners, so do a bit of shopping around to see which one is right for you. They’ll take care of all of the important information, such as booking confirmations and pilot briefings so all you need to do is sit back, relax and travel to the course in one of the most exciting ways possible.