Visiting Wimbledon the British way

Court 1 at Wimbledon

The view from our seats in Court 1

While the usual signs of British summer are here — chilly weather, drizzle, deep supermarket discounts on Pimms — this year I’m taking full advantage and doing 2 traditional British summer activities: attending Wimbledon and going to the Henley Regatta.

These two activities incorporate so many things the English hold dear: dressing up, drinking, attending civilised sporting events and “enjoying” summer weather (rain or shine). I’ve never done them before and am surprised they allow me to stay.

This past weekend I did Wimbledon and tried to do it truly traditional style. I put on a houndstooth jacket (from very English clothier Joules), laced up my brogues and set off for the All England Tennis Club with my brolly.

The weather didn’t disappoint. It went from overcast to fat-droplet rain as my friend J and I first stopped at Franco Manca for a bite of warm pizza, then huddled under the awning at the tennis club Champagne bar. We shared a bottle of fizz, chatted with a contingent of Austrians and waited for the clouds to clear.


Jennifer Howze at Wimbledon

Checking out the lineup


Eating pizza at Franco Manca

Eating pizza at Franco Manca

The bottles of Lanson Champagne came with these "tennis ball" wraps (in Texas we call them coozies)

The bottles of Lanson Champagne came with these “tennis ball” wraps (in Texas we call them coozies)

The Umbrellas of Wimbledon

The Umbrellas of Wimbledon

In the end, sun broke through and we took our seats on Court 1 to watch AlizĂ© Cornet and Serena Williams in what became a “shock upset” of Williams, the five-time Wimbledon winner, by the French player.

As an American, I felt the defeat keenly (as did the Australian sitting behind me, belting out amusing advice and support for her). But as the sun dissipated more and more behind the grey cloud cover, we went home in high spirits at such a marvelous British afternoon. Drinking! Chatting! Feeling cold! We were all in it together being all stiff-upper-lippy about it.

As a large group, we Wimbledon attendees walked back up the hill to Southfields station, and my friend and I stopped at a folding table set up by an entrepreneurial group of children. We bought fairy cakes (not cupcakes) and strolled toward the Tube amid chatter and wet pavements.

Fred Perry Statue at All England Tennis Club

Admiring the Fred Perry statue


Centre Court, Wimbledon

Centre Court, the place to be in the final days

Court 1, Wimbledon

Looking over Court 1


Jenography’s tips for attending Wimbledon

Bring a portable umbrella…and a sun hat

You must prepare for sun. You must prepare for rain. You might even see both of them at the same time. This is English summer. You can’t beat it, so just prepare for it.

Wear layers

The sun goes behind a cloud and suddenly you’re shivering in the shade. My friend J looked fabulous in her maxi dress and shrug, but after the 4-hour delay, the match stretched until early evening, and she was eyeing my jacket enviously.

Dress up and enjoy the scene

This isn’t an American-style sporting event where everyone wears baseball caps and shorts. Of course it’s about the tennis. But it’s not only about the tennis. Even as it bucketed down on us, the atmosphere was high-spirited and merry.

You can stroll the grounds of the All England Club (a private members club), watch players dressed in traditional white and, yes, eat strawberries and cream. The men were dressed in their preppy best. Women had wonderfully coiffed hair. Break out the tweed, layer with cardigans and scarves and enjoy it, dahling.

Don’t complain

I hardly need to mention this but it’s an important rule of thumb. “We might get to see some tennis today!” people say cheerfully as the sky lowers and water runs off their neighbour’s umbrella and drops onto their nose. As we left the ground at 8pm, a steward at the gate asked if we’d like to donate our ticket for resale to people who come late to catch the last hour or so. And who said the Brits weren’t optimists?


Like this post? Sign up to my newsletter to get occasional inspired emails for your travels!

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+


  1. July 1, 2014 / 6:36 pm

    I really would like to do Wimbledon again. Have only ever been once, during my University days, when my boyfriend at the time had Court One tickets. It’s all a bit of a blur so I would love to go again. If I remember rightly, that same boyfriend took me to Henley too – I haven’t been there again either….

    • July 1, 2014 / 7:54 pm

      Trish, it was really fun. I felt properly English. As long as you get over the sense you’re there to actually *do* something. It’s the being there, the hanging out, the atmosphere, that’s the real point of it all.

  2. Tula Karras
    July 1, 2014 / 6:54 pm

    Ah, I know this J you speak of! Love hearing what it’s like to be there in person. I watched this match at my cousin’s house in Boulder and was looking for you in the crowd. Even if the camera had caught you, I probably wouldn’t have caught your face thanks to all the umbrellas (which I believe they should call rain-brellas, just sayin’).

    Makes me want to attend the US Open in Queens in August…Thanks for sharing!

    • July 1, 2014 / 7:55 pm

      You should definitely go to the US Open. I’ve actually been to a handful of matches there, thanks to a very organised friend who frequently invited me. There’s nothing really like live sporting matches, whatever form they take. But I do like this one. *lifts Champagne glass*

  3. July 1, 2014 / 10:37 pm

    Fab photos – I’ve never actually been to Wimbledon myself (or Henley) but there’s nothing like champagne to help with a stiff upper lip in the face of the weather…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *