There are many big horse racing events in the UK each year – including Royal Ascot, Cheltenham, and the Epsom Derby - but few capture the public’s imagination like the Grand National.
In fact, as many as 15 million Britons are expected to bet on the nation’s most-famous horse race this year.
Held at Aintree Racecourse, close to Liverpool in north-west England, the annual race is one of the nation's sporting “crown jewels” and attracts a mass audience, with many casual fans “having a flutter” and sweepstakes held at workplaces up and down the country. In fact, as many as 15 million Britons are expected to bet on the nation’s most-famous horse race this year.
The Grand National Festival takes place from 12 to 14 April in 2018. It starts with Grand Opening Day on Thursday 12, Ladies Day on Friday 13, before Grand National Day itself on Saturday 14 April.
The highlight of the “National Hunt” calendar, the Grand National is a handicap steeplechase featuring much larger fences than the obstacles used on other National Hunt races. The course is more than four miles long (6.5km), with the horses jumping 30 fences over two laps.
Although some of the fences have been made slightly less daunting in recent years due to safety concerns, they still represent the stiffest challenge to horses and jockeys in the UK.
A social occasion
For many visitors, the event is as much about socialising and enjoying a bottle of bubbly as it is watching the racing, and Ladies Day on Friday is a popular occasion to dress up.
While the dress code is not as formal as some high-profile races, many racegoers opt for smart suits and elegant dresses. Hats are optional, but very popular.
There is a range of grandstand seating options in addition to the general enclosure, with tickets ranging from £40 to £100-plus over the three days – and it's advisable to book early.
There is limited car parking on-site and many visitors prefer to arrive by train at Aintree Station, located directly opposite the venue.
In the area
Aintree is on the outskirts of Liverpool so it would be a shame not to visit the lively former dock city that gave the world The Beatles and has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its historic waterfront. Other popular attractions include the excellent World Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC.