(CNN) -

It's nearly 200 years old, and people still come back for more.

Ever since June 14, 1839, the quaint English town of Henley-on-Thames has been attracting spectators in their droves to its Royal Regatta.

What started off as a small collection of boat races -- held over just a single afternoon on the River Thames near London -- has morphed into a five-day sporting and social extravaganza, where anyone who wants to be seen, attends.

"British people like the old charm of it -- its continuity, the idea, the past, comfort in a changing world," leading social commentator Peter York told CNN.

"All those thing that I call the 'Downton' things," added York, referring to the hit television show "Downton Abbey," which has won a legion of devoted fans around the globe thanks to its depiction of Edwardian England.

Like "Downton Abbey," Henley lures visitors from both at home and abroad, reminding them all of an England of old -- the maiden regatta occurred two years into Queen Victoria's near 64-year reign over the country.

Originally offering up just one trophy to rowers -- the Grand Challenge Cup, still today's biggest prize -- this month's 2014 edition boasted 20 different events on its 175th anniversary.

The sporting aspect of the regatta, however, remains just one side of a rather lopsided coin.

Along with the likes of Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and Wimbledon, Henley has a strict dress code if you want to gain entry.

Lounge suits for the gentlemen and dresses -- "with a hemline below the knee" -- for the ladies is the order of the day.

Should the rowing not suffice, a "Champagne & Oyster Bar" and "Afternoon Tea" are some of the other delights on offer to visitors searching for other distractions.

"The dress code is quirky and a bit quaint, but I think it adds to the atmosphere, and I love the flamboyance of the men's colorful blazers," says CNN's Milena Veselinovic, who attended Henley this year.

"When I first went it was like a window to another culture.

"It may not be representative of modern Britain, but it's a throwback to a different era and a chance to spend the day in the sun with your friends," added the Serbian, who provides an outsider's view of Henley.

"If you find that charming then you probably would go again," remarks York of Henley's ability to repeatedly draw crowds of thousands year after year.

Henley's ability to retain that charm arguably separates it from Britain's illustrious horse racing and tennis showpieces.

The English identity that lies at its very core has been kept intact, yet to be eroded away by multimillion sponsorship deals, around-the-clock television coverage and an A-list celebrity guest lists that its bigger, more glamorous rivals wear as a badge of honor.

"Henley is still relatively better preserved than the other events," York observes.

"The moment these things go on to full-on corporate, to full-on new-rich money, then they are spoiled and changed, and can never quite go back to how they were.

"That Henley is set on the river and hasn't got a horrible building adds to the charm," adds York, who is no fan of the Ascot Grandstand -- "ugly and vulgar" -- that was built in 2006.