The museum is situated right on the bank of the River Thames in the heart of picturesque regatta town of Henley.
The museum opened in 1998 with three permanent galleries; one devoted to the river, one to rowing and one to the history of the local area. The newest addition, the John Piper gallery, opened in 2016, following an Art Happens crowdfunding campaign supported by Art Fund. As well as hosting a changing programme of temporary art and photography exhibitions, it is also home to a Wind in the Willows display which brings the books to life using 3D models and music.
Museum artefacts span from the ancient world to the 21st-century Olympic Games. In the rowing gallery the display includes a Greek trireme, the boat Sir Sydney Swann used to row across the English Channel in 1911 and the boat in which Sir Steve Redgrave won his fifth Olympic gold medal in Sydney – as well as Sir Matthew Pinsent's shoes. The river gallery meanwhile focuses on the wildlife and ecology of the water.
In the Henley gallery visitors can see Victorian costumes as would have been worn to the Royal Regatta in the 19th century, a 2000-year-old hoard of Iron Age gold coins and the remains of the tree where Prince Rupert hung a parliamentarian during the Civil War.
The John Piper gallery and archive preserves and celebrates the career of one of the most popular and prolific British artists of the 20th century. The display examines Piper's extraordinary diversity of work, which covered painting, collage, drawing, stained glass, ceramics, tapestry, set design and textiles.