Eight things I wish I knew before I went to Crufts – and what I’d do differently next year

Seasoned Crufts visitors have absolutely nailed their routines for the huge international dog show, held at the Birmingham NEC each year – but for me, 2023 was my first year visiting the annual event, with no idea what to expect.

I dived into the celebration of dogs with no plans, expectations or real schedule or agenda – I just wanted to cover as much ground as possible, and have a fun-filled day out. And I did exactly that, thoroughly enjoying my first ever Crufts experience.

That said, it was certainly a learning curve, and I definitely picked up some tips and tricks along the way that I’d like to apply to next year’s visit to allow for a smoother, more well-rounded experience.

Here are some of the things I learned at Crufts 2023, that I would perhaps do a little differently next year. If you’re a first-time Crufts visitor, like I was, they’ll hopefully help you have a fantastic experience at this iconic event.

Read the show guide 

When you first arrive at Crufts, you’ll spot a number of stalls selling show guides for £10. These are an absolute essential for navigating the event – consider it your Crufts Bible, including show maps, timetables and a breed guide.

Upon arrival, I asked a member of the team ‘where might I find the main arena?’ to be met with a ‘I’m not sure, but it’ll tell you in the guide’. 

When you get a guide, it’s worth grabbing a cup of coffee or having a sit down and getting familiar with the back few pages, which have layouts of each of the halls, and timetables for the Main Arena. You could even take a few snaps of the pages on your phone if you don’t want to walk around looking like a London tourist with it in your hand all day – you’ll need them free for petting dogs.

In the hall’s guides, you’ll be able to see which retailers are located where, which is particularly handy if you’ve got something in mind you’d like to buy. It’ll also show you where to find the Discover Dogs area, and any show rings you might want to pay a visit to.

If you haven’t already looked online at the Main Arena guide and decided what you’d like to do, now’s the time to do that and try to plan out your day accordingly.

Watch more arena events

When I visited Crufts, I only managed to watch one of the Main Arena events – the West Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier display, which was absolutely fantastic. 

However, I wish I had spent more time ringside in order to watch more magnificent dogs dazzle the judges. Having caught up on the highlights on Channel 4, I got serious FOMO knowing I could have watched Freestyle heel to music or flyball in person.

I was so overwhelmed at the size of the event that I wouldn’t be able to get round to all of the retail stalls and Discover Dogs if I spent too much time in the Main Arena, but on reflection, I definitely would have been able to watch a few more had I properly planned my day. I’m definitely going to make a proper schedule in advance next year.

Take my time

Crufts is huge – that much is true. But because I knew this, I think I panicked and kind of rushed my way around it. I’d made my way around halls one to five by 1pm, so spent another two hours ensuring that I hadn’t missed any of the stalls. 

Next year, knowing the event better, I think you can break the day down into two to three hours of shopping, an hour at Discover Dogs and then two or three hours at the Main Arena. You can obviously adapt this to suit your priorities on the day.

Go for more than one day

Seems crazy if you can do Crufts in one day, right? But I really would like to do two days at Crufts next year – one focusing more on shopping and chatting with the brands, and of course, Discover Dogs. But then I’d like a day where I can just focus on the arena and judging events. 

This would make for a more laid back visit without trying to do it all in one day, lugging shopping bags from the hall to the arena and back again, or trying to battle through the crowds from hall three to the Main Arena in time for a must-see event.

Influencer dogs

Members of the public are not allowed to take their own dogs to Crufts, all canines in attendance must be invited by The Kennel Club, and as such are either competing, or have been invited by brands.

Typically, four-legged influencers are invited to join brands on their stall, where they will host little meet and greet sessions, which are super cute.

When I got home from Crufts, I logged into Instagram and saw so many pups we follow were at the event and we completely missed them, such as the gorgeous chocolate lab Good Boy Ollie, who has racked up an insane TikTok following.

Next year, I’d like to make a note in advance of which social media star dogs are heading to the event, and on which stall so that we can pop over and say hello.

Save up some money

Crufts presents the ideal opportunity to stock up on anything you could possibly need for your pets, so it’s worth setting some money aside and giving yourself a spending limit. I spent £120 at the event, which means if you put £10 a month away starting now, you could come home with a haul that looks like this. 

You can go to Crufts and not spend a penny, but most retailers will hold exclusive discounts and offers that make it cheaper to buy on the day than wait until you get home. 

Take a trolly

My biggest regret at Crufts 2023 was not taking a little granny trolley. I took a backpack with me, which was soon filled, overflowing into two tote bags by the end of the day. Come 3pm, I’m convinced that if I’d have fallen backwards I’d have never gotten back up, and have been using pain relief gel on my aching shoulders ever since.

I saw a lot of people with those little two-wheel trolleys and they definitely seem to be the best compact and lightweight option for Crufts. I’ll certainly be investing in one of these in time for next year.

Buy food there

I took a full packed lunch with me to Crufts 2023, including pasta salad, snacks, a flask of tea and a bottle of water. As you can imagine, this got pretty heavy, particularly when adding shopping and cameras into the mix.

While I definitely recommend taking snacks like a packet of crisps, protein bar or what not, next year, I’d buy hot food and drinks on the day. I worried that the queues for the food trailers would be ridiculously long and I’d waste valuable shopping time stuck waiting for food, but when I passed most of them, the wait times were reasonable.

Price wise your talking £8 for halloumi fries, so it’s as expensive as to be expected, but it’s worth it for having not to carry around a lunchbox that just takes up space in a bag. Leave the flask at home too – grab a cuppa while you’re there. 

Read more

22 must-visit stalls at Crufts 2023 – and top tips for shopping at the event

10 things I brought back from Crufts 2023