Travelling through rolling green countryside, a halcyon jumble of bridleways, flower meadows and farmland you begin to glimpse creamy-stone villages where gardens are perfectly manicured, rose climbers and wisterias are in full fragrant bloom, game birds leap out of hedgerows and you get an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and calm – an English rural idyll. You have arrived.
The Cotswolds is a superb choice for a holiday in the UK, with an abundance of picturesque honey-hued villages to explore full of fabulous antique emporiums, artisan craft makers and independent shops, as well as historical houses, outdoor attractions and a calendar packed with unique events and festivals. There is something for everyone to enjoy.
We have created a travel guide to the Cotswolds to highlight some of the best places to visit, things to do, the prettiest villages to discover, places to eat and where to stay. Have a read and be inspired.
Where are the Cotswolds?
Stretching across the six counties of Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Somerset, the Cotswolds encompass some of the prettiest land tracts in the country. In 1966 it was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is now a treasured tourist destination where many an A-lister regularly frequents.
The prettiest villages in the Cotswolds
The joy of a trip to the Cotswolds is in the discovery of beautiful villages and towns and believe us when we say, you will be utterly spoilt for choice. Offering a plethora of Insta-worthy scenes, we have picked some of our favourite villages to inspire your next getaway to the Cotswolds - just don’t forget your camera!
Feel like you’ve stepped back in time in the quintessential Cotswold village of Bibury in Gloucestershire, once described by the celebrated artist William Morris as, “The most beautiful village in England” – we certainly agree. This chocolate box village is home to the endearing Arlington Row, an iconic line of 17th century weavers’ cottages set along the tranquil bank of the River Coln. These are some of the most photographed houses in the country and are sure to leave your friends and family swooning at your holiday pictures back home. If you’re staying in one of our holiday cottages in Bibury, enjoy a wander to the Bibury Trout Farm, one of Britain’s oldest and most well-preserved trout farms, where you can fish for your supper in the ‘catch your own’ fishery.
Stay nearby in our Bibury holiday cottages
On a dreamy summer’s day, wander along a path lined with rose-clad cottages beside the sparkling River Eye, perhaps dipping your toes in its shallow water, and stop for an afternoon tea in The Old Mill. The untouched village of Lower Slaughter in the county of Gloucestershire is the epitome of idyllic Cotswolds charm and has been widely used for filming and productions. Copse Hill Road has even been named as the most romantic street in Britain!
Stay nearby in our Gloucestershire holiday cottages
The peaceful village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire should be a quintessential stop on any Cotswolds itinerary, dotted with higgledy-piggledy honey-coloured limestone cottages that are adorned with floral hanging baskets and stone-tiled roofs. Having been featured in several notable films including ‘Stardust’ and Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’, the village is a much-loved place to visit in the Cotswolds and one of the best view-points can be appreciated from across the town bridge by the old weavers’ cottages, looking up at Water Street.
Stay nearby in our Wiltshire holiday cottages
Fondly known as England’s answer to ‘Little Venice’, the exceptionally pretty Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water straddles the tranquil River Windrush in Gloucestershire and flaunts traditional English charm. Enjoy a rejuvenating stroll along the quaint stone bank of the river and marvel the distinctive honey-hued cottages with steeply pitched roofs and charming cobbled bridges over the glittering water. When the sun is shining lay out a rug and delight in a relaxing picnic beneath the trees on the shaded greens.
Stay nearby in our Bourton-on-the-Water holiday cottages
Step into one of the masterpieces of Cotswolds villages. Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire boasts some of the finest architectural heritage in the area. From beautiful thatched-roof cottages on its periphery, to its 17th century Market Hall, ancient alms houses with crackling log fires, an impressive Banqueting House and ostentatiously-embellished houses at each turn, this is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the Cotswolds.
Stay nearby in our Chipping Campden holiday cottages
Sweeping downhill towards the gently flowing River Windrush, the High Street of Burford in Oxfordshire is a picture-postcard scene. Flanked by a continuous ensemble of boutiques, galleries, delis and ancient pubs, all encased within striking 17th and 18th century architecture, the street is a feast for the eyes. Most notable with its’ Tudor style black and white timber, is the Tolsey building which used to be a meeting point for medieval wool merchants, and don’t miss the Chemist, said to be England’s oldest pharmacy.
Stay nearby in our Burford holiday cottages
Things to do in the Cotswolds
A day out in the Cotswolds can be as relaxing or as exciting as you want it to be, with a host of attractions, activities and leisure pursuits to keep you entertained. Here is a guide to some of the top attractions in the Cotswolds.
Kids days out in the Cotswolds
If you’re thinking of bringing children with you to this gorgeous corner of the UK, you will be pleased to note, there are plenty of great days out for kids in the Cotswolds that are guaranteed to keep all ages entertained and that you are sure to love too. For young animal lovers, a trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, the Cotswold Farm Park or the Cotswold Falconry Centre are sure to go down a treat. Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire offers a land of adventure where lions roam, tigers stalk and monkeys swing, while Birdland in Bourton-on-the-Water offers little ones the unique chance to feed penguins and be a keeper for the day.
One of our favourite family-friendly days out in the Cotswolds is on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway where you can enjoy a magical journey chugging through rolling hills on a 20-mile round journey through beautiful Cotswolds countryside – on occasion, the driver will let one lucky child sit with him as the train trundles along the tracks.
When the sun is shining, head to the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Water where kids will be delighted with The Model Village – a miniature replica of the village in which it lies, built in Cotswold stone to 1/9th scale. There is also the Dragonfly Maze where you can spend hours getting wonderfully lost while solving puzzles within puzzles along the way, and the Cotswold Motor Museum, the home of the much-loved Brum!
If the kids are in need of a cool down, visit the outdoor oasis known as The Lido in Chipping Norton. Here, children can have great fun in the open-air swimming pool, whizz down the slide and enjoy an ice-cream poolside – there’s even a toddler pool for the smallest of splashers. Also add to the list, Arctic Quest in Tewkesbury which offers families an unforgettable experience on an all-terrain sled ride pulled by huskies with a hot chocolate by the campfire as a reward at the end.
Historical days out in the Cotswolds
Centuries ago the Cotswolds was made wealthy by the wool trade, and the results of that wealth can be seen in the many fine manor houses and churches throughout the area. The name ‘Cotswolds’ is actually a combination of two very old English words – ‘Wolds’ are gentle hills and ‘Cots’ are sheep enclosures.
Immerse yourself in the fascinating history of the Cotswolds at one of the many museums and historic houses dotted about the region. From the magnificent Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill which also boasts 2000 acres of spectacular gardens, to Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe which houses a treasure trove of artefacts from Roman times to the present day and the 18th century Broadway Tower, the second highest point on the Cotswold escarpment offering mesmerising views over 16 counties.
Discover the regions renowned Roman past at Chedworth with a striking example of a luxurious villa or visit the Corinium Museum in Cirencester and marvel one of the finest collections of Roman antiquities in Britain. Add to your itinerary a trip to the well-preserved Roman Baths in the historic city of Bath, and you will soon see why the Romans settled here.
Gardens in the Cotswolds
There is nothing more relaxing than a scenic stroll around a wonderfully fragrant Cotswolds garden and thankfully, the region is blessed with many of them! Whether you visit the Cotswolds in spring when the gardens are in full floral delight with blossoming trees and blankets of daffodils and bluebells or in the autumn, when the season’s golden hues make for a colourful wander around one if its spectacular arboreta, there are many beauty spots in the Cotswolds to be found.
As the first flourishes of snowdrops arrive in early spring, a visit to Painswick Rococo Garden, Colesbourne Park, Kiftsgate Court Gardens or Sezincote Estate is a must. As the days begin to warm, enjoy tranquil picnics in Cheltenham’s Pittville Park and Montpellier Gardens or at Newark Park, a Tudor hunting lodge with sprawling parkland, quaint gardens and far reaching views over the Cotswolds countryside.
Around the month of July, head to Cotswold Lavender in Snowshill where a photogenic carpet of over 35 breath-taking varieties of lavender have burst into life, while the herbaceous borders at Snowshill Manor, Hidcote Manor and Bourton House Garden are now in full bloom. Another favourite is Sudeley Castle’s Queens’ Garden which has now become beautifully fragrant with delicate roses.
As the season changes from summer into autumn, visitors to the Cotswolds are in for a treat at Batsford Arboretum in Moreton-in-Marsh and Westonbirt Arboretum in Tetbury. The dramatic leaf displays are second to none and offer a wealth of photographic opportunities.
Outdoor activities in the Cotswolds
The rolling hills, glistening lakes and ancient woodlands of the Cotswolds are made for outdoor adventure. Whether you choose to explore by foot, by bike or on horseback, the region is awash with scenic trails, with leisure activities around every corner.
Walkers are sure to be in their element on The Cotswold Way, an undulating route of over 100 miles through the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The trail starts at Chipping Campden in the north and ends at Bath in the south, winding its way through attractive Cotswolds towns and villages including Snowshill, Cranham and Painswick. Be sure to take your camera as many ancient sites can be spotted along the way such as Sudeley Castle, Hailes Abbey, the Neolithic burial chamber at Belas Knap and the Roman heritage at Bath.
If you prefer to travel by two wheels, the Wiltshire Cycleway offers 160 miles of peaceful country lanes through Wiltshire, passing by historic towns and attractive places to visit. A great off-road cycling route is to follow the Kennet and Avon Canal tow path, passing the Crofton Beam Engines, Caen Hill lock, Pewsey Wharf and the charming towns of Bradford on Avon and Devizes. You can also cycle around the Shakespearean town of Stratford-upon-Avon with Stratford Bike Hire, from where you can follow several cycle paths out into the surrounding countryside.
If water-based fun is what you’re searching for, the Cotswold Water Park in Cirencester is the place to go. Activities on offer include sailing, windsurfing and kayaking or for thrill seekers, there’s cable-skiing and banana boating to try. Alternatively, you could enjoy a lazy stroll around one of the parks 152 shimmering lakes, soaking up heavenly views and a bounty of interesting wildlife.
Find more great inspiration for places to go in the Cotswolds in our ‘Things to do in the Cotswolds’ guide.
Map of attractions in the Cotswolds
Plan your Cotswolds holiday itinerary by finding your favourite attractions from the list on the map below.
Shopping in the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds is a shopaholics dream. From bijou boutiques to independent shops selling arts and crafts, an array of quality antique emporiums and farmers markets offering fresh, local produce, your bags will be bursting in no time.
Antique dealers are enormously prevalent in the Cotswolds making this the perfect destination to find one of a kind pieces for yourself or as a gift. Popular market towns such as Chipping Norton, Tetbury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Tewkesbury, Winchcombe and Moreton-in-Marsh are an antique collector’s haven, all offering a cornucopia of delights. The Corn Hall in Cirencester is a must-visit on a Friday when the antiques and collector’s market takes places, while Bonds Lifestyle in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Malt House Emporium in Tewkesbury and the Winchcombe Antiques Centre, all boast a treasure trove of porcelain, jewellery, paintings and furniture from a variety of eras.
Pick up tasty local produce from the renowned farmers market in Stroud or the pinnacle of all farm shops, Daylesford Organic Farm in Kingham, and lovely mementos to remember your holiday by from the Gallery at the Guild in Chipping Campden, the New Brewery Arts in Cirencester or Aston Pottery in Bampton.
For those seeking the ultimate shopping experience and who love a good bargain, visit the shopping villages of Swindon Designer Outlet or Bicester Village where more than 160 designer brands at discount prices can be found including Prada, Gucci, Michael Kors, Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana.
Find more great Cotswolds shopping inspiration in our ‘Where to shop in the Cotswolds’ guide.
Places to eat in the Cotswolds
After exploring the best tourist hotspots in the Cotswolds, you’re going to be needing some sustenance and luckily for you, we know the best places to dine in the Cotswolds. Here are a few of our favourites:
Indulge in a host of sweet treats including the famous ‘secret recipe’ lardy cakes, served with a warm pot of loose leaf tea, blended by hand in the Cotswolds. All enjoyed within a characterful Grade II listed bakehouse bursting with original features – a locals’ favourite.
Expect mouth-watering seasonal produce with game featuring heavily on the menu in the colder months. Then sink into a soft leather arm chair in front of a roaring open fire and relax with a pint of Hooky, soaking up your rustic surroundings.
A dining experience with a difference, Cheltenham's Art Deco cinema is now a superb restaurant complete with old film projectors and its glorious, original sweeping staircase. From steak and chips to grilled fresh lobster from their own tank, or twice-baked double Gloucester soufflé, the menu with its’ extensive wine and cocktail list is sure to delight.
The best afternoon tea in the Cotswolds: Lygon Arms, Broadway
Exquisite finger sandwiches, fruit scones, puddings and pastries are all served up with a pot of tea or a glass of champagne in the courtyard or one of the seven gorgeous lounges on the property. Anyone with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed!
Find more great inspiration for Cotswolds cafes, restaurants, pubs and bistros in our ‘Best places to eat in the Cotswolds’ guide.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
We hope we have inspired you to spend your next holiday in the Cotswolds. With so many places to explore, things to do and sights to see, you’ll be needing a warm and cosy place to rest your head at the end of the day. Why not have a browse of our collection of holiday cottages in the Cotswolds? From thatched cottages in chocolate box villages to lakeside retreats with unforgettable views, and dog-friendly accommodation in the heart of the countryside, your quintessential Cotswolds experience starts here.
If you would like even more fantastic inspiration, check out our latest guide ’10 ways to experience the Cotswolds’. It’s the perfect read for those who like to keep active on their staycation.