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The incomparable Cotswolds offer so much to do, but where to start? Ask a dozen locals for their favourite places to go in the Cotswolds and you would get a dozen very different answers. It is not that we’re contrary types in these parts (far from it, Cotswolds folk are incredibly laid-back), it’s just that with so much to see and so much to do, it can be hard knowing where to start.
Honey-coloured villages, outstanding natural beauty, classic architecture, inspired writers, arts and sporting events galore; no matter how much time you spend in the Cotswolds, there will always be something new to discover.
Here are just a few starter ideas of things to see in the Cotswolds to inspire you - some are popular tourist attractions, but we’ve also included a few hidden gems.
Cotswold Water Park
Shimmering wetlands, stunning landscapes, world-class nature reserves; the Cotswold Water Park in Gloucestershire has the wow factor, though it really should be water parks given the fact it’s made up of no less than 152 individual lakes. Angling, archery, birdwatching, cycling, climbing, sailing, windsurfing … if you like to keep active on holiday you’re spoilt for choice. Alternatively, you could just mooch around your luxury lakeside holiday home and enjoy the heavenly views.
No trip to the unofficial capital of the Cotswolds would be complete without a visit to Cirencester Park, arguably the finest example of geometric landscaping in the whole UK. Approach it by walking up Cecily Hill, one of the prettiest streets in Cirencester, which leads to the wrought iron entrance gates. On nearby Park Street, the engaging Corinium Museum brings many aspects of local history to life, including wonderful Roman mosaics.
Westonbirt, The National Arboretum
Nestled on the edge of the Cotswolds, Westonbirt has one of the finest tree collections in the world, carefully laid out within a beautiful Grade I picturesque landscape. Sixteen thousand trees populate the Arboretum’s 600 acres and line much of its 17 miles of footpaths. Amazing all year round, but a jaw-dropping kaleidoscope of colour in Autumn.
Revel in the architecture of Cheltenham, the most complete Regency town in England. It’s also a great place for fine dining and boutique shopping notably at the famous Promenade. In the beautiful Pittville Pump Room, you can catch a concert or even taste the waters. Cheltenham is also famous for its top festivals – keep an eye out for events catering for lovers of horse-racing, literature, comics and jazz.
Chedworth Roman Villa
A spectacular Roman settlement cradled in a wooded valley, this high-status villa was lost to nature until rediscovered by Victorian gamekeepers. The original layout of the villa is still clearly visible, with two bath houses, hypocausts, and some fabulous mosaics. It’s definitely one of the best places to take children for a day out in the Cotswolds with its wide range of Roman-themed activities. What did the Romans ever do for us?!
Roves Farm (and 007)
This working farm in Sevenhampton is open seven days a week except for Christmas and is a great place to meet and feed animals big and small, go on tractor rides, play hide and seek in the hay barns, and get stuck into arts and crafts activities. If you’re in the mood for something a tad more sophisticated after mingling with all those Gloucester Old Spot Pigs and Highland cows, visit the local parish church of St. James’s Sevenhampton, where Ian Fleming, the creator of 007 James Bond, is buried. His final resting place is just within sight of Warneford Place, the grand country house where Fleming spent the majority of his time during his later years.
Swindon and Cricklade Railway
One for railway enthusiasts and kids alike, this is the only standard gauge heritage railway in the Cotswolds area, restored and run by volunteers and ex-railwaymen from the Great Western Railway. The railway’s passenger line offers a lovely meandering trip of over four miles and there is a busy programme of special events and festivals. All together – choo-choo!
Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons
These traditional commons, high up in the Cotswolds near bohemian Stroud, are grazed by cattle and famed for wild flowers, butterflies, Neolithic remains and Bronze Age burial mounds. Surely the most picturesque site in England for mingling with large herds of cattle but watch out for the cow pats amidst the purple orchids and yellow cowslips!
Minchinhampton Old Golf Course
The Old Course is situated in the delightful Cotswolds. The Club is set on Minchinhampton Common, a National Trust area of outstanding natural beauty, close to the small market town of Minchinhampton.
The Old Course was originally established in 1889 and was one of the earliest clubs to be formed in the West of England. Golf has been enjoyed on the common from that date onwards. There is no sand or water, just natural hazards that reflect the history of the area. Visitors are welcome 7 days a week. You can also try your hand at the New Course too.
Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, is best known as the birthplace of cigar-chomping hero of WWII and ‘Greatest Ever Britain’ Sir Winston Churchill, but its history goes back to the early 18th Century. The Palace itself is huge, with an amazing interior and 2,000 acres of grounds, partly landscaped by gardening icon ‘Capability’ Brown. Expect to spend the day, but not see it all.
Stratford Town Walk
The ideal way to discover Stratford-upon-Avon and its fascinating relationship with William Shakespeare is to join the multi-award-winning Stratford Town Walk, every day, even Christmas Day. See Shakespeare's birthplace, the church where he was baptised and buried, a range of architectural gems including the Guild Chapel, Shakespeare's school and the Royal Shakespeare Theatres. It's like walking through the pages of history. For those interested in the darker side of Stratford's history, try the highly-acclaimed Saturday evening Ghost Walk.
Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum
Set in Woodstock just down the road from Blenheim Palace, this fascinating museum is an excellent complement to a visit to the Palace. The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum tells the story of the people, the towns they came from and the wars they fought in, and features in-depth exhibitions on Winston Churchill, women in the wars and the First World War.
Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway
For a classic steam railway experience through the Cotswold countryside, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway doesn't disappoint. The railway's 28 mile journey uses part of the former Great Western Railway route from Birmingham to Cheltenham, operating steam and heritage diesel trains through a number of sleepy villages between Cheltenham and Broadway. The views along the way, over the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills, are simply tremendous.
The Cotswolds is one of the very best locations in the UK for award-winning restaurants and pubs that champion beautiful food made from the finest locally sourced ingredients and seasonal produce. Within a 15-mile radius of Cirencester we recommend:
- The Potting Shed at Crudwell - Tom Parker Bowles raves about this one.
- The Bell at Sapperton - hearty traditional fare and beautifully landscaped garden.
- The Wild Duck Inn at Ewen - 16th Century Inn with a stylish Grouse Room that does legendary Sunday roasts.
- The Swan at Southrop - village green pub does champers by the glass and potted pheasant to die for.
Watch this space!
Check back regularly for more detailed recommendations from Holidays in the Cotswolds but as a teaser, we also love (deep breath):
Not to mention artisan shopping in scores of picturesque locations, including Bourton-on-the-Water, Lechlade, Nailsworth, Chipping Campden and Burford.
If you have been inspired by all of these fantastic things to do in the Cotswolds, why not have a browse of our holiday cottages in the Cotswolds? From idyllic hideaways in the rural countryside to quaint thatched cottages in chocolate box villages and lakeside retreats, there is something for everyone.