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Walk the lanes of pretty villages and the trails of bucolic countryside; have a proper pint in a real pub and discover the very best activities in the Cotswolds, England.
LAST UPDATE: 14 Oct 2023
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There’s an unmistakable charm about the Cotswolds.
Dreamy honey-coloured cottages, impossibly cute villages, and idyllic English countryside.
The Cotswolds has a reputation for serving the afternoon tea crowd. And this it does. But, scratch under the surface, and there’s a host of interesting things to do.
Learn about Victorian-era brewing methods. Relive the history of moody monarchs. Stroll historic UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
After exploring the charming places to visit in the Cotswolds, grab a pair of hiking boots and take a walk through the rolling countryside. Stroll through forgotten hamlets, have a pint at a country pub, and enjoy one of the best things to do in the Cotswolds.
If you’re coming from London, the Cotswolds is one of our favourite London day trips.
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE COTSWOLDS
We lived in the Cotswolds for several years, exploring the area as locals. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a curated guide to the best the Cotswolds has to offer.
1 – VISIT A COTSWOLDS VILLAGE
The Cotswolds villages are the embodiment of English charm. Steeply pitched roofs, honey-colour cottages, wonky cobbled lanes, and vibrant local energy.
Here are a few you shouldn’t miss –
Castle Combe – Thanks to a lack of tourist shops, Castle Combe has a real lived-in feel. Framed by the surrounding wooded hills, it’s an unspoilt village in a beautiful setting.
Bibury – Bibury is popular for Arlington Row – the small row of weaver cottages set behind a wild meadow. Early in the morning, with mist rising from the water, the honey-coloured cottages shimmer in the haze.
Bourton-on-the-Water – A picturesque canal runs down the high street with handsome stone bridges connecting either side of the road. There’s a car museum, a model village, and a local brewery.
The Slaughters – Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are two of the most scenic villages in England. The River Eye winds its way past stone cottages and cute churches connected by romantic bridges.
Read more on our guide to the best Cotswolds villages.
2 – HIKE THE COTSWOLDS WAY
The Cotswolds Way is a 102-mile (164-kilometre) walking trail from Chipping Campden to the city of Bath along the edge of the Cotswolds Escarpment. The hike includes pastures, woodlands, stately homes, and neolithic burial sites.
Fortunately, you can get a taste of the Cotswolds Way on several (much shorter) day hikes.
BROADWAY CIRCULAR (6.6 KM | 2 HOURS | EASY)
This hike over an easy-to-follow path starts and ends in the beautiful village of Broadway and visits Broadway Tower, a folly with views from the highest point in the Cotswolds.
STANTON TO SNOWSHILL (11 KM | 3.5 HOURS | MEDIUM)
The route from Stanton to Snowshill climbs to the top of the Cotswolds escarpment with views over the Cotswolds farmland. Finish at the Snowshill Arms – one of our favourite pubs in the Cotswolds.
CLEEVE HILL (14.2 KM | 4.5 HOURS | STRENUOUS)
The unusually desolate environment at Cleeve Hill makes a great contrast to the typically green Cotswolds scenery. This walk visits Belas Knap, a Neolithic burial mound, along with sweeping hillside plains.
Read more in our guide to the best Cotswolds walks.
3 – DEVOUR THE COTSWOLDS PRODUCE
There’s an artisan edge to the Cotswolds that bestows tasty morsels, craft spirits and local ales on visitors intent on seeking out the best the area has to offer. Here are our picks.
Cotswolds Distillery – Learn about the production techniques of the award-winning whiskies, gins, and liqueurs at this sleek and modern distillery in Stourton.
Daylesford Organic – The organic farm cafe at Daylesford has a Michelin Green Star for its commitment to sustainability and animal welfare. Enjoy excellent local produce, a mindblowing cheese room, plus spa treatments and cooking classes.
Hook Norton Brewery – Located in a beautiful Cotswolds location, the Hook Norton Brewery still uses a Victorian brewing tower to craft their handmade ales. Tours of the brewery take place daily where you can learn their artisanal techniques and sample a drop or two.
Cotswolds Cheese Company – While they stock a few international varieties, the focus is firmly on locally produced cheeses and deli staples. They have outlets in Burford, Moreton-in-Marsh, and Stow-on-the-Wold.
4 – PICNIC AT THE MINSTER LOVELL RUINS
There are several ruins and follies in the Cotswolds, but the most scenic is Minster Lovell.
The ruins of the 15th-century manor house rest on a grassy field beside the River Windrush and include a hall, a crumbling tower, and a dovecote.
It’s beautifully atmospheric and the ideal spot to enjoy a picnic on a sunny afternoon.
There is also a small reed-fringed weir pool about 5 minutes’ walk upstream which is perfect for a refreshing wild swim. All the details are in our guide to wild swimming in the Thames.
HOW TO GET TO MINSTER LOVEL
Minster Lovell is 16 miles west of Oxford off the B4047. Follow the signs to the lower village. The ruins are a 10-minute walk from the village.
Parking – The ruins are at the end of a narrow dead-end lane where parking is not permitted. Park in the village (being careful not to block access) or at the small parking lot at the end of the village.
DETAILS | MINSTER LOVELL RUINS
cost – free | hours – any time during daylight | drones – not permitted | location – OX29 0RR
5 – VISIT CHEDWORTH ROMAN VILLA
Built between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, the Chedworth Roman Villa was the largest Roman village in England consisting of bathhouses with ornate mosaics and underfloor heating.
Today it’s little more than the remaining foundations, but it’s worth a visit for the extraordinarily well-preserved mosaics alone. Walk along suspended walkways to examine the ornate work which is the most complete Roman mosaics in England that remain in their original position.
The onsite museum displays various objects found at the site and there’s a cafe serving basic snacks and ice cream which you can take out to the lovely picnic area.
DETAILS | CHEDWORTH ROMAN VILLA
cost – adult £12, child £6 | hours – 10 am to 4 pm | facilities – cafe, museum, shop | parking – free | location – GL54 3LJ
6 – ENJOY A CLASSIC COTSWOLDS RESTAURANT
The food scene in the Cotswolds is perhaps best known for traditional English pubs. However, there’s a diversity just waiting to be untapped. Here are some great ways to get culinary in the Cotswolds.
High Tea, The Manor House – The Manor House in Castle Combe delivers a decadent homemade high tea in one of their sumptuous lounges or on their outdoor terrace. The setting is beautiful, the sandwiches dainty and the champagne free-flowing.
Pudding Club, Three Ways Hotel – Intent on preserving the tradition of the great British pudding, Pudding Club at the Three Ways Hotel in Mickleton parades around 7 traditional puddings on a trolley for a decadent selection.
Wild Rabbit, Kingham – For culinary masterpieces in an impressive but relaxed setting, the menu at the Wild Rabbit is constructed from locally farmed produce.
The Fox Inn, Oddington – Our favourite traditional pub in the Cotswolds, The Fox has a daily changing menu comprising comforting classics and a few dishes nudging into gastropub territory.
7 – AMBLE CHARMING BATH
The Romans first built a temple in the valley of the River Avon around 60 CE, but the beautiful buildings that fill the City of Bath today were built in Georgian times to house the wealthy who were drawn to the medicinal properties of the natural springs.
Bath is a great town with a vibrant independent retail sector, a few excellent cafes and dreamy streets you could easily spend a day exploring.
WHAT TO DO IN BATH
- Visit the Roman Baths. The highlight is the Great Bath surrounded by an incredible terrace.
- Stop by the Royal Crescent to soak up the dramatic sweep of regal architecture.
- Photograph the ostentatious Bath Abbey and admire the extraordinary fan-vaulted ceiling
- Book a session at Thermae Spa, the only natural thermal spa in the UK.
All the details are on our day trip to Bath.
8 – TAKE A DAY TRIP TO OXFORD
Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ after the stunning architecture used to construct the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
To this day, it’s one of the must-visit Cotswolds attractions full of history and a cool student vibe.
WHAT TO DO IN OXFORD
- Visit Christ Church College – the grandest of all the colleges in Oxford
- Book a tour of the Bodleian Library including Duke Humfrey’s Library, one of the most impressive in the country.
- Tour the Ashmolean Museum including drawings by Michelangelo, Raphael, and da Vinci.
- Stroll the Oxford Covered Market for a taste of local Cotswolds produce.
Read more in our guide to the best things to do in Oxford.
9 – ADMIRE THE GARDENS AT HIDCOTE MANOR
The manor houses of the Cotswolds provide an opportunity to explore immaculately manicured gardens. Some are quirky, some are shrouded in mystery, but Hidcote Manor is a combination of both.
Using intricate topiary, the cottage gardens at Hidcote Manor are segmented into different outdoor spaces, each with its own character. Created by American Lawrence Johnston, Hidcote is now owned and run by the National Trust.
The gardens have been maintained in their original design which showcases Johnston’s skill. Even if gardens aren’t your thing, it’s hard not to be impressed by the creative layout and beautiful spaces.
10 – VISIT THE WESTONBIRT ARBORETUM
Westonbirt is the National Arboretum of England located just outside Tetbury.
Across the 600-acre site, there are 17 miles of marked hiking paths which provide access to a wide variety of tree and plant species from all over the world. In total there are 2,500 different species of trees at Westonbirt.
One of the best things to do at Westonbirt is wildlife spotting. Their free app allows you to take part in their conservation efforts by recording wildlife found in the forest habitats on your visit.
Make sure to visit the Old Arboretum, a beautifully landscaped area with avenues framed by exotic trees, and the Silk Wood, a traditional working woodland area.
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11 – TRY A TRADITIONAL ENGLISH PUB
One of the best things to do in the Cotswolds is to visit a traditional English country pub. After several years living in the area, here are our favourites.
Falkland Arms, Great Tew – For a proper English pub in the Cotswolds it’s hard to go past the Falkland Arms. The relaxed rustic mood is accentuated by the warm banter resonating from friendly locals and their dogs snoozing by the fire.
The King’s Head, Bledington – Set in front of a small green with an ice cream van operating throughout summer, the King’s Head is a perfect country pub for a lazy Sunday lunch. Book in advance and ask for a table in the bar area.
The Ebrington Arms, Ebrington – This 17th-century country inn has a buzzing atmosphere and an excellent beer garden. They’re renowned for their award-winning food elevates the traditional pub classics.
12 – VISIT BLENHEIM PALACE
Blenheim Palace is the kind of opulence that makes you wonder why you weren’t born into a different family.
As the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim is an imposing, grand building and the only non-royal residence called a palace.
Stroll through the sumptuous palace state rooms with 300 years of history and rich baroque architecture that have earned the palace a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Outside, a stroll around the 2000 acres of landscape parklands is a wonderful thing to do in the Cotswolds on a crisp morning before exploring the landscaped English garden.
Explore yourself or join a tour that includes a couple of Cotswolds villages and Bampton, where Downton Abbey was filmed.
TIP – GETTING FREE ACCESS TO BLENHEIM PARK
Although the palace and gardens are expensive, it’s possible to enter the park for free. Just off the main road in Woodstock, enter a green gate with the number 95 on it. This is the free public footpath into Blenheim which allows access to the grounds up to the bridge.
The exact location is here.
DETAILS | BLENHEIM PALACE
cost – £35 (palace + gardens); £22.50 (gardens) | hours – 10:30 am to 3:45 pm (palace); 9 am to 6 pm | location – OX20 1UL
13 – ADMIRE LACOCK ABBEY
Lacock Abbey, founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, is a quirky country house with varying architectural styles inherited over the centuries.
The medieval rooms contain a clock house, a brewery and a bakehouse. Outside, walking paths meander through the parkland which includes a beautiful Rose Garden and a botanic Garden created by Henry Fox Talbot who invented the photographic process.
Many parts of the original 13th-century building remain untouched making the Abbey a favourite location for movies including Harry Potter and The Other Boleyn Girl.
DETAILS | LACOCK ABBEY
cost – £18.50 adult; £9.40 child | hours – 10 am to 4 pm | facilities – cafe, shop, toilets, car park | location – SN15 2LG
14 – SHOP FOR ANTIQUES IN STOW-ON-THE-WOLD
Outside London, the Cotswolds has the highest concentration of antique shops in England.
Cheltenham and Cirencester are renowned for their excellent antiques scene, but for something more local and charming, our pick of the Cotswolds antiques destinations is Stow-on-the-Wold.
This lovely market town is located at the top of a hill and has a walkable main street and large market square.
The antique shops in Stow include everything from galleries with faithfully restored pieces to rambling arcades with battered treasures and colourful sellers. It’s the perfect place to pick up a quirky item or interesting art piece.
15 – ENCOUNTER ROYALTY AT SUDELEY CASTLE
Sudeley Castle is a voyage through English royal history.
The commanding residence was home to heavyweights such as Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I. While the building is fascinating enough, the 10 gardens that surround the castle grounds are an evocative stroll through English horticultural styles.
The Queens’ Garden contains over 80 different types of roses, while the Physic Garden still produces herbs once used to cure royalty of their ailments. The star, however, is the wild unkempt garden in the old ruins – one of the most evocative must-visit attractions in the Cotswolds.
DETAILS | SUDELEY CASTLE
cost – adults £18.50; child £8.75 | hours – 10 am to 4 pm | location – GL54 5LP
16 – GO TO A COTSWOLD FESTIVAL
The Cotswolds has turned itself into a venue for some of the country’s biggest festivals. For the foodies, musos, bookworms or party-goers, here’s a selection of events in the Cotswolds.
CHELTENHAM LITERATURE FESTIVAL (6-15 OCTOBER 2023)
Over 10 days, the Cheltenham Literature Festival brings together the biggest names in publishing. Hear talks by award-winning authors, attend spoken word performances and join discussions about topics from travel to adventure, art, history, and religion.
CHARLBURY BEER FESTIVAL (29 JUNE 2024)
Organised entirely by volunteers, the Charlbury Beer Festival raises money for causes both locally and in the developing world. It features live music, plenty of food, talks, and of course, beer.
WILDERNESS FESTIVAL (1-4 AUGUST 2024)
As the premier Cotswolds event, Wilderness Festival has well-being retreats, great dining experiences, and outdoor craft classes. But the big drawcard is the incredible music. The 2023 lineup includes The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and the Sugarbabes.
BIG FEASTIVAL (23-25 AUGUST 2024)
The Big Feastival includes food demonstrations, a cheese disco, and table sessions with notable chefs. Take a cooking lesson, enjoy a huge variety of food, or just party into the wee hours with one great act after another.
COTSWOLDS, ENGLAND MAP
We’ve captured all these fantastic things to do in the Cotswolds on the below map so you can start planning your next getaway. If you’re planning a mini-break, read our guide to the best Cotswolds day trips.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE COTSWOLDS
The versatility of these great things to do in the Cotswolds makes it a great year-round destination.
In summer, enjoy a walk in the Cotswolds or visit villages bathed in sunshine. However, summer is the busiest time of year, so accommodation will be more expensive and some of the villages will be bursting with tourists.
Few other areas in the country display rusty autumn colours quite like the Cotswolds when a stroll on a crisp day is food for the soul.
In winter, be captivated by the pretty stone villages frosted in snow as you curl up in front of an open fire with a glass of red in a country pub.
But it’s spring when the Cotswolds really come alive. The gardens are at their most beautiful; the hiking trails are full of blossom and wild garlic, and the villages are still quiet and relaxed before the summer rush.
HOW TO GET TO THE COTSWOLDS
Being centrally located in the heart of England, the Cotswolds are an excellent weekend destination. The best way to visit is in your own car, which will give you the freedom to collect many of these wonderful things to do at your leisure.
There are train stations at Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh, Evesham (near Broadway), Bath, Charlbury and Oxford, but the buses that connect the villages can be rather infrequent. We have more information about getting around the area in our guide to the best villages in the Cotswolds.
With villages spread around a large area and buses infrequent joining a tour is an excellent way to see the highlights.
WHERE TO STAY
From sleepy hamlets to cities with imposing stately homes; bucolic rural countryside to the dramatic landscape of the escarpment, there are plenty of interesting things to do in the Cotswolds that make it a great place to visit for a weekend.
Our guide to staying in the Cotswolds includes a breakdown of each area along with hotel recommendations for every budget.
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