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Broadway in Worcestershire, The Cotswolds, England
Broadway in Worcestershire, The Cotswolds, England

Holiday Guide to The Cotswolds

Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Kate Moss, Elizabeth Hurley, Hugh Grant, Jeremy Clarkson and dozens of other well-known names and faces call the Cotswolds home.

Honey-coloured villages, rolling hills and gastro pubs

The Cotswolds is one of England's greatest treasures. Stretching across six counties, its bucolic appeal is protected as the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK. From Bath to Berkeley and Stow-on-the-Wold to Stroud, there is something for everyone whether your tastes are sophisticated or simple.

The scale and diversity of The Cotswolds make it the sort of place you can visit year after year and always discover something new. Two thousand years of history has woven tangible layers you can see everywhere you look, from the miles of stone walls to the straight Roman roads and elegant Georgian architecture of Bath and Cheltenham.

A holiday here is an excellent choice if you like the convenience of self-catering. Not only are there fantastic markets like Stroud, where you can pick up the finest of local ingredients for a home-cooked feast, but there are also innumerable excellent country pubs and restaurants serving delicious meals if you feel like letting someone else take care of you for a change.
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Discovery DaysRainy DaysAdventure DaysLazy DaysWeekenders' GuideDid You Know?
 

Discovery Days

Discovery Days in the Cotswolds
Gloucester Cathedral

Moreton-in-Marsh

Moreton-in-Marsh is the northern gateway to the Cotswolds so a good place to start your Cotswolds adventure. With a direct rail service to and from London Paddington, Moreton-in-Marsh is often the first Cotswolds town you set eyes on when arriving by train. Attractive and with a long history, Moreton offers a good choice of pubs, shops for provisions and a busy open-air market every Tuesday for stocking up on local produce. If you're lucky enough to visit on the first Saturday in September, the Moreton-in-Marsh Agricultural Show is definitely one for the calendar.

Gloucester

Parts of Gloucester look like any other English town until you turn a corner and suddenly you're hit with the impressive sight of Gloucester Cathedral in all its splendour, or the wonky walls and windows of the Gloucester Life Museum which is in a Tudor wooden framed building dating back 500 years. The museum's entry charge, particularly the family ticket, is good value as it gives access to both this museum and the Museum of Gloucester where you can find out more about the Roman influence on the town.

It wasn't that long ago that Gloucester Docks were in sad decay. A recent programme of rejuvenation has turned the area into a pleasant place to spend a sunny afternoon, with a good choice of restaurants and pubs for lunch or dinner. The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum and the National Waterways Museum (which also has lots of useful information about the docks) are also by the Docks, and it is possible to take a boat trip along the canal between April and the end of October.

Bath

The best way to see the World Heritage City of Bath is on foot. There is a lot of information on the Visit Bath website, such as a free app, but you'll learn so much more if you follow an enthusiastic and experienced local volunteer guide from the Mayor of Bath's Corps of Honorary Guides. These tours last around two hours and are completely free, and will give you an insight not only into Bath's most famous features but also into the city's secret nooks and crannies.

The Romand Baths
Roman Baths at Bath

In addition to the Roman Baths (expensive, but worth it if you've never seen Roman ruins up close, and with public toilets conveniently inside but before you have to buy a ticket!), Bath boasts more museums than any other UK city its size, including the Fashion Museum, American Museum, Museum of East Asian Art, Victoria Art Gallery, and Bath Medical Museum. It's also a great city for shopping and eating cakes. A visit to the famous tea house and kitchen museum, Sally Lunn's, is a fun experience and is one of the oldest homes in the city and birthplace of the Bath bun. It can get crowded, particularly around lunchtime and on weekends, so a good alternative is a gelato at The Real Italian Ice-Cream Co opposite the river on York Street (cash payments only).

The Cotswold Way

Walk sections of the Cotswolds Way
Walk sections of the Cotswolds Way

80% of the Cotswolds is farmland so, as pretty as the towns and cities are, make time to get out into the countryside. There are so many footpaths to follow that you can easily find one to fit in with your available time and ability. The Cotswold Way (information and maps available on the National Trails website) takes you through countryside and villages between Chipping Campden and Bath . You would have to be pretty energetic to cover all 102 miles of the route during your holiday, so most people opt to choose one or two shorter sections of the trail. Other routes in the Cotswolds include the Heart of England Way, Gloucestershire Way and the Diamond Way. If you only have the legs for one walk, make it the one between Bourton and Lower Slaughter (approx. 5 miles).

Stow-on-the-Wold

The market town of Stow-on-the-Wold is all the best bits of the Cotswolds neatly presented in one incredibly attractive package. For starters, it's old. Why choose a bland restaurant chain for coffee or lunch when you can dine in The Porch House, which dates back to 947AD and has staked its claim as England's Oldest Inn. Far from being some stuffy relic, the bar and restaurant is a good choice for breakfast for those who like an early start, and has a fantastic gin menu.

Stow-on-the-Wold's architecture may seem pretty and quaint, but it was built to serve the market that, in its heydey, was a hub for the booming British wool industry. The narrow streets leading to Market Square were built that way to be able to herd sheep to be sold at the annual fair, the biggest in Britain where up to 20,000 sheep could be sold at a time. St Edward's Church held prisoners of the last battle of the Civil War where the Royalists were defeated to leave the way clear for Cromwell; and many of the houses in the town's centre, which date from the 1600s and 1700s, seem almost modern in comparison to the Crooked House, which was built in the mid-1400s.

Don't miss the stocks which, although replaced, have stood in the same spot to punish, shame, and deter those from a life of crime for centuries. Stow-on-the-Wold is also perfect for browsing lovely shops. Take the kids to the Cotswold Sweet Company and watch their eyes bulge at the array of treats lined up in jars, and browse the shelves of the Borzoi bookshop to discover a new favourite author.

Burford

Burford is another 'must visit' town. With its iconic Cotswolds countryside views beckoning you down the High Street, past the tantalising shops towards the River Windrush, it is hardly surprising that so many celebs choose to live in and around this highly desirable medieval town. When you have exhausted the shops and pubs in the town itself, head out to Burford Garden Centre for some more retail and food therapy. Just a short drive out of town, Burford Garden Centre sells everything from chic interior homeware, to designer clothing all under one roof so perfect if the weather is inclement.

If you need more inspiration, go and discover the Roman history of Cirencester or the elegant Georgian shops and bars of the Montpellier area in Cheltenham.

Rainy Days

Rainy days in the Cotswolds. Like virtually everywhere in Britain, The Cotswolds gets its fair share of rain. You can't begrudge a bit of wet weather through, not when it makes the scenery so green and beautiful and there is a wealth of ways to stay busy on a rainy day.

Rainy Days in the Cotswolds
Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

If you've ever wondered how much work you'd have to do to bring your home up to World Heritage Site quality, just look at Blenheim Palace. Built between 1705 and 1722, it is an enormous display of wealth and power. Blenheim is the only privately owned "palace" in Britain and is currently the home to the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. Birthplace of WWII Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, it is believed that Hitler had his eye on it for himself which is why it escaped damage from the Luftwaffe.

It is certainly worth joining one of the guided tours of the palace, even for the practical reason of not getting lost in the enormous building which has state rooms, a warren of downstairs corridors, utility rooms and sumptuous bedrooms. Some of the bathrooms are so large they were reportedly used as classrooms for a time in early 1940 when boys from nearby Malvern College were evacuated there. It is now a training centre for the Royal School of Butlers, and you can also take photography courses in the summer with the palace and grounds as your backdrop.

Blenheim Palace is not the cheapest day out, but tickets do give great value for money, and you can convert your ticket to a free annual pass to allow you to come back and enjoy the spectacular parkland and formal gardens when the weather is nicer.

Hook Norton Brewery

A brewery tour at Hook Norton is a treat for the senses. Not only is the beer tasty, but the smell also is unforgettable, and you get to admire the pretty Victorian building with original steam engines and say hello to the brewery's Shire Horses, assuming they are not out making their regular beer deliveries to pubs in the area. The tour takes around two-hours and culminates with a beer tasting session and the opportunity to buy your favourites from the shop.

Bicester

For the serious shoppers amongst you, a trip to Bicester Outlet Village is sure to brighten up the dreariest of days. Packed full of designer labels, this purpose-built shopper's paradise has over 150 shops to browse (it's as long as Oxford Street!) and attracts visitors from all around the globe. There are some fabulous savings to be had for lovers of luxury labels and plenty of time to shop, opening at 09:00 every day, and closing after 20:00 six days a week (Monday to Wednesday at 20:00, Thursday to Saturday at 21:00 and slightly earlier at 19:00 on Sunday).

Chipping Campden

Rainy Days in the Cotswolds
The ancient market hall at Chipping Campden

What Chipping Campden lacks in designer labels it more than makes up for in charm. Possibly the most photographed town in the Cotswolds, 'Chippy' as it's known by the locals has a High Street lined with magnificent historic buildings playing host to a wide array of interesting shops, cafes and eateries – just perfect for taking refuge from the rain. The Market Hall will provide a real sense of the towns history (whilst staying dry!) and if the day brightens up, Hidcote Manor is just up the road.

Cotswolds Motoring Museum and Jet Age Museum

If engines are your thing, then you'll love a rainy day spent at the Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection in Bourton-on-Water. If it was built with a vintage engine and wheels, then you'll probably find it in here as the museum is packed with classic cars, caravans, bicycles and motorcycles. The collections of toys and memorabilia are equally as fascinating, and you'll almost certainly find yourself getting nostalgic over something you once owned or desperately wanted to have as a child. It's excellent value and in one of the nicest villages in the Cotswolds to make a great day out.

The Jet Age Museum, near Gloucester, is a must for aviation enthusiasts of all ages. It's run by volunteers and only open weekends and Bank Holidays (10am - 4pm), as well as select days during August, so phone (01452 260078) or check their website before visiting. Its aviation collection includes several Gloster models and a Hawker Hurricane, and the Meteor T7 WF784 flown in by photographer Russell Adams. It's not a full day's entertainment but definitely worth a diversion if you are interested in Britain's aviation history.

WWT Slimbridge

If it's nice weather for ducks then go and see them at WWT Slimbridge. Ducks, geese and flamingos flourish here so pull your wellies on and get out and join them. A highlight of the park is feeding the tame ducks that roam freely, and you can buy special grain at the visitor centre. The children's play area is a lot of fun if there is a break in the clouds, and there are lots of places to shelter. WWT Slimbridge is the perfect way to spend a rainy day in the Cotswolds without being cooped up indoors.

Flamingos at WWT Slimbridge
Flamingo Lagoon at WWT Slimbridge

Alternatively, use the opportunity of a rainy day to tuck yourself away and taste the delights of the Cotswolds in one of the innumerable gastropubs of the area with The Fox at Oddington, The Wild Rabbit or The Plough at Kingham, the Horse and Groom at Bourton-on-the-Hill, The Ebrington Arms near Chipping Campden and The Feathered Nest at Nether Westcote being popular choices (pre-booking is a must!). The Cotswolds also has more than its fair share of stately homes and unusual properties to visit including Berkeley Castle (open April to October), Broughton Tower (open April to mid-September), Charlecote Park (open late-March to early November), and Chastleton House (open April to November).

Adventure Days

Hot Air Balloon rides over the Cotswolds
Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon ride over The Cotswolds!

If you're looking for something more adventurous than walking through stately homes and eating cake, you'll find it in at one of these fantastic attractions.

Cotswold Water Park

Sailing, canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing, paddleboarding, and a brand new inflatable floating centre of fun are just a few of the activities on offer at the Cotswold Water Park. You can also try fishing and archery, rally driving and horse riding, and test your nerve at Head 4 Heights high rope activity centre. The flat cycle path is ideal for riders of all abilities, but particularly those who may be a bit wobbly on two wheels, and there are lots of places to picnic and play games.

Cotswold Farm Park

If you watch BBC's Countryfile, then you may already be familiar with Cotswold Farm Park, as it's owned by farmer and presenter, Adam Henson. The family owned farm has been recognised both for its conservation work around rare breeds and also for its value as an attraction. A day here could include anything from stroking chicks and baby rabbits to bottle feeding lambs, taking a tractor safari, or playing in one of several play areas. Take the family for a one-day bushcraft course where you can learn to forage for food and water, built shelter and fire, and prepare and cook wild food.

Far Peak

The Cotswolds way - perfect for cycling
The Cotswolds Way, perfect for cycle rides and long walks

The Cotswolds certainly aren't known for having mountains, but you can still scale the heights at Far Peak. There's a great climbing centre with indoor and outdoor climbing walls, a low-ropes course for those who prefer to stay closer to the ground, nature trails, cycle paths and a cycling centre. There's also endless miles of adventure and incredible sights when you hike the Cotswolds hills.

Learn Dry Stone Walling

Dry stone walls are an integral part of the Cotswold landscape - so much so that if you laid all the walls end-to-end, they would be longer than the Great Wall of China! Cotswolds Rural Skills offers courses for beginners and those who have some building experience, as well as courses on scything, weaving and thatching.

Adrenaline junkies can take to the sky at the Cotswold Flying School, and there are several sites where you can get a bird's eye view from a hot air balloon.

Lazy Days

A relaxed day in the Cotswolds is just what you need to recharge your batteries.

Historic bridge over the River Windrush
Historic Bridge over the River Windrush

Bourton-on-the-Water

No guide to the Cotswolds would be complete without mention of Bourton-on-the-Water. The charming village is a favourite with tourists and can get busy (parking is often available at the coach and car park on Station Road near the Co-op supermarket), but never so much that you can't enjoy it. Take a gentle stroll along the Windrush River which is lined with beautiful stone buildings, many of which are gift shops, cafes and tea rooms. One of the nicest is Smiths of Bourton on Victoria Street. Whether you want a pot of tea and wedge of cake, or a delicious roast lunch on Sunday, the food and service are consistently excellent. With Birdland, The Motoring Museum, The Dragon Fly Maze and the Cotswolds Perfumery all in one place, Bourton-on-the-Waters is a great choice for a lazy or busy day.

Lacock

The entire village of Lacock (more information here from the National trust), including Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum, is owned and managed by the National Trust. Even first-time visitors will probably recognise parts of Lacock as it has featured in numerous films and television shows, including Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. Though preserved as one of England's oldest villages, Lacock is far from being a musty museum - it's a living, breathing embodiment of how the Cotswolds embraces its past without being held back by it.

Wyck Hill House Spa

There's probably not much lazier than a spa day. The Cotswolds has several excellent options, including Wyck Hill House Spa. They offer a wide choice of treatments for men as well as women, and guests also have use of the sauna, steam room, and quiet relaxation area. Switch off your phone and simply relax.

Hidcote Manor

The house is nice enough, but it's the gardens at Hidcote Manor (more information from the National Trust website here) that are the real draw. The expertly designed gardens are a series of outdoor rooms and are filled with beautiful plants carefully gathered from around the world by the garden's creator, Lawrence Johnston. Keen gardeners should check the calendar to see if your visit coincides with one of the Head Gardeners' Private Tour. Batsford Arboretum and Wetonbirt Arboretum are also lovely places to wander away the hours, particularly when ablaze with autumn colour.

Westonbirt Aboretum
Spend a lazy day at Westonbirt Aboretum

Go Boating

There are lots of opportunities to spend a relaxed day on the water whether you want to cruise the canals in a narrowboat for a day or spend an hour or two rowing on the Thames. Cotswold Boat Hire is a reputable firm based at The Trout Inn at Lechlade-On-Thames, as is Gloucester Narrowboats in Gloucester. You have no choice but to slow down and enjoy the view on a narrowboat, so pack a picnic and spend the day watching the world drift by.

Daylesford Cookery School

A course at the renowned Daylesford Cookery School will give you a souvenir of a different kind as you take home a skill of which you'll feel proud. Their extensive calendar of courses features something for every level of ability and taste, whether you want to learn how to cater for a dinner party that will wow your guests or make bread for your daily sandwich. Daylesford is also home to the Bamford Haybarn Spa for a relaxing day that will calm your mind and body.

The Slaughters

Lower Slaughter, The Cotswolds
The iconic footbridge in Lower Slaughter

Whilst their name might conjure up an unpleasant image, in the flesh, Upper and Lower Slaughter could not be more tranquil and beautiful. Sandwiched between Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold, these quintessential Cotswolds villages are just a pleasant walk along the River Eye from each other and the perfect place to while away an hour or two. Recorded in the Doomsday Book as far back as 1086, The Old Mill at Lower Slaughter is packed full of nostalgia with its museum and craft shop. Grab yourself one of their fabulous home-made ice creams to enjoy by the river or treat yourself to a cream tea in one of the three country manor hotels. Perfect for a lazy day or for those with limited time looking for a taste of Cotswolds life, The Slaughters are a 'must' for everyone's holiday itinerary.

Weekenders' Guide

Essential Guide to the Cotwolds
A whirlwind tour of the Cotswolds

Here are some places and activities which will give you a flavour of Cotswold life even if your time here is limited to a weekend.

Stop by the North Porch at St Edward's church in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Flanking the wooden doors are two yew trees which look like they are part of the building and, given their age, that's probably now true. The church is especially lovely in early December when it is beautifully decorated with entries into Stow-on-the-Wold's Christmas Tree Festival. If your time is short in the Cotswolds, Stow is a great place to give you a taste of local life. Parking can be tricky but there are public car parks at the Maugersbury end of the town and at Tesco's on the Fosse Way, as well as time-limited spaces in the market square and surrounding streets (check for restrictions as the traffic wardens are hot in the Cotswolds!).

Climb Broadway Tower

The tower at Broadway offers one of the finest views over the Cotswold's encompassing sixteen counties on a clear day. With lovely circular walks and the Morris and Brown Café serving tasty dishes all day long from breakfast through to late afternoon, you can take a bird's eye view over the Cotswolds. Then sit and reflect in front of the roaring log fire with a mug of hazelnut hot chocolate or a chilled glass of white on the terrace – the perfect Cotswold's experience!

Watch a polo match at Beaufort or Cirencester Park

This fast paced sport is traditionally played on Sunday so check the clubs' calendars to see if they have a fixture during your stay. It's a very family-friendly atmosphere with even well-behaved dogs being welcome.

Cheese Rolling in Brockworth

The Cotswolds are rich with diverse traditions which are celebrated at annual festivals. One of the best-known examples is Cheese Rolling, which takes place on the late May Bank Holiday Monday at Cooper's Hill. Participants chase a wheel of local cheese down the steep incline, with the victor earning not only the respect of up to 4,000 spectators but a now slightly battered wheel of cheese. If you're not fortunate enough stay over the festival, pay a visit to one of the Cotswold Cheese Companies emporiums in Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh or Burford to sample some of the area's finest artisan cheeses.

Visit the UK's sole surviving rococco garden

The Painswick Rococo garden is a sight to behold in any season. Painswick was built purely for the entertainment of a wealthy man who wanted to show off to his friends. It's hard to believe now, but the gardens were a virtual jungle until the 1980s when restoration began. Now, they are a delight of design, colour and fragrance.

Try your hand at wild swimming

Go wild swimming at Chimney Meadows for a unique Cotswolds experience that few know about; never mind get to enjoy. It's an ideal place to cool off on a steamy summer day.

Take Heed of William Morris

The Cotswolds has more than its fair share of picturesque sleepy villages but if you only have time to visit one, make it Bibury. The epitome of idyllic, William Morris described Bibury as 'the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds'. Visit and see it for yourself.

Last Minute Offers in The Cotswolds

Thinking of a break in The Cotswolds? Let us tempt you with a selection of our best last minute offers. Remember, we don't charge a booking fee, so the price you see is the price you pay.

Did you know?

...The Cotswold village of Avening is the only place in the world that celebrates Pig Face Day. The event, which takes place every two years on September 14, started in 1080 when Queen Matilda, who was married to William the Conqueror, provided a pig's head to builders of the Church of the Holy Cross.

...although the wooden stocks on the edge of Market Square in Stow-on-the-Wold are not the originals, there have been stocks in the same spot since the 1400s.

...the ghost of King Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649, has been seen at Painswick Court House, where he was a guest in 1643.

...the hedge at Bathurst Estate near Cirencester is one of the largest in England. Block your ears now if you hate gardening, because the hedge, which is 40 feet high, takes 80 hours to cut.

The Cotswolds have provided generations of writers with inspiration for some of Britain's best-loved works. From Beatrix Potter's Tailor of Gloucester (whose house is now a museum and shop), to Moreton-in-Marsh finding its way into J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as the town of Bree, and other villages and settings being used by Jane Austen, Nancy Mitford, and J. M. Barry - it's no wonder The Cotswolds are known worldwide as the epitome of English beauty and charm.