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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 06 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Annabelle Thorpe

Few places in the British Isles evoke a quintessential sense of England like the Cotswolds. The region spans five counties, with rolling hills and clusters of stone cottages that form picturesque villages and small towns.

It’s weekend break heaven, with luxurious, cosy hotels, gastropubs and a lattice of walking routes crossing the wooded valleys and steep escarpments. There are urban pleasures too – the region is flanked by some of Britain’s most iconic, beautiful towns, including Oxford, Bath, Stratford and Cheltenham.

Orientation

The Cotswolds sprawls across Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire, covering nearly 800sq miles. Visit Broadway Tower, the Cotswold’s highest point, for views over up to 16 counties.

Bath and Cheltenham are at the far western end of the region, with Oxford at the East, while Cirencester and Evesham are the southern/northern tips.

The pretty towns of Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-the-Marsh lie at the centre of the region, with Chipping Campden perhaps the most iconic and beautiful Cotswold town.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Blenheim Palace

Woodstock, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

One of Britain’s greatest country houses, and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim boasts 300 years of history in a spectacular setting.

Best for ages: 13+ | £32

Highgrove Gardens

Tetbury, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

A beautiful, organic and sustainable garden, Highgrove is also the private home of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

Best for ages: 14+ | £2,950

6 prettiest villages in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, United Kingdom (UK)

Picturesque high streets, historic market squares, cosy pubs and traditional tea shops – the villages that dot the Cotswolds are some of England’s prettiest.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

exterior of Berkeley Castle, with red stone walls
Experience

Berkeley Castle

Berkeley, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

A spectacular fortress, home to the Berkeley family since the late 12th century, surrounded by a beautiful grounds and deer park, with regular history-themed events.

Best for ages: 18+ | £15

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A street with luxury shops on either side.
Experience

Bicester Village

Bicester, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

Home to over 160 luxury fashion, lifestyle and homeware shops, Bicester is one of the biggest discount outlet centres in the UK.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Exterior of a tower on a hill on a sunny day.
Experience

Broadway Tower

Broadway, Worcestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

An 18th-century folly designed by Capability Brown, the Tower is the highest point in the Cotswolds, with views over 16 counties.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Exterior of a traditional cheese shop along the high street.
Experience

Cotswold Cheese Company

Burford, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

Heaven for cheese lovers, the CCC stocks over 120 types of cheese, with a strong focus on local producers. They also have shops in Moreton-in Marsh and Stow-on-the-World.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Cowley Manor & Spa

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

Multi-award-winning luxury but family-friendly hotel and exceptional spa set in 55-acre gardens, ideally located for exploring the beautiful Cotswolds.

Official star rating:

Barnsley House

Cirencester, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

A charming 17th-century manor house hotel, with a lovely spa, three restaurants and glorious gardens.

Official star rating:

Thyme

Lechlade, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

A rolling Cotswold estate that combines a luxury manor house hotel, gastropub, spa and cookery school, in bucolic surroundings.

Official star rating:

Lygon Arms

Broadway, Worcestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

The Cotswold’s oldest hotel offers sumptuous bedrooms, one of the region’s grandest dining rooms and cosy, fire-lit lounges. Located in one of the Cotswolds prettiest villages.

Official star rating:

When to go

The summer months – and particularly the school holidays of July and August – sees the Cotswolds throng with tourists.

Far better to visit if you can in September or October, when the villages are quieter and the countryside is ablaze with autumn colour. Equally beautiful are the spring months of April and May, when the fields are alive with daffodils and new-born lambs.

Getting there and away

Bath, Cheltenham and Oxford all have excellent train connections from London. Heathrow Airport is just over an hour’s drive from the Cotswolds; Bristol airport around the same.

The Oxford Tube is an hourly bus service from London Victoria to Oxford, from where connecting buses and trains go to various towns in the Cotswolds area. Around two hours’ drive from London.

Getting around

The Cotswolds is a large area so to explore it properly it’s best to have a car – although in summer the single-lane country roads are horribly busy. The only train stations in the Cotswolds are at Moreton-in-Marsh, Stroud and Stonehouse, with links to London and Birmingham.

Cycling is an excellent way to discover the Cotswolds; there are miles of bridleways and cycle paths that offer the chance to escape the busy roads.

Where to stay

North of the A40 is where most of the major tourist honeypots are – Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway and Moreton-in-the-Marsh, while the southern Cotswolds are quieter and less visited.

Not all Cotswold villages are overrun with tourists; Blockley is a hidden gem with pretty houses and a great village shop for picnic supplies.

Excellent walking (and fishing) is to be found in the Windrush Valley, home to the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter, while for long-distance hiking, Chipping Campden, Broadway and Winchcombe are all on the way

First timers looking for the quintessential Cotswolds experience should stay in Broadway or Chipping Camden, while those after a more tranquil, crowd-free break should stay south, in Tetbury or Bibury.

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination

Other guides relevant to this destination

Bristol destination guide

United Kingdom (UK)

Bristol is the beating heart of the UK’s South West, with an offbeat focus on culture and the arts plus interactive history, a cutting-edge independent food scene and street eats all on offer.

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