Why we love the Cotswolds
Beauty, adventure, culture – the Cotswolds has it all. Famous for its lush rolling pastures, pretty stone villages and rambling rivers, this rural belle has graced countless books, artworks and TV shows – but does it live up to the hype? Absolutely. From the willow-shaded banks of the River Thames, and Blenheim Palace’s lavish décor, to the honey-coloured cottages of Bourton-on-the-Water, Chipping Campden and Burford – it’s all just as idyllic as you imagine.
The Cotswolds was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, an accolade it more than lives up to – but this landscape isn’t just for admiring. There are ancient castles to explore, wild lakes to kayak, local wines to taste, and endless trails to hike, cycle and ride.
Totalling nearly 800 square miles (2,000 square km), the region spans six west-central counties, yet is just 90 minutes from London. With so much to see, do and discover, here’s how to plan your trip.
Find the prettiest spot
Which is the fairest village of all? With rose-covered cottages, antique shops and steeple-topped churches, the Cotswolds’ rural communities are utterly charming – such as Snowshill, Asthall and Stow-on-the-Wold. Castle Combe might look familiar: it was a filming location for Downton Abbey.
Get a date in the diary
Music, arts, literature, food… the festival calendar is full to the brim. For artisan food and big-name bands, check out The Big Feastival (August), while The Cotswold Show (July) promises craft stalls, falconry, dog shows and more. Other highlights include the Cotswold Beer Festival, live music at Barn on the Farm, and global culture at WOMAD.
Relax at the spa
The Cotswolds boasts some seriously sumptuous spas. Pamper-seeking locals head to Calcot Manor, Dormy House and Thyme – which even has a springwater swimming pool. Or, indulge your spiritual side with Bamford Wellness’s sound-bath healing, breathwork and meditation sessions.
Plan a big day out
Dawn ’til dusk, fill your days with adventure: from meeting giraffes at Cotswold Wildlife Park and feeding the penguins at Birdland, to exploring the cute model village at Bourton-on-the-Water. Love puzzles? Visit the Dragonfly Maze. Celebrating? Raise a toast at Cotswold Distillery. There really is something for everyone.
See a different side of history
The region’s historic houses and palaces are packed with fun things to do – such as sculpture trails and movie screenings at Sudeley Castle, festive lights and live music at Longleat House, and festivals galore at Blenheim Palace. The National Trust’s Chastleton House also runs behind-the-scenes tours.
Go wild on the water
Make waves! With its sandy beach, nature reserves and watersports centres, Cotswold Water Park is idyllic in summer – whether you’re wild swimming, kayaking, windsurfing or jet skiing. There are 150 lakes to explore, plus water-view hotels, glamping lodges and a floating obstacle course.
Things to do in Cotswolds
Featured things to do
The mighty River Thames (which runs through the heart of London) begins its journey near Kemble – where it’s little more than a trickle. In spring, the tranquil riverside Thames Path is a joy to ramble.
Take a sweet-scented walk through the Cotswold Lavender meadows, as they bloom a magnificent purple – or discover the pink and lilac blossoms at Wyke Manor’s Confetti Fields.Learn more about Cotswold Lavender
It’s harvest time at Poulton Hill Estate vineyard, and you’re invited for a day of grape-picking, wine tasting and a home-cooked lunch. The region’s many wineries offer tours and tastings year-round.
Feast on gingerbread and glühwein in the Cotswolds’ Christmas markets: the likes of Broadway, Burford and Cirencester are full of festive cheer, while Bourton-on-the-Water’s twinkling Christmas tree sits right on the river.
Places to stay in Cotswolds
If walls could talk, the Cotswolds’ historic hotels would tell tales of holidaying monarchs and noble families. If you love fine dining, plush décor and five-star service, look no further.
Make yourself at home in a picture-perfect stone cottage. In villages and towns all over the region, these traditional homes often feature log burners, roll-top baths and gardens.
Take your pick from bell tents, shepherd’s huts and cosy yurts, all set in woodlands and wildflower meadows. Simple pleasures are paramount, such as picnics and long country walks.
Getting to Cotswolds
With the likes of Oxford, Bristol and Bath on its doorstep, the Cotswolds is easy to reach by rail, and direct trains between London Paddington and Moreton-in-Marsh take just 90 minutes. If you’re arriving internationally, London Heathrow is around a two-hour drive, while the airports of Bristol and Birmingham are just over an hour’s transfer away.
Travelling by public transport is recommended – especially in summer, when the narrow roads can get congested. Regular trains run throughout the region, but buses venture deeper into the smaller villages and hamlets. Hire a bike to explore even further on traffic-free trails and bridleways; if you’re pedalling long-distance, Luggage Transfers can transport your suitcases.
By steam train
For a spectacular steam-powered journey between Cheltenham and Broadway, hop on board the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.
By public transport
With a Cotswolds One Day Discoverer pass, you’ll enjoy unlimited travel on the region’s plentiful buses and local trains.
If you choose to drive, opt for an electric car if possible: there are charging points all over the Cotswolds, and at many hotels too.
Want to know more?
The Cotswolds’s official website is packed with local tips and fun things to do – including the top walks, sights and villages.