With this itinerary, tour the historic towns and chocolate-box pretty villages of the Cotswolds region of south west England. Enjoy breath-taking countryside, shop for antiques, visit one of Britain’s greatest palaces, and discover more about British history, including the Arts & Crafts Movement and the life and work of one of the country’s most renowned composers.
Where to stay
Dating from the 14th-century The Lygone Arms in the idyllic Cotswold village of Broadway has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment. In addition to 86 guestrooms and a luxurious spa, there are now two new restaurants, a dedicated afternoon tea room, and a summer alfresco courtyard.
The Kings Hotel in Chipping Campden is a small boutique hotel with 14 rooms in the main house plus 5 cottage rooms, all furnished in an eclectic style. There’s also a bar and restaurant serving modern British food.
An impressive budget option is the Royal Agricultural University on the outskirts of the town of Cirencester. Set in the university’s magnificent grounds, a range of en-suite double, twin and single rooms are available all year round.
Day 1: Cheltenham
A smart 18th-century spa town, Cheltenham is an ideal gateway to the picturesque Cotswolds region. Located 2 hours north west of London by train (travelling either via the city of Birmingham, 40mins by train to the north, or via the city of Bristol, 40mins by train to the south), Cheltenham is the most complete Regency town in Britain.
Visit the Wilson Museum and Art Gallery to discover more about Cheltenham’s history, or visit the Holst Birthplace Museum to discover more about one of the town’s most famous sons. Renowned British composer Gustav Holst, best know for his work The Planets, was born in this Regency terraced house in 1874, and today it’s a fascinating place to learn more of Holst’s life and music, as well as discovering more about British domestic life at the end of the 19th century.
World famous sporting events and festivals are held here throughout the year – Cheltenham’s epic festival calendar includes horse racing, literature, science and jazz. Of particular note is the Cheltenham Gold Cup Festival, the pinnacle of national hunt horse racing, with Gold Cup day itself attracting more than 70,000 people. It’s also a great shopping destination, with a High Street and Promenade brimming with independent boutiques, antique and lifestyle shops. Regarded British department store John Lewis opened here in late 2018, further elevating Cheltenham’s shopping desirability.
When it’s time for lunch or dinner, Cheltenham offers a vast array of award-winning restaurants, ranging from the recently opened Japanese restaurant Koj by a finalist of TV’s MasterChef, to the two Michelin starred Le Champignon Sauvage. For an overview of Cheltenham’s food and drink scene, take a Cotswold Foodie Tour or one of the regular Brewery Tours with Brewerism.
From Easter 2018, visitors can make their onward journey from Cheltenham by steam train. After an absence of half a century, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway now runs regular passenger services over the 15 miles of tracks between the beautiful Cotswolds village of Broadway to Cheltenham Racecourse, with station stops at the villages of Toddington, Abbey Halt, Winchcombe and Gotherington.
Day 2: Broadway, Chipping Campden and arts & crafts
As its name suggests, a wide main street lined with independent shops, restaurants, and antique shops dominates the village of Broadway. Enjoy far reaching views from the top of Broadway Tower, the highest castle in the Cotswolds. Arrive early to take breakfast in the tower’s café, or enjoy a lazy lunch or afternoon tea here. Located on the popular Cotswold Way circular walk, the tower is an ideal point from which to begin a leisurely walk or energetic hike. Before leaving Broadway, visit the Gordon Russell Design Museum, showcasing the life and work of this design pioneer and key figure in Britain’s Arts & Crafts Movement.
15mins west of Broadway by car is Chipping Campden. Frequently described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Cotswold towns, Chipping Campden is also one of best preserved and most historically important. Its oldest properties Grevel’s House and Woolstaplers Hall were both built in the 14th-century. The town prospered as a centre of the wool industry, and its church of St James is one of the region’s finest wool churches. Chipping Campden has remained a mecca for arts and crafts throughout the centuries, a fact reflected by several of its key tourist attractions. Having celebrated its tenth birthday in 2017, Court Barn is a delightfully small museum dedicated to craft and design. Housed in an historic silk mill, home to the Guild of Handicraft, The Gallery At The Guild is a co-operative where artists and craftspeople exhibit their work. The mill is also home to British tableware and kitchenware designer Robert Welch – his internationally renowned business was established here in one tiny room in 1955. Visit the Robert Welch Studio Shop to see the current range as well as peruse the design archive.
Day 3: The Five Valleys and Severn Vale
Around 35mins south of Cheltenham by train or car is the town of Stroud. Situated at a point where a group of valleys converge (known as the Five Valleys), the town has a bohemian ambience thanks to the numerous artists and craftspeople who live in these peaceful, hidden valleys. A centre for contemporary arts, Stroud’s eclectic mix of independent shops, cafes and galleries are a delight to explore. It’s also home to one of the country’s best farmers’ markets, and stalls selling delicious local produce fill the streets every Saturday morning – a perfect place to buy a picnic lunch. Tourist attractions include the lovely Museum In The Park, or reflect upon Stroud’s woollen mill heritage by strolling along the towpath of the Cotswold Canals.
From here, continue onto the hilltop town of Painswick to wander the pretty streets or visit its spectacular churchyard.
Spend the afternoon in the beautiful Severn Vale. History buffs can head to the town of Berkeley, home to the magnificent Berkeley Castle, dating from the 12th-century; and the fascinating Dr Jenner’s House, the 18th-century home of a doctor whose work on immunology changed the world, most notably as pioneer of the smallpox vaccination. Animal lovers will instead favour the wetland wildlife reserve at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre or Cattle Country adventure farm park.
Day 4: The Eastern Cotswolds
The quintessential Cotswold town of Burford has plenty to offer, making it an excellent base from which to explore the eastern Cotswolds. 30mins east of here by car is the fine Georgian town of Woodstock, famous as the gateway to Blenheim Palace. The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, this masterpiece of 18th-century baroque architecture houses some of the finest antiques in Europe. Landscaped by Capability Brown, its 2000 acres of parkland feature formal gardens, lake, butterfly house, and a giant hedge maze.
The small riverside towns of Fairford and Lechlade are ideal places to stop for lunch and a leisurely stroll along the river. Another suggestion is Cotswold Water Park. With 150 lakes set over 40 square miles, activities on offer include kayaking and rowing as well as more sedate choices like birdwatching. There’s also an excellent café.
End the day in the village of Bampton, familiar as one of the main locations for British TV drama Downton Abbey.
Day 5: The Central Cotswolds
With its pretty little bridges crossing a gently flowing river, Bourton-on-the-Water is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. Its river becomes an unusual focal point at certain times of the year: on one August afternoon for over 100 years, the local football team has played a game of football actually in the river, and at Christmas time, a Christmas tree is also placed in the river. Visitor attractions in this popular village include The Model Village – a model of the actual village, built in Cotswold stone to 1/9th scale. This miniature attraction celebrated its 80th birthday in 2017.
Drive 10mins north to nearby Stow-on-the-Wold, another quintessentially Cotswold town with independent shops, antique centres, cosy cafes and inns all built in the mellow local stone.
30mins west by car, Winchcombe is sometimes considered the hidden jewel in the Cotswold crown. As well as a good range of shops, and rows of lovely cottages and almshouses, another must-see place here is Sudeley Castle with its stunning gardens and 1,000 years of royal history, including connections to two of Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr.
The Cotswolds are in south west England, 2 hours west of London by train.