How to Plan a Perfect Trip to the Cotswolds

sheep in front of cathedral
David Knibbs / Getty Images

Britain’s worst kept secret? The Cotswolds. This charming part of the country is quintessentially British and England at its best. Unsurprisingly, the Cotswolds welcomes 38 million visitors each year—many in search of the area’s famous beauty. But what about this stunning region makes it so special?

Across 800 square miles, the Cotswolds spans five counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. A wide range of towns and villages make up this breathtaking part of the world, each of which is unique and comes with its own kind of charm.

And this region's signature? Golden "Cotswold" stone buildings and miles of rolling hills. More than 3,000 miles, in fact. The Cotswolds boast an abundance of footpaths, woodlands, meadows, and aged sites to explore. Whether you take afternoon tea, walk through the sleepy villages, or stay in a historic hotel, there’s so much to explore in the Cotswolds.

Discover exactly what to do, what to eat, where to stay, and how to make the most of your Cotswolds experience in this guide.

Planning Your Trip

  • England has varying weather, with typical northern hemisphere seasons. The summer months in the Cotswolds are often warm and mild, but they’re also peak tourism time. Fall can be the best time to visit, as temperatures are still favorable, but the villages are less busy.
  • Hiring a car is a great idea when touring the Cotswolds. The villages spread out across 100 miles of the countryside, making them easily accessible by car. British public transport is also provided in most villages and towns, with a range of bus routes available. Taxis are also an alternative option.
  • Credit cards are widely accepted in the Cotswolds; however, some places do not take American Express. The majority of hotels and restaurants will take card payments, although you may need to pay cash for markets and street stalls, among other things. ATM machines are banks can be found in the larger villages and towns. Some of the villages can be quite remote, so cell phone service may be weak. Call ahead to your accommodation to check for internet service, although most hotels are likely to provide it.

Things to Do

When visiting the Cotswolds, you’re never short of something to do. This area of natural beauty offers rural outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, or biking, as well as a full range of attractions and things to do. Take a look at some of the most notable below to plan your itinerary.

Exploring the towns and villages

  • Savor the true Cotswold experience by strolling around one of the many pretty villages, such as Bourton on the Water, with its riverside shops and classic tea houses; or Bibury, with its row of 17th-century weaver’s cottages.
  • Roam around the many market towns, like Stow-on-the-Wold and its charming market square, antique stores, and art galleries; or Chipping Norton and its regular craft fairs and local concerts.
  • Step into the buzz of a bustling Cotswold town like Cheltenham, known for its horse racing events; or Cirencester, with its many museums and lively Brewery Arts Centre.
  • Or take in an aerial view of the rolling Cotswold countryside from a hot air balloon to truly see it all.

Visiting historic houses and sites

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom.
OlegAlbinsky / Getty Images

Enjoying nature and notable gardens

  • Head to Westonbirt Arboretum or Batsford Arboretum, the botanic gardens centered around trees.
  • Visit the Rococo Gardens in Painswick to enjoy a seasonal display of plants, flowers, fruits, and accompanying festivities.
  • Explore the gardens of Highgrove House, the family residence of The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
  • Walk the Cotswold Way, take in nature, and explore the 100-mile trail of rambling paths and public footpaths.

Relaxing and unwinding

  • Indulge in the Bath Thermae Spa; the modern rooftop natural thermal spa set in a gorgeous historical building.
  • Explore the beautiful Cotswolds surroundings from afar by taking the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway heritage steam train between Broadway and Cheltenham.
  • Hire a classic car and tour through the villages, stopping for a spot of lunch or afternoon tea, to really indulge in a classic British experience.

And fun for all the family

  • Enjoy a day out with the children at Cotswold Farm Park, to pet the animals and take part in a range of events; Cotswold Wildlife Park, to see a range of animals, wildlife, and attractions; or Birdland, to meet your favorite and rare birds.
  • Experience a waterside adventure among more than 40 square miles of countryside and 150 lakes at infamous Cotswold Water Park. Find adventure activities like archery, horseback riding, or shooting, and watersports such as waterskiing, kayaking, or paddleboarding, or visit the inland Cotswold Country Park & Beach.
  • Stop by the Cotswold stone Model Village in the picture-perfect Bourton on the Water.

What To Eat & Drink

The Cotswolds offers a wide variety of food, and can easily accommodate your tastes and needs. Alongside traditional British fares, such as fish and chips and afternoon tea, enjoy fine dining, street food, and international influences in casual or classic settings. That’s the beauty of the Cotswolds; you can choose from pub grub or a Michelin starred experience—or even a blend of both! And a full range of British craft beers, cocktails, and fine wines can be found throughout the many towns and villages.

Classic British food

  • Dine on British staples such as fish and chips at the award-winning Simpsons Fish and Chips, or a full roast Sunday lunch with all the trimmings at The Halfway House in Kineton.
  • Find a traditional afternoon tea served up all throughout the Cotswolds. Some of the best can be found at The Slaughters Manor, with its stylish surroundings; Whatley Manor, set in a gorgeous manor house; and Well Walk Tea Room, and its quaint antique décor.

Fine Dining

  • The Michelin Starred Le Champignon Sauvage offers classic French food, for both lunch and dinner.
  • Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park, with it’s Michelin Star, serves exciting seasonal dishes surrounded by elegance and sophistication.
  • Purslane in Cheltenham, for a creative menu centered around seafood, served in a stylish yet relaxed setting.

Casual favorites

  • Enjoy delicious British fare in a relaxed setting at local gems like The Porch House in Stow on the Wold or the Gloucester Old Spot in Cheltenham.
  • Relax in a thoroughly English environment at The Wheatsheaf Inn, Cheltenham, or The Lamb Inn, Burford to taste some of the best cooking around.
Lygon Arms
Courtesy of the Lygon Arms

Where To Stay

It’s safe to say that the Cotswolds has an abundance of incredible accommodation. Whether you want to live it up in luxury, stay in a quaint country cottage, or tour from town to town, you’ll find it here.

  • Find The Dial House, the charming bed and breakfast hotel, in Bourton on the Water.
  • Enjoy an indulgent stay at The Lygon Arms with its first-class spa facilities, found on the Broadway high street.
  • The Inn For All Seasons at Burford is in a stunning location and is the perfect blend of character and contemporary.
  • When in Cheltenham, treat yourself to a special stay at Ellenborough Park, or enjoy a quaint experience at The Bradley.
  • If you’re looking to go camping, the Campden Yurts at Chipping Campden are lots of fun.
  • In Cirencester, The Old Brewhouse is a sweet B&B to stay at, and it just a short walk from the town center.
  • When in the market town of Moreton in Marsh, stay in the old coaching inn, White Hart Royal.
  • The Sheep on Sheep Street in Stow on the Wold offers and warm and accommodating stay.

Getting There

The Cotswolds are accessible by air, road, rail, and sea, so choose your arrival process based on your own preferences. The region is in easy reach of London (around two hours by car or rail), should you fly into any one of London’s airports, such as Heathrow or Gatwick. Nearby airports also include Birmingham International Airport or Bristol Airport. The option to travel by ferry from New York City to Southampton is also available and can take around a week.