Walk the lanes of pretty villages and the trails of bucolic countryside; have a proper pint in a real pub and discover some of our favourite places to visit in the Cotswolds.
There’s an unmistakable charm about the Cotswolds. Dreamy honey-coloured cottages, impossibly cute villages and some of the most idyllic English countryside on offer. It is, rightly so, one area of the UK firmly on the radar of tourists and day-trippers from London.
Although much of what draws the busloads of crowds to the Cotswolds is not our cup of tea, scratch under the surface and there’s a host of interesting things to do for all types of travellers.
There are things to learn – like the Victorian era brewing methods still in use today at the Hook Norton Brewery. There’s intriguing history – like the famous monarchs who have stormed in and out of Sudeley Castle and the legacies that have created all the wonderful things to do in Oxford.
And there’s walking – sublime country tracks over beautiful rolling countryside.
Despite being a popular tourist spot, the Cotswolds can be surprisingly quiet in some of the less-visited areas. So, if you’re curious, outdoorsy and slightly adventurous, then some of our favourite things to do in the Cotswolds might be yours as well.
It’s not an exhaustive list of everything you could do in the Cotswolds, but it’s some of the best activities for your next weekend away.
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IN THIS GUIDE
BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE COTSWOLDS
1 – VISIT THE COTSWOLDS VILLAGES
The Cotswolds villages are the embodiment of English charm. Steep pitched roofs, honey-colour cottages and wonky cobbled lanes. Here are our four favourites, but you can find more on our guide to visiting the best Cotswold villages.
Thanks to a lack of tourist shops, Castle Combe has a real lived-in feel. Framed by the surrounding wooded hills, it’s an unspoilt village in a beautiful setting. Pick a spot by the bridge overlooking the old weaver’s cottages and enjoy one of the most charming and tranquil settings in the Cotswolds.
Often described as the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds, Bibury has earned its reputation from the small row of weaver cottages set behind a wild meadow. Arlington Row is one of the most photographed spots in the Cotswolds. It’s easy to see why. Early in the morning, with mist rising from the water, the honey-coloured cottages magically shimmer in the haze. It’s one of our favourite places to visit in the Cotswolds.
Read Next – Best walks in the Cotswolds
Bourton-on-the-Water is more a town than a village, but it’s still a beauty. A picturesque canal runs down the high street with handsome stone bridges connecting either side of the road. Trendy cafes mix with quaint tea rooms, great bakeries and ice cream stands. There are also plenty of things to do here: the car museum, the model village and the local brewery are some of our picks.
UPPER & LOWER SLAUGHTER
Having remained untouched for over a century, the villages of Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are two of the most beautiful must-see places in the Cotswolds. The River Eye winds its way through honey-coloured cottages and cute churches with little bridges dotted along the brook. Take a short walk between the two and soak up the quintessential English countryside that connects these two charming Cotswolds places.
Read Next – Cotswold weekend break ideas
2 – HIKE IN THE COTSWOLDS
The Cotswolds Way is the best long-distance path in the Cotswolds. On its 164-kilometre journey from Chipping Camden to Bath, it crosses the highest point in the Cotswolds and visits many of the most magical villages. However, you don’t need to walk the whole lot in one go; get a taster on any of these excellent day hikes.
The circular walk from the village of Broadway past the Broadway Tower is an achievable 7-kilometre hike over an easy-to-follow path. It starts and ends in the beautiful village of Broadway, collecting the strange folly of Broadway Tower on the way. As the second-highest point in the region, admiring the view from the top at sunset is one of the most magical things to do in the Cotswolds.
STANTON TO SNOWSHILL
The route from Stanton to Snowshill climbs to the top of the Cotswolds escarpment providing great views over the surrounding countryside. Less visited than many other villages, Stanton and Snowshill are both idyllic charmers with excellent pubs. If you are wondering where to go in the Cotswolds for the best post-hike pint in a lovely setting, it doesn’t get much better than The Snowshill Arms at the top of the village.
If you like your scenery more rugged then try the hike over Cleeve Hill. The unusually desolate environment at the top of the hill – the highest point in the Cotswolds – is matched with the more familiar rolling countryside lower down. On route, the path visits Belas Knap, a Neolithic burial mound and the village of Winchcombe. It’s a wonderful day out and one of the best places in the Cotswolds for sweeping views.
Read Next – Best walks in the Cotswolds
3 – DEVOUR LOCAL PRODUCE
There’s an artisan edge to the Cotswolds that bestows tasty morsels, craft spirits and local ales on visitors intent on seeking out the best the area has to offer. Here are our picks.
The Cotswolds Distillery produces a small range of craft whiskies, gins and liqueurs at their sleek and modern distillery in Stourton. Learn about the production techniques of their award-winning intoxicants on a tour or join their Gin Blending Masterclass to fully appreciate their craftsmanship.
The selection of produce at Daylesford Organic covers everything from fresh seasonal veggies to their own delicious breads. The cheese room is a mecca for cheese lovers, and the homewares are a desaturated spectrum of subtle greys and whites giving the place the customary Cotswolds aesthetic. Cooking classes and spa treatments are also available.
HOOK NORTON BREWERY
The Hook Norton Brewery is a passionate family-owned business that still uses a Victorian brewing tower to craft their handmade ales. Set in a beautiful little village, each day they still deliver beer to the local pubs via horse and cart. Tours of the brewery take place daily where you can learn their artisanal techniques and sample a drop or two. Hook Norton is the place to visit in the Cotswolds for a proper English ale.
COTSWOLD’S CHEESE COMPANY
With over 120 different artisan and farmhouse cheeses, the Cotswolds Cheese Company is an excellent foodie thing to do in the Cotswolds. While they stock a few international varieties, their focus is firmly on locally produced cheeses along with deli staples to stock your next picnic. They have outlets in Burford, Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold.
4 – PICNICS IN THE COTSWOLDS
In various states of decay, the Cotswolds contain a plethora of ruins and follies that span the region’s history and offer great spots for a picnic.
MINSTER LOVELL RUINS
Minster Lovell is a tiny village with the ruins of a 15th-century manor house resting on a grassy field beside the River Windrush. It’s a beautifully atmospheric scene and the ideal spot to enjoy a picnic. Weather permitting, there’s a small reed-fringed weir pool about 5 minutes’ walk upstream; perfect for a refreshing wild swim. All the details are in our guide to wild swimming in the Thames.
At the top of Fish Hill, Broadway Tower offers panoramic views across the Cotswolds. It was strategically located on an important pre-medieval trading route, however, the castle itself is nothing more than a folly – a tower constructed for ornamental purposes. The tower fulfils its purpose beautifully as well as being one of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds for a superb sunset view. Bring a picnic and take in this glorious setting.
CHEDWORTH ROMAN VILLA
Built between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, the Chedworth Roman Villa was the largest Roman village in England consisting of bathhouses with ornate mosaics and underfloor heating. Today it’s little more than the remaining foundations, but it’s worth a visit for the extraordinarily well-preserved mosaics alone. Take a picnic and sit in the lovely grounds with views over the Cotswolds countryside.
5 – BEST RESTAURANTS IN THE COTSWOLDS
The food scene in the Cotswolds is perhaps best known for traditional English pubs. However, there’s a diversity just waiting to be untapped. Here are some great ways to get culinary in the Cotswolds.
HIGH TEA CASTLE COMBE
As one of the most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds, it’s fitting that Castle Combe also provides an afternoon tea with a glamorous sense of occasion. The Manor House delivers a decadent homemade high tea in one of their sumptuous lounges or on their outdoor terrace. The setting is beautiful, the sandwiches dainty and the champagne free-flowing (but it’s not free, it’s £32.50, more for bubbles).
PUDDINGS AT MICKLETON
Any town that earns its reputation via pudding is worth a visit in our books. Intent on preserving the tradition of the great British pudding, Pudding Club at the Three Ways Hotel in Mickleton is a great night out and a tasty thing to do in the Cotswolds. A light main is provided as a decoy before a parade of seven traditional puddings are unleashed on the room. Not trying one is considered impolite.
The Wild Rabbit in Kingham crafts culinary masterpieces in an impressive but relaxed setting. Their recent Michelin star has given the prices a whack, but for fine dining in the Cotswolds, it’s difficult to go past. The menu is constructed from what is in season in the area.
FOX INN, ODDINGTON
The Fox Inn in Oddington is a traditional pub with a daily changing menu comprising comforting classics and a few dishes nudging into gastropub territory. Their Sunday lunch is a winner, and the setting is relaxed, cosy and welcoming. For a traditional place in the Cotswolds with an unmistakable country feel, this is one of our favourite pubs.
2021 Update – the Fox Inn has been purchased by the owners of the Wild Rabbit and will re-open in 2022, continuing the theme of hearty pub classics.
6 – VISIT THE COTSWOLD CITIES
The Cotswolds are bordered by two of England’s greatest cities. One famous for re-energising the body; the other for re-energising the mind.
The Romans first built a temple in the valley of the River Avon around 60 CE, but the beautiful honey-coloured buildings that fill Bath today were built in Georgian times to house the wealthy who were drawn to the medicinal properties of the natural springs. Bath is a beautiful town with a vibrant independent retail sector and dreamy streets you could easily spend a day exploring. Read our day trip to Bath guide for more information.
Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford, the ‘city of dreaming spires’ after the stunning architecture used to construct the oldest university in the English-speaking world. History seeps from the laneways where massive contributions have been bequeathed to the world.
From exquisitely decorated libraries to trendy hipster pubs, Oxford has a long history of blending in with the times. Read our guide to spending a day in Oxford or, for all the highlights, read our guide to the best things to do in Oxford.
7 – STROLL THE COTSWOLD GARDENS
The manor houses of the Cotswolds provide an opportunity to explore immaculately manicured gardens. Some are quirky, some are shrouded in mystery; all are wonderful places to visit in the Cotswolds.
With a use of topiary bordering on obsession, the cottage gardens at Hidcote Manor are segmented into different outdoor spaces, each with its own character. Created by American Lawrence Johnston, Hidcote is now owned and run by the National Trust.
The gardens have been maintained in their original design which showcases Johnston’s skill. Even if gardens aren’t your thing, it’s hard not to be impressed by the creative layout and beautiful spaces.
SNOWSHILL MANOR & GARDEN
Snowshill Manor has a quirky garden designed with a sense of mystery. There are hidden terraces, sunken ponds, and a series of rooms each with its own style. The kitchen garden has a huge array of unusual herbs which backs onto an orchard and fields with sheep.
Westonbirt is the National Arboretum of England located just outside Tetbury. Across the 600-acre site, there are 17 miles of marked hiking paths which provide access to a wide variety of tree and plant species from all over the world.
Make sure to visit the Old Arboretum, a beautifully landscaped area with avenues framed by exotic trees, and the Sild Wood, a traditional working woodland area.
8 – HAVE A PINT IN A TRADITIONAL PUB
One of the best things to do in the Cotswolds is to visit a traditional English country pub. After much research, many pints and a few hangovers, here’s our pick of the best.
THE FALKLAND ARMS, GREAT TEW
The Falkland Arms is a proper English pub in the Cotswolds whose relaxed rustic mood is accentuated by the warm banter resonating from friendly locals and their dogs snoozing by the fire.
Beer jugs hanging from oak beams and worn wooden tables with mismatched chairs feel like they’ve been part of the furniture since the 16th century when this traditional local inn was built. Get some snuff from behind the counter and settle in for the night.
KING’S HEAD, BLEDINGTON
The King’s Head is a local pub in the village of Bledington. Set in front of a small green with an ice cream van operating throughout summer, it’s a perfect country pub to enjoy a pint. They have a great selection of local ales, a roaring fire and a buzzing country atmosphere. If you want to eat at the King’s Head, book in advance and ask for a table in the bar area.
EBRINGTON ARMS, EBRINGTON
The Ebrington Arms is a 17th-century country inn with a buzzing atmosphere and an excellent beer garden. They’re renowned for their award-winning food but it’s their in-house Yubby beers that get our vote. Work your way through their selection ranging from the refreshing Goldie Pale Ale to their strong, malty Cotswolds bitter.
Read Next – Best Cotswolds day trips
9 – VISIT A STATELY HOME
Follow in the footsteps of royalty and the aristocracy and wander the lavish hallways of these Cotswolds stately homes. If you are wondering where to go in the Cotswolds (day trip perhaps?) to feel like you’re part of the establishment, here are some suggestions.
Blenheim Palace is the kind of opulence that makes you wonder why you weren’t born into a different family. As the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim is an imposing, grand building and the only non-royal residence called a palace.
The immaculate grounds consist of an excellent example of a proper English landscaped garden. If you only visit one palace, make it Blenheim. Explore yourself or join a tour that includes a couple of Cotswolds villages and Bampton, where Downton Abbey was filmed.
Lacock Abbey, founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, is a quirky country house with varying architectural styles inherited over the centuries. The medieval rooms contain a clock house, a brewery and a bakehouse, all enclosed in naturally wooded grounds. Many parts of the original 13th-century building remain untouched making the Abbey a favourite location for movies including Harry Potter and The Other Boleyn Girl.
Sudeley Castle is a voyage through English royal history. The commanding residence was home to heavyweights such as Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I. While the building is fascinating enough, the 10 gardens that surround the castle grounds are an evocative stroll through English horticultural styles.
The Queens’ Garden contains over 80 different types of roses, while the Physic Garden still produces herbs once used to cure royalty of their ailments. The star, however, is the wild unkempt garden in the old ruins.
10 – GO TO A COTSWOLD FESTIVAL
The Cotswolds has turned itself into a venue for some of the country’s biggest festivals. For the foodies, musos, bookworms or party-goers, here’s a selection of events in the Cotswolds.
CHELTENHAM LITERATURE FESTIVAL
Over 10 days, the Cheltenham Literature Festival brings together the biggest names in publishing. Hear talks by award-winning authors, attend spoken word performances and join in discussions about everything from travel and adventure, lifestyle, art history and religion.
CHARLBURY BEER FESTIVAL
The Charlbury Beer Festival has been running for 21 years. Organised entirely by volunteers, the event raises money for causes in the developing world and locally. It features live music, plenty of food, talks and of course, beer. The festival also holds the World Open Singles Aunt Sally Championship, a traditional game where players throw sticks at an old woman’s head.
The Wilderness Festival features a programme of music, theatre and comedy, supported by excellent food and plenty of drink. The lakeside woodland setting at Cornbury Park is ideal for luxurious glamping. During the day partake in immersive games, paddle yoga, and workshops before world-renowned international acts hit the stage.
Another festival with a great lineup of international artists, the Big Feastival also includes food demonstrations, a cheese disco and table sessions with notable chefs. Take a cooking lesson, enjoy a huge variety of food, or just party into the wee hours with one great act after another.
Read Next – Where to stay in the Cotswolds
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE COTSWOLDS
The versatility of these great things to do in the Cotswolds makes it a great year-round destination.
In summer, enjoy a walk in the Cotswolds over undulating landscapes dotted with sheep as the sun lights up the fields. Timeless villages similarly come alive when bathed in sunshine. However, summer is the busiest time of year, so accommodation will be more expensive and some of the villages will be bursting with tourists.
Few other areas in the country display rusty autumn colours quite like the Cotswolds when a stroll on a crisp day is food for the soul. In winter, be captivated by the pretty stone villages frosted in snow as you curl up in front of an open fire with a glass of red in a country pub.
But it’s spring when the Cotswolds really comes alive. The gardens are at their most beautiful; the hiking trails are full of blossom and wild garlic, and the villages are still quiet and relaxed before the summer rush.
HOW TO GET TO THE COTSWOLDS
Being centrally located in the heart of England, the Cotswolds are an excellent weekend destination. The best way to visit is in your own car, which will give you the freedom to collect many of these wonderful things to do at your leisure.
There are train stations at Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh, Evesham (near Broadway), Bath, Charlbury and Oxford, but the buses that connect the villages can be rather infrequent. We have more information about getting around the area in our guide to the best villages in the Cotswolds.
With villages spread around a large area and buses infrequent joining a tour is an excellent way to see the highlights.
WHERE TO STAY
The Cotswolds is an area that is as diverse as it is beautiful. From sleepy hamlets to cities with imposing stately homes; bucolic rural countryside to the dramatic landscape of the escarpment, there are plenty of interesting things to do in the Cotswolds that make it a great place to visit for a weekend.
If you are thinking of staying over, read our guide covering the best places to stay in the Cotswolds to help you settle on the perfect area and find the right accommodation.
To help with an itinerary, read our weekend ideas in the Cotswolds which has several options for the perfect weekend break.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in a shorter visit, read our 10 days out in the Cotswolds for some inspiration for your next day trip.
MORE READING FOR YOUR COTSWOLDS TRIP
The Cotswolds is the one area of England we’ve visited the most. There are few hiking trails we haven’t walked or villages we haven’t explored. We’ve spent long afternoons inside cosy pubs, worked our way through local ales, compared the best Sunday roasts and sampled local bakeries.
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