Nestled in the central south of England is the charming Cotswolds, a beautiful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Famed for its gently rolling hills, meandering country lanes amidst cool golden stone cottages, and myriad stately homes and country retreats. It actually encompasses parts of six different counties, along with the cities of Bath and Oxford. But of course, it’s best loved for the abundance of beautiful Cotswolds villages, each worthy of its place as the picture on a chocolate box.
It’s with good reason that the Cotswolds features high up on my ultimate UK bucket kist.
There are so many things to do in the Cotswolds that one visit alone will never do the area justice. So when you’re wondering what to do in the Cotswolds take a peek at my list below to discover attractions and activities to suit your mood and personality.
23 things to do in the Cotswolds
1. Walk the Cotswold Way
Without a doubt one of the best outdoor activities in the Cotswolds is ‘simply’ to walk the Cotswold Way. Indeed, take a look at any travel guide to the region and it’ll be listed as one of the top things to do in the Cotswolds, and rightly so.
This National Trail is a staggering 100 miles long and will give you a full and complete experience of the Cotswolds from Bath to Chipping Campden. Don’t worry if you can’t spare the time or energy for 100 miles though! There are lots of shorter walks within it which can be enjoyed.
2. Visit Blenheim Palace
A World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace is an incredible place to visit. The Palace is enough to bowl you over with its elegant halls and state rooms, and then the formal gardens and grounds will take it to another level as well.
It’s actually the only non-royal non-episcopal palace in England, but it couldn’t be called anything else given its majesty. To me, Blenheim Palace is a place steeped in romance and crying out for an amble with your favourite person, but there’s plenty to do here for families too.
3. Visit Britain’s most romantic street
Whilst I’m on the topic of romance, one of the most romantic things to do in the Cotswolds is stroll along Copse Hill Road. It has claimed the title of ‘the most romantic street in Britain’. There’s certainly no doubt that this darling little street in Lower Slaughter, with its verdant green trees, limestone cottages and the tinkle of the stream, is both charming and memorable.
4. Be adventurous with a one wheel adventure
If you’re looking for a completely different, fun and crazy experience in the Cotswolds then check out the One Wheel option from Wild Carrot. It’s like snowboarding or skateboarding, sort of, but through the grounds of the local stately home, and using power. This is one of the most memorable and different outdoor activities in the Cotswolds.
Wild Carrot is actually a fabulous glamping site. It’s a wonderful place for an outdoor stay in bell tents and shepherd’s huts, complete with wood-fired hot tubs. They do fantastic cycle tours too.
5. Enjoy a private tour to soak it all up
The Cotswolds is actually a bigger area than many imagine and so it can be helpful to have some inside knowledge. Enjoying a tailor made tour from Cotswolds Adventures is certainly one of the best ways to ensure you see everything you want to see!
Cotswolds Adventures run tailor made private tours for up to eight people. It’s a way of exploring the area in a relaxed and enjoyable fashion.
6. Bask in the aroma of lavender
One of the most iconic things to see in the Cotswolds is the lavender fields when they are in full bloom. Come in June (and early July) and you should be treated to heavenly scents and purple hues in the lavender fields. An easy way to experience the lavender fields is at the Cotswold Lavender Farm. Pop into the tea room and it’ll be a wonderful experience.
7. Amble around Sudeley Castle
Described as a hidden gem, Sudeley Castle may not be famous like Blenheim Palace, but it’s worth a visit for indulging yourself in a classic English garden and with a tonne of history on show. Indeed, there are actually 10 gardens to explore here!
Interestingly, Sudeley is home to one of the largest collections of rare and endangered pheasants – so come and check them out!
8. Hit the tourist trail at Warwick Castle
Sudeley Castle is quiet and calm, but Warwick Castle offers a different and more interactive way of exploring an English castle. Managed by Merlin Entertainments (of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park fame), you can imagine that it’s jam-packed with family fun.
With things like interactive shows, have-a-go archery and a knight-themed overnight stay, this is a unique way of experiencing a castle first built by William the Conqueror!
9. Visit modern and ancient baths in Bath
I adore Bath. It’s a city like no other and one that is perfect for exploring on foot. In many ways it is like stepping back in time, and yet you’ve got fabulous shopping and restaurants peppered throughout the city.
I really recommend visiting Bath in December and wandering the Christmas market, mulled wine in hand, listening to carol singers. It’s also a great time to visit the Thermae Spa, as the rooftop pool in the cool dark air is an experience you won’t forget.
10. Or check out Oxford on two wheels
Another of the cities on the border of the Cotswolds is Oxford, with its infamous spires and world-renowned university. It’s a wonderful city to explore by bike and Footprint Tours can meet your needs. The rides last two hours and you’ll see so much more on two wheels, not least because you’ll be guided by a local who has the inside scoop.
11. Take on the wheels with Quad Quest
Have fun on four wheels quad biking with Quad Quest through the beautiful Notgrove Estate. The quads are electric and this is a fun and different way to explore the Cotswolds countryside. When you’re done and your adrenaline is pumping, finish up at The Nuttery for coffee and cake.
12. Go fishing and cook up a storm at Bibury Trout Farm
If you’re wondering what to do for a day out with a difference in the Cotswolds, pay a visit to Bibury Trout Farm.
Of course, Bibury features in my 15 prettiest Cotswolds villages and how could it not after being dubbed as the most beautiful place in England by poet William Morris?! Whilst wandering through the village is worth your time alone, I do recommend an excursion to the trout farm. Here you can catch your own trout and then barbecue it for a meal with friends.
13. Take in incredible vistas of the Malverns
Enjoy this moderate Cleeve Hill & Common Walk. It takes you over the highest common in the Cotswolds and thus affords you fabulous views of the Malverns. You can even see Wales if you’re lucky! From your vantage point 330m up you’ll be able to see down to Cheltenham and its famous racecourse, the River Severn making its dominant journey across the landscape, and may even spot a rare bird or two.
14. Westonbirt, The National Arboretum
With 2,500 different species of trees to discover from around the world, a visit to Westonbirt is a wonderful place to take a walk and enjoy time together with your fellow Cotswold visitors. It’s a great location to discover if you have children in your party, as there’s a popular Gruffalo trail and lots of natural adventure play areas.
15. Go shopping in Cheltenham and Cirencester
If you are partial to a spot of shopping then the Cotswolds won’t disappoint. Spend a morning focusing on antiques and all things vintage in Cirencester (check out events at the Corn Hall). Then nip down the road for an afternoon of modern day shopping in Cheltenham.
In Cheltenham you’ll find designer boutiques at The Promenade and big shopping centres off The High Street. At The Brewery, you’ll find an eclectic mix of bars and shops. Distinctly different types of retail therapy but both thoroughly enjoyable!
16. Step back in time on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (more easily known as the GWSR) is a heritage railway run by volunteers. You can enjoy a 28 mile round trip through fantastic Cotswolds scenery. Hop aboard a steam or diesel heritage train at Cheltenham Racecourse and meander down to Broadway before completing the return trip.
Round off your day by watching The Railway Children and snuggling up in front of your cottage or a pub’s roaring log fire.
17. Have a splashtastic time at the Cotswold Water Park
Cotswold Water Park is an enormous area incorporating a staggering 180 lakes. Whilst many of the lakes are preserved as wetlands for breeding waterfowl and offer wonderful viewing opportunities, on other lakes there are water sports aplenty.
There are lots of different operators in the area offering a range of activities. These include kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding, water skiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, inflatable rides and boat hire. If you’d rather keep your feet on terra firma, there are land-based activities such as archery, horse riding, aerial adventure and cycling.
18. Walk quietly in Gloucester Cathedral
If you have time and are looking for even more peace and tranquillity then make sure you have time to visit Gloucester Cathedral. It is of course an active place of worship, so do plan your visit accordingly. Make sure you climb the tower and, if you can, listen to some live choral music.
19. Get behind the wheel at the Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection
Travel through time at the Cotswold Motoring Museum. It showcases a fantastic collection of vehicles through the ages across seven different galleries. With cars and memorabilia from every ‘classic’ decade, it’s a fun opportunity to step back in time.
The Toy Collection is well worth an exploration too. Indeed, the museum is home to Brum, the TV supercar hero.
Even better, the museum is found in Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s widely hailed as one of the Cotswolds’ prettiest and most iconic villages (and that’s saying something).
20. Have a roarsome time at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens
Go slow with a giant tortoise, crane your neck to see the majestic giraffes, giggle at the antics of the lemurs, and spot the rare white rhino at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens. Big kids and little kids will be amazed discovering the incredible range of animals here, from wallabies to red panda. It’s even got the largest reptile collection in the UK which just so happens to house one of the largest snake species in the world – the Green Anaconda.
21. Enjoy a drink at Britain’s oldest pub
The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold is believed to be the oldest pub in Britain, dating back to 947! Although, let’s be honest, it all gets a bit murky that far back in time! Nonetheless, this is an inn steeped in history with a Grade II listed building yet offers truly modern luxurious dining with Cotswold fare that is utterly delicious.
22. Have fun at the races
Cheltenham Racecourse is super popular and one of the most well known racecourses in the UK. It can provide an entertaining visit if you fancy placing a bet with your friends. Often there are other events and parties on here too so check out the calendar and book into whatever takes your fancy.
23. Imagine your own Outlander outcome at the Rollright Stones
The Rollright Stones in Chipping Norton come with mystical tales of legends past. These prehistoric megalithic monuments are oddly shaped but are, without any shadow of a doubt, an ancient stone circle. Spot the King Stone, believed to mark a Bronze Age cemetery which was in use from around 1800 to 1500 BC! Even more impressive, archaeologists have dated some of the site to around 3800 – 3000 BC.
There are so many things to do in the Cotswolds that once you’ve visited, you’ll want to come again and again. It has a way of getting into your heart and beckoning you back.