Let’s explore the Cotswolds

Cotswolds travel guide

If you follow me on social media then you’ll know all about my obsession with the Cotswolds. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited this gorgeous part of rural England. 

I simply adore exploring the pretty villages, seeking out quaint cafes and unearthing the best hotels in the area. Whether you’re visiting for the exceptional spas and Michelin-star dining or you simply want to experience a slower pace of life, I know you’re going to fall in love with The Cotswolds – just like I have, time and time again.

About the author

Jessie Moore is a luxury travel expert with years of experience travelling the world to find the best destinations, hotels and adventures.

For a peaceful and utterly charming countryside getaway in the UK, look no further than the Cotswolds. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Cotswolds is a true gem in the English crown. 

With its iconic honey-toned buildings and cobbled streets, it often feels as though time has stood still in the Cotswolds. It’s one of the reasons why I love the region so much.

Covering nearly 800 square miles, there is a lot to explore in the Cotswolds. From pretty villages to grand castles, cute cafés to opulent Michelin-star dining, I know there is something for every traveller.

In this Cotswolds travel guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about planning a trip to this quaint part of the UK – from my favourite hotels and restaurants to the logistics of getting around.

Contents

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Getting to & around the Cotswolds

There are four main options for getting to the Cotswolds: by road, by train, by bus, or by air. The option that’s best for you will depend on where you are travelling from, your budget, and how long you plan to spend in the Cotswolds.

By car: My personal recommendation is to travel by car if you can. The journey takes around 2-2.5 hours from London. Travelling by car gives you the most freedom and flexibility in terms of exploring and will allow you to explore those harder to reach places.

Visiting some of the smaller villages is undoubtedly difficult without a car, so it really is the best option. But that’s not to say you can’t still explore the Cotswolds without a car!

By train: The train offers another good option, with main line trains to the Cotswolds from London, the Midlands, the North, and the South West of England.

The main railway stations within the Cotswolds include Cam & Dursley, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Kemble, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stonehouse, Stroud, and Ashchurch. For more information, check the trains, times, and stations at National Rail, Great Western Railway, or Trainline.

St Edwards Church Stow
Upper Slaughter Cotswolds

By bus: The bus offers a more budget-friendly option, with the National Express running buses from London Victoria Coach Station.

The main bus stations in the Cotswolds are Cheltenham, Gloucester, and Stroud. For those without a car, the bus provides an easy way to get around the Cotswolds, with various local bus services.

By plane: If you’re travelling from further afield then you may want to consider flying. The closest airports to the Cotswolds are Birmingham and Bristol, being just a one hour drive away.

London Heathrow airport is a 90 minute drive away and is ideal for international visitors. For those lucky enough to travel by private jet or helicopter, Gloucestershire airport is located between Gloucester and Cheltenham.

HOTEL GUIDE

15 best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds

From award-winning spas to Michelin stars, here is my pick of the best luxury hotels in the Cotswolds for an exceptional five star stay.

DESTINATION GUIDE

15 prettiest Cotswolds villages to visit

The best Cotswolds villages comprise beautiful, postcard-perfect settlements – discover my pick of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.

Best time to visit the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is a year round destination and each season brings a different experience. Whether you want the pleasant weather of the warmer months or the cosy feel of the colder months, there isn’t really a bad time to visit the Cotswolds.

Spring

The spring is a wonderful time to visit the Cotswolds. See this gorgeous part of the UK in blossom and experience the surrounding landscape in all its glory.

Think honey stone cottages framed by delightful pink cherry blossom and streets adorned with flowers. Although spring is quite a popular time to visit the Cotswolds, it’s not as busy as the peak summer months. So you can still soak up the peace and quiet of the countryside.

SUMMER

Due to the warmer weather and lower chance of rain, the summer months are a popular time to visit the Cotswolds. Enjoy gorgeous summer days in the countryside, dine alfresco, and go for long walks in the sun.

It’s also the time of year to see the lavender in bloom at Snowshill – an unmissable sight! Remember that this is the UK, so rain is still a strong possibility, plus the summer months bring the most tourists.

AUTUMN

Autumn is another wonderful time of year to see the Cotswolds. With gorgeous red and orange leaves on the trees and scattered across the paths, it makes for beautiful photo opportunities.

Explore the many pretty villages of the Cotswolds on a crisp Autumnal day for a truly magical experience. With the children back at school and less tourists, it’s a slightly quieter time of year to visit the Cotswolds than the busy summer months.

WINTER

The winter is the quietest time in the Cotswolds, so it’s ideal if you prefer to avoid hordes of tourists. It’s certainly cold at this time of year in the UK. But it’s also the perfect time to cosy up by a roaring log fire in one of the many charming Cotswolds pubs.

You may even experience some snow for the perfect wintery landscape. Remember that days are shorter in winter too, so plan your itinerary carefully.

DESTINATION GUIDE

23 amazing things to do in the Cotswolds

From scenic hikes and medieval pubs to lively cities and adrenaline activities, here is my pick of the best things to do in the Cotswolds.

FOOD GUIDE

15 best brunch spots in the Cotswolds

From bottomless brunches to a classic Cotswolds breakfast on the farm, discover my pick of the best brunch spots in the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds highlights

Castle Combe

An ancient village with its medieval roots still very much in place, Castle Combe is not to be missed. Often considered to be the prettiest village in the UK, Castle Combe is a quintessentially English village.

With no new buildings since the 1600s and no telltale signs of modern life like TV wires and satellite dishes, this village is truly frozen in time. It’s because of this that Castle Combe is often used as a film location, so you’ll likely recognise it from various films and TV shows.

As a small village, it doesn’t take long to explore so there’s no need to spend hours here. Wander through the village, buy some homemade treats from the doorsteps of the locals, and get a picture of the iconic bridge over the River Bybrook.

For things to do nearby, visit the Manor House Hotel for a luxurious afternoon tea and be treated like royalty. Or for something more lively, head to the Castle Combe Motor Racing Circuit. Discover hotels in Castle Combe.

Lower Slaughter

A quaint village that embodies the cottage core aesthetic, Lower Slaughter is a must-visit. A trickling stream runs through the centre of the village, which can be crossed by two small bridges.

The stream is lined with gorgeous stone cottages typical of the Cotswolds, all complete with flower clad walls and pastel coloured doorways. This storybook village looks as though it has been lifted from the pages of a fairytale.

You only need to spend an hour or so in this village to see all it has to offer. The Old Mill at the western end of the village has a tea and a gift shop. Also home to Britain’s most romantic street, it’s the perfect place for a peaceful stroll.

While you’re visiting Lower Slaughter, be sure to visit its neighbouring village, Upper Slaughter. Also home to fairytale cottages and picturesque scenery, both villages are delightfully untouched. As with Castle Combe, they feel somewhat frozen in time. Find hotels in Lower Slaughter.

Lower Slaughter
Arlington Row Bibury

Bibury

Another strong contender for the most beautiful village in England, Bibury is an utterly charming place to explore in the Cotswolds. The main attraction of Bibury is the iconic Arlington Row.

Built in the 14th century but converted to a row of weavers’ cottages in the 17th century, it is now owned by the National Trust. These pretty stone cottages make the perfect scenic backdrop to this Cotswolds village.

Bibury tends to get busier than the quieter villages of Castle Combe and The Slaughters, but there is more on offer in terms of attractions and places to eat or drink. Pay a visit to Bibury Trout Farm, where you can catch your own dinner.

If it’s a warm summer afternoon, indulge in a picnic with fresh local ingredients, or dine alfresco. Even in the depths of winter, this Cotswolds village is worth a visit. For another more lively town, discover pretty Stow-on-the-Wold.

Frequently asked questions

How long to spend in the Cotswolds?

To really explore all that the Cotswolds has to offer, you’ll need 3-5 days. Although if you want to stay for longer then you’ll certainly be able to fill your days with various things to do in the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds is a place you can visit time and time again, so if you can only spend a couple of days there then that’s perfect too.

Is the Cotswolds a good destination for solo travellers?

Solo travellers often tend to prioritise cities over the countryside when travelling. But a solo visit to the Cotswolds is a great way to explore the English countryside on your own terms.

I have visited the Cotswolds alone twice now, and each time I’ve had a brilliant time. The locals and tourists alike are generally friendly and there are plenty of things to do in the Cotswolds to keep you busy.

Where is the best place to stay in the Cotswolds?

There are a number of gorgeous hotels in the Cotswolds. I’d say that the location doesn’t matter too much and will really depend on the Cotswolds villages you’d like to explore.

For a more central location with plenty of provisions, I’d recommend staying in or around Cheltenham.

Is the Cotswolds a dog-friendly destination?

The Cotswolds is an extremely dog-friendly place. You’ll be spoilt for choice with countryside walks, as well as dog-friendly pubs and hotels.

What county is the Cotswolds in?

The Cotswolds covers a sprawling area which falls into five counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. The majority of the Cotswolds falls into Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.

SPA GUIDE

14 best spa breaks in the Cotswolds

Looking for Cotswolds spa breaks? From an elegant city spa in Cheltenham to secluded boltholes, here are the best spa hotels in the Cotswolds.

FOOD GUIDE

21 best restaurants in the Cotswolds

From Michelin star fine dining in luxurious hotels to cosy pubs in the countryside, here is my pick of the best restaurants in the Cotswolds.

Frequently asked questions (cont.)

How long does it take to get from London to the Cotswolds?

The Cotswolds makes a brilliant day trip from London. Driving is preferable, as this is the easiest way to explore the Cotswolds. It takes around two hours to drive, depending on specifically where you are driving from and to.

The train takes around an hour and a half from London Paddington, again depending on where you are travelling to.

How many Michelin star restaurants in the Cotswolds?

There are five Michelin star restaurants in the Cotswolds. These include The Dining Room at Whatley Manor, Le Champignon Sauvage, The Royal Oak, Restaurant Hywel Jones by Lucknam Park, and Bybrook Restaurant at The Manor House.

Discover more of my favourite restaurants in the Cotswolds.

When is the lavender season in the Cotswolds?

You can visit the Cotswolds Lavender fields in Snowshill from June to August each year. The lavender will be in full bloom in the peak summer months.

Are there Christmas markets in the Cotswolds?

The Cotswolds is a truly magical place at Cotswolds and this is partly because of the charming Christmas markets which take place. The best Christmas markets in the Cotswolds include Bath, Cheltenham, Broadway, Burford, and Bourton-on-the-Water.

Cotswolds restaurant picks

For me, the Cotswolds is a haven for fine dining and exceptional cuisine. With a focus on fresh, locally sourced produce served in a stylish and welcoming setting, here is my pick of the best Cotswolds restaurants.

For other Cotswolds foodie inspiration, discover the best places for afternoon tea in the Cotswolds or the best brunch spots in the Cotswolds.

Explore my Cotswolds village guides

CASTLE COMBE

BURFORD

Cirencester

Lower Slaughter

Upper Slaughter

Bourton-on-the-Water

Stow-on-the-Wold

Want to save up to 25% on hotels?

Subscribe to the Pocket Wanderings newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.

Want up to 25% off hotels?

Subscribe to my newsletter and get immediate access to my guide on how to save money on flights and hotels. Our weekly emails are filled with adventure inspiration, insider travel tips and exclusive discounts.