The Cotswolds – an area of the UK often romanticised and top on the tourist list after a visit to London. Day trips to The Cotswolds are offered from London, but often only cover the Instagram hot spots, rarely scratching the surface of the area.
To really enjoy The Cotswolds is to take it slow – this area is about homely, cosy English pubs, long walks and beautiful villages. The enjoyment is in slowing down – not in speeding up and whipping round the photo spots. It is an incredible part of the UK, and if all you can do is a day trip on a tour – then it’s better than nothing. But if you can spend longer then I really recommend it – along with having a car (public transport around the area is bad to non-existent).
The below itinerary can be used for a 1, 2 or 3 day option (I recommend doing them in that order – so if you only have 1 day, just cover day 1’s itinerary). All days are at a pretty leisurely pace, allowing for long walks, warm pubs and plenty of food and drink.
If you have longer in the Cotswolds, then I recommend making it 5 days and adding on:
- Castle Combe, one of the prettiest villages in the south Cotswolds
- Bradford on Avon and Lacock, full of history and beautiful views
Day 1 – The best known Cotswolds locations
The first day of the itinerary is spent exploring some of The Cotswolds best known locations, mostly located in the central region of the area.
A. Bourton on the Water
Start the day at Bourton, before it gets busy. This town is one of the most touristy and popular places in The Cotswolds, so I recommend arriving early to get a parking space and enjoy a walk by the river without the crowds. We arrived at 9am having based ourselves nearby and were glad we did. Most of the coaches arrive for day trips around 11am, so it’s good to be in and out by then!
In Bourton there is a model village, model railway and really cool maze which is fun to do. There is also a Christmas shop (weird in the middle of summer), lots of quaint gift shops and local ice cream to enjoy. The perfect place to start the day (and then escape from before it gets busy).
B. Lower Slaughter
Part of the charm of The Cotswolds is its picturesque walks through the English countryside discovering beautiful little villages and working up an appetite for plenty of pub food!
From Bourton you can walk one of the most popular routes in the area to Lower Slaughter (and then on to Upper Slaughter) on The Warden’s Way, through river and woodland trails starting from the church gates in Bourton. Lower Slaughter is a pretty village with the river running through it and full of the traditional Cotswold houses.
C. Upper Slaughter
From Lower Slaughter, you can continue to Upper Slaughter and discover another Cotswold gem. If it’s Instagram photos you’re after then these locations really are some of the best areas to explore. Doing it pre lunch time will also mean less crowds as you can reach them before the coach tour trippers arrive in the afternoon.
From Upper Slaughter you can then walk back to Bourton for lunch. All in all the round walk from Bourton to The Slaughters and back again will take roughly 2 hours, plus photo stops. There are some great pubs in Bourton for when you get back – we chose The Mousetrap for some traditional fish, chips and curry sauce. Delicious!
After a long lunch in the pub, head to another of The Cotswolds’ most famous locations – Bibury – and it’s beautiful Arlington Row. The village itself is also nice to explore with lots of lanes to discover and pretty houses to snap.
From Bibury, drive the short route to Northleach – another (much quieter) gem in the area. Again the town is nice to just walk around and discover. We also chose to stay in Northleach at The Wheatsheaf Inn – and it was the perfect choice. It’s a pub so offers a lovely restaurant and an outdoor pizza service, plus has gorgeous rooms with big bathtubs and huge beds.
At this point in the day, it was around 4pm so we decided to sit and play a board game in the bar with a bottle of wine for a couple of hours before dinner. Perfect and relaxing after a busy day of walking and exploring.
Day 2 – Exploring the West Cotswolds
A. Sudeley Castle
Sudeley Castle is a beautiful estate built in the 1400s, and is a super special place as it’s the burial place of Queen Catherine Parr – sixth and final wife of Henry VIII. She is buried in a chapel on site amongst the beautiful gardens.
We arrived for opening time (11am so not exactly early) after a lie in, and were so lucky as we were first through the door and got the gorgeous gardens and castle to ourselves for about half an hour – a really special experience.
After a couple of hours exploring the house and gardens at Sudeley, drive the short few miles in to Winchcombe – a perfect spot for lunch. Again the town is quaint and full of pretty houses, and we had an incredible Sunday roast dinner (an English tradition) at The Corner Cupboard pub.
C. Cleeve Hill
After another long lunch, it’s time to get walking again and burn off some of the calories. There are so many hikes in the area so you can take your pick, but we chose to walk some of The Cotswolds Way starting and ending at The Cleeve Hill Golf Club. It was 10 mile round walk up hills with incredible views and fields of sheep. The round walk took us about 3 hours and was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
D. Stow on the Wold or Burford
After returning to our hotel in Northleach for a shower and a short rest, we headed out for yet more food. I recommend visiting Stow on the Wold or Burford as the options. We chose Burford and the delicious Spice Lounge, to mix up the pub to pub eating we’d been doing.
Day 3 – A quick trip to the North Cotswolds
Broadway is a picturesque village in the north of The Cotswolds and is home to Broadway Tower, the highest castle in the region with views out over numerous counties. There is also a little restaurant and shop on site and big open fields if you fancy a walk (but we were saving our legs for later on).
B. Hidcote Manor
After visiting Broadway, drive the short 20 minutes further north to Hidcote – a National Trust property. Hidcote is an old manor house, with a small chapel on site and some stunning gardens. The entry price is expensive, but if English stately homes are your thing, it’s worth a visit.
C. Kiftsgate Gardens
From Hidcote, you can walk about 10 minutes to reach Kiftsgate Court Gardens – still a private home, 3 generations of femal gardeners have created a renowned rose garden which is absolutely gorgeous in the summer.
From Kiftsgate, you could either choose to drive or walk to the village of Mickleton – another Cotswolds lesser known idyllic location. We chose the ‘walk’ option which was roughly a 2.5 hour round walk. In Mickleton there is also a choice of pubs to end your final day in The Cotswolds with yet another 3 course delicious pub meal.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope you’ve found this post helpful if you’re planning a trip to The Cotswolds, or just like looking at pretty pictures of the area! Remember to add on Castle Combe or Bradford on Avon and Lacock if you have more time. Stay safe and happy travelling.