We’ve been running walking and cycling tours in the Cotswolds for over 15 years, and we’ve come to realise that our North American visitors are looking for something out of the ordinary. Something beyond what is normally expected of a tour of the Cotswolds.
We would like to introduce you to the more untrodden side of the Cotswolds: the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside first thing in the morning, the best pubs known to man (and, by the way, English food is much better than its reputation would suggest!) and some great community spirit.
Plus, some of the quirkiest folk you’d ever care to meet: Eccentric, witty, unfailingly polite, generous with their time, and willing to tell you story after story (if you buy them a pint!).
So, for the best of both – the historic and world-renowned landmarks as well as the hidden gems known only to the locals (and a handful of others), here’s what you can expect from a 5-day tour of the Cotswolds.
Flying into England
Best flight: London to Heathrow – Red-eye flight
Of all the tourists visiting the Cotswolds from North America, 85% will rest for a couple of days in London first. And for good reason. The flight across the Atlantic can be tiring, and even the preferable “red-eye” flight, bringing passengers into Heathrow in the morning, will need a couple of days of recovery time.
From London Heathrow, the Heathrow Express will take you directly to London Paddington, from where you can either walk, hail a taxi or get the London Underground to your London accommodation.
Getting from London to the Cotswolds
Best mode of transport: Railway from London Paddington
We know that many North American visitors to the UK will know that London, lovely as it is, isn’t England. London offers loads to see and do (far too many to mention here) but there’s a whole country waiting for you once you break past the M25 and venture into the green and pleasant pastures of the English countryside.
The joy of the Cotswolds is partly its proximity to one of the world’s busiest airports – London Heathrow – whilst also exemplifying England, with its gentle green hilly countryside, chocolate box cottages, and picture-postcard villages.
The quickest and easiest way to get to the Cotswolds is by railway, with departures from London Paddington at least every 30 minutes to destinations such as Kemble, Cheltenham Spa and Moreton-in-Marsh. Prices vary depending on the time of day and the day of the week, but the service is usually reliable.
Heading to the Cotswolds via taxi or private car is as risky as it is expensive, with the M40 and A40 being notoriously busy at rush hour. On a good day, you’ll do it in around 1 hour 30; hit rush hour and you could be stuck for hours.
Links around the Cotswolds are relatively good, with local buses linking up the main towns and villages, and a railway serving the major towns like Cheltenham and Bath.
The Main Attractions in the Cotswolds
This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offers you more than you could fit into one visit. The good news is that whatever you choose to do, you’ll be sure to hit gold. In fact, the Cotswolds’ location is a great place in which to base yourself and make day trips outwards.
Top towns and villages to visit are Bath, Oxford, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford, Tetbury and Cirencester (among many others).
There are many and varied activities to do, from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, to the east, prehistoric Stonehenge to the south, Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon to the north, and Bath Spa to the west. Bampton, the filming location for Downton Abbey is within easy reach, and Chedworth Roman Villa, beautiful Hidcote Gardens and Snowshill Lavender Farm are all situated in the heart of the Cotswolds.
So, whilst you have the pick of the bunch, we’ve devised a 5-day tour itinerary taking you in an anti-clockwise direction, to give you an immersive experience of the glorious Cotswolds.
Your 5-day Cotswolds Itinerary
Day 1: Oxford
Onwards to Oxford, the “City of Dreaming Spires”, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the iconic University architecture of Christopher Wren. While you’re in Oxford, take some time to saunter around the collages (for a small fee), take a look around the world-famous Bodleian Library, and enjoy a sip of Old Rosie at the Turf Tavern, one of Oxford’s oldest pubs. If you have time after all this, enjoy a punt from Magdalen Bridge along Christ Church Meadows.
Day 2: Chipping Campden to Hidcote & Broadway
- Hidcote Address: Hidcote Bartrim, Chipping Campden GL55 6LR
- Website: Nationaltrust.org.uk
- Stratford: CV37
- Website: Visitstratforduponavon.co.uk
Into the heart of the Cotswolds and Chipping Campden is one of the area’s quaintest villages, and a great place to base yourself while you make a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon via Hidcote.
Hidcote Manor is famous for its gardens, designed by American Anglophile, Lawrence Johnston during the Arts and Crafts movement. The series of “garden rooms” full of shrubs, herbaceous borders and rare species of trees are well worth a visit, particularly during the Spring or Summer.
We have lunch at Broadway Tower, with its quirky tower and views over 16 counties of England and Wales. In the afternoon we walk into the Jewel of the Cotswolds, Broadway, with its bustling High St and antique shops for afternoon tea at the Broadway Deli. We return to Moreton in Marsh for the evening
Day 3: Blenheim Palace
- Address: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock OX20 1PP
- Website: Blenheimpalace.com
When you reach the World Heritage Site of Blenheim Palace (accessible via railway to nearby Hanborough Station), you can expect a mixture of breathtaking scenery and historic enrichment. You have the pick of the delightful Pleasure Gardens, a tour around the palace itself, as well as walks around the fantastic grounds, with their thousand-year-old oak trees, Grand Bridge, lakes and woodlands.
Day 4: Stonehenge & Avebury
- Stonehenge address: Salisbury SP4 7DE website
- Avebury address: Marlborough SN8 1RF
- Website: English-heritage.org.uk
Avebury is a beautiful National Trust World Heritage site exemplifying some of England’s neolithic history. Built between around 2850BC and 2200 BC, this huge circular henge encompasses Avebury village and incorporate’s Britain’s largest stone circles – with almost 100 stones.
Stonehenge, the better-known henge, is Salisbury Plain’s prehistoric monument, with its large ring of vertical sarsen standing stones. Their dimensions: 13 feet tall, seven feet wide and weighing 25 tonnes!
Day 5: Bath
- Website: Visitbath.co.uk
Bath is a great choice for those wanting to take in a bit of history and enjoy some modern dining. Check out Thermae Bath’s rooftop pool as well as the historical spa museum. And, if you have time, take a trip up the Kennet and Avon canal to Bathampton for a pint at The George Inn.
This itinerary is just an example of the many and varied options available to you when you come to the Cotswolds.
If you’d like more structure to your stay, why not check out our guided walking tours?