What makes the Cotswolds so special is that it combines breathtaking beauty – with stunning views over a patchwork of rolling fields, river valleys and chocolate-box cottages – with a rich heritage of kings and queens, battles and historical landmarks.
It also sits conveniently close to London, whilst also providing a central point from which to branch out towards historical Oxford and Bath, the south coast of England and north towards Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.
There are walks and cycle routes aplenty, especially when combined with a tour of the best local pubs.
In a nutshell, there’s no shortage of things to do when you visit the Cotswolds. But here is our shortlist of 20 absolute musts when you’re next in the area.
You can’t visit the Cotswolds without dropping into Oxford, the “City of Dreaming Spires”. Built in the 12th Century, this small city centres around its prestigious university with 38 colleges and a legacy of 28 British Prime Ministers.
The town itself has a thriving “punting” scene, with boats to be hired at Magdalen Bridge on the High Street, or at the Cherwell Boathouse, tucked away in North Oxford. The Bodleian Library (pictured above), the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs are also iconic Oxford landmarks and just a stone’s throw from The Turf Tavern, a bustling 800-year-old pub renowned for its “Old Rosie” cider.
2. Blenheim Palace
Where: Woodstock OX20 1PP
Blenheim Palace is situated in the most easterly reaches of the Cotswolds in Woodstock, a bustling town full of antique shops, independents, al-fresco cafes and restaurants.
The palace itself is a World Heritage Site bursting with a 300-year-old history, and boasting some spectacular views and walks around its lakes and woodlands.
The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough, much of the palace itself is open to visitors, and so are the adjoining Pleasure Gardens. There are spectacular walks around the park, across the Grand Bridge over the Queen Pool; through the woodlands where 1000-year-old trees can be found, one of which is the Whomping Willow featured in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
3. Daylesford Farm
Daylesford, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0YG
Daylesford Farm, the playground of the rich and famous, is the place to go if you want to buy some of the most organic and delicious Cotswolds produce (and catch sight of a celebrity if you’re lucky).
This award-winning farm shop offers a vast range of freshly picked fruits, vegetables and herbs, and you can also enjoy a cafe, bakery and creamery, and even a Wellness Spa in adjoining spaces. As you peruse the farm, you’ll do so in the company of its freely roaming farm animals, giving you an authentic taste of rural England. If you want to fully embrace the experience, book yourself onto a Daylesford cookery course.
4. The Slaughters
Where: Gloucestershire, GL54 2HP
Linked by the River Eye, a tributary of the River Windrush, Upper and Lower Slaughter (nothing nefarious here; “Slaughter” means “muddy place”) are two beautiful Cotswolds villages you must visit.
Lower Slaughter is home to an Old Mill that was recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Meanwhile, Upper Slaughter is known for being one of England’s 13 “doubly thankful” villages, meaning it lost none of its soldiers who went to battle in either the first or second World Wars.
5. Clarkson’s Farm: Diddly Squat
Where: 5-12 Chipping Norton Rd, Chadlington, Chipping Norton OX7 3PE
If you’re in the area, and especially if you’re a fan of Clarkson’s Farm, Diddly Squat is well worth a visit. Opened by TV powerhouse, Jeremy Clarkson it sells local honey, apple juice and milk, as well as cakes, pastries, treats and other local products.
Watch out for crowds at peak times but definitely worth a visit.
6. Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare Country
The great thing about the Cotswolds is that it’s well-placed to reach all sorts of areas of interest and heritage. One of which is Stratford-upon-Avon, the well-renowned stomping ground of William Shakespeare.
Just 15 minutes drive out of the Cotswolds periphery, Stratford makes for a memorable day out. If you’re well-organised you will have booked tickets for a play at the Garden Theatre. If not, no problem: you can mosey around William Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and take in the town’s cafes, shops and restaurants.
7. Westonbirt Arboretum
Where: Westonbirt, Tetbury GL8 8QS
If you’re into wildlife, Westonbirt Arboretum is the place to visit. It’s one of the most important arboretums in the country.
Just outside Tetbury, the arboretum is part of a Grade I listed site on the Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest register. Dating back to the Victorian era, it’s divided into The Old Arboretum and Silk Wood, stretching 600 acres and backing onto Prince Charles’ Highgrove Estate.
Its 18,000+ trees include rare and exotic species and are somehow beautiful no matter in what season you happen to visit.
8. Hidcote Gardens
Where: Hidcote Bartrim, Chipping Campden GL55 6LR
Not far from the delightful village of Chipping Campden is Hidcote Manor Gardens, a National Trust property established by American Anglophile, Lawrence Johnston, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement.
The grounds consist of a series of “garden rooms” of shrubs, herbaceous borders and rare tree species, interconnected by long bordered pathways. Well worth a visit, particularly during the summer months.
9. Broadway Tower
Where: Middle Hill, Broadway WR12 7LB
Just north of the village of Broadway is Broadway Tower, standing tall among Broadway Tower Park designed by the 18th Century landscape gardener, Capability Brown.
When you climb the stairs of the three-storey museum you’ll be rewarded with outstanding views over 16 counties and, on a clear day, you can see all the way into the Black Mountains in South Wales.
10. Rollright Stones
Where: Rollright Road, Little Rollright, Chipping Norton OX7 5QB
If you’re interested in myths and legends, the Rollright Stones is the place for you.
Just outside Chipping Norton, these prehistoric megalithic moments form an ancient stone circle – a bit like a miniature StoneHenge.
The “King Stone” is said to mark a Bronze Age cemetery at around 1800 BC, whilst the site, in its entirety, has been dated to around 3800 – 3000 BC.
11. Cleeve Hill
Where: Cleeve Hill, Cheltenham GL54 4EU
Cleve Hill will give you some of the most breathtaking views England has to offer.
From this vantage point, you’ll look over the Malvern Hills, across Cheltenham Racecourse, into Wales and across several counties of patchwork fields and river valleys. Perhaps the most photogenic spots in the area, so don’t forget your camera!
12. Sudeley Castle
Where: Sudeley Castle & Gardens GL54 5LP
Sudeley Castle makes for a great day out in the Cotswolds. Its history spans over 1000 years and was the dwelling place of Katherine Parr, King Henry VIII’s last wife.
Not only is it steeped in history but it’s stunningly beautiful, with its 10 glorious gardens to be explored, and the cafe has a terrace from which you can enjoy the panoramic views over your afternoon tea.
13. Broadway to Winchcombe steam train
Where: Station Road, Broadway WR12 7DF
The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (the GWSR) is an old-fashioned steam railway, entirely run by volunteers.
The railway is a fun and stylish way to take in the Cotswolds scenery: it takes you back in time to 19th Century rural England. In particular, we love the trip from Broadway down to Winchcombe – the journey takes you on a meander past Cheltenham Racecourse and through valleys and fields.
14. The Cotswold Brewing Company
Where: College Farm, Stow Rd, Cheltenham GL54 2HN
For the beer connoisseurs, The Cotswolds Brewing Company is definitely worth a visit. Just outside Bourton-on-the-Water, is the home of Cotswolds Lager – the lager for bitter drinkers.
While you’re there you can indulge yourself in a tour of the brewery, with a bit of sampling along the way. Afterwards, you can peruse the shop for a few takeaway bottles as a souvenir of your trip.
15. Chedworth Roman Villa
Where: Chedworth Roman Villa, Cheltenham GL54 3LJ
This Roman Villa has the wow factor. It’s one of the biggest and most elaborate of Britain’s Roman Villas, rediscovered by the Victorians around 150 years ago.
Thanks to a recent conservation project, you can now explore the extensive mosaic floors, bathhouse rooms and hypocaust systems, and look around a small museum that shows off the artefacts that have been found on-site.
Aside from the deeply astounding historic importance of this place, it’s also set in idyllic surroundings amongst rich wildlife and beautiful scenery.
16. Cooper’s Hill
Where: Coopers Hill, Little Shurdington, Gloucester
For anyone not from this area, Cooper’s Hill would be a delightful nature reserve in which to enjoy a bit of Cotswold tranquillity of an afternoon. To the locals, it’s known for its 600-year-old annual Cheese Rolling Festival.
That’s right, every Spring bank holiday, locals meet on Cooper’s Hill to take part in the age-old event which sees participants chase down a 200-year-old hill…. After a wheel of double-gloucester cheese. The prize: You guessed it – cheese.
17. Dyrham Park
Where: Dyrham, Bath, Chippenham SN14 8HY
Dyrham Park is a National Trust-owned baroque country park set in an ancient deer park in South Gloucestershire.
Its stately house, adjoining orangery, stables and church are all Grade I listed buildings and are often used for concerts and sets for televised dramas or films.
Visitors can explore the grounds on self-guided walks, look around the great house, or enjoy any of the exhibitions and events the venue puts on across the year.
18. Bath Spa
For a day of both historic interest and a spot of shopping and dining, Bath is a favourite.
On the Southernmost edge of the Cotswolds, it is a charming spot, its spa town being the only place in England where you can actually bathe in naturally hot spa water. You can even enter Bath by walking along the historic Kennet and Avon canal via Bathampton and its lovely lunchtime pub, The George Inn.
The Roman Baths themselves are a must for history-lovers; so too is the Thermae Bath which lets you bathe in the rooftop pool, giving you spectacular views as you float around at leisure.
19. Snowshill Lavender Fields
Where: Hill Barn Farm Cottage, Snowshill WR12 7JY
Best visited in Spring and Summer, Snowshill lavender fields in bloom are a sight to behold.
The Lavender Farm itself at Hill Barn Farm will allow you a day of full exploration of the fields, followed by a cup of tea and a slice of cake at the Cotswold Lavender tearoom.
Where: Gloucestershire, GL6
When you get there, it’ll be easy to see why Nailsworth has been recently selected by The Sunday Times as one of the best places to live in Britain.
Sitting quietly on the Nailsworth Stream on the south-westerly edge of the Cotswold, this village has kept its history and heritage alive by converting its mills into restaurants, independent shops and cafes. Nailsworth also has a thriving market scene with a regular fish market, oyster bar, food hall and bakery.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of things to do in the Cotswolds, these being just 20 of an exhaustive list.
We’d also stress that none of these activities is worth doing if not combined with a bit of outdoors walking, cycling , or – as there’s frankly no better way to enjoy the area – via a hearty pub walk.