If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we really do not have to travel far to find adventure and that sometimes beauty can be discovered just a short drive away. This was definitely the case with our recent weekend road trip to the Cotswolds, which we were able to enjoy with great friends, making it the ideal weekend away for an active group trip or a relaxing romantic break for two.
The Cotswolds is a quintessentially English area of outstanding natural beauty and history that’s just a 2-hour drive from the hustle and big city lights of London and although it’s relatively close to England’s vibrant capital city, a trip to The Cotswolds and all of its picturesque villages will make you feel like you’ve been whisked away to land that time forgot.
With its honey-stone villages and manor houses, rolling landscape of bright green hills, and its charming churches, the Cotswolds is jaw-droppingly beautiful. There’s a wealth to explore, and we’ve got a round-up of the best of the best right here.
What To See & Do
We stayed with our friends in the most charming cottage in the town of Painswick and if staying in this area, Stroud or close by, the below route in the following order is recommended, otherwise visit in any order easiest for you!
We found and booked our cottage on Air B&B and would highly recommend it for couples, families, or groups of 4 as it features two spacious rooms with beautiful views overlooking the famous St Mary’s Churchyard. The beautiful little cottage is packed with period charm such as beams and window seats and you can even cosy up with the wood burner when the days get shorter.
Book to stay at the Honeysuckle Cottage here.
This divine, old wool town, can be found on a hilltop near Stroud and is also known as ‘The Queen of the Cotswolds’. If you’re looking for a perfectly sleepy British town then you’ll want to visit Painswick as it is one of the best-preserved areas in the Cotswolds and adorned with mellow honey-coloured stone houses.
Situated halfway along the Cotswold Way National Trail, Painswick is surrounded by magnificent countryside and a great base for hillwalkers, especially the Painswick Beacon which has stunning views across the Severn Valley to the Welsh mountains.
You’ll also want to pay a visit to the historic churchyard of St Mary’s, which is dotted with 99 ancient yew trees and unique tombs, making it a photographer’s dream. Legend has it that the Devil won’t let a hundredth tree grow.
The small town is filled with friendly pubs serving locally-brewed ales and delicious British dishes. Other attractions in Painswick include the Rococo Garden, a short walk from the centre and designed in the mid-1700s.
Packed with independent shops, cafés, and galleries and home to one of the best Farmers’ Markets in the country, there are plenty of things to do in Stroud.
You’ll find a fantastic variety of shops selling everything from fossils to fairies and vintage to vinyl, all set against the dramatic backdrop of the beautiful Five Valleys.
Well-known for its industrial heritage, visitors can spot the former textile mills along the valleys and attractions include former working mills open for guided tours at certain times of the year.
Known as the Capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester is a charming market town steeped with incredible history. In Roman times, Cirencester, known as ‘Corinium Dobunnorum’, was the second largest town only to London and later became a very prosperous wool town in the medieval period.
Set in the heart of the Cotswolds, Cirencester is a great town to visit and makes a delightful base for visitors wishing to explore the area. Its easy access to major road networks and mainline railway stations.
Today, the Market Place is the heart of the town and home to a Charter Market every Monday and Friday and a Farmers’ Market every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month.
Cirencester’s market square is well known for its cathedral-like Parish Church of St. John Baptist, which features a large south porch with an impressive fan vaulting, built in 1490, and a lasting symbol of the town’s wealth and influence in medieval England.
Bibury is a charming, typically Cotswold, village just a short drive from Cirencester, and an absolute must-visit when in the area.
The village centre clusters around a square near St. Mary’s, a Saxon church, with some of the Saxon remains inside the church being replicas as the originals are housed in the British Museum.
Here you’ll find Arlington Row, one of the village’s main tourist spots and one of England’s most iconic and photographed sites, overlooking a water meadow. The group of ancient cottages with steeply pitched roofs date back to the 16th Century and have provided the backdrop for many Hollywood movies including Stardust and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Other attractions in Bibury include Bibury Trout Farm, one of the oldest and most attractive trout farms in the country covering almost 15 acres, where you can learn about trout or even catch your own dinner.
Bibury is a popular Cotswolds’ visitor attraction that can become very busy, especially at the weekends, so it is recommended to visit early in the morning.
Bourton On The Water
Located in a small valley amongst the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is another ‘must-see’ for all visitors to the area. This popular village is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ because of the attractive little bridges that cross the gently flowing River Windrush, which runs through the centre of the village.
With plenty to explor in Bourton on the Water, it is suitable for visitors of all ages, especially families. Pay a visit to the Birdland Park and Gardens – home to a wide variety of exotic birds, or marvel at the detail of the buildings in The Model Village – a 1/9th scale replica of the centre of the village.
Upper Slaughter & Lower Slaughter
Today, the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter are considered to be one of the prettiest in the area and well photographed not only with tourists but with the village often being used for filming and productions.
The Lower Slaughter Mill & café is worth a visit and dates back to the 14th Century, where it was once known as Slaughter Mill. Today, it is open to the public to view.
Upper Slaughter is equally as attractive – a ‘sainted village’ meaning that it lost nobody in the First World War. There is limited parking in the Slaughters, but they are easily reached on foot via a nice walk from Bourton-on-the-Water.
Castle Combe is a quintessentially English village often named as the ‘prettiest village in England.’ Featured regularly as a film location, most recently in The Wolf Man, Stardust, and Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse.
The village has a rich history and the houses are made up of the honey coloured Cotswold stone, typical for a village of this area. Within Castle Combe you’ll find a Market Cross and St Andrew’s Church which dates from the 13th century. The church houses a faceless clock which is reputed to be one of the oldest working clocks in the country. You’ll also find plenty of beautiful pubs and a luxury hotel with a golf course within the village.