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A Complete Guide To The Cotswolds For First Time Visitors 2024

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The UK is full of history and architecture, old cities, and beautiful countryside, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Europe. Since we live here, we get to explore it all, and one of our favourite locations is the Cotswolds. It’s a big area, so if you’re visiting for the first time, you’ll need this Cotswolds guide to help you plan!

The Cotswolds is perfect for outdoor and history enthusiasts thanks to hikes like the Cotswolds Way, historical sites like the Rollright Stones and Chedworth Roman Villa, and activities like nature trails, castle visits and beautiful lavender fields. We’ve done a lot and cherry-picked the absolute best. Here’s everything you need to know when you visit the Cotswolds.


Uncover The Perfect Guide To The Cotswolds For Your First Time Visit!

Guide to the Cotswolds: Lower Slaughter, The Cotswolds, water mill, river eye
in our guide to the Cotswolds, I talk about Lower Slaughter and how beautiful it is, just like in this photo!

In this post, I will share our ultimate guide to The Cotswolds, which is full of useful tips, maps and travel ideas for first-time visitors. I’ve also included topics like places to go, stay and eat to ensure you have the best time visiting the Cotswolds.

🌟 Guess what ->> As travel experts, our experiences have led us to be great at planning travel itineraries, so much so that I offer a bespoke travel itinerary service to all my readers. Interested? See what it’s all about here on my custom itinerary page.


What makes The Cotswolds so special?

The Cotswolds is a region in the southwest of England in the UK. It covers several counties over 2,000 km and was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966.

The thing that makes the Cotswolds so special, and what attracts thousands of tourists, is the charm and picture-perfect village locations which can be found dotted all around The Cotswolds.

With quaint honey-coloured stone architecture, soft rolling hills and never-ending countryside, The Cotswolds are a dream for nature lovers and outdoorsy types.

Guide to The Cotswolds: honey coloured stone houses with white, pink and purple flowers
Visit Bilibury in summer, and you will see beautiful flowers in the gardens of The Cotswolds’ famous golden stoned houses!

Important Information To Know For Your Trip

To help you plan your first trip to the Cotswolds, I’ve gathered some common questions which you’ll need to know before visiting.

What is the closest international airport to The Cotswolds?

The closest international airport to The Cotswolds is Heathrow Airport, located in the west of Greater London, just inside the city’s ring road.

How to get to The Cotswolds?

The UK has fantastic transport links with great bus and train services and road accessibility. Due to The Cotswolds being spread over a large area, it is easiest to visit by car, and therefore, we highly recommend renting a car to maximise your trip.

However, there are other ways to enjoy The Cotswolds if you don’t drive or prefer not to. It just means that you will be more likely to remain in a certain town/village rather than explore other areas. This is also a really nice way to discover and learn more about village life in The Cotswolds.

From Heathrow Airport by car

It will take you about an hour and a half to reach the Cotswolds from west London, depending on where you leave from and where you are going inside The Cotswolds. It will be an easy drive along the motorway until you reach the countryside, where you will enjoy country driving down small roads and lanes; it’s a very pretty drive.

From Heathrow Airport by bus

There is a direct bus from Heathrow Airport to Cirencester which will take just under two hours. You will need to catch the National Express number 444 towards Gloucester which will cost about £7. Once in Cirencester, you will be able to catch local buses and taxis to get you to your final destination.

From Heathrow Airport by train: (Not recommended)

There is a train from Paddington Station to Cirencester, but to get there, you will have to travel into Central London before heading back towards The Cotswolds. In total, it will take two and a half hours to reach Cirencester. There are other routes, but there is no direct train to The Cotswolds.

How much money do you need to spend to visit The Cotswolds?

It totally depends on the type of travel you are used to and how long you plan to visit. Jack and I are used to budget travel, so we tend to take more modest trips than others might.

Nevertheless, I have included a table to show (roughly) how much a 3-day trip to the Cotswolds might cost.

ActivityEst. Daily Cost 3-Day Cost
Accommodation (Camping)£20£60
Petrol£60 (flat-rate)£60
Breakfast£15£45
Lunch £3.50 (meal deal)£10.50
Dinner£25£75
Snacks£10£30
Example 1: Bike hire£25£25
Example 2: Sudeley Castle£20£20
Example 3: Shopping Trip£70£70
Total£400
The table shows the typical 3-day spending for a trip to The Cotswolds.

A Guide to the Cotswolds: Areas to know

Cirencester

Often referred to as the Capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester was once the second-largest town in Britain during the Roman era.

Cirencester is now a popular market town within the Cotswolds and attracts many tourists. The main square is dominated by the Parish Church of St. John Baptist which was built towards the end of the 12th Century.

 Guide to The Cotswolds for first timers: Cirencester town centre.
Discover Cirencester (the capital of The Cotswolds) and go shopping along its cobbled streets and colourful buildings!

Stow-on-the-Wold

Nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold is a charming and historic village that features a variety of quaint shops, restaurants, and cafes. The village is renowned for its beautiful architecture, including a number of ancient buildings that date back to the 17th century.

Stow-on-the-Wold is also surrounded by rolling hills and stunning countryside, making it the perfect destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water is a beautiful village in the middle of the Cotswolds. It has been given the nickname ‘The Little Venice of the Cotswolds’.

The name is given due to the shallow river that runs through the town’s centre, providing natural grassy banks that are perfect to picnic on! The river is crossed by traditional stone footbridges, which are made from the local stone the Cotswolds is famous for.

Bourton-on-the-water river with stone bridge in the background and trees along the river bank
Guide to the Cotswolds: The river which runs through Bourton-on-the-water passes under old stone bridges. Take a picnic on the river bank and enjoy the quaint little village.

Stroud

Stroud is a market town full of independent shops and cafes, and there’s quite a good selection of art galleries in Stroud, too. It’s home to one of the best farmers’ markets in the country and is popular for its steep streets!

Stroud is also the meeting point of the Five Valleys!

Lower Slaughter & Upper Slaughter

Both a stone’s throw away from Bourton-on-the-Water and a great place to visit. When visiting Lower Slaughter, you will find an old mill that has been converted into a museum and tea room. The original water wheel is still intact, too! Both villages are full of charm and are typical ‘traditional Cotswolds villages’.

Britain’s most romantic street is also found here – Copse Hill Road, which runs adjacent to a pretty stream lined with lush green trees and beautiful stone cottages!

Lower Slaughter: stone house near a small stream showing flowers and a green door
Lower Slaughter is really pretty, it also has one of the most romantic roads in England – Corpse Hill Road!

Bilbury

Once referred to as ‘The most beautiful village in England’ by a famous poet! It’s indeed beautiful, with the river Coln flowing through the centre. There are rows of idyllic traditional 17th-century stone cottages great for snapping a photo or two. The village has become a ‘must visit destination when exploring the Cotswolds.

Chipping Campden

Chipping Campden was a central market town in Roman times and became well-known throughout Europe.

Due to this, in 1970, much of the town was designated a conservation area to preserve its history. Towards the north end of the high street is St. James’s Church, famed for having one of the oldest altar tapestries in England!

Guide to the Cotswolds for first time visitors: St. James's Church in Chipping Campden
The Cotswolds have beautiful stone architecture which means there are some impressive churches to be walked around, like this one in Chipping Camden!

Burford

Burford is a lovely old Cotswold town on the river Windrush and is considered the ‘southern gateway to the Cotswolds.

The high street rises up from the river to the high Wolds, where the view over the countryside can be admired. Back down towards the river, there are plenty of shops to explore, and at the bottom, there is a three-ached medieval bridge to be discovered.


Cotswolds Tour Suggestions

I’ve aimed this guide for those of you visiting the Cotswolds independently; however, if you wish to join a tour from London, I’ve selected the below, which I think will allow you to have a fun day in the Cotswolds.

🌟 My top pick >> Four of the Cotswold’s most loved villages, Burford, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-water and Stow-on-the-Wold, are included. Join this Cotswolds day tour from London and spend a relaxed day exploring charming scenery with a guide to share local insights.

Other top-rated tours include:

  • From London: Cotswolds and Oxford Guided Day-Trip: Discover the English countryside on this day tour of the Cotswolds and Oxford from London. Visit the beautiful villages of the Cotswolds and tour the top sites of the world’s oldest university city.
  • From London: Full-Day Cotswolds Tour with Lunch: Discover the beauty of the Cotswolds on a drive through the English countryside, and enjoy a 2-course lunch at an old coach inn with this full-day tour of the Cotswolds.

Historical Cotswolds sites For your first-time visit

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones encompass 2000 years of history dating back to Neolithic and Bronze age development.

These stones are made of natural limestone boulders, which make up all three of the Rollright Stones attractions. The Whispering Knights dolmen, the King’s Men stone circle and King Stone.

Guide to The Cotswolds: The Rollright Stone circle
Some 2,000 years old are these stone circles in the Cotswolds!

Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle is a beautiful privately owned castle which was restored to its former glory after being left derelict for almost 200 years!

In 1837 the Castle was rescued by two wealthy brothers who began its restoration. The castle is only open on certain dates but boasts a very large and well-designed garden.

Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds is a great place to visit for your first visit
Sudeley Castle is a restored castle with beautiful grounds and a rich history. It’s definitely somewhere which should be added to the list.

Hailes Abbey

Hailes Abbey is the ruins of a medieval monastery which housed the Holy Blood of Hailes relic. The site was once a significant pilgrimage but was destroyed during Henry VIII’s suppression of the Monasteries.

Nowadays, the grounds where the Abbey once stood showcase beautiful surviving stonework and a museum collection.

Hailes Abbey: shows stone ruins of 5 arches/viaducts
Hailes Abbey is the ruins of a medieval monastery which housed the Holy Blood of Hailes relic. it’s an interesting place to walk around and explore. [photo credit by Canva].

The Chedworth Roman Villa

The Chedworth Roman Villa dates back to the 2nd Century AD. There is evidence of the first stone structures consisting of three detached buildings.

By the 4th Century, the Villa was a place of wealth and luxury made up of Roman bath houses with rooms of marble and mosaic floors. It was reserved for the imperial family!

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle was first built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and is an iconic landmark in the Cotswolds. Located on the bend of the River Avon, in the town of Warwick it’s a fantastic place for families, especially during the half-term time when the castle organises children’s programmes and interactive shows for the whole family.


Must-do activities In the Cotswolds Guide

The ‘Cotswolds Way’ trail

If you’re an explorer, then the Cotswolds Way is perfect! It covers over 100 miles, starting from Bath and going to Chipping Campden. It’s a famous National Trail Walk which offers stunning views of the countryside.

There are lots of shorter walks which comprise the route if the whole trail is not for you! Notable spots along the way include Cleeve Common, Winchcombe, Stanton and Snowshill.

Guide to the Cotswolds: The Cotswolds Way signpost amongst golden fields
Hike the Cotswolds Way, one of the most popular hiking trails in The Cotswolds, can you do the whole 100 miles?

Shopping in Bath

Bath is fantastic for shopping but it’s also great for sightseeing and history. It’s right on the southern edge of the Cotswolds and is known for its spas! It is the only place in Britain where you can relax in the naturally occurring hot spa water.

Witness lavender season

Visit the Cotswolds Lavender Farm at Hill Barn Farm and spend the day exploring the beautiful fields. Make sure you enjoy tea and cake at the Cotswold Lavender tearoom!  They will be in bloom from late April to August.

Lavender fields in The Cotswolds
Lavender fields in April are stunning, maybe you can plan your visit in time for them?

The ‘Five Valleys’ hike

A shorter walk than the famous Cotswolds Way is the 20-mile circular walk of the 5 Valleys. It takes you through the beautiful valleys of Chalford, Nailsworth, Ruscombe Slad and Painswick. It is a group of valleys which converge around the town of Stroud at the western edge of the Cotswolds. 

Ride the Gloucestershire Rail

Take a ride on the heritage railway in Gloucestershire and complete the scenic roundtrip of over 26 miles. The route is the former Great Western Railway’s main line from Birmingham to Cheltenham which used to run via Stratford-upon-Avon. Tickets are reasonably priced and parking is free at the main stations.

The Motor Museum

It’s a really fun way to spend a few hours! Located in Bourton-on-the-Water, this museum is full of fascinating motors that take you on a journey through the 20th century. Packed with great cars, quaint caravans and motorcycles. There are loads of fun road signs and other memorabilia, too!

Bourton-on-the-Water, motoring musuem, boys, favourite, 5, cotswolds
Inside the fun Motor Museum – a great collection of toy cars and antiques.

Guide to The Cotswolds: Places to stay

There are many places to stay in the Cotswolds, depending on budget and style. It can be hard to decide so we hope our Cotswolds tourist guide is going to help you find somewhere nice.

There are tons of options depending on what you like, so we’ve given a variety below. We have stayed in a few of the places; the others are places we also liked the look of, and hopefully will get around to staying there as well. 

Suggested Hotels

The Slaughters Manor House

A beautiful 17th-century manor house nestled in 5 acres of landscaped gardens which compliment the stunning area of Lower Slaughter. The House combines natural interiors with country charm and acclaimed restaurants. A fantastic choice for luxury stays in the Cotswolds.

The Lansdowne Guest House

The Lansdowne Guest House offers accommodation in Bourton-on-the-Water. Free WiFi is offered throughout, and free private parking is available on site.

The Kings Head

A fantastic boutique hotel offering modern guest rooms in the historic town of Cirencester. The hotel has an incredible subterranean dry spa, restaurants and a bar with a great wine list! It is perfectly located, only a few minutes walk from the local shops and cafes. Bourton-on-the-Water is just half an hour’s drive away too.

Air B&B/Vrbo Options

Alternatively, are you looking for something more personal and possibly hoping to interact with some locals? Renting a room via Vrbo could be a good shout.

There are plenty of locals putting their homes on the site with the option to rent whole buildings or single rooms. Some hosts are available to show you around and give you advice and tips, while others will leave you to do your own thing. It completely depends on what type of experience you are after to what type of booking you make.

Campsites Can Be Fun!

If you are anything like us then camping in the Cotswolds is the way to go! There are countless options for camping.

You can do it in style and stay in beautifully dressed yurts and wooden cabins. Maybe camping in purpose-made campsites or wild camping off the beaten track is more of your thing. A couple of our favourite campsites are listed below.

Far Peak campsite

Far Peak Camping is fantastic for families and first-time campers. They have everything from electrical hookups to the more secluded grass pitches. The farm rests on 25 acres of woodland and parkland and is close to Bourton-on-the-Water and Cirencester.

Guide ot The Cotswolds: Green Tent
Jack and I have this tiny tent which we take everywhere with us! it weighs 2.7kg and fits two people, is waterproof and has a little porch for bags and shoes.

Abbey Home Farm

This is another good one, if you look into staying here you have two options. You can either stay in the open fields or pitch in their ‘magical glade’.

This is a little hidden treasure for campers who like to camp in the middle of nowhere. The farm is passionate about the environment and has its own organic farm shop, too!

The Treehouses at the Fish Hotel

If you want to try something pretty amazing, then The Treehouses at the Fish Hotel are stunning. They are beautifully designed to inspire your inner child to come and play. Surrounded by woodland and oozing elegance, they really are glamping at their finest.


Guide to The Cotswolds: Food & Drink

The Wheatsheaf Inn

The Wheatsheaf Inn at Northleach was originally a coaching house in the 17th century. It has now been fully converted into a contemporary boutique hotel with a chic-rustic charm. It is around 5 miles from the Chedworth Roman Villa and Bourton-on-the-Water.

The Wild Rabbit

The Wild Rabbit in Kingham is a great place to stop for lunch after visiting the historic site of the Rollright Stones. It is an upscale pub with a rustic country setting, exposed beams and original stonework. The food is locally sourced and home-grown.

The Wild Rabbit Pub garden
Another great place to grab lunch is at the Wild Rabbit pub in Kingham, it’s one of our favourites and that’s why it’s in our guide to the Cotswolds! [Photo credit by Canva].

The Village Pub

Barnsley’s Village Pub is another good shout, so if you’re looking for good pub food in a traditional setting this is the one!

Traditional stone building in The Cotswolds with purple flowers in h anging baskets
The village pub is so quaint and has a lot of character. It’s perfect for a long lunch. [Photo credit by Canva].

The Stroud Brewery

The Stroud Brewery is great fun, where you can sample a variety of beers and enjoy live music. The pizzas aren’t too bad, either! Stroud Brewery is dedicated to an organic approach and has a range of vegan-friendly options to sample.


Resources For England

Is it your first time visiting England? We’ve written lots of useful posts to help you plan your trip. You can check them all out on our England Page herebut below are some of our most popular articles:


In Summary: Guide To The Cotswolds

I hope our guide to The Cotswolds has provided you with all the useful information you need to plan your trip. It really is a stunning part of the country. Be sure to check out the top villages like Bilbury and Burford and consider a day of hiking through the countryside.

The best time to visit the Cotswolds is in Spring or Summer. Keep in mind summer gets busier than spring, but you’ll be guaranteed good weather. Early autumn, like September into early October time, is also a lovely time to visit as the crowds have dispersed and will usually get good weather these days!

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Thanks for reading. If you have any questions shoot me a message.