Say “English countryside” and the Cotswolds might come to mind immediately. And with good reason.
Stretching from Stratford-upon-Avon in the north to Bath in the south, the Cotswolds features landscapes you'd see in Romantic paintings, quaint towns and villages built from honey-colored stone, world-class dining and amazing produce (that is to say, lots of cheese).
Add in landscaped gardens and pretty canals, and it’s no wonder the Cotswolds is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England. Here is our list of the best things to do in the Cotswolds.
1. Explore old towns like Stow-on-the-Wold and Bibury
The many villages in the Cotswolds might best express the region’s beauty and charm.
Once a bustling center of the wool trade, Stow-on-the-Wold is now a treasure trove of antique shops, trendy galleries and independent retailers. When you’re done perusing these offerings, go on the hunt for the mystical door at St Edwards Church. This portal is nestled between two ancient yew trees, with a lantern hanging above: no wonder that many say it was this that inspired Tolkien’s “Doors of Durin” in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
For the pinnacle of Cotswolds cottages, head to the village of Bibury’s Arlington Row. The rustic two-story limestone buildings here were built in the 14th century, and it's a very popular spot for snapping a photograph. Get your shots from a respectful distance, as the quaint buildings are privately owned homes.
Detour: Hungering for more lovely backdrops? Bourton-on-the-Water sits on the River Windrush on the way to Bibury from Stow-on-the-Wold, and it offers ample opportunities for waterside selfies. Nature lovers can detour to Birdland Park and Gardens just down the road.
2. Wander around Abbey House Gardens
As you might expect in England’s oldest town, the privately owned Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury brims with charm. Stroll past the house itself (as beautiful as it is) to enter an almost Alice in Wonderland–esque backyard.
Carefully trimmed hedges, grass-carpeted walkways and colorful rose bushes make for a delightful afternoon stroll. Refresh at Coy Carp Café, where tea and lunch are served next to a peaceful koi carp pond. The annual British Naturism “Clothing Optional” day, when nudists flock to the gardens, might be one to mark on your calendar – or avoid altogether.
3. Tour the Roman Baths in Bath
Receiving over 1.3 million visitors annually, the stunning Roman Baths in the city of Bath are a must-do in this region. They consist of four main preserved features – the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House, and a museum holding objects from Aquae Sulis, the Roman settlement – with the latter two open for tours. While taking a dip in the thermal waters is unfortunately prohibited, you can take a sip from the springs – although the mineral-y water is definitely an acquired taste.
If you do want to take Bath’s curative waters, visit the famous Thermae Bath Spa around the corner, which is known for its rooftop pool and beauty treatments. Or consider splurging on a stay at the stunning Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel, which has its own thermal spa and treatment rooms on site.
Planning tip: Plan on spending 1–2 hours visiting the Roman Baths, longer if you're an audio guide completionist (we recommend the "Bryson at the Baths" audio tour for writer Bill Bryson's humorous take on Roman life). To avoid crowds, skip weekends and July and August.
4. Pick your own at Hayles Fruit Farm
Near the market town of Winchcombe you’ll find Hayles Fruit Farm, a family-owned affair that dates to 1880. What was once a simple apple and cobnut (hazelnut) orchard now abounds with colorful riots of plums, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, pears and more.
Planning tip: Depending on the season, the farm lets you pick your own fruit: come May to September for fresh strawberries, or August to October for apples. Camping and fishing are also offered onsite.
5. Walk the paths of Westonbirt, the National Arboretum
Strollers delight in Westonbirt Arboretum, a magical estate with over 15,000 specimens, including 2500 different tree species and five national tree collections. Look out for the Gruffalo and other characters from the children’s book scattered throughout the grounds.
This 19th-century garden occupies some 600 acres adjacent to Prince Charles’ Highgrove Estate (the princely manor is, alas, obscured by trees). Westonbirt Arboretum has two parts: the Old Arboretum is a meticulous composition of avenues lined by exotic trees, while Silk Wood remains mostly traditional woodland. If the winding trails through all the trees and shrubbery don’t give you enough of a thrill, try the 300m (984ft) treetop walkway instead.
Planning tip: The grounds are open for tours and afternoon teas from April to October: combine the two for a wonderfully full day.
6. Enjoy tea at a traditional tearoom
Care for a cuppa? The Cotswolds is the perfect place to find a traditional English tearoom. Slow down the weekend with a classic combination of scones, jam and heart-warming teas.
The picturesque 17th-century Tisanes Tea Room in Broadway is the ideal setting to enjoy a traditional menu of ham sandwiches and over 30 varieties of tea. Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, in Bath’s oldest house (c. 1483), is another famous tearoom. Here, you shouldn’t miss the famous Sally Lunn Bun, a large golden bun similar to French brioche.
7. Browse local independent shops
Chain stores are happily rare in the Cotswolds, and you’re more likely to run into a boutique shop than a Marks & Spencer.
Located between Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Norton, the Daylesford Organic farm shop is famous for its super-fresh farm-to-fork produce, especially dairy products. An onsite cooking school and craft workshop, plus a wellness spa, is sure to be enough to fill a day on the farm.
With a menu of over 50 varieties, the aromatic Cotswold Cheese Company is well worth a visit. Three locations (Burford, Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold) ensure there’s ample opportunity to fit a stop for cheese into any busy travel itinerary.
Curated by the former fashion director of Barneys New York, Cutter Brooks in Stow-on-the-Wold stocks a well-curated array of dresses, linens and homeware by independent designers, all chosen with impeccable taste.
8. Start your engine at the Cotswold Motoring Museum
Their engines may not purr anymore, but the cars of the Cotswold Motoring Museum gleam with vintage glory. Visit for a fascinating look at motoring history through an irresistible collection of vehicles, toys and memorabilia.
The collection is housed in a converted 17th-century water mill, and features several showrooms across 7500 sq ft of exhibition space. Check out the “Windrush Alley” exhibit, a chance to see how boneshakers and penny-farthing bikes once shared the roads with horse-drawn carriages and cars in the late 19th century, a transitional era of transport.
At “Jack Lake’s Garage,” you can interact with an interpreter playing a working mechanic and garage proprietor from the Cotswolds in the early 1900s. Learn how the car industry grew from nothing to over 20 million cars on the road in his lifetime, and how this affected him.
9. Encounter exotic animals at Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens
Giraffes, baby rhinos, cheetahs and a family of raccoons are just some inhabitants of the Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens, where lawns and green areas have been turned into a habitat for 260 species of animals. The result is sure to be a hit with families.
You can easily spend hours at this Cotswolds stop, starting with a cozy train ride around the park. Follow up by acting as a keeper for a day (age 17 years or older), then maybe even "adopting" your own animal. You can also wander the glorious landscaped gardens that surround the Victorian Manor House – perfect for a romantic stroll, or for the kids to let off some steam.
10. Soak up the history of Blenheim Palace
The only non-royal country house in England with the title of palace, Blenheim Palace is another of the Cotswolds’ unique attractions.
The current home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, this extravagant Oxfordshire property is where Winston Churchill was born. Backing onto a lake and surrounded with verdant, trimmed lawns, it’s a wonderful place to stroll and explore.
Events, such as the Salon Privé auto show are often hosted at the estate. When Christmas lights illuminate the festively decorated trails, you can see just why it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.