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The Cotswolds: Your Travel Guide

Fall in Love With the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds span six English counties and 800 square miles of awe-inspiring beauty. Here, immerse yourself in charismatic stone-built villages. Each step takes you into honey-coloured havens to indulge in timeless charm and local delicacies.

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds offers an unparalleled sanctuary. Discover rolling hills that stretch as far as the eye can see. Meandering water meadows, sprawling grasslands, and ancient woodlands teem with life.

The Cotswolds proudly showcase a wealth of castles, abbeys, and gardens. These landmarks tell fascinating tales of times gone by. Look out for the splendid gardens at King Charles’s Highgrove or the impressive Broadway Tower. With its bountiful natural larder, the Cotswolds also boasts excellent restaurants and hotels. Savour delectable dishes crafted from locally sourced ingredients and embark on a culinary tour.

For those seeking outdoor adventure, the Cotswolds is a playground like no other. With over 3,000 miles of public footpaths, hikers can enjoy satisfying journeys through breathtaking scenery. Road cyclists will delight in the abundance of tranquil country lanes. In the Cotswolds, every turn reveals magnificent vistas.

General Content

Where Are the Cotswolds?

The Cotswolds is a picturesque area located in south-central England. It stretches across multiple counties, primarily Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. But it also covers parts of Worcestershire, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, and Somerset. The region is about 145 km/90 miles northwest of London. It is also fewer than 12 km/8 miles from the city centre of Bristol and less than 40 km/25 miles from Birmingham Airport.

How Big Are the Cotswolds?

The Cotswolds cover an area of approximately 2,071 square kilometres/800 square miles. This area includes various towns, villages, and countryside landscapes across several counties. Characterised by rolling hills interspersed with farmland, woodland, and historic sites, its size and diverse landscape make it a region of significant natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Highlights of the Cotswolds

The magic of the Cotswolds is the blend of timeless beauty, rich history, and a peaceful pace that captures the essence of the English countryside. Whether you dream of following in the footsteps of the past or prefer the peace of the countryside, read on to find out more about some of our highlights of the Cotswolds.

Highlights of the Cotswolds

A Pastoral Landscape

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Find solace amidst pastoral landscapes and quiet woodlands. Fluffy sheep quietly graze on rolling hills, offering a soothing backdrop to action-packed adventures. On the region’s northern edge, the purple fields of Cotswold Lavender offer a bright contrast to summer’s lush greenery. Meanwhile, historic woodland provides a fairytale setting dabbled in sunlight. The Cotswold landscape inspired JRR Tolkien, and you’ll quickly see why.One of the best-known features of the Cotswolds is its picturesque villages of golden-hued stone suspended in time. In Bibury, the iconic Arlington Row is a classic example. These wavers’ cottages date back to the 17th century, today standing sentinel on the edge of lush grassland. Alternatively, spend a hazy afternoon wandering the quaint lanes of Castle Combe, often described as ‘the prettiest village in England’. No matter when you choose, age-old market squares and charming local pubs invite you to soak in the timeless atmosphere.

Highlights of the Cotswolds

An Iconic Hike

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One of the best ways to experience the Cotswolds is by foot. The Cotswold Way allows visitors to do just that while enjoying some of the region’s highlights. The trail spans 165 km/102 miles through the quintessential English countryside. Whether a seasoned hiker or a leisurely walker, the Cotswold Way invites you to explore the region’s diverse landscapes and cultural tapestry.

Highlights of the Cotswolds

The Prettiest Villages

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One of the best-known features of the Cotswolds is its picturesque villages of golden-hued stone suspended in time. In Bibury, the iconic Arlington Row is a classic example. These wavers’ cottages date back to the 17th century, today standing sentinel on the edge of lush grassland. Alternatively, spend a hazy afternoon wandering the quaint lanes of Castle Combe, often described as ‘the prettiest village in England’. No matter when you choose, age-old market squares and charming local pubs invite you to soak in the timeless atmosphere.

A Brief History of the Cotswolds

Unearthing the history of the Cotswolds reveals a narrative that spans millennia. Human history has shaped the landscape and cultural heritage of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Bright photo of the golden stone buildings of Lower Slaughter, taken on a sunny day.

Jurassic Cotswolds

The Jurassic period occurred 200 – 145 million years ago – the time of the Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, and many more. The Cotswolds spent this period underwater. The subsequent marine activity left us the beautiful golden stone for which the region is so famous today. Yellow oolitic Jurassic limestone is a distinctive building material composed of small, rounded grains and rich with fossils. Its porous nature and ease of carving have made it a favoured medium since Roman times. The stone’s strength, weather resistance, and composition set it apart.

As you journey through the Cotswolds, look for a little geological quirk – the stone’s hue evolves with the region’s geography. Heading south, the stone adopts a pristine whiteness, while venturing north bathes it in a warm, honeyed yellow. This chromatic shift only adds to the aesthetic delight of the villages. Cotswold stone embodies the enduring elegance that defines the essence of the Cotswolds.

Photo looking across the water at the Roman Baths towards a women in period costume.

Roman Britain

Racing forward in time, we come to the Romans. This vast empire, stretching from northern Europe to north Africa, made a significant imprint in the Cotswolds. From 43 AD to approximately 410 AD, Roman Britain flourished. Their presence left enduring legacies across the country, such as Hadrian’s Wall. Thriving Roman settlements can still be seen today in Corinium (now Cirencester) and Aquae Sulis (now Bath) in the Cotswolds.

Wool Towns & Churches

Following the Roman era, the Cotswolds emerged as a powerhouse in the international wool trade. The prosperity of the wool trade transformed the region, giving rise to iconic wool churches, picturesque stone villages, and a landscape sculpted by the presence of countless sheep. Explore the intricacies of the wool industry in our blog, tracing its impact on the UK’s history.

Photo looking along the River Avon towards Pulteney Bridge and Bath beyond.

Georgian Bath

In the 18th century, Bath ascended to fashionable prominence. Renowned for its Roman temple and thermal baths, Bath became a coveted destination for leisure and rejuvenation. The town soon attracted high society and notable figures, partly in thanks to Beau Nash, the celebrated Georgian dandy. This period shaped the city into the one visitors enjoy today, full of contemporary architecture and a carefully managed street layout.

For a deeper dive into the captivating history of the Cotswolds, visit our blog and uncover the rich tapestry of events and influences that have shaped this enchanting region.

Discover the Best Cotswold Villages

The Cotswolds are an idyllic region of England to visit for many reasons, but many visit for the beautiful villages, seemingly frozen in time. With so many to explore, deciding which Cotswold village is best can be challenging. Below, we’ve rounded up a few of our favourites across the region to help you decide.

Three hikers explore the model village in Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Nestled in the heart of Gloucestershire, Bourton-on-the-Water’s origins trace back to the Neolithic period. With the River Windrush coursing through its heart, the village has earned the fond nickname of ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’.

The picturesque village houses the Cotswolds Motoring Museum, home to the British children’s classic, Brum. The museum also displays other items from the motoring history of the region, as well as a selection of beloved toys. Across the river, stop in at the model village, complete with it’s own miniature of itself. Back on the river, visitors in August can watch a chaotic yet historic match of Medieval football. However you spend your time here, you can be sure of a great experience.

Photo looking across lush marshland towards the charming Arlington Row in Bibury.

Bibury, Gloucestershire

Bibury is celebrated for its iconic Arlington Row, often hailed as the prettiest street in the Cotswolds. Dating back to the late 1300s, these picturesque cottages were initially constructed as a wool store. The street was later converted into weavers’ dwellings. Managed by the National Trust today, Arlington Row stands as a testament to the region’s rich textile history.

Victorian designer William Morris once described Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England”. Visitors today echo this sentiment as Bibury’s timeless magic enchants them. Situated just outside Cirencester, Bibury offers a romantic escape amidst the idyllic Cotswold countryside.

Sunny, autumnal photo of a quaint row of shops in Stow-on-the-Wold, Cotswolds

Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire

Perched atop the Cotswolds, nearly 800 feet/240 metres above sea level, Stow-on-the-Wold exudes charm. Flourishing during the wool trade era, look out for the village’s market square and golden stone market cross.

Steeped in history, the town also witnessed the English Civil War. On the morning of 21st March 1646, the last battle of the First English Civil War – the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold – took place. St Edward’s Church, standing at the centre of the town, still bears signs of this period. The church is also famous for its north door, flanked by two gnarled yew trees. The door supposedly inspired the ‘Doors of Durin’ in the Lord of the Rings, but this is just a story.

Two woman walk across a bridge surrounded by the charming golden buildings of Castle Combe.

Castle Combe, Wiltshire

Nestled in the southeastern corner of the Cotswolds is Castle Combe. Divided into two distinct halves, the village’s lower section remains virtually unchanged since the height of the Medieval wool trade. Stroll along its peaceful street, adorned with old houses whispering tales of past centuries.

At the heart of Castle Combe lies St Andrew’s Church, a majestic 12th century building boasting one of England’s oldest working clocks. Marvel at the market cross in the heart of the village, a relic from bustling market days, dating back to the 14th century. Castle Combe invites visitors to immerse themselves in the quintessential Cotswold charm with every step.

Discover more of the best Cotswolds villages

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Things to Do in This AONB

Sunny photo looking across the grounds towards the sprawling grandeur of Blenheim Palace.

From must-see landmarks to serene gardens, the Cotswolds offer many activities that suit your every interest.

Explore the grandeur of Blenheim Palace, located on the very eastern tip of the region. Blenheim is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, opulent interiors and breathtaking gardens invite you to immerse yourself in history. Alternatively, stroll through the picturesque grounds of Sudeley Castle. Nestled amidst the rolling hills of Gloucestershire, uncover stories of royalty and romance.

For panoramic views that stretch across the verdant countryside, ascend to Broadway Tower. An 18th century folly, the roof platform of this iconic landmark is the highest point in the Cotswolds. Or delve into a mystery at the Rollright Stones, where ancient stones beckon you into a world of intrigue.

Whether you’re marvelling at the ruins of Chedworth Roman Villa or wandering through the eclectic collection at Snowshill Manor, there are plenty of things to do in the Cotswolds.

Local Cotswold Cuisine

Three walkers browse a display of Cotswold Gin.

Local Gin

The Cotswolds Distillery raises a glass to the region’s spirit, crafting gin with carefully sourced ingredients such as local lavender. Offering a range of tours at their distillery in Stourton, enjoy a masterclass before taking a bottle or two home.


From crumbly cheddars to ribboned blues, the Cotswolds offers a haven for cheese connoisseurs. Step into local shops like Godsells Cheese or The Cotswolds Cheese Company for expert advice on choosing the perfect pairings. Alternatively, the Cheese Room at Daylesford Organic is an unforgettable experience.

Photo of a trout swimming in the waters at the historic Bibury Trout Farm.

Other Culinary Delights

Other local specialities in the Cotswolds include Tewkesbury mustard and Bibury trout. Let the tangy kick of Tewkesbury mustard tickle your taste buds – this fiery condiment dates to at least the 1600s. A blend of mustard flour and horseradish, the condiment was historically sold in packed balls, ready to add a zesty punch to any dish. Today, Tewkesbury mustard is more readily found in jars. However, it can still be purchased as gold balls for the intrepid hunter.

On an equally flavoursome level, look out for Bibury trout. Founded in 1902, Bibury Trout Farm offers both delicious, fresh fish in their cosy cafe and a great day out enjoying a beginner-friendly spot of fishing.

Where to Walk

Chipping Camden to Cleeve Hill

Distance: 24 miles / 38km

Embark on a picturesque hike from the bustling market town of Chipping Camden to the majestic heights of Cleeve Hill. Traverse gentle rolling hills and lush meadows as you soak in panoramic vistas of the surrounding countryside. Best enjoyed over a leisurely weekend, you can also do this walk over a longer day out.

The Cotswold Way

Distance: 164 km/102 miles

Stretching from Chipping Campden south to Bath, the Cotswold Way offers a quintessential walking experience through the region. Surprisingly hilly but not overly challenging, this national trail promises breathtaking views, charming villages, and historic landmarks, such as the iconic Broadway Tower, along its route. If you don’t fancy doing the whole national trail, many of the best day walks in the Cotswolds incorporate sections of the Cotswold Way.

Landscape photo looking across rolling green hills to Broadway Tower.

The Slad Valley

Lose yourself in the timeless beauty of the Slad Valley, synonymous with writers such as Laurie Lee, author of ‘Cider with Rosie’. Wander through ancient woodlands and verdant meadows as you walk through this enchanting landscape. Stop in at the magical Painswick Rococo Garden or explore the Iron Age hill fort on Painswick Beacon. Across the valley, the Laurie Lee circular walk loops 8.4 km/5.2 miles Bulls Cross, incorporating nine poetry posts featuring Lees’ poems. Passing through the village of Slad, where Lee is buried in the churchyard, stop in at The Woolpack Inn to raise a pint to the poet.

With many walking routes to choose from, the Cotswolds beckon outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, the Cotswolds offers endless adventures.

Hike the Cotswolds with Us

The Best Cycle Routes in the Cotswolds

Get ready for a refreshing ride through the captivating landscapes of the Cotswolds. With its serene country lanes and verdant bridleways, this region is a haven for cyclists. Traverse between charming stone villages, past grand historic sites, and into a world of timeless allure.

Loop from Moreton-in-Marsh

Distance: 65 km/40 miles)

Starting in Moreton-in-Marsh, enjoy this scenic loop around the northern stretch of the Cotswolds. Head north to the historic town of Stratford-upon-Avon to immerse yourself in the world of William Shakespeare. After a long lunch exploring, wind your way south again through the rolling countryside. Soak in panoramic views and enjoy the sun’s warmth on your skin as you enter Chipping Camden. End the day with a leisurely cycle back to the market town of Moreton-in-Marsh.

Ride from Cirencester to Tetbury

Distance: 26 km/16 miles

Discover the eastern edge of the Cotswolds on this one-way ride from Cirencester to Tetbury and beyond. Explore ancient market towns and the picturesque countryside as you cycle, surrounded by the aromas of freshly cut grass and fragrant blooms. Stretch the adventure over two days by heading south into Bath for an additional 37 km/23 miles of scenic cycling.

A cyclist races away from the camera on a quiet country lane on a hazy summer day in the Cotswolds.

Stow-on-the-Wold Circular

Distance: 50 km/30 miles

Pedal your way around the charming northeast Cotswolds on this circular route. Starting in Stow-on-the-Wold, ride east to Daylesford Organic, a wonderful upmarket farm shop. After refreshments, turn south towards the picturesque town of Burford. Enjoy exploring the impressive church and quiet street before continuing on to Bourton-on-the-Water. Hailed as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, enjoy exploring this quaint village. End the day with a ride home through Lower Slaughter, one of the prettiest villages in this storybook region.

With its diverse terrain and scenic routes, the Cotswolds offer endless opportunities for cyclists of all levels. Whether you’re seeking a quiet ride through quaint villages or a challenging adventure through the rolling countryside, the Cotswolds offers it all.

Cycle the Cotswolds with Us

Discover The Cotswolds

Our holidays reviewed
in your own words

I selected this tour because it provided the opportunity to combine a holiday in Scotland with an opportunity to also explore the Yorkshire Dales and Lakes. It was a very well designed tour, providing a good variety of landscapes and walking challenges. Staying two or more nights in each area allowed us to adjust the walking itinerary to allow for the changing weather conditions. Our guide Dave, the accommodation, food and additional touring experiences all combined to provide a wonderful experience. Cant wait to come back!

Katharine Tighe
Wilderness Walking - National Parks of the UK
Reviewed on 09/10/2018

Rated 4.95 out of 5 based on 1,202 reviews

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