One of the United Kingdom’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds is an Elysian jewel in the crown of England’s scenic countryside. Famous for its enchanting villages, idyllic rolling hills, and ancient buildings made of honey-colored limestone, it is one of the Isles’ most beloved treasures. If you are planning 2 to 3 days in the Cotswolds, use this Cotswolds itinerary to experience all the best this incredible region has to offer.
How Many Days in the Cotswolds?
Although many of its constituents are small, the Cotswolds region encompasses five counties and several towns and villages. So, as for how many days to spend in the Cotswolds, you could easily spend a week or more in the area without getting bored.
However, if you don’t have that luxury, it is quite possible to get a feel for the region and experience several of its highlights in a weekend. Many people even visit via day trips from London or Birmingham, but this doesn’t give you much time to enjoy one of the area’s finest assets: its serene ambience.
2 days in the Cotswolds is preferable, although three days in the Cotswolds is better yet if you can manage.
Getting To and Around the Cotswolds
Located between Bristol and Oxford and just south of Birmingham, the Cotswolds region spans nearly 800 square miles. Like most of the U.K., it is connected via bus and train routes to nearby hubs, including London.
As its name denotes, the Cotswolds Line provides a straight shot between Oxford and Hereford and is linked to London Paddington. You can also take the Golden Valley Line that connects Swindon and Gloucester/Cheltenham Spa.
Yet another option is to ride a coach. The major operators, Oxford Bus Company and Oxford Tube offer direct routes from London, Birmingham, and Leeds. You can view the latest train and bus schedules here.
However, as many villages and small towns are sparsely populated, service is limited within the region. While you can rely solely on public transit, consider hiring a car, especially if you have just two or three days in the Cotswolds.
To reduce the cost and your carbon footprint, you can always hire a car once you’ve arrived via bus or train. You can check available options on Rentalcars.com which aggregates results from many major car hire companies.
If you embark on your Cotswolds road trip from London via car, you will take the M4, M5, and M40 motorways and travel about two-and-a-half hours. If you haven’t yet been and have some spare time, you can stop at Stonehenge to the south of Oxford to the north along the way.
The M5 motorway also connects the Cotswolds with Birmingham, a route that takes about an hour and a half by car. From Bristol, you will spend just over an hour on the M5.
2 to 3 Days in the Cotswolds Itinerary
Whether you’re slipping out of the city for a weekend countryside retreat or visiting the Cotswolds as part of a complete England or U.K. tour, this itinerary will guide you through an unforgettable two-to-three-day adventure.
Day 1 – Cheltenham, Hidcote Manor & Broadway
The first stop on many a Cotswolds itinerary is Cheltenham. This 18th-century spa town is a convenient gateway to the region, with direct train links to London, Birmingham, and Bristol and public transit connections to several of the region’s villages.
It also has plenty to offer on its own, including a quiet, quaint High Street, the Wilson Museum and Art Gallery, and Sanford Parks Lido. There are also numerous festivals throughout the year, including the enormously popular horse racing event, the Cheltenham Festival.
Hidcote Manor Gardens
The Hidcote Manor Gardens are the epitome of an Arts and Crafts Garden, a formal style characterized by its melding of purpose with beauty.
One of the nation’s most stunning gardens, Hidcote features different outdoor “rooms,” each with distinct character, as well as colorful plants, exotic trees, topiary, fountains, and ponds.
Broadway Tower & Village
Cap off your first of 2 to 3 days in the Cotswolds with a stop in Broadway, a village whose name comes from its unusually broad High Street lined with numerous shops.
From the town center, walk to Broadway Tower, a small Gothic castle built in 1799 that served as William Morris’ countryside retreat. The second-highest point in the Cotswolds, it can be seen from the Welsh border on a clear day and is one of the best spots to catch the sunset.
Afterwards, grab dinner at The Broadway Indian Restaurant before packing it in for the day.
Day 2 – Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold & More
Start the second day of your Cotswolds road trip in one of the region’s most beloved locales. Bourton-on-the-Water, known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds,’ is routinely voted one of England’s prettiest villages. Meander along the quaint streets and idyllic stone bridges crossing the River Windrush and streams.
Then, visit The Model Village, a 1/9th stone scale model for an alternate bird’s-eye view of the town. If you have time, stop by Greystones Nature Reserve, home to wildflower meadows, Iron Age ramparts and a replica Iron Age roundhouse, and an organic farm.
Lower & Upper Slaughter
Don’t be put off by their sinister-sounding names. The twin villages’ monikers come from the Old English word for a muddy or boggy place, “slough,” and belie their quaint characters.
Park in Lower Slaughter and visit Copse Hill Road. Voted the “most romantic street in Britain” in a poll for Google Street View, the road features traditional Cotswold architecture, gorgeous views, secluded getaways, fine restaurants and hotels, and a charming ambience.
Then, walk along the shallow Eye stream past rows of limestone cottages to the Old Mill. Although the mill is no longer functional, there has been a mill in this location since the Domesday Book was published in 1086. The converted building, with its original water wheel, is now a museum and craft shop with a café.
Next, visit Upper Slaughter, about a mile’s walk away past idyllic pastureland. The Eyford House has replaced a now-ruined Norman castle as the village’s focal point.
The manor house dates back to the 17th century and features Baroque details and a picturesque landscape. It is said the poet John Milton stayed here and was inspired to write Paradise Lost.
Stow-on-the-Wold is another of the Cotswolds’ most beloved and enchanting villages. Looking at photos of the Cotswolds, you will more than likely come upon the Great Yew in the yard of the medieval St. Edward’s Church.
Its iconic door looks like a portal to another realm, so much so it is thought to have inspired Tolkien’s Doors of Durin in the Lord of the Rings.
The village is also home to several boutiques and antiquarians and England’s oldest inn, The Porch House, which has served shelter and sustenance for over 11 centuries.
Next, head a few miles east to Daylesford Organic, a trendy, award-winning farm shop and café specializing in organic, sustainable local foods, including produce grown on-site, as well as an in-house butcher and creamery.
Check the calendar for upcoming events, like cooking and floristry classes. Before you go, grab a bite in the café or pick up some picnic supplies like salads, cheeses, and veggie tarts.
Off the beaten path of the usual tourist route, Winchcombe is an excellent spot to escape the crowds in summer. It’s also an antique-lovers paradise, with numerous shops selling vintage and antique wares. This includes Winchcombe Antiques Centre, with its basement tearoom serving warm beverages and cakes.
Winchcombe is also a haven for walkers and history buffs. If you’re one or both, take a hike from the village to Belas Knap, an ancient Neolithic Burial Ground, and Hailes Abbey, the remnants of a 13-century Cistercian Monastery.
Another must-visit is Sudeley Castle & Gardens. This 15th-century fortress, with its 10 gorgeous gardens, stands on the site of a former 12th-century castle and boasts connections to the late royals Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr, two of Henry VIII’s wives.
Day 3 – Hop Between Iconic Cotswolds Villages
Located at the Southern edge of the Cotswolds, an hour south of Cheltenham by car, Castle Combe is a bit of a trek but well worthwhile.
One of the country’s most picturesque villages, it is also one of the Cotswolds’ most famous, having starred in films like Doctor Thorne, Doctor Dolittle, Robin Hood, Stardust, War Horse, and Poirot.
Check out St. Andrew’s Church, initially erected in the 13th century with later additions and restorations. Then, for the perfect Insta-shot, stroll down from Market Place toward the river, where you’ll find the village’s iconic bridge.
If the weather is nice and you’re keen on a hike, consider taking the footpath trail from Market Place. Extending 5.5 miles, it connects the village with serene woodland, providing stunning views along the way.
Afterwards, stop by the Old Rectory Tea Room for fresh-baked scones before heading to the next stop on your Cotswolds itinerary.
About 45 minutes north of Castle Combe is Stroud, a former industrial capital set against the stunning backdrop of the Five Valleys.
While you can still visit some of the town’s former mills, it’s now better known as a creative haven with a bohemian atmosphere and eclectic medley of independent cafes, galleries, and shops. Stroud is also home to one of England’s most famous farmers’ markets.
If visiting on a Saturday morning, this is the perfect place to stock up on fresh, locally made eats for a picnic lunch before stopping by the Museum in the Park and strolling along the Cotswold Canals.
Next up on your three days in the Cotswolds itinerary is Painswick, just a short 11-minute drive north from Stroud. Dubbed “The Queen of the Cotswolds,” this historic town was recently featured in the BBC’s The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.
Stroll along the picturesque streets, including the deceptively named New Street, built in the 15th century, and the Church of St. Mary, built between the 14th and 16th centuries, with its yard of 99 yew trees. It’s rumored that every time a 100th is planted, it dies.
Next, pay a visit to the 18th century Painswick Rococo Garden, the only one of its kind in the country.
Next, head about 45 minutes east to Burford, once the site of a fortified ford during the early Middle Ages and later the center of the medieval wool trade. Deemed the southern gateway to the Cotswolds, this beautiful town on the river Windrush remains a crossroads.
High Street offers rows of independent shops, teashops, and cafes to explore with its aesthetically pleasing architecture and quaint character. Burford’s High Street is also home to England’s oldest pharmacy, which opened its doors in 1734, and the Tolsey Museum, which highlights the town’s history.
Walk to the top of High Street and take in the view of the rows of centuries-old buildings sweeping down to the River Windrush, straddled by an impressive three-arched medieval bridge.
Bibury is one of the region’s most stunning villages, coined “the most beautiful village in England” by William Morris.
Once a humble mill town, it’s now also one of its most famous, featured in films like Stardust and Bridget Jones’ Diary and attracting droves of tourists every year. If you’re visiting in summer, I strongly recommend arriving early (e.g., before 10 a.m.) or coming later in the day to avoid the crowds.
Take a stroll along Arlington Row on Awkward Hill, a picturesque lane of 17th-century weaver’s cottages so treasured and emblematic it’s featured on U.K. passports. Afterwards, venture a little further from the center to explore country roads and get a taste of local life.
Cirencester, a beautiful market town, is called the Capital of the Cotswolds. In the Roman era, it was Britain’s second-largest city behind London. In the 6th century, however, the Saxons destroyed and rebuilt it.
Fortunately, in the medieval era, the town came into its own once more finding prosperity as a major wool hub. Today, the small municipality with its quintessential Cotswold architecture and ancient remnants is the Cotswolds’ largest town.
Must-see attractions include the Corinium Museum with Roman, Norman, and Saxon artefacts and the Parish of St. John Baptist.
Where to Stay in the Cotswolds
If you’re planning to spend 2 to 3 days in the Cotswolds, then you’re going to need to find a great place to rest your head in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are lots of accommodation options to choose from so if you’re looking for the perfect place to stay in the Cotswolds, browse through these suggestions:
The Lamb Inn – This idyllic pub located in the village of Bourton-on-the-Water is the perfect place to stay in the Cotswolds. Packed with charm, they have a range of comfortable and clean rooms available and a pub downstairs to grab a pint a “country-style” bite to eat. Click here to see their availability
The Fleece – If you’re looking for a great boutique hotel to stay at in the Cotswolds, this is a wonderful option located in the village of Witney – not too far from Oxford. They have a range of cosy and comfortable rooms on offer and a great breakfast available each morning. Click here to see their availability
The Porch House – Located in the idyllic village of Stow-on-the-Wold, this inn dates back to the 10th century and is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for luxury in the Cotswolds. They have a number of beautiful rooms to choose from and lots of other amenities to make your stay fantastic. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Cotswolds hotels!
Set against a backdrop of rolling hills and idyllic farmland, the golden-hued villages, and towns of the Cotswolds are like something out of a fairytale. Whether you have one day or three, use this Cotswolds itinerary to experience the very best of this incredible region.
When travelling in England, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a visit to the Cotswolds? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!