Cotswolds Guide

The Cotswolds are situated in South West England and cover a number of counties including Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. It spans almost 800 square miles and is the largest Designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the United Kingdom.

The landscape consists of rolling hills, water meadows and picturesque river valleys, occasionally punctuated by sleepy hamlets. Other picturesque features of this region include The Windrush, Coln and Evenlode streams, which meander through the countryside past towns such as Stow-on-the-Wold and Eynsham and on towards the great River Thames.

The Cotswold Way is a 100 mile trail that runs between Chipping Campden and Bath. It allows visitors to truly appreciate these varied and inspiring countryside settings. Beechwood trees grow in abundance around this part of the world and provide a colourful backdrop to the attractive surroundings.

Scattered along this protected region lie a number of historic villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water, which consists of low bridges and Cotswold stone houses – it is one of the most idyllic settings in the Cotswolds.

Chipping Campden is one of the oldest and nestles in the hills. It has a 15th Century church as well a Jacobean market hall. Other historical towns include the Elizabethan market town Tetbury, famed for its 17th Century town hall and Chipping Steps and the village of Broadway, with its honey coloured stone buildings and Norman church. More information about these towns and villages is included below. Scroll down for more information about Cotswolds visitor attractions.

History and Culture

Blenheim Palace is a World Heritage site and was the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It is set in 200 acres of parkland and formal gardens and is considered to be one of the most impressive stately homes in England. I

Tewkesbury Abbey is also impressive and is one of the finest Norman Abbeys of its kind in the UK. Dating back to the 14th century it features the largest surviving Norman tower and elaborately carved tombs. The Roman Baths Museum in Bath is another World Heritage Site and is a bathing complex with a well-preserved ruined temple.

Outdoor Activities

Nature lovers should visit the award-winning Slimbridge Wetland Center. Located on the shores of the Severn Estuary, the reserve features the biggest collection of ducks, geese and swans in the world. A number of events are held each year including nature walks, workshops and landrover safaris.

Ballooning provides an original way of appreciating the impressive countryside and there are a number of centres that offer flights. Ballooning in the Cotswolds is one of the most popular and has been in operation since 1985. It offers trips over Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.

Towns and Villages

As well as the numerous Cotswolds visitor attractions mentioned above, the region also features plenty of character villages and towns of which there are far too many to list here. Nevertheless, here are a few examples of the picture postcard locations you can expect to find in this beautiful region.

Arlington Row

Bibury

Bibury is a quintessential Cotswolds village and was described by poet William Morris as ‘the most beautiful’ in all of England. Within a short drive of Cirencester, it’s set on the banks of the River Coln in Gloucestershire.

One of Bibury’s main visitor attractions is Arlington Row – a collection of weaver’s cottages that were converted from monastic wool store buildings in the 17th century. These charming little houses are among the most photographed of all Cotswolds village settings.

Also of historical and cultural interest is the Saxon church of St Mary’s. Its north chancel comprises the famed stained-glass window by Karl Parsons which featured on Royal Mail’s 1992 Christmas stamp set.

Bibury is also home to one of the UK’s oldest trout farms and spawns up to 10 million Rainbow Trout each year. Current facilities include a well-stocked shop selling a range of locally-sourced produce, a gift shop and cafe.

Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water is another stunning Cotswolds village. Straddling the River Windrush in Gloucestershire, it’s set within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and boasts an attractive high street fringed by large village greens. A collection of little bridges cross the Windrush at a variety of points throughout the village, leading many to dub Bourton, the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’.

Its model railway is one of the village’s most popular attractions and features 40 British and Commonwealth trains which run through an imaginative array of painstakingly designed landscapes. Also on display is a vast range of toys including RC cars, Scalextric tracks and die-cast models.

The Cotswolds Motor Museum is another highlight and exhibits a collection of classic UK motor vehicles. Other places of interest include Birdland Park and Gardens with its nine acres of woodland gardens that are home to more than 130 species of birds.

Nature-lovers should also enjoy Greystones Nature Reserve which is open throughout the year and boasts a collection of rare trees and wildflower meadows. Additionally, those looking to explore this picturesque region can take advantage of the award-winning Cotswolds Guided Tours which arranges pick-ups from the town.

Cirencester

Cirenster is a traditional Gloucestershire market town that lies on the River Churn. Home to the Royal Agricultural University, it is known by many as the capital of the Cotswolds  – it is a vibrant, bustling location with narrow winding streets and a picturesque square.

In fact, Cirencester’s market square is as old as the town itself and was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086 – traders still set up their stalls on Mondays and Fridays. The square is overlooked by the large parish Church of St. John the Baptist. Dating back to the 15th century, its south porch boasts an impressive vault ceiling.

For family day outs, try Cirencester Park. Home to the Bathhurst family, it’s situated just outside town and features a 3000-acre estate. Corinium Museum is another must-visit attraction, exhibiting one of the largest collections of Roman artefacts in the UK.

The New Brewery Arts is also worth a visit and is housed in a converted Victorian brewery. It showcases the work of local textile artists, glass blowers and ceramicists and features an award-winning gift shop.

Chipping Campden

Chipping Campden is another elegant Cotswold town with a charming high street of locally-quarried limestone buildings from the 14th and 16th centuries. At one time a centre for the wool trade, Chipping Campden is now a popular destination for short break holiday-makers as well as arts and crafts fans.

Chipping Campden’s curved high street is a triumph of craftsmanship, fringed by an unbroken terrace of buildings that exhibit a mishmash of architectural styles. The Gothic 500-year old St James Church is nearby and was featured in Simon Jenkin’s ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’.

Blenheim Palace

The town’s centrepiece is its ancient Market Hall which was constructed in the early 17th century. Originally intended as a shelter for traders, it retains most of its original features including the paved floors, pediments and stone arches designed by Sir Baptist Hicks.

Numerous other historical attractions can be found all over Chipping Campden including extravagant 17th century monuments to local merchants as well as variety of almshouses. Within a short distance are Hidcote Manor Gardens and Kiftsgate Court Gardens, both of which are open to the public and feature superbly-kept grounds.

Stow-on-the-Wold

Situated on Fosse Way, Stow-on-the-Wold is the highest Cotswold town and sits at an elevation of 800ft. Like some of the other towns mentioned here, it was originally an important trading centre – this is illustrated by the impressive market square that’s fringed by townhouses, old inns and shops – the original medieval stocks can still be seen as well as an ancient market cross.

There are numerous other historical points of interest around the town including the Grade I-listed St Edwards Church with its tree-fringed north door, the Toll House, Porch House and the charming Fleece Alley with its ancient buildings.

A collection of famous gardens are also within a short distance of Stow-on-the-Wold including the aforementioned Hidcote Manor as well as Snowshill Manor and Bourton House – all boast impressive garden grounds that are open to the general public.

Cotswolds Waterpark is about 40 miles from Stow and features an excellent array of water slides and aquatic activities. Cotswolds Wildlife Park is another popular visitor attraction and is also relatively nearby. Teaming with a variety of exotic wildlife including the largest collection of reptiles in the UK, it offers a great day out for the whole family.

Learn more about the major Cotswolds visitor attractions and places of interest at: https://www.cotswolds.com

Looking to stay in this beautiful region? Then take a look at our hand-picked collection of Cotswolds holiday cottages and self-catering properties.