Few places encapsulate the beauty of the English countryside like the Cotswolds, with its green rolling hills, grand country estates, and picturesque villages chiseled out of honey-colored stone. A protected “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” it’s the retreat of choice for wealthy Londoners and residents include movie stars and royalty.
Most Cotswolds tours run from London, driving along the winding country roads and stopping to explore the historic market towns or enjoy lunch at a traditional pub. Full-day tours often include a stop in the Cotswolds en route to nearby attractions. Options include a tour of historic Bath, Stonehenge, and Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon; a visit to Oxford, Blenheim Palace, and Warwick Castle; or a tour of Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Many Cotswolds tours and attractions are wheelchair accessible; check with your tour operator in advance.
- Some tours include overnight accommodations in local Cotswolds B&Bs or hotels.
- Wear comfortable shoes since most tours include lots of walking.
How to Get There
The Cotswolds is an area of south England, lying mainly in the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, and including the cities of Bath, Cheltenham, and Stroud. Located 100 miles (161 kilometers) west of London or about two hours by road, it is accessible via several highways, as well as by public transport. Buses run from the capital to many of the towns and villages of the Cotswolds, while Cotswold Line trains connect London’s Paddington railway station with Hereford and Worcester.
When to Get There
Summer is the most popular time to visit the Cotswold Hills, and accommodations can fill up quickly in July and August. Be sure to book ahead. Visiting out of summer means you’ll avoid the crowds and enjoy a more local experience, but outdoor activities such as hiking or bike tours will be dependent on weather conditions. Perhaps the most atmospheric time to visit is over the holiday season, when many of the villages host Christmas Markets and you might get chance to see the countryside covered in snow.
The Cotswolds Villages
The idyllic towns and villages of the Cotswolds each have their own unique character, and visitors can admire the historic buildings, browse the antique shops, or stop for a traditional afternoon tea at a café. The largest town in the Cotswolds is Cheltenham, while Cirencester, Tetbury, and Chipping Campden are among the busiest market towns. In the North Cotswolds, the villages of Broadway, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Burford are popular photo stops for visitors, and the village of Bampton is known for its role as Downton Village in Downton Abbey.