After living in Cambridge, a historic English university town, and taking plenty of trips to London, we were ready see another side of British life. We planned three days in the Cotswolds to experience life in the countryside. The Cotswolds is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), its rolling hills of green dotted with thatched-roof farmhouses and honey-colored limestone villages. We planned to fit in as many charming villages as we could, take long walks in the gorgeous countryside passing more sheep than people, and tuck into a few good pub meals made with ingredients from local farms. In order to enjoy the scenery and go at a (somewhat) relaxed pace, we created the plan below along with a map to help us make the most of our time. Here is our itinerary for three days in the Cotswolds.
Where to Stay
The Cotswolds is a fairly large area (the region crosses 6 counties), so we stayed in a town that was centrally located to where we planned on visiting. We found a spacious and updated hotel (the Unicorn Aparthotel Suites) still full of character and charm in Stow-on-the-Wold.
In Europe, we most often use Airbnb or Booking.com. Booking.com wins for convenience in making a reservation because most places offer free cancellation up until your stay (or only a few days before). Plus, the site often has great last minute deals. This means we usually book something in advance, but check back a few weeks before our trip for a better hotel or discounted rate. We booked a 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen at the Unicorn Aparthotel Suites for $125 while the original list price is $325.
Here are a few other places we would’ve loved to stay as well:
The Swan Hotel, Bibury – This classic looking hotel is right across from the famous Arlington Row, and even has its own stream for fishing.
9 Arlington Row, Bibury – You can actually stay on Arlington Row, in one of the last cottages on the lane. Booking is available 15 months in advance, and it looks like it books up early.
Lords Of The Manor, Upper Slaughter – For a luxury hotel stay, enjoy the beautiful rooms and gardens of this manor located in Upper Slaughter. This hotel also has a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Thatch Cottage, near Castle Combe – If you plan to spend some time in the southern part of the Cotswolds to visit Castle Combe, one of the areas most photographed villages, then don’t miss the chance to stay in this quaint thatch cottage!
What (and Where) to Eat
The Cotswolds is a major foodie destination, with pubs and restaurants making excellent use of the local meats, cheeses and produce. The area is home to a handful of Michelin starred restaurants, boasts a few products with Protected Designation of Origin (like Single Gloucester cheese and Gloucester Old Spot pork), and just follow the Gloucestershire Ale Trail to find some of England’s best craft breweries.
Catch your own fish at the Bibury Trout Farm. Feast like a king in Kingham in pubs like The Wild Rabbit and The Kingham Plough. And for a taste of history, dine (or stay) in England’s oldest inn, The Porch House.
You can’t leave the Cotswolds without a cream tea, your classic afternoon tea with scones, clotted cream, and jam. The scones at Huffkins in Stow-on-the-Wold are incredible, but there are plenty of tea rooms where you can indulge in some afternoon treats.
For a mix of food and entertainment, witness the famous cheese rolling on Cooper’s Hill near Chipping Campden. It takes places once a year on the last Bank Holiday Monday in May. If you can’t make it, check out this video of the crazy competition.
Day 1 in the Cotswolds
Towns visited: Burford, Bibury, Painswick
We were heading in from London, so we crossed the mid-section of the Cotswolds from east to west. When we learned that Burford is often called the Gateway to the Cotswolds, it felt like a great place to make our first stop. The high street has beautiful architecture and cute shops, and it was busy with locals doing their shopping. I loved how this main street climbed uphill, so as you walked along you could see over the buildings and to the fields and farm land beyond.
Our next stop was Bibury, one of the most popular tourist towns in the Cotswolds. The main draw to Bibury is Arlington Row, a row of storybook cottages built in 1380 as wool stores. The buildings were converted to weavers’ cottages in the seventeenth century. As mentioned above, you can now book a stay in Cottage 9! The row is one the most photographed streets in Britain. If you’ve heard about the yellow car controversy (a bright yellow car used to be parked at the very end of the row, popping out in photos), it looks like the owner may have swapped out for a more subtle gray.
Our last stop was Painswick, a little town on the western edge of the Cotswolds. We visited St. Mary’s church, well-know for the rows of old yew trees (103 to be exact!) and the well-preserved tombs and monuments dating back to the early 17th century. Painswick is also a great place to start on the Cotswold Way, up to a great lookout point like Painswick Beacon. If you’re running short on time and daylight hours like we were, you can drive up the hill so the lookout is only a few minutes walk. We trekked along the edge of a golf course, passing a few locals out for a quick jaunt with their dog. We enjoyed the amazing sunset despite the fierce wind, running back down the hill before we lost all daylight.
Day 2 in the Cotswolds
Towns visited: Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter, Broadway
Since we stayed in Stow-on-the-Wold, we spent the morning exploring this town. We could see the bell tower of St. Edward’s church from our apartment, so we walked over to see the grounds. Two ancient yew trees frame the church door, like something from The Lord of the Rings. We picked up scones, a lardy cake, and a few other treats from Huffkins Café, all of which were delicious. We also grabbed a sandwich from a little shop called Cotswold Baguettes to take with us on our walk over lunch time.
After exploring Stow, we headed to another pretty Cotswold town, Bourton-on-the-Water. This incredibly picturesque village meanders around a small river, with small footbridges crossing the water and quaint Cotswolds limestone cottages lining the footpath. As one of the more well-known towns, Bourton gets fairly busy with tourists, so we were happy to arrive earlier in the morning.
There is a 14 mile walk called Warden’s Way that starts in Bourton-on-the-Water and ends in Winchcombe. If you don’t have all day, visiting Bourton and the Slaughters is a great option. This short ramble takes you through quintessential English countryside to the bucolic villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter. Don’t miss the Old Mill in Lower Slaughter with a tea room, shop and ice cream parlor, St Peter’s Church in Upper Slaughter, and all of the incredible cute sheep along the way. Our countryside jaunt was made all the more fun by the crazy weather changes; what started off as a sunny day turned into a sprinkle of flurries. As we headed back, we picked up the pace, trying to outrun the massive and brooding rain clouds that were looming close behind. Just make sure you dress for cold and wet weather!
After our walk through the Slaughters, we headed off towards Broadway. In spring, the Cotswolds are quilted with bright yellow canola (or rapeseed) fields, so I was excited when we found a short public walking path through the fields (see the spot on the map here).
After a few games of hide and seek through the fields, we got back in the car, passed a lot more fields of flowers and sheep, made a quick visit to Naunton, and finally landed in Broadway. Broadway Tower looks like a mini castle, which makes for a fun stop. And with great views of the surrounding valley, it’s an incredible place to watch the sunset.
Day 3 in the Cotswolds
Towns visited: Cirencester, Castle Combe
For the last day in the Cotswolds, head south to Cirencester and Castle Combe. Cirencester is called the capital of the Cotswolds due to its central location in the region. It’s not a hugely popular tourist destination, but has plenty of pretty buildings and history to keep you interested. Cirencester’s deep history dates back to Roman times, including remains of a Roman amphitheatre. Like many of the towns, Cirencester used wool money to build the parish church, and it’s one of the finest in the area. Black Jack Street is worth a visit to browse the unique independent shops that line the lane.
Head on further south to Castle Combe, one of the prettiest villages in the Cotstwolds. The view of Castle Combe across the bridge jockeys with Arlington Row as the most photographed spot in the Cotswolds. You may have seen it featured in a few movies, like Stardust, War Horse, or the original Dr. Doolittle film. The town is small, so you have plenty of time to soak up the views and take tea at The Old Rectory Tearoom.
Other activities and attractions
There’s only so much you can pack into three days, so we included a few things we wish we would’ve had time for on our Google Map above. I’m most looking forward to a stop at Sezincote House, which looks like it belongs in India rather than rural England.
During the summer months, the Cotswold Lavender Farm near Broadway is open to the public, where you can walk through gorgeous fields of purple lavender.
While walking is a perfect way to enjoy the countryside, riding on horseback seems like it would transform the trip into something out a Jane Austen novel.
With more days in the area, consider exploring the nearby towns of Oxford, Bath, or Cheltenham.
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The Cotswolds are just so picturesque, I couldn’t resist sharing a few more photos.