The Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) covering almost 800 square miles across the English counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Wiltshire. Despite being surrounded by popular cities such as Bristol and Oxford, this guide to the Cotswolds will show you why it remains a hugely popular destination, with people visiting again and again.
LewisLoves’ A to Z Guide to the Cotswolds
Let’s start as we mean to go on…indulge yourself in this quintessential Cotswolds’ pastime; with scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, champagne and loose leaf tea piled high, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon with friends.
LewisLoves recommends: The Daffodil for an art deco extravaganza, Ellenborough Park for something really special, Lucy’s Tearoom for a true Cotswolds’ experience (they also do gluten free), Star Bistro to treat yourself and a great charity at the same time.
Beaches & Bores
OK, so you can’t see the sea. But the Cotswolds has its very own beach complete with donkeys in South Cerney’s old flooded quarries. There is a new inflatable aquapark too in case you fancy a go at Total Wipeout. Worried that you’ll miss out on the waves? Fear not, as stormtroopers (and regular folk) frequently surf on the River Severn’s tidal bores. If your balance is as bad as ours, there are plenty of places to cheer them on too!
Churches & Cathedrals
Whether you want to see where Harry Potter was filmed, ponder Painswick’s 99 yew trees, climb Gloucestershire’s highest church tower or are just feeling spiritual, the Cotswolds have some of the most magical, mythical and impressive religious structures around.
Gin, whisky, vodka…whatever your poison, the Cotswolds has you covered with an enviable choice of award winning local distillers. Why not spend an afternoon seeing how they’re made before enjoying a cheeky sample or three?
You might visit the Cotswolds for the attractions but you’ll want to stay for the food. We could easily write an A to Z in homage to the many amazing producers, cafés, bars, restaurants, farmers markets and roasters that we’ve grown to know and love (in fact, that might be a blog post for the future if we can narrow the choices down). In the meantime, we’ll leave a few of our absolute favourites below and encourage you to try as many as you can for yourself.
LewisLoves recommends: Stroud Farmers’ Market, Le Champignon Sauvage – Cheltenham, Fillet & Bone – Chipping Campden, The Coffee Dispensary – Cheltenham, The Bottle of Sauce – Cheltenham, Simpsons Fish and Chips – Cheltenham.
When it comes to festivals, The Cotswolds definitely punches well above its weight. We are lucky enough to host internationally renowned events ranging from up and coming jazz artists to a feast on Alex James from Blur’s farm, and glorious tall ships sailing into Gloucester Docks. We certainly know how to attract the biggest and brightest names right to our doorstep.
Every summer, you’ll find Giffords Circus pitching their bright big top across the Cotswolds, bringing laughter and fun to all the family with their village green traditional circus; this year’s theme is “My Beautiful Circus”. If previous years are anything to go by, you’ll probably end up wanting to run away with the circus. Advanced booking is strongly recommended for this sell out show.
LewisLoves recommends: Booking a seat at Circus Sauce, Giffords Circus‘ own restaurant to enjoy a beautiful, locally sourced meal with Tweedy the Clown and the other performers. It’s all served on special circus themed Emma Bridgewater crockery too (Emma is Nell Gifford’s sister).
Horses (…and camels)
You’re probably familiar with the Cheltenham Gold Cup. However, did you know that the Cotswolds also plays host to camel and sheep racing at Andoversford, three world famous Horse Trials, princes playing polo, and even horse drawn beer deliveries? Come on, admit it, you’re still thinking about the camels aren’t you?
Aside from the eponymous hills, there are plenty of other reasons to travel up and down across the Cotswolds. The famous Prescott Speed Hill Climb regularly hosts classic and super cars to race on the testing uphill track. Broadway Tower offers unrivalled views across 13 counties and, should you fancy a quick descent, there is even a dry ski slope or the chance to chase a cheese down a hill.
Don’t worry, you’ve not travelled back in time! The Knights of Middle England in Warwickshire offer the opportunity to learn to joust either during an experience day or through attending regular classes. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll never have to worry about dealing with a rotten scoundrel ever again!
LewisLoves recommends: If you’d rather just watch some death defying jousting, Warwick Castle hosts regular tournaments with trained professionals. What better excuse to entertain and educate your kids?!
With the Cotswold Water Park in South Cerney offering a whole host of watersports and other fun activities, plus an abundance of rivers to try your hand at wild swimming, there is no excuse not to take to the water and make a splash. If you feel like staying on dry land, there are plenty of nature walks around. Try the old quarries that have been turned into a series of lakes, teeming with wildlife.
Head to Snowshill between June and August and, tucked amongst the rolling fields of yellow rape, you’ll catch a vivid splash of purple and a floral fragrance in the air. Cotswold Lavender grow over 40 different varieties of lavender in rows spanning over 140 miles, perfect for a late afternoon stroll and Instagram snap.
LewisLoves recommends: Having enjoyed your walk around the lavender fields, head inside for some lavender shortbread in their tea room. Or take the fragrance home with you by picking up some of their lovely beauty and home products.
Cars, planes, Romans artefacts, or paintings; the Cotswolds have a museum for every interest, no matter how niche. Look out for open days or kid’s events to get all the family involved.
There’s no better way to reflect on the Cotswolds’ rich history than via a trip to one of the National Trust’s many gems. Whether you are into Japanese Samurai, deer parks, the UK’s only surviving 17th century grandstand, or uncovered Roman ruins, we’re truly spoilt for choice.
The (Cotswold) hills are alive with the sound of music. With one of the finest country opera houses in the UK, we’re lucky enough to be able to take in the majesty of the opera without travelling to the big smoke.
LewisLoves recommends: Pack a basket and blanket for your trip to Longborough Festival Opera and enjoy a pre-performance picnic with glorious views over the Gloucestershire countryside. The Royal Opera House can’t compete!
Young or old, no matter what your age, a sunny afternoon al fresco is one of life’s undeniable pleasures. Whether you want to let off steam, sizzle some sausages on a BBQ, or paddle a canoe, the Cotswolds has some truly special spots including giant playgrounds, unfinished Victorian mansions and deer.
Quote the bard himself
Shakespeare lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the 1600s and the whole town encapsulates his work. Take a tour of his former homes, catch a play at the world renowned Royal Shakespeare Company theatre or, if you aren’t in a thespian mood, you could pilot a boat down the river, or stand stock still as rare butterflies flit and float around you.
The Cotswolds is positively teeming with Royal connections. You can wander around the grounds of Prince Charles’ private estate, Highgrove, and enjoy some of his Duchy Originals biscuits. If eventing is more your thing, you can join Princess Anne in her back garden to watch Zara Tindall competing in the Gatcombe Horse Trials. Alternatively, for history buffs, Sudeley Castle is the resting place of Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six wives.
Every spring, vast carpets of snowdrops pop their heads up, covering hidden corners of the Cotswolds with pristine white flowers. You’ll undoubtedly have seen them swaying in the wind on roadside verges and in dappled woodland glades. For a real spectacle though, head to one of the Cotswold treasures listed below.
Everywhere has its fair share of quirky events, but in the Cotswolds we really know how to up the ante. Onion munching, carrying woolsacks uphill, chasing cheese downhill, kicking shins or kicking a football in the river; all perfectly normal pastimes wouldn’t you agree?
After a long day exploring the Cotswolds, why not treat yourself to a bit of relaxation? With a wide choice of luxurious spas, vineyards producing delicious wine, and peaceful country hotels, the Cotswolds is the perfect place to kick back, relax and unwind.
No guide to the Cotswolds would be complete without at least one reference to the spectacular views on offer. Whether you like rolling fields, sprawling landscapes, a canopy of leaves or rushing water, you won’t be disappointed. Just remember to bring extra batteries for your camera as you will definitely need them.
It doesn’t matter if you like your animals big or small, scaly or fluffy, the Cotswolds have got you covered. There are plenty of opportunities just to observe but if you like getting hands on, then you won’t be disappointed.
eXplore the Cotswolds Way
Running over 100 miles along the Cotswolds escarpment from Bath to Chipping Campden, this National Trail combines picturesque villages, historical sites of interest and sweeping views across the surrounding counties. You might not finish it in a day (although there is a 24 hour race if you want to try) but there are plenty of decent pubs en route, so there is no reason not to keep coming back until you’re finished.
LewisLoves recommends: Stopping off at Broadway Tower to get the best view over the Cotswolds, descend into a nuclear bunker, spot some of the resident deer and enjoy a tasty lunch on the terrace.
Sure, there are plenty of green hills in the Cotswolds but that’s hardly unique. We’ve given this some thought and decided that the colour of the Cotswolds could in fact be yellow; consider the fields of golden rapeseed waiting to be turned into delicious Cotswold Gold oil, miles of honey coloured drystone walling, the Cheltenham Gold Cup horse race or the infamous yellow car that has become part of the landscape at Arlington Row, Bibury. See, I told you…yellow.
…go on, just a bit closer. That’s it! Now you can see the perfectly replicated miniature version of the Cotswolds on display in Bourton-on-the-Water. If you want to feel like a giant for a little longer, there’s a model railway down the road too.
If our A to Z guide to the Cotswolds has made you want to visit or you’d like to find out more, visit the official Cotswolds Tourist Information website for more information.