How to spend a weekend in the Cotswolds, England: Discover the best things to see, do, eat and drink in the Cotswolds in a two-day itinerary featuring castles, country pubs, gardens and pretty villages.
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With its green rolling hills, honey-stone villages, cosy pubs, castles, country houses and manicured gardens, the Cotswolds’ film set good looks have made it the quintessential English countryside destination. I’m lucky enough to have this beautiful region on my doorstep, but the Cotswolds also makes a great destination for a weekend break.
The Cotswolds covers 800 square miles so it’s hard to know where to start, especially if you only have a few days. So we’ve picked some the highlights of the Cotswolds, for a taste of everything which makes this area so special. This 2-day itinerary will help you plan the perfect weekend in the Cotswolds, with what to see, where to eat, drink and stay.
Read more about the Cotswolds in our sister blog Explore the Cotswolds
How to spend a weekend in The Cotswolds
Once you’ve checked into your accommodation, start your weekend in the Cotswolds at the Broadway Tower. This Rapunzel-style tower sits on a hilltop outside the village of Broadway and is a Gothic folly built in 1798. The tower was used as a countryside retreat by designer William Morris – and more unexpectedly was also the site of a nuclear bunker.
It’s the second-highest point in the Cotswolds, with views across 16 counties and out as far as Wales on a clear day – which makes it a great place to watch the sun go down.
Then carry on into Broadway for dinner at The Lygon Arms.* This coaching inn dates back to the 1300s and has hosted everyone from Oliver Cromwell to Elizabeth Taylor. The Lygon Bar and Grill comes with chandeliers, open fireplaces and wood panelling, and serves local produce like Evesham asparagus and Gloucester Old Spot pork.
The following morning, make an early start to avoid the crowds in Bourton-on-the-Water. Known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, Bourton is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England, so it’s no surprise it’s one of the area’s most popular spots.
Grab a coffee and croissant from the Bakery on the Water then take a walk along the River Windrush, which is crossed by five stone bridges and lined with historic buildings and overhanging trees. Explore Bourton in miniature at the Model Village, a one-ninth scale replica of the village, or see vintage cars and bikes at the Cotswold Motoring Museum.
Then travel 1.5 miles north of Bourton to the twin villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter – who get their slightly unappealing name from an old English word for muddy or boggy place rather than anything more sinister! In these villages nothing has changed for more than a century, with no building work taking place at all since 1906.
Park in Lower Slaughter and follow the shallow River Eye past chocolate-box country cottages draped in flowers to The Old Mill. There’s been a water mill here since the Domesday Book, and it’s now museum, café and craft shop.
Carry on past the mill and follow the mile-long path to Upper Slaughter, along the riverside and across open fields. Once you get there, take a look around St Peter’s Church and watch cars braving the ford though the river. Or call in to the grand Lords of the Manor* for a drink on the terrace and a stroll around their gardens on a sunny day.
Head back to Lower Slaughter and travel six miles east to Daylesford for lunch. This ultra-trendy farm shop slash café is a favourite with the Cotswolds celebrity crowd.
They specialise in organic, sustainable produce, growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs as well as having a creamery and butchers on site. You can pick up bread, cheese and deli produce from the shop for a picnic, or eat in at The Trough Café, with vegetable tarts and salads on the menu, using ingredients fresh from the garden.
After lunch, drive 20 miles south to the village of Bibury, just north of Cirencester. There are a few different routes to get there, but the most scenic is along the B4425 which passes through a string of tiny villages called the Rissingtons and the Barringtons.
Bibury was once a mill town on the banks of the River Coln, surrounded by tranquil water meadows. But its picturesque good looks have made it one of the most famous Cotswold villages and it’s starred in Hollywood movies like 2007’s Stardust.
Head to Arlington Row – a row of cottages which are so typically English they even appeared on the inside cover of UK passports. They were originally built as a monastic wool store before being converted into weavers’ cottages in the 17th century. They’re now owned by the National Trust so you can’t go inside, but it’s a great spot for photographs.
Then travel 10 miles east to Burford, at the south edge of the Cotswolds. Burford was another centre of the medieval wool trade, and if you walk up to the top of the High Street and up Burford Hill you can look out over its historic buildings to the River Windrush.
Burford has lots of interesting antique shops and independent boutiques to explore – as well as the Burford Garden Centre on the edge of town. And you can satisfy any sugar cravings with a sticky caramelised lardy cake from Huffkins Bakery.
Then finish your day with dinner in Kingham, nine miles north of Burford. This small village is an unexpected Cotswold foodie hotspot, with two award-winning gastropubs. There’s the Michelin-starred Wild Rabbit – which is part of the Daylesford estate – or the more traditional Kingham Plough with its antique furniture and cosy log fires.
Start your Sunday with visit to Sudeley Castle. This 15th-century castle was home to Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, who’s buried in St Mary’s Chapel – making it the only private castle in England with a queen buried in its grounds. Sudeley is still a private residence (and pricey wedding venue) but parts are open to the public.
There are exhibitions featuring Tudor costumes and Katherine Parr’s books and letters. You can also see the damage where the castle was ‘slighted’ at the end of the English Civil War, leaving much of it in ruins for 200 years until it was bought and restored.
And there are 10 different gardens, including the Queens’ Garden where you can follow in the footsteps of at least four English queens, a pheasantry and an adventure playground for kids. Look out for special sculptures displays in the grounds too.
Then head south past Cheltenham to Cockleford for lunch. If you have time, make a stop off at Leckhampton Hill, just outside Cheltenham. It’s part of the Cotswold Way long-distance walking route and is one of my favourite viewpoints in the Cotswolds.
You can either park on Daisybank Road at the bottom of the hill or in the car park on Hartley Lane at the top if you don’t fancy so much of a climb. Then it’s a short walk to the top for views out over Cheltenham, the Severn Valley and Malvern Hills.
Then carry on to the Green Dragon Inn in the tiny hamlet of Cockleford for a traditional Sunday roast with all the trimmings. The pub dates back to 1643 and has bags of character with flagstone floors, beamed ceilings, hand-carved bars and furniture and open fires. There’s also a flower-filled beer garden and a good selection of local ales.
Then finish your weekend in the Cotswolds with a walk around one of the area’s beautiful gardens. The best one to choose will depend on which time of year you’re visiting, with a few places only open to the public for a limited season for particular blooms.
There are snowdrops at Colesbourne Park in February, the Cotswold Lavender and Confetti Flower Fields are open in June and July before the harvest, and Westonbirt and Batsford arboretums have colourful autumn leaves in September and October.
Otherwise Painswick Rococo Garden is a good choice at any time of year. It’s around 10 miles south of Cockleford in a tucked-away valley on the edge of the village of Painswick. The gardens were designed in the 1740s in an architectural style which was all about the frivolous and the flamboyant. As well as plants and flowers there are with follies and viewpoints, restored to their former glory based on a painting from the time.
Then pop into Painswick for tea – the village was the birthplace of the Twining tea-producing family so they know how to make a good cuppa. Painswick is also a favourite spot for artists. The village is set around St Mary’s Church which has 99 neatly trimmed yew trees in its churchyard – legend has it that if a 100th tree is planted it never survives.
Finally call into The Painswick hotel for afternoon tea before heading home. Indulge in a Champagne tea with sandwiches, cakes and scones or keep it simple with a classic scones, jam and cream, on the lawn in summer or by the fire in the winter.
Map of things to do in the Cotswolds
How to get to the Cotswolds
There are three main train lines through the Cotswolds – one in the north which calls at Moreton-in-Marsh and Kingham, one in the centre which goes to Stroud and Cheltenham, and one in the south to Bristol and Bath. You can also take the train to Oxford or Stratford-upon-Avon which are just outside but within easy reach of the Cotswolds.
The nearest airports are Birmingham for the north Cotswolds or Bristol for the south Cotswolds. You can take a train direct from Birmingham International or catch the Bristol Airport Flyer bus to Bristol Temple Meads train station. There are also National Express buses which connect London Heathrow to Cirencester, Cheltenham and Bath.
Getting around the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds isn’t the easiest place to get around by public transport – especially if you want to visit lots of different locations within a short period of time – so if possible it’s best to explore the region by car. If you don’t have your own car, you can pick up a hire car in either Cheltenham, Stroud, Bath, Oxford or Stratford-upon-Avon.
If you don’t want to hire a car there are bus services connecting the main towns and villages in the Cotswolds, but they’re not very frequent (and often non-existent on Sundays). So it’s easiest to base yourself in one place and travel out on day trips – this guide to public transport in the Cotswold has suggestions for itineraries without a car.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
The Old Stocks Inn* is a converted 17th-century coaching inn overlooking Stow-on-the-Wold’s village green. There’s lots of old-fashioned charm from its oak beams and crooked stone walls, but it’s been given a contemporary makeover with roll-top baths, velvet sofas and Scandi-style soft furnishings. There’s also a good restaurant and bar on site.
Or splash out on a stay at the luxurious Barnsley House*, a manor house surrounded by gardens and peaceful countryside but just four miles north of Cirencester. It’s a romantic spot with 18 stylish rooms and suites, a cocktail bar and restaurant, and special touches like an award-winning spa, hydrotherapy pool and garden cinema.
If you’d rather a place to yourself, there are plenty of traditional country cottages to rent in the Cotswolds which come with tons of character features. Some of our favourites include Field Cottage*, a one-bed thatched cottage with woodburner and roll-top bath in the sleepy village of Elmley Castle. Or four-bedroom Archers* in the grounds of Sudeley Castle.