A long weekend in the Cotswolds is a quintessentially English experience. Rolling green hills, dotted with picture-perfect historic villages. It’s no wonder many of the newly popular period dramas on TV recently, such as Downton Abbey, were filmed in this part of the world.
It really is like a time warp in some of the small villages you’ll see on this trip. Along the way, we’ll take in traditional tea rooms and historic pubs with cosy-fire places. Ghost tours and model villages. Michelin star resteraunts and local pub food. From the quirky to the old to the truly beautiful, a tour of the Cotswolds makes a fantasy weekend getaway at any time of year.
For more great areas of the UK to visit, try our guide to The 11 Best Regions to Visit in the United Kingdom.
Realistically, The Cotswolds is one part of England you’ll want to drive around. While many of England’s most beautiful and historic regions do in fact have train lines criss-crossing them – the Cotswolds really doesn’t.
Getting to the general area by train isn’t a problem if you need to, but once you’re here we’d really advise renting a car if you can. There are some public bus services between major villages, but personal transport will make the whole trip a lot smoother. Leaving more time for you to enjoy the outstanding beauty of the Cotswolds at your leisure!
Day 1: Bourton on the Water
One of the best places to stay in the Cotswolds, as a base for further exploration, is the beautiful village of Bourton on the Water. Compared to some of the truly tiny hamlets and villages in this area, Bourton on the Water has lots of stunning accommodation choices, and attractions to visit. It’s also slap bang in the middle of the Cotswolds and is a lovely place to stroll through in its own right.
To get to this secluded village we suggest getting a train from London to the town of Cheltenham. From there you can rent a car and it’s a pleasant 30-minute drive to your new home base for the weekend.
What to do and Bourton on the Water?
Model village. Cotswold Motoring Museum. Bloody Burton Walking Tour. The Mousetrap Inn.
Firstly, the village itself is an attraction in its own right. Strolling along the River Windrush and the five historic stone bridges that across it, you’ll feel like you’re in a period drama! Unlike some small villages of the Cotswolds though, there’s more to do than just explore picturesque streets.
There’s a model village, which is a perfect replica of the actual village. As it was when the model was built in 1936! This takes about an hour to tour and is a magical experience – especially if you’ve never seen a model village before. Then there’s also the Cotswolds Motoring Museum. Because, as we said, most people who live here use cars to get about, there’s a rich motoring history in the area.
This museum features loads of classic cars, and vehicles from old TV shows. Including the main character car British children’s TV classic Brum!
Lower and Upper Slaughter
Bourton on the Water is absolutely lovely, but it is one of the more popular Cotswolds spots with tourists. Luckily, just half an hour’s scenic walk up the road is a pair of just as beautiful but much quieter villages.
Lower and Upper Slaughter are a pleasant hour or so walk away from each other, along the Eye Brook. Sometimes called The Slaughter! Despite their ominous names, Upper Slaughter is actually locally famous for being one of the only villages in Britain not to lose a soldier in the First World War.
Lose a pleasant afternoon strolling between the two villages, and then head back to Bourton on the water in time for dinner!
Where to eat in or near Bourton on the Water?
Try the famous and historic Mousetrap Inn for homely British pub food, all locally sourced of course.
For a reasonably priced and more universal option, Smith’s of Bourton is an upmarket burger joint with a lively atmosphere of an evening.
Where to stay in Burton on the Water?
- $$$ – For the top class accommodation in Bourton on the Water we recommend a privately rented cottage. There are several fantastic properties in the village available to rent, all in the centre of the cosy, peaceful vibes. Although they come at a price!
- $$ – With it’s tranquil garden, excellent hospitality and great location – you won’t get a much better mid-budget room in Bourton on the Water than at The Dial House.
- $ – To be frank, there aren’t any budget-friendly accommodation options right in the heart of of the rural Cotswolds area. If you’re exploring on a shoestring, and it can be done, you’ll have to stay in one of the big towns on the edge of the region. We recommend the YHA Cotswolds in Cirencester or the Premier Inn in Gloucester for no frills but well-kept sleeping space.
Day 2: Broadway and Snowshill
Travel time: On day 2, it’s time to get up early and take a nice and straight morning drive – of about 30 minutes – to the next idyllic villages on our Cotswolds tour. Broadway and Snowshill are about 20 minutes’ drive apart, offering unique attractions with the same tranquil village feel.
What to do and see in Broadway?
Broadway is a lovely little hamlet nestled in between forested hills, with a gorgeous high street to walk along. Try a pint or some lunch at the Lygon Arms Hotel. Originally built as a manor house in the 1400s, it soon became a coaching house and inn. Over the years Oliver Cromwell and King Edward VII have both stopped here for the night. Historic settings for a pub lunch!
If you’re up for it, take a hike up Broadway Hill to the 18th century Broadway Tower. Sat on the second highest point in the Cotswolds, this 60-foot tall tower is open from 11 am to 4 pm all week in the winter months, and from 10 am until 5 pm in the summer. It’s well worth a visit for spectacular views of the surrounding hills and villages.
On to Snowshill
With a name like Snowshill, how could it not be beautiful? This charming village has a huge antique curiosity collection and a picture-perfect stone-walled pub for starters. But mainly, although only at certain times of year, they have one of the most Instagrammable spots in the whole of the Cotswolds – Snowshill Lavender Fields.
This is a working farm, where they harvest the fragrant herb for making gin. However, in late spring and early summer, they open up for tourists to stroll along the banks of perfectly symmetric purple loveliness. Beautiful!
If the weather isn’t playing ball so much during your visit, try an afternoon at Snowshill Manor. This house looks impressive enough, but what’s inside it is even more interesting. Some 20,000 objects were collected by an eccentric local landowner between 1920 and 1950. Samurai armor. Vintage motorbikes. Rare board games. Well worth a visit, because you never know what will be on display!
Where to eat in the Broadway and Snows Hill area?
The historic Lygon Arms in Broadway is a good shout, if you didn’t eat there earlier in the day. Think classic high-class hearty English food such as roasts, stews and grills, served by a roaring fire and with locally brewed beers.
If you’re looking for some of the finest dining in the Cotswolds, the classy surroundings of Russel’s of Broadway might suit. They have a range of fish dishes, most sourced from the north Cornish coast just across the North Sea, loads of British meats and seasonal veg options that rotate throughout the year.
Day 3: Castle Combe
Travel time: Bourton on the Water to Castle Combe is the longest journey of the trip. But as it’s a super scenic 1 hour trip straight down the A69 road, we’re sure you won’t really mind.
Castle Combe is probably the most famous Cotswold village – and for good reason. It’s been named the prettiest village in the UK several times, and it’s obvious why. The influx of tourists over the summer does see the area get a bit busier. For anyone used to urban life though it will still have the same village charm.
What to do and see in Castle Combe?
Market Place Bridge is one of the prettiest spots of any Cotswolds village. The winding street with its flint-roofed houses, the babbling brook with it’s simple stone bridge and the forested hill behind tying it all into nature – it really is an incredible scene. So you might not be the only one trying to get that perfect photo here! But, it’s well worth a visit either way.
For an adrenaline-filled and action-packed way to end your Cotswolds long weekend trip, why not visit Castle Combe Circuit? Continuing the motoring theme, this legendary race course in scenic surroundings is open throughout the year to amateur drivers. Sometimes you might even find the odd supercar or vintage ride to take for a spin, but be prepared to pay the extra for that!
For a more relaxing and luxurious treat at the end of your trip, try booking a table at The Old Rectory Tea Room. You can’t just pop in – you have to book a day or two before. But it’s so worth it!
You’ll literally be privately served a sumptuous English high-tea spread, in the owner’s vintage parlour room. Think cream cakes and cucumber sandwiches. Fresh locally made jam, and real Cornish cream, with a cup of piping hot, golden tea. Can’t beat it!
Where to eat in Castle Combe?
You just can’t visit a Cotswolds village without having a pint at the local! And you might as well have some food while you’re there too. The Castle Inn is a picturesque stone building with a quirky little lean – hopefully not from one too many pints. It’s your usual British pub food fare, but with a homely atmosphere and lovely surroundings to boot.
For something a little lighter, maybe during your day walking around the village, try The Little Picnic Shop. As you might think by the name this charming little café offers mostly takeaway pastries, cakes, and teas. But – order in a day or two before and you pick up a full bespoke picnic hamper to take on your day out! How cool is that? They’re also great for vegan options, which is nice as generally, The Cotswolds isn’t the most vegan-diet-friendly part of the UK.
So there we have it! A full long weekend in The Cotswolds, one of England’s most beautiful areas. English tea in a vintage front room. Pub roasts by roaring fires. Sweeping hills and small villages, with majestic views from historic towers. What else could you want from a weekend break in the UK?
If you enjoy your walking a bit more than your driving, why not check out our epic guide to the 8 Best Hikes to do in the Lake District for some truly stunning active holiday ideas. And, as always, stay EarthCurious!