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Bibury, Gloucestershire
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The 13 best things to do in the Cotswolds

Explore one of the most stunning parts of England with our pick of the very best things to do in the Cotswolds

Written by
Grace Allen
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Even the name invokes a dreamy romantic wandering. The Cotswolds covers a whole heap of ground, from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to the southern fringes of Bath, incorporating parts of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. With that in mind, the best things to do in the Cotswolds encompass a wide range of activities and experiences.

An official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds lives up to its billing. The whole region is pockmarked with stone villages and quaint towns, all darling canals and charming cottages, with hills begging to be explored and food waiting to be devoured. This place is magnificent.

Recommended: The best Cotswolds Airbnbs

Best things to do in the Cotswolds

Visit Cirencester - the Cotswolds largest town

1. Visit Cirencester - the Cotswolds largest town

What is it? Cirencester is the largest town in the Cotswolds.

Why go? Known to have been an important Roman settlement (it is home to one of the largest amphitheatres in Britain), Cirencester is generally considered the Capital of the Cotswolds. Plan a lavish retreat staying at beautiful Barnsley House. With a spa, private cinema and menu sourced from the hotel garden, there’s no real need to leave – still, you might be tempted to venture out to the local Michelin-star restaurant Made by Bob. At the very least, check out their deli, which sells Made by Bob store cupboard products, as well as top-quality baked bread, pastries, cakes, cheese and charcuterie. 

Get all the chocolate box village feels at Arlington Row

2. Get all the chocolate box village feels at Arlington Row

What is it? Possibly the prettiest village in the whole of England. 

Why go? When visiting the Cotswolds, a trip to Arlington Row in Bibury is a must. William Morris described Bibury as ‘The most beautiful village in England’, and it is most definitely one of the most photographed. Constructed in the 14th century, this quaint row of stone cottages is as typically ‘Cotswolds’ as you can get.

 

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Pick up organic treats at Daylesford farm shop

3. Pick up organic treats at Daylesford farm shop

What is it? Nestled between Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Norton, Daylesford is probably the most famous organic farm shop in Britain. 

Why go? Founded in 2002 by Lady Carole Bamford, Daylesford is now one of the most sustainable farms in the UK. You may have grabbed a coffee or salad at one of their few London outlets, but the 2350-acre Cotswolds Farm is something else entirely. This is real farm to fork eating – meat and poultry, fruit and veg, homemade bread. Even their cheese, milk and yoghurt are made onsite at the creamery. If you want to really get stuck in, book a Daylesford cookery course. Learn nose-to-tail butchery or how to forage for your dinner. Afterwards, unwind at the onsite Bamford Haybarn Spa

Stroll around Abbey House Gardens

4. Stroll around Abbey House Gardens

What is it? Abbey House is a privately owned country house garden in England’s oldest town – Malmesbury.

 

Why go? Open daily from April through to September, Abbey House Gardens is one of the main attractions in Malmesbury – a town with Iron Age origins. A Grade I listed building, it was extensively renovated during Tudor times. However, public admission (£12.50) is to the gardens rather than the house itself. The owners are both keen gardeners and keen naturists, and they hold ‘Clothing Optional’ days throughout the year. Check this before you go, or you might see more than you bargained for on the grounds of Abbey House. Refreshments are provided at Coy Carp Cafe, so-called because diners can watch and feed a great number of the fish while enjoying a cup of tea.

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Go antique shopping in Stow-on-the-wold

5. Go antique shopping in Stow-on-the-wold

What is it? Stow-on-the-Wold is a quintessentially English, historic town. 

Why go? With a reputation for having some of Britain’s best antique shops, Stow-on-the-Wold pretty much encompasses everything you might be after in a picture-perfect Cotswolds town. Small, cute and abundantly characterful, Stow-on-the-Wold was once known for its wool trade – its large Market Square once saw up to 20,000 sheep being sold at one time. Check out St Edwards Church, famous for the gorgeous north door, flanked by two ancient yew trees. It’s not hard to believe the rumour that this Fairytale-esque feature inspired Tolkien’s ‘Doors of Durin’ in Lord of the Rings. With a surprising number of superb delis and restaurants for such a small town, The Old Butchers is the local favourite. As the name suggests, it’s a former butchers and now restaurant, serving meat and seafood in equal measure.

Get a waterside selfie at Bourton-on-the-Water

6. Get a waterside selfie at Bourton-on-the-Water

What is it? Bourton-on-the-Water is a large village lying within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Beauty.

Why go? Often voted one of the prettiest villages in Britain, Bourton-on-the-Water is worth the detour to see its lovely high street, which the River Windrush runs through. Little arched stone bridges run across the water, and in December, a lit Christmas tree is erected in the middle of the river. Get those waterside selfies in and check out the nearby Dragonfly Maze (an elaborate hedge maze). Birdland Park and Gardens is down the road, for any penguin or parrot fans, and the village holds a cute farmer’s market on the fourth Sunday of each month.

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Explore Westonbirt Arboretum’s rare and exotic foliage
Isobel Cameron

7. Explore Westonbirt Arboretum’s rare and exotic foliage

What is it? One of the most well-known and important arboretums in the country.

 

Why go? Just three miles from Tetbury, Westonbirt Arboretum forms part of a Grade I listed site on the register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest. Established in Victorian times, it actually backs right onto Prince Charles’s Highgrove Estate. Spread over 600 acres and with 18,000 trees and shrubs, it’s divided into ‘The Old Arboretum’ and ‘Silk Wood’. The latter is essentially traditional woodland, whereas The Old Arboretum is meticulously designed with stately avenues and rare and exotic trees. Beautiful in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter (an illuminated trail runs throughout the Old Arboretum every December), this is a year-round treat. Adult admission is £11.

Sink a drink at The Wild Rabbit

8. Sink a drink at The Wild Rabbit

What is it? A super fancy Chipping Norton pub with rooms and a lush menu. 

Why go? Just down the road from Daylesford is (also Bamford-owned) cosy inn The Wild Rabbit. Intended to be a home away from home, the rooms are luxuriously decked out, and the popular restaurant serves Daylesford-farmed produce. Roaring fires, Egyptian cotton bedlinen and an organic menu – it's the quintessential posh English pub.

 

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Have a cuppa at trad Tisanes Tea Room

9. Have a cuppa at trad Tisanes Tea Room

What is it? A traditional tearoom in a pretty 17th century stone building.
 
Why go? Traditional English tearooms are few and far between these days, and this Cotswolds establishment will transport you straight back to the 1940s. The Broadway setting is as picturesque as one might expect, and the menu is comfortingly classic – and well-priced, too. Pick up a cured ham sandwich, a scone and jam and choose from an extensive array of over 30 different teas. While in the area, pop into The Gordon Russell Museum. Celebrating the work of the renowned furniture designer, the museum was opened in 2008 by Sir Terence Conran and is housed in the original Grade II listed drawing office and workshop. The shop stocks a tempting array of work by local craftsmen and women, including stylish home furnishings.

PYO at Hayles Fruit Farm

10. PYO at Hayles Fruit Farm

What is it? A fruit farm covering roughly 100 acres of glorious Cotswolds countryside.

Why go? Hayles Fruit Farm has a history dating back to 1880 and kept in the same family since the 1950s. It started out growing apples and Cob nuts, and these things continue to thrive - but now the repertoire has increased to include pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries. Aside from being able to hit the PYO fields with a punnet, visitors can camp and fish on site and enjoy a (very) freshly sourced meal at their cute cafe. Try their homemade apple juicer and cider before leaving.

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Visit Kelmscott Manor, William Morris's countryside retreat

11. Visit Kelmscott Manor, William Morris's countryside retreat

What is it? The Cotswold retreat of William Morris and his friends and family.

Why go? If it’s good enough for William Morris, it’s good enough for us. William Morris loved Kelmscott Manor so much that after his death in 1896, his wife Jane purchased the house. His daughter May spent much of her adult life there, and the entire family are buried on the grounds of nearby St George’s Church. Morris drew inspiration from Kelmscott Manor for many of his most significant designs and writings. With its beautiful gardens, barns, meadow and stream, it’s not difficult to understand Morris’s attachment to the house, which is filled with furniture, original textiles, pictures and paintings, ceramics and metalwork. Fans of Morris’s distinctive textile designs will love the gift shop (pick up a cushion or throw) and there’s an onsite tearoom, too. A must for Pre-Raphaelite aficionados.

Wander around the pretty village of Whichford

12. Wander around the pretty village of Whichford

What is it? A village and its surrounding area, home to a pottery workshop, salvage yard and loads of neat spirits.  

Why go? Head to family-run Whichford Pottery to see their cosy café and pick up a hand-thrown, frost-proof flower pot. Round off with a trip to local Cotswolds Distillery for a tour, a tasting, or to pick up a bottle of gin, whisky or - if you dare - absinthe.

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Get the member’s club treatment at Soho Farmhouse

13. Get the member’s club treatment at Soho Farmhouse

What is it? Soho Farmhouse is a member’s club in 100 acres of scenic Oxfordshire countryside.

Why go? Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Soho House member to stay at this glorious farmhouse. ‘Farmhouse’ probably gives the wrong idea – with a Cowshed spa, onsite country pub, boathouse (with indoor and outdoor pools on a lake), multiple restaurants, cookery school, farm shop, kitchen garden, and cinema, this is more of a resort. Weather permitting, go horse riding, play tennis, or go rowing. If it’s raining, huddle up by the log fire in the main barn with a stiff drink. The hotel accommodation ranges from studio cabins (complete with little wood burners and porches) to bell tents or even an entire farmhouse.

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