The Cotswolds are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the UK. With their honey-coloured houses, cosy pubs, and beautiful gardens, they make the perfect relaxing holiday spot. Driving through the English countryside on a Cotswold road trip is undoubtedly the best way to explore this rural area.
Whilst most international tourists stick to London, I can’t recommend the Cotswolds more. I love the hustle and bustle of London (having lived there for 4 years) but I think seeing another side to the UK paints a more complete picture of this lovely country.
If you’re new here, you might not already know that I spent the majority of my life living just outside the Cotswolds, in the historic town of Stratford Upon Avon. This meant that I’ve spent many years exploring all the beautiful towns and villages that this region of the UK has to offer. As a result, you can be sure that you’ll be getting all of the inside tips and hidden gems with this Cotswold road trip.
Cotswold Road Trip Itinerary Explained
I’ve split this Cotswold Itinerary across three days, which covers the following areas:
- Day 1: South Cotswolds
- Day 2: The Heart of the Cotswolds
- Day 3: The North Cotswolds
If you only have time for 1 or 2 days for your Cotswold Road Trip, you’re welcome to cherry pick each day and focus on your preferred area!
You’re also welcome to do this itinerary back-to-front – starting in the North Cotswolds and making your way south.
This is a very jam-packed 3 days, so if you’d prefer to take it slow – pick one or two locations from each day of the road trip itinerary and spend time getting to know each one better.
At the end of this blog post, I’ve also included options to extend your stay either side of this itinerary. This is for travellers who have extra time and really want to see everything they can whilst exploring this beautiful area.
Cotswold Road Trip Map
Cotswold Road Trip Stops
- Castle Combe
- Bourton on the Water
- Lower Slaughter
- Stow on the Wold
- Moreton in Marsh
Cotswold Road Trip: Day 1 – South Cotswolds
Start Location: Bath
End Location: Cirencester
The first day of this spectacular Cotswold road trip will take you through the South Cotswolds. Starting in Bath, you’ll make your way to the magical Castle Combe, royal Tetbury, and finish up in Cirencester.
Stop 1: Castle Combe
Drive time: 30 mins
Stay for: 1.5 hours
We’re starting of this Cotswold road trip with a bang in Castle Combe. This beautiful village in the South of the Cotswolds is possibly one of the most picturesque places you’ll see on your road trip (quite the accolade as the Cotswolds are heavenly).
This picturesque spot feels almost frozen in time with its honey-coloured cottages and winding roads. The star of the show is the little bridge at the bottom of the hill. This makes for the perfect picture with a view of the village in the background. If you’re looking for a place that’s straight out of a fairytale though, Castle Combe has you covered.
Things to do in Castle Combe:
- Get a picture at the beautiful Manor House
- Look out for the lady selling ice cream and cakes from her front door!
- Visit Dower House (which featured in Dr Dolittle)
Optional Stop: Westonbirt
On your way from Castle Combe to Tetbury, you’ll head through Westonbirt. Here you’ll find a lovely spot called Westonbirt Arboretum, which you may like to stop at. These gardens are home to 2,500 different species of plants from across the globe and walking around them is a lovely way to pass the time. There’s also a cafe – the perfect place for a spot of tea and cake!
The arboretum is particularly popular in the autumn as it’s filled with gorgeous golden orange hues. If you’re planning your road trip at this time of year, I’d recommend purchasing tickets for Westonbirt in advance!
Stop 2: Tetbury
Drive Time: 30 mins
Stay for: 2 hours
The next stop on day 1 of our Cotswolds road trip will be Tetbury.
Tetbury is famous for being the home of King Charles and Camilla. You can visit the gardens of Highgrove Castle (where the royals reside) between the months of April and September. And if you’re feeling really boujee, you can even treat yourself to a champagne tea here! I’d recommend booking in advance for both of these activities to avoid disappointment.
Another popular spot in Tetbury is Chavenage House, a privately own Elizabethan Manor that is often used as a filming location. Most notably it plays Trenwith in Poldark, although it also features in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Lark Rise to Candleford. The family do guided tours of the house, which has remained mostly unchanged for 400 years!
Things to do in Tetbury:
- Champagne Tea at Highgrove Castle
- Chavenage House tour
- Tetbury Police Museum
Where to eat in Tetbury:
- Hobbs House Bakery
- Whistle Stop Cafe
- The Close Restaurant
Optional Stop: Cotswold Sculpture Park
If you decide to skip one of the above spots or find that you have plenty of time left to play with (though this probably won’t be the case!), you can head to the Cotswold Sculpture Park. This is a 20 minute drive from Tetbury.
A must for art-lovers, this private park is open from April – September and contains over 170 sculptures from local and international artists.
Stop 3: Cirencester
Drive Time: 18 minutes
The final stop on day 1 of this Cotswolds road trip is Cirencester. This is the Cotswolds biggest town, where you can find beautiful streets lined with independent shops and restaurants.
You’ll also find the historic Cirencester Park here. These grand park was originally created as a deer park by the first Earl Bathurst and became a military camp in the war. A herd of deer still roam the park today, so keep your eyes peeled!
For those who are interested in history, head to the Corinium Museum, where you can learn all about the Roman town of Corinium (now known as Cirencester). You’ll see thousands of objects on display, including Roman mosaics and Medieval sculptures.
Things to do in Cirencester:
- Take a walk through the historic town centre
- Enjoy Cirencester Park
- See the Church of St. John the Baptist
- Explore the Corinium Museum
Where to stay in Cirencester:
💸💸💸 Barnsley House
Cotswold Road Trip: Day 2 – Heart of the Cotswolds
Finish: Stow on the Wold
Day two of this Cotswold road trip will take you through the heart of the Cotswolds to one of the most picturesque villages in the UK – Bibury! From here you’ll enjoy activities in Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold, and also take in the beautiful village of Lower Slaughter.
Stop 1: Bibury
Drive time: 15 minutes
Stay for: 1 hour
Bibury is another spot in the Cotswolds that you might be familiar with from your Instagram feed!
It’s famous for Arlington Row – a cute row of houses that has often been voted the ‘prettiest street in the UK’. As a result, it was used as a filming location for the film Stardust, starring Michelle Pfiefer, Sienna Miller, and Claire Danes. It can also be found in British passports that were issued between 2010 and 2015!
Bibury is a very small place, so there isn’t a huge amount to ‘do’ here. It is, however, the quintessential Cotswold village, making it a lovely place to walk around.
If you would prefer, you could skip Cirencester and drive straight to Bibury to stay in one of the cutest hotels in The Cotswolds. The Swan is a beautiful hotel covered in Ivy with luxurious four poster beds and restaurant that serves delicious food. I have personally stayed here and can testify wholeheartedly to how comfortable the stay is.
Stop 2: Bourton on the Water
Drive time: 21 minutes
Stay for: 3 hours
Bourton on the Water is a lovely Cotswold town with a stream running through it. In the summer months, you’ll see adults and children alike paddling and enjoying ice creams in the sunshine.
For such a small place, there’s also a surprising amount of things to do. Perhaps most famous is The Model Village, which is a replica of Bourton in the 1930s made with Cotswold stone. This is a really fun way to see the city from a new perspective and gives you an Alice in Wonderland feel as you walk between the little houses.
I’m also a big fan of The Dragonfly Maze, which includes a variety of clues to find a hidden message. This is definitely a lot of fun in the sunshine and something I loved doing with Rory!
You could honestly spend all day here, trying out the various activities and pubs.
Things to do in Bourton on the Water:
- The Dragonfly Maze
- The Model Village
- Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection
- Birdland Park and Gardens
- Cotswold Perfumery
Stop 3: Lower Slaughter
Drive time: 4 minutes
Stay for: 45 minutes
Like Bibury and Castle Combe, Lower Slaughter is one of the smaller villages on this Cotswold road trip. Although there is less going on in these places, I think they’re one of the greatest joys of this road trip. They’re much more difficult to get to using public transport but provide a real glimpse into quintessential Cotswold life.
Lower Slaughter has a lovely stream running right through its centre with sweet little bridges to cross it.
The main attraction here is the 19th century flour mill with its big waterwheel. You’ll also find some seriously delicious (and award winning!) ice cream here.
Like many of the smaller villages, Lower Slaughter’s biggest draw is the whimsical feel of the place. Take some time to wander around and pretend you’re living in your very own fairytale. Once you’re done, head over to the Country Inn for a spot of lunch.
I loved Lower Slaughter so much that I decided to get married there! We’ll be tying the knot in the local church in August.
Stop 4: Stow on the Wold
Drive time: 10 minutes
Head to one of the lovely inns in Stow on the Wold to rest up for the night.
If you’re looking for recommendations to grab some dinner, check out my recommendations for the best pubs in Stow on the Wold.
But before you do that, make sure to take a walk around the town. Here you’ll find plenty of antique shops, as well as the wonderful Jaffe & Neal Bookshop. Most famous of all though is the local church, which is said to be in the inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien’s Doors of Durin. This door framed either side by trees is the perfect photo spot in Stow.
Things to do in Stow on the Wold:
Check out my blog post on the best things to do in Stow on the Wold for more ways to enjoy this lovely area.
Where to stay in Stow on the Wold:
Cotswold Road Trip: Day 2 – North Cotswolds
It’s the final day of your Cotswolds road trip! We started exploring the north Cotswolds yesterday through Bourton, Lower Slaughter, and Stow. Today we’ll continue up towards some of my favourite spots in the Cotswolds!
Depending on how much you decide to do in each place, you may not be able to visit all of the ones listed – so pick and choose as you like! They’re all close to one another, making the drives short and simple.
Stop 1: Broadway
Drive time: 20 mintues
Stay for: 2 hours
For your first stop of the day, head to Broadway. First, wander down the main high street and pop into any independent shops that take your fancy. A personal favourite of mine has to be the Broadway Deli (it’s an easy spot with the orange car sitting in the window!).
Once you’ve done this you can head for a walk to Broadway Tower. This is set within a 50-acre estate of parkland, which includes a deer park! It has amazing views over the surrounding countryside and makes for the perfect photo opportunity.
The Broadway Tower site also includes a nuclear bunker. This was originally built to study the effects of nuclear explosions during the Cold War and has now been fully restored. Members of the Royal Observer Corps would be expected to spend three weeks below ground in this bunker!
Things to do in Broadway
- Broadway Tower
- Nuclear Bunker
- Snowshill Manor and Gardens (nearby)
- Russell’s Fish and Chips
Stop 2: Cotswold Lavender
Drive time: 10 minutes
Stay for: 45 minutes
If you’re visiting between June and August, you have to make a stop at Cotswold Lavender. They have over 35 different varieties of lavender over 70 acres of farmland. Seeing these fields of purple is so magical and definitely worth a visit.
Stop 3: Sezincote
Drive time: 20 minute
Stay for: 2 hours
Next up, head to Sezincote House & Garden for a true Cotswolds surprise.
In the heart of the rolling countryside, you’ll find a 200-year-old Mogul Indian palace, complete with temples waterfalls, and grottos. The house was built in 1805 and was the inspiration for Brighton Pavilion. It’s a beautiful place to explore with its stunning architecture and large gardens.
Stop 4: Moreton in Marsh
Drive time: 10 minutes
The final stop on our Cotswold road trip will be Moreton in Marsh. This is one of my favourite places in the Cotswold (in fact, I dream of living here!).
The best thing to do in Moreton in Marsh is enjoy the lovely independent cafes and shops, including Cotswold Grey for interior design purchases and The Cotswold Cheese Co. for (you guessed it!) cheese.
Take some time to re-fuel in one of the wonderful pubs and restaurants in the centre of town before heading home after your successful Cotswold road trip!
Cotswold Road Trip Extension Options
Option 1: Bath
I’ve planned this trip to start from Bath. If you’re able to, I’d highly recommend spending a couple of days exploring this city. Architecturally, it’s a really beautiful place that holds so much history.
Things to do in Bath:
- The Roman Baths
- Fashion Museum
- The Jane Austen Centre
- Bath Abbey
Option 2: Stratford Upon Avon
At the end of your Cotswold road trip, you could carry on up to Stratford Upon Avon. This was the home and birthplace of Shakespeare, so there’s plenty to do and see. You can take a tour of his houses, see one of his plays in the world class theatre, or just go rowing on the river Avon.
Stratford Upon Avon is also my hometown! If you’re looking for some local recommendations, check out my Stratford Upon Avon Itinerary.
Option 3: Daylesford Farm, Chipping Norton, and Blenheim Palace
Alternatively, you could continue your road trip through the Cotswolds to Daylesford Farm (a wonderful farm shop with various wellness and cooking classes), Chipping Norton (home to many a celeb) and finish at Blenheim Palace.
Cotswold Road Trip FAQs
Two roads that are often considered the prettiest in the Cotswolds are Arlington Row in Bibury and The Street in Castle Combe. Both of these roads are featured in this Cotswold road trip. The first includes a cute little row of cottages that once appeared on the British passport. The second has a lovely little bridge crossing the river that’s perfect for photographs.
3 days is a good amount of time to see the main sites in the Cotswolds, however you could comfortably do a full week here to really see everything. This Cotswold road trip includes 1, 2, and 3 day road trip options.
Lower Slaughter, Castle Combe, and Bibury are often cited as the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds. They’re all very small with the quintessential Cotswold look that belongs in fairytale stories.
The most famous street in the Cotswolds is Arlington Row. This has featured in film and television, including Stardust (starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Danes) and is also depicted in all British passports made between 2010 and 2015.
A day trip to the Cotswolds is definitely worth it! Even if you’re only able to spend a few hours in the Cotswolds, I’d highly recommend it. They showcase a beautiful, rural side of England that you won’t find in major cities like London. This Cotwsolds road trip includes a 1 day itinerary option.