Ideal for a day trip or a long weekend break from London, the Cotswolds are an area of quintessential British beauty, featuring rolling green hills, quaint English villages, palaces, gardens, and historic towns. A few years ago I took a long weekend road trip from London to the Cotswolds. We hired a car to drive from London to Oxford and Bath, stopping by some of the loveliest villages and towns in England. Here’s a guide to the Cotswolds, including the best places to visit, where to stay, and what to do (as well as the perfect place to watch the sunset in the Cotswolds).
We hired a car from London and drove straight to Oxford, which we used as a gateway into the Cotswolds. We stayed in Oxford only for a few hours – enough to walk around and enjoy the beautiful ancient architecture of the university city. Oxford is absolutely stunning in spring, bursting with flowers from the gardens of each college. Most of the colleges allow you to wander through the gardens for a small fee, but there’s no need to see all of them – one or two will do.
From Oxford our next destination was Blenheim Palace, which quickly became my favourite destination within the Cotswolds area. It’s a giant country house near Oxford – yep, apparently this is just a regular country house, even though it’s called a “palace”. Entrance to Blenheim is steep – I think it was about £20, which is kind of extortionate, but the gardens are so expansive and magical and we enjoyed wandering through them. So if you’ve got the change sitting around I’d recommend it as one of the best places to see in the Cotswolds.
We popped by Sudeley castle to check out the ruins of this historic 15th century castle, the burial place of Queen Catherine Parr.
Next stop was the gorgeous town of Stow-on-the-Wold, which has a lovely market square, gorgeous wisteria covered stone houses, and these amazing trees growing in front of this old church door. It’s all enough to make you start fantasizing about retiring and taking up knitting.
This little town of Bourton-on-the-Water carries much of the same charm as Stow-on-the-Wold, but with the added bonus of pretty canals running through the village, with foot bridges creating picturesque scenery like this.
At the southern end of this area of natural beauty is the historic town of Bath, known for its natural hot springs, Roman baths, and of course its lovely architecture. We spent quite a bit of time in Bath, exploring the Roman baths, wandering around the lovely streets, and checking out the Circus (where the really fancy houses are). If you’re a fan of literature like me, you may be attracted to the Jane Austen centre in Bath, which has been set up in a house a few doors along from the one she did historically live in in Bath. And as much as I adore Austen, I’d actually tell you to skip it. We paid £9 to enter, where we were promptly ushered into a room to watch a short film about Jane Austen which had the production quality of a 90s BBC special. Then we wandered through the house, looking at a dress and writing desk “similar to what Jane would have worn and used.” And then you find yourself in the gift shop, which may actually be the highlight of the house, because of its lovely editions of Austen’s novels. My tip – check out the gift shop, forgo the house tour.
Where to watch the sunset in the Cotswolds
For unparalleled views of the sunset in the Cotswolds, we headed up to Cleeve Hill, which is at the northern part of the Cotswolds. You can drive right to the tip of the hill, and there’s plenty of space to park. Then we wandered through the grass, down to the hill to sit and admire the views. We also remarked on how incredibly gigantic the trees were on this hill.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
While driving around the Cotswolds, we spent two nights in a bed and breakfast called Bran Mill Cottage, where a lovely couple welcomed us in, gave us tips for the area, and made us a proper English breakfast each morning. I’m sure there are also plenty of amazing AirBnbs around the area, too. The area really lends itself to cottage living, so I’d suggest finding a nice bed and breakfast or Airbnb rather than a hotel. Who stays in hotels, anyway?
Where to eat in the Cotswolds
The area is so perfectly English, so it wouldn’t be fair to eat anywhere other than a proper English pub. Find yourself any pub with pretty flowers and gilded lettering and you’re sure to find a hearty meal and beers on tap.
Instagram snap you need to get in the Cotswolds
I’m a sucker for a good instagram snap, and the fields of rapeseed flowers (urgh, what a horrible name) all around the Cotswolds make for ideal snapping opportunities.
If you’ve been to this beautiful area, what was your favourite village or place? Let me know in the comment section below. Oh, and if you’re interested in more of my adventures around Europe, you’d better follow me on Instagram.