There are lots of articles out there telling you where to go in the Cotswolds but they tend offer up the same few touristy places (sometimes making you wonder if the person writing it has even been to them…). I thought I’d write up my take as someone who has lived in this part of the world for a big chunk of my life and been on many a day out here.
So in no particular order here are my favourite 10 places to visit in and around the Cotswolds. They’re all tried and tested multiple times – many of them with young children in tow! Plus at the end I’ve included three of the most obvious places that you might want to question visiting.
Cirencester Markets – Cirencester is known as the capital of the Cotswolds in it’s own right and is a place full of great independent shops and eateries but in the last decade or so the actual markets in this market town have had a huge revival. With a full calendar of options to choose from including food markets, arts and craft markets, vintage markets, and loads of options at Christmas, you’ll always find an impressive variety of high quality stalls to browse.
Cotswold Water Park – Not the kind of water park with slides but an altogether different kind of attraction situated in the man-made lakes just south of Cirencester. The lakes offer a mix of nature reserves (such as Lower Moor), water sports, and private (sometimes very fancy) houses and holiday homes. The most popular place to take a day out is the Cotswold Country Park and Beach with space to swim in the lake, places to have a BBQ and plenty of on and off-water entertainment to choose from.
Broadway Tower – A famous landmark at the north of the Cotswolds, it is worth visiting for the amazing views for miles around that you get from the top of the tower, as well as the highly picturesque tower itself. Not only that but the park surrounding it offers a few walking trails to do, a couple of cafes, a nature walk, and places for children to play, meaning when the weather is good you can turn it into a great day out.
Nailsworth – This little town just south of Stroud has a vibrant community but I like to visit for its food and great restaurants. It has fancy offerings including the seafood-specialising William’s and the local surprise taster menus of Wilder (I can recommend both) and several more besides.
Malmesbury – This is less of a place that I visit as it’s where I live but every walk through the small town centre presents you with fantastic old buildings and a rich history. There are several historic landmarks in a small space including the Abbey, Old Bell, Market Cross and Abbey House, meaning you can take in most of the important parts in half a day. There are lots of quirky tales to discover in the local Athelstan museum too from flying monks to MPs disappearing in hot air balloons.
Lechlade – It’s a charming little town to visit but my preferred reason to visit is for walking around the surrounding countryside or hiring out boats to mess around on the river – it’s the furthest up the River Thames that you can do so.
Selsley Common – If we ever need to tire the kids out and have run out of ideas, it’s hard to beat getting up to Selsley Common on the ridge of the Cotswold escarpment. It offers amazing views across the River Severn into Wales and often receives intense winds (making it great for flying a kite) and all the undulating terrain offers space for children to explore and let their imaginations run wild. To mix it up we may also go to Rodborough Common, which is equally fun.
Tewkesbury – It’s a fairly large town with plenty of amenities but I like it for offering up great walking options in the nature reserves that surround the town and along the rivers Severn and Avon that meet there. Plus Tewkesbury Abbey is an impressive building to see and take a look inside. Just avoid it when flood water are high.
Westonbirt Arboretum – It’s like a high quality city park but out in the countryside, which is handy when you want to get out into nature but it’s super muddy and you need some paths to walk on. It’s full of amazing old trees to explore around and they are good at adding new parts, from grand walkways to hidden play bits, which children can climb over. There’s also a good cafe and shop. Batsford is the sister arboretum in the north of the Cotswolds, which has its own set of fun features (a cave!) but is somewhere I’ve not visited as much.
Chipping Campden – I realised that this list is missing an idyllic little town made of Cotswold stone. So if you’re looking for one of those my favourite option is Chipping Campden which has a highly picturesque centre, along with a great church, a design museum, and a few good pubs to stop off at too.
...and 3 places to look beyond
I’m not saying you should avoid the following places but they’re already heavily oversubscribed so maybe just visit one of them before being more adventurous.
Bourton on the Water – I have mixed feelings about Bourton on the Water. On one hand it has several good places to visit to make a day out (Birdland, the Motor Museum, the model village) and several fun bridges to cross over the river. On the other hand, in summer it quickly gets packed with visitors (as a result restaurant service can be slow) and it becomes impossible to find a space to park.
Bibury – It is home to the most famous view in the Cotswolds with the cottages of Arlington Row but not really much more. Tourists come in for their brief visit by the bus load and it can be hard to drive through the village. Other than that the trout farm is a fun place to visit with children and the Swan Hotel is pretty good.
- Castle Combe – A similar story to Bibury as whilst it is beautiful, Castle Combe is a very small village that you can walk through in 15 minutes. Fortunately cars are kept in a big car park away from the old part. Not quite sure how so many influencers seem to get videos without other people in shot.