The stunning Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Beauty is described by many as the true essence of the British countryside. The area is packed full of postcard-worthy rolling, green hills, historic, quaint villages, beautiful country houses with thatched roofs and crumbling chimneys and it really shouldn’t be missed off of any England itinerary. This ultimate Cotswold Weekend itinerary not only takes you to the Cotswolds but also includes some of the gems of South-west England such as Oxford, Bath, Wells and the stunning but relatively unheard of Cheddar Gorge.
One of the best parts is that the Cotswolds is relatively close to London- only 3 hours by car and exploring these villages makes for the perfect weekend getaway at any time of year. Not only that, the villages themselves are quite close together so you can visit quite a few in only one day.
This is the perfect itinerary for a long weekend or 3-day trip and combines a visit to the heritage towns of Oxford and Bath as well as many quintessentially British Cotswolds Villages. It can easily be adapted for a standard 2-day weekend trip. While this itinerary can be done by public transport you’d probably have to allow for more travel time and expect to see a little less. I’d highly recommend doing the trip by car, as we did due to the ease of driving from one place to the next, parking and exploring further on foot.
THE ULTIMATE COTSWOLD ITINERARY
We left London as early as possible and drove to Oxford, Oxfordshire, the journey taking about two hours. Oxford, famous for the prestigious university is a lovely town to walk around in, pop into some Oxford University Colleges and enjoy the atmosphere that just oozes intelligence. Different colleges form Oxford University and many of them are open to the public, however, they all have their own opening hours, making timing your visit a little problematic. We weren’t particularly bothered by which colleges we saw and we ended up popping into a couple that happened to be open, while we were walking around, including Balliol College; one of the oldest and greenest colleges of Oxford University.
Other unmissable sights of Oxford include Radcliffe Camera, the 18th Century academic library and reading rooms, the Bridge of Sights, Christchurch college and cathedral, the original Blackwells’ Bookshop and the Bodleian Library, the second-largest library in the UK. These sights are very close together in the centre of Oxford and can easily be visited on a self-guided walk apart from the Bodleian Library. If you would like to go inside you’ll have to book a tour prior to your visit. The Bodleian Library was one of the filming spots for Harry Potter and if you are a Harry Potter fan I’d highly recommend the Christchurch Mornings Harry Potter Film Site Tour which takes you to all the heritage sights of CS Lewis’s Narnia & Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland as well as the filming location of Harry Potter.
Check out Oxford in One Day for more information on the perfect day trip to Oxford
Next on your Cotswold itinerary, head to Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Beauty. Bourton-on-the-Water is often referred to the Venice of the Cotswolds and it’s easy to see why. Wander over the low bridges and check out all the local-quarried limestone houses, cottages, pubs and possibly the cutest country post office ever.
Only a 10- minute drive from Bourton-on-the-water are the Slaughters or two villages; Upper and Lower Slaughter. Park in the centre and simply walk around admiring all the gorgeous lime cottages, beautiful gardens full of colourful flowers, thatched roofs and country streams. Don’t miss Lords of the Manor Hotel and Upper Slaughter Manor in Upper Slaughter- both showcasing stunning Victorian architecture.
To end the day, head for a scrumptious dinner at either Rose Tree or L’anatra Italian Kitchen in Bourton-on-the-Water both of which offer some good plant-based options and a night’s stay in the village.
We stayed at Chester House Hotel and we had a fantastic stay. I’d highly recommend it. Another fantastic sleeping option is the village of Bibury if you prefer to beat the crowds the next day.
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After breakfast and an early walk around the village drive to Bibury (a 20-minute drive). I would really recommend you get to Bibury as soon as you can if you want to see it without the crowds and you stayed the night elsewhere. As it is one of the most popular of the Cotswolds Villages the tour buses start arriving at about 10 am. Check out the charming row of cottages on Awkward Hill- a great Instagram photo spot, the famous Swan Inn, explore the surrounding country roads and houses and amble along the river. If you walk a little further out of the centre, you’ll be able to share the streets with the locals and discover how the residents live.
When you’re finished admiring Bibury hop in the car and head to the next village or should I say town, Cirencester. Head right to the city centre and on Saturday you’ll find a buzzing local farmers market where you can buy goodies such as local jams and honey, pies, bread, doughnuts and local cheeses. The main cathedral of Cirencester is also worth a quick look for its rich gothic details. Take a short stroll in the city centre noticing the Tudor-style architecture with low beam ceilings, stone cottages and traditional shop fronts. It’s all just so picturesque.
Time to move further south-west for another 20 minutes to the small town of Tetbury. While some of the Cotswold villages can feel like toy towns Tetbury is quite the opposite; the locals are out doing their shopping or in the pub having a pint or visiting friends. Wander down the high street and ogle at the gorgeous shop windows, visit the peaceful St Mary the Virgin Church and shop at the traditional, virtually unchanged Market House.
If you’re feeling peckish Tetbury also makes a great stop for a traditional English cream tea or a pint of local cider at any of the fanciful pubs. Did you know that Tetbury has won many awards including the ‘Best Small Town’ Award in 2010 and the Gold award in the “Heart of England in Bloom’ competition for consecutive years? Like you needed another reason to visit.
From Tetbury, continue South-West to Castle-Combe, one of my personal favourite villages on this Cotswold itinerary. Castle Combe is so unmodernised it feels like it’s been lost in time and the only sign of this era that you’ll see are the few cars parked nearby. Due to its archaic look, many period dramas and films have been filmed in Castle Combe including the 1967 Dr Dolittle and more recently Spielberg’s War Horse. Take your time to simply walk around and marvel at the medieval stone cottages and their less-than-straight walls, the ancient pubs, churches and the sheer lack of modernity.
Don’t forget to also pop into Manor House Hotel, the old Castle Combe Manor, with its impressive country house architectural style and splendid gardens. Luckily, you don’t have to be a guest to explore the grounds and I’d definitely recommend an amble through the gardens and an afternoon tea, lunch or just a simple coffee in the grand drawing-room.
In the evening say goodbye to the Cotswolds and head even further to the South West of England, past Bath towards Cheddar in Somerset. We finished our day in a small village called Wedmore where we stayed at The Swan Inn– magical country property with the comfiest of beds. We wanted to stay very close to Cheddar in order to arrive at Cheddar Gorge, the largest gorge in the UK, early in the morning. If early Sunday wake up calls aren’t your thing then staying anywhere between Castle Combe and Cheddar works; Bath, Castle Combe, Chippenham or Wells being great options.
VRBO also has some amazing place to stay in and around the Cotswolds! Have you tried it yet?
After a hearty English breakfast continue the Cotswold itinerary by heading to Cheddar Gorge, a stunning, relatively unknown part of the UK. The gorge provides a breathtaking backdrop for this area of outstanding beauty. If you dare, the gorge offers a handful of hiking trails to choose from as well as spectacular viewpoints and underground stalactite and stalagmite caves to visit. Don’t miss simply driving down the long and curvy road through the gorge and don’t forget to look up. We arrived for just after 7am where we had the road to ourselves as the sun rose above the deep limestone pillars.
Leaving the jaw-dropping, limestone scenery behind, it’s only a short drive to the next stop on the itinerary; Wells. This Cathedral city is the smallest city in the UK and probably one of the most underrated destinations in Somerset if not England.
First, pop in and visit the gorgeous gothic cathedral, even just for a moment before heading to Vicar’s Close a tiny cobbled alleyway facing the cathedral. Vicar’s Close is said to be the oldest residential street in the whole of Europe where the original 14th Century buildings remain intact. Mosey along the cobbles admiring the spectacular stone cottages and their tall chimneys.
Read more: A Short Travel Guide to Wells, England
If you have time pop into Bishop’s Palace, the home of the local diocese for the last 800 years. While the palace itself is pretty enough the gardens are what really stand out here. On a lovely sunny day simply amble around with nature all around you.
For the last stop on the Cotswold itinerary head north to Bath before heading home. Bath is a city with a perfect mix of old and new. Stroll through the city centre and get acquainted with the Roman Baths, yes they’ve been here since Roman times, the grand cathedral, and Pulteney Bridge, a unique bridge from the 18th Century with shops lining each side.
Nearby to the city centre, you’ll also find the famous ‘Crescent’, a crescent moon-shaped street with the grandest and most expensive houses in Bath. Bath is the perfect place to end your trip with a lovely, quintessentially English Sunday roast and a pint of local ale. Our favourite was The Chequers where they did all they could to accommodate my plant-based needs.
Heading back to London and not sure what to do there? Check out 15 Epic, Non-Touristy Things To Do in London by a Local + The London Bucket List | An Insider’s Guide to 30 Must-Do Experiences
WHERE TO EAT
In almost every establishment in England nowadays you’ll be able to find at least one plant-based option and restaurant staff are often really good about accommodating your needs. I had no problem with eating out during the trip and the food was often quite healthy but 100% plant-based restaurants outside bigger cities are non-existent. Here are the best places I found that will cater to your plant-based needs.
Feast without the Beast – Oxford- A 100% plant-based Sunday roast that is heaven on earth. Sadly this pop-up is only open on a Sunday but if you’re around then, highly recommended.
Green and Pleasant Tea Room – Bourton-on-the-Water a great option for an afternoon coffee, tea or snack, where staff are willing to provide plant-based alternatives in the countryside.
The Organic Farm Shop & Cafe – Cirenchester – A delicious healthy option right in the countryside outside Cirencester. They are 100% veggie during the week and serve meat on Sundays, however, they always have some vegan options. They serve a plethora of healthy salads easily made plant-based, hummus, smoothies, soups and baked potatoes. Highly recommended.
Nourish – Bath- 100% plant-based and 100% deliciousness, this is probably one of the best meals I have had. Their menu offers food from all over the world such as onion pakoras, pulled jackfruit tacos, Thai Laksa and vegan lasagna.
Acorn Kitchen – Bath – another superb but upmarket choice in Bath. Serving creative, delicious concoctions with the perfect wine pairings. A great option for a special occasion.
While this is definitely an action-packed Cotswold itinerary and even though the days could seem quite long, we were happy to see as much as we did in just 3 days. All the walking around definitely keeps you active but if you’re looking for a little more fitness during your trip I’d suggest hotel room HIIT workouts and resistance band training. Check out my workouts here for more.
Any comments or questions about this Cotswold itinerary? Leave your comments and questions below, I’d love to hear from you.
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