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Planning on how to spend a day in the Cotswolds can be tough as there are so many great options. With these 6 itineraries, you can explore the Cotswolds as a day trip by car, get to know the South East, South West North East, North West or my first option by train!
The Cotswolds covers quite a large area in the West of England, so I assume that your plan is to experience the Cotswolds character, history and countryside.
1# A Day Trip to the Cotswolds from London by Public Transport
Oxford or Bath are the best places to start your Cotswold adventure by train. Pick up the Cotswold Discoverer Pass for £10.00 a day which will give you travel around the area on trains and buses.
Due to local buses and the days they run between Castle Combe and Chippenham, I only suggest this itinerary from Monday to Saturday. There are no local buses that run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. Alternatively, skip Castle Combe and there will be more frequent buses from Bath to Chippenham.
Bath is the starting point for this itinerary, simply flip the journey around if you’re starting in Oxford.
Start with breakfast in Bath at The Old Station Cafe and take a stroll along the river through Parade Gardens to see the Robert Adam Palladium Style Pulteney Bridge.
On the way back towards the train station you can divert slightly to admire the Guildhall, Bath Abbey and Roman Baths and maybe browse some of the little boutique shops.
If you have more time to explore Bath make sure you visit inside the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Centre or Herschel Museum of Astronomy.
Your onward journey takes you to Castle Combe, one of the prettiest villages in England by bus and from there you can catch another bus to Chippenham.
Depending on how much time you are planning on spending in Castle Combe the number one thing you need to do is wander down the hill from Market Place to the bridge.
After all, you likely came here to admire the beautiful honey-coloured bricks of the cottages and get the ultimate photos. Once you reach the southern tip of the village this is where you will get that epic shot.
Once you’re finished in Castle Combe catch bus 35to Chippenham. However, be careful as there is a limited bus that runs a day so you need to make sure you check the latest bus schedule.
Alternatively, head straight to Chippenham on the X31 runs frequently from Bath.
Chippenham is becoming a popular destination for day-trippers as it’s easy to get to by train and it’s named one of the best destinations for market towns.
There is a market every Friday and Saturday, as well the Chippenham Multi Markets on the third Sunday of every month.
If you don’t end up on a market day then explore the Town Hall, the Chippenham Museum & Heritage Centre, the Yelde Hall and the Butter Cross.
Once in Chippenham, there is a short walk from the bus station to the train station where you can catch a train to Bristol and on to Cheltenham Spa and across to Oxford in time for dinner.
From Oxford once you have had a walk around the ancient streets and alleyways it is time to head home to London just a short train journey away.
2# How to Spend a Day in the Cotswolds by Car
Going by car has some massive advantages and some equally large disadvantages. The advantages are that you can go exactly where you want when you want, traffic permitting and can visit some places that are not on a bus or train route. The main disadvantages are that you will have to find parking and frequently pay for parking.
The trip also starts in Bath and do get there in time for an early breakfast to pack as much sightseeing as possible into the day.
From Bath travel to Marshfield via A46 Gloucester Road for some stunning views, and turn off the A420 onto the High Street and then to Market Place where it should be possible to park and have a walk around, walk up Church Lane past the cute cottages to The St Mary the Virgin Church and maybe walk back to the Lord Nelson pub for refreshments.
The old side of Marshfield is a beautiful, typical small Cotswolds town and if you continue your journey via Hay Street you will pass the village pond.
From Marshfield you are going to Castle Combe, one of the prettiest towns in England, but that comes at a price, depending on the time of day and year, it may be very busy, the storm after the calm of Marshfield.
A slow drive through Castle Combe when it is busy with pedestrians may be enough for you or you may decide to park up and have a walk around.
Either way, from Castle Combe it is an easy drive to Malmesbury where the attractions include the 12th Century Abbey, the pretty Abbey Gardens, Tomb of King Athelstan, the free Athelstan Museum, and see the original Market Cross.
If traffic allows and you have not spent too much time enjoying any particular place so far, the next stop is Bourton-on-the-Water, a very pretty famous village with a river running next to the main road and pretty little bridges going over to the honey coloured cottages.
From Bourton-on-the-Water, head towards Oxford via Burford, where even if you don’t stop it is worth a drive along the High Street, then continue on the A40 past Witney and onto Oxford in time to enjoy a stroll around the ancient university centre and find where parts of the Harry Potter films were filmed, before heading home.
Depending on the traffic and the time you start, you may decide to shorten the trip by missing some parts out and in which case, it would work well to leave out Oxford, Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water and plan a separate trip to cover those areas again.
Staying in the Cotswolds will give more time to exploring the area more fully. Staying a few days each at different locations will work even better for exploring, especially if you enjoy walking and getting away from the main tourist hotspots.
Here are some ideas for days out that incorporate some of the main attractions, whilst also exploring away from the crowd and independently travelling in the area.
This Trips all assume that you are travelling by car, I have explored getting about without a car elsewhere.
3# South East: Malmesbury, Castle Combe & Corsham
A full day with lunch stop, approximately 35 miles round trip.
For this day out, we are assuming that you are staying in or near the medieval market town of Malmesbury and that is where we will start.
Leaving your accommodation (in Malmesbury) at about 10.00 the obvious first place to visit is Malmesbury itself. There has been a settlement there since the Iron Age and if you are not staying in Malmesbury there is usually parking near the church or follow signs for car parks, parking is free for 2 hours in the Station Road Car Park.
Things to do and see in Malmesbury
Malmesbury Abbey, Abbey House Gardens, Tomb of King Athelstan, free Athelstan Museum, original Market Cross, Farmers and Artisan Market on Friday’s, live music at the Kings Arms pub, most Friday evenings.
From Malmesbury, the next stop is Castle Combe which was featured in the film War Horse and in the television series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The village is famous as one of the prettiest towns or villages in England. It is very pretty and the locals work to keep it lovely with hanging baskets and many offer flowers and cakes for sale outside their houses. The little hump back bridge is a definite photo stop.
Next suggestion is just 1.6 miles away; Yatton Keynall for lunch at the 17th Century Bell Inn (booking advised 01249 782216) and a short walk before you leave to visit the 13th Century Church and look at some of the sweet cottages.
Corsham Court and Corsham are next and you may recognise Corsham as it starred as a Cornish town in the Poldark television series. Well known for its stunning architecture and wandering Peacocks, Corsham has been built largely from Bath Stone that is quarried nearby. ‘Corsham has no match in Wiltshire wealth of good houses and there are a few of really high merit.’ (Pevsner N, Sir, Buildings of England). Corsham is said to have one of the best preserved high streets in England.
The Saxon royal manor house Corsham Court is certainly an example of ‘a good house’ and has a good collection of paintings and gardens and park land designed by Capability Brown. The house and gardens are open to the public from 2pm – 5.30 in the summer and until 4.30 during the winter months.
Other Things to Do and See in Corsham
Once you have had a look around Corsham Court, next door is St Bartholomew’s Church and other interesting architecture is The Almshouses and School House nearby and the Flemish Weavers Cottages. The shops along the High Street and Pickwick Road are a mixture of mostly independent and include vintage, antique and craft shops. Corsham is a Fairtrade town.
If you are staying in Malmesbury it is now time to work back to your accommodation. Unless, of course you are moving on somewhere else….
4# North East: Burford, Bibury & Bourton-on-the-Water
A full day out with lunch stop approximately 47 miles round trip.
For the North East Area we will start the tour in Burford High Street and if you have stayed in Burford, chances are you have already strolled up and down the street and admired the variety of architecture and marvelled at the little alleyways and pretty little twittens. So, in the car and off to the first location:
Our first stop on this day out is Bibury, Beautiful Bibury is a haven of peace and quiet and tranquillity. Just park up and stroll around, enjoy the architecture, the tickling water, the beauty and peace.
On to the Chedworth Roman Villa and Chedworth Village. The Villa is the oldest house looked after by the National Trust and the history is literally coming out of the ground there, with mosaics, an ancient octagonal pool with a questionable history, a fascinating place to visit.
It may well be worth forward planning and bringing a picnic with you, as the Villa grounds are a great place for a picnic, or there is a cafe on site.
Our next location is the famous, tourist destination Bourton-on-the-Water, a pretty Cotswolds town, worthy of its status as a must visit destination and known as the Venice of the Cotswolds.
Things to Do and See in Bourton-on-the-Water
As well as the pretty main street with its lovely Windrush River running through there are some attractions you may like to visit whilst at Bourton-on-the-Water and the first is the model village; a lovely model of Bourton-on-the-Water to explore and is a good place to start.
The Cotswold Brewing Company is based at Bourton-on-the-Water and is open to the public at weekends and sometimes on weekdays.
Especially, if you have been to look around the Brewery, it will now be time to return to your accommodation in Burford. If you still have time to kill, there are some lovely villages on the way back that you could select to explore.
5# North West: Gloucester, Tewkesbury & Morton-in-Marsh
A full day, approximately 75 miles round trip
Let’s start our North West day out at the Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester.
Blackfriars is a Medieval Dominican Priory and is open to the public on Sunday and Monday, so Monday is a good day for this tour. If you need to cover this tour on a different day, then it is worth viewing from the outside.
If you are staying in Gloucester then you will explore the museums, cathedral and television and film hotspots on another day as it is easy to spend a few days in Gloucester exploring all that it has to offer.
First stop on the tour is the historical town of Tewkesbury that was in the news in February 2020 due to its location where rivers meet, called a confluence. The River Severn and the River Avon meet at Tewkesbury as well as minor tributaries to those rivers Swilgate and Carrant Brook.
Tewkesbury is famous for its beauty and history and has over 350 listed buildings.
Things to do and see in Tewkesbury
The Old Baptist Chapel and Court, Tewkesbury Town Museum, the John Moore Museum, Tewkesbury Abbey, Heritage Centre, Heritage and Alleyways Trail, nature reserve and much, much more. It would be easy to spend a whole day just in Tewkesbury.
From Tewkesbury, if it is on to Hailes Abbey Ruins, a fascinating English Heritage site. On the way there go via Winchcome an ancient town that has evidence of a settlement since 3000 BC and keep an eye out for the interesting houses and cottages among the new build homes.
Hailes Abbey has a museum, a shop and the large ruins site. It is possible to get an audio tour to enhance the experience. The Abbey is a great place for a picnic lunch.
For the rest of the afternoon you have the choice of Morton-in-Marsh or Stow-on-the Wold, both lovely and both at road junctions on the A429. Time permitting a visit to Moreton-in-Marsh can be followed by a drive through Stow-on-the-Wold on the way back to Gloucester.
Either way head back to Gloucester via the A436.
6# South Western: Berkeley, Dursley & Cotswold Way
The south western part of the Cotswolds is all about great walks and great scenery.
The day starts in a car park! Purton Car Park, Severn Way, Berkeley GL13 9HP by the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.
Today’s tour starts with a walk along the canal, which is frequently described as a stunning place for a walk. Once you’ve had a gentle stroll along the canal path, it’s off to Dursley for some history.
Dursley is a typical, pretty Cotswolds market town, steeped in history; with evidence in the area of settlements back to the Neolithic period.
Dursley is also on the Cotswolds Way and offers many great walks. This makes it an ideal base for a walking holiday. This day out in the Cotswolds is all about ditching the car and walking. There are lots of walks to choose from and many of them can be found on this website here.
So, choose your own from the list or follow this short walk guide that allows you to enjoy a 40 minute walk at the canal, some time and lunch in Dursley before heading out for a comfortable afternoon walk of either 3 ½ miles or 3 miles for the shorter route missing out the steep but pretty hill climb from Dursley.
This walk starts at May Lane Car Park which is adjacent to the Cotswold Way. Turn left out of the car park and follow signs for the Cotswolds Way, the first part of the walk is through pretty woodland and takes you up to the golf course, where you will come out at the car park.
If you prefer, you can drive to Stinchcombe Hill Car Park that is beyond the golf course car park and walk from there, this takes out the most strenuous part of the walk and it is also possible to cut back to this point part way round.
Once you cross the car park the Cotswolds Way splits into two directions, ignore the lane and go straight across the golf course, the way can be identified by a mown strip and continue to the next fingerpost and this time, ignore the straight on route and take the route to the right that is identified by the Korean Friendship trail sign.
You will soon see glimpses of the view that has brought you here. Follow the signs through the trees, where there is a bench that you may like to take a short rest at. Continue on for half a mile and you will come to a shelter hut on the Cotswolds Way.
Continue to follow the signs and cross a track that leads to Stinchcombe Hil House. At this point you could take a short cut back to the car park, by taking the track to the right or continue on to complete the walk.
Continue to follow the signs for the Cotswold Way and you will arrive back at where you emerged at the Golf Course and return to Dursley through the woods.
This is a short circular walk that is on the Cotswold Way, taking you around Stinchcombe Hill and takes in some of the best scenery of the Cotswolds Way walks.
So, there you are a day trip suggestion from London by public transport or by car and four independent transport suggested tours.
These, of course, all just take in a small part of the area and other trips could easily be planned.
For example, if you are staying in Gloucester or Tewkesbury then a short day could easily be spent at Tewkesbury in which case that suggested day out could start at Winchcombe, go to Hailes Abbey Ruins and onto Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold before returning to your accommodation.