Covering almost 800sqmi (2,072sqkm), the scenic Cotswolds are brimming with things to do and see. Picturesque villages, grand palaces, ancient castles, beautiful gardens… This perfect slice of English countryside has got it all. Wondering where to start? From the Cotswolds Distillery to Warwick Castle, here are 25 of the best attractions in the area.
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WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre
This family-friendly wetland centre makes the perfect day out. Hand-feed the ducks and geese as you walk around the idyllic grounds, check out the huge flamingo flock, spot water voles from the canoe safari and go birdwatching in the comfy Discovery Hide.
Standing tall in the most glorious of settings, Broadway Tower looks out across the breathtaking Cotswold scenery. Visitors can explore this unique folly tower before hiking along the Cotswold Way or just sitting back with a cup of tea, taking in the view.
With 15,000 tree specimens from all over the world, Westonbirt Arboretum is regarded as one of the best arboretums in the country. There’s something for everyone here, whether you just want to wander around the grounds, explore the treetop walkway or take the children along the Gruffalo Spotters trail. The arboretum is beautiful whatever the season but particularly dramatic in autumn, as the leaves turn a kaleidoscope of reds and oranges.
Created and cultivated over the last 35 years by the Prince of Wales, the Royal Gardens at Highgrove are a stunning example of sustainability, harmony with nature and a true love of all things horticulture. The gardens are open annually from April to October, and visitors can enjoy fascinating guided tours around the estate.
The Cotswolds Distillery
With a dedication to producing the very best artisan whisky and gin with a local twist, the Cotswolds Distillery is one of the smallest but arguably the prettiest distilleries in England. Find out all about the process on one of the distillery tours, before putting your feet up in front of a warming log fire for a tasting session in a relaxing environment.
Cotswolds Water Park
Featuring over 150 lakes spread over 40sqmi (104sqkm), the Cotswold Water Park has plenty to keep you busy. There are lots of beautiful trails to explore by foot or on two wheels, as well as great fishing spots and a huge choice of water sports to try your hand at. There’s even a beach (yep, in the Cotswolds!) where you can swim and really feel like you’re on holiday.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens
Home to over 260 different species of animal, the Cotswold Wildlife Park is the biggest privately owned zoological collection in the country. Watch rhinos as they graze on the lawn of the manor house, get eye-to-eye with giraffes on the Giraffe Walkway and see the penguins at feeding time. The zoo is dog-friendly, so even your four-legged friends can come along for the day.
You’ll be blown away by the magnificence of Gloucester Cathedral – one of the finest medieval buildings in the country. Walk the extraordinary medieval cloisters (which even acted as Hogwarts’ cloisters in the early Harry Potter films), and then climb to the top of the Cathedral’s tower for stunning rooftop views.
Explore the fascinating and turbulent history of Sudeley Castle, spanning more than 1,000 years. From the glorious, historic rooms to the jaw-dropping 1,200-acre (486ha) estate (featuring 10 award-winning gardens), there’s a lot to see. There’s even the Pheasantry, which houses a collection of 16 rare and endangered species of birds from around the world.
There aren’t many places in England that offer such a unique opportunity to see a historic herd of fallow deer roaming freely. Dyrham Park, a grand late-17th-century baroque country house surrounded by beautiful ancient parkland, combines history with wildlife for an excellent day out for all the family.
Cotswold Farm Park
If you’re looking for something to entertain the kids, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Cotswold Farm Park. Here, children can help hand- and bottle-feed animals as well as learn all about farming. The working farm is home to a number of rare breeds, including Old Gloucester cattle and Castlemilk Moorit sheep, which you can often see on one of the tractor safari rides.
The Roman Baths
In the heart of the city of Bath, you’ll find the historic Roman Baths. Built in approximately 70CE as a grand place for bathing and socialising, they are now regarded as one of the most important and best preserved sites of Roman remains in the world. You can walk among the ruins and even take a sip of the spa water (which was believed to have healing powers by the Romans) in the Pump Room.
The Model Village
One of the quirkier attractions in the Cotswolds, the Model Village is an impressive 1/9th scale replica of the scenic village of Bourton-on-the-Water. The attention to detail here is incredible, with miniature houses, tiny bridges over a mini River Windrush and even the sound of choral song coming from one of the small churches.
Painswick Rococo Garden
Tucked away in a hidden valley and offering unbeatable views of the Cotswold countryside, Painswick Rococo Garden feels like a secret treasure. Transporting you back to the elegance of the early 1700s, this site celebrates a time when gardens were designed to really dazzle.
It’s no surprise that Blenheim Palace, a picture-perfect baroque stately home, is a Unesco World Heritage site. Spend a day taking in the beauty of this palace (the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill), before taking to the great outdoors to explore over 2,000 acres (800ha) of Capability Brown parkland and formal gardens.
The Rollright Stones
Folklore says that an Iron-Age monarch and his courtiers were turned to stone by a witch, resulting in the Rollright Stones. The truth about how this ancient stone circle came to be, just outside the village of Great Rollright, is still unknown, but it’s a fascinating example of a mysterious prehistoric monument.
Upper and Lower Slaughter are widely believed to be the most picturesque example of a quintessentially Cotswold village. Honey-hued stone cottages, the meandering River Eye and an idyllic countryside setting make these villages an absolute must-see, for a real taste of the Cotswolds.
Hidcote Manor Garden
Hidcote Manor Garden is one of England’s great arts-and-crafts gardens. The various gardens are divided by tall hedges and walls to create a series of outdoor rooms, each with their own character. From the grand formality of the White Garden to the natural charm of the Old Garden, there’s real beauty wherever you look.
Lauded by William Morris as “the most beautiful village in England”, Bibury is one of the most popular stops on a Cotswold tour, and it’s easy to see why. Home to Arlington Row, one of England’s most photographed streets, Bibury has beauty and charm that will capture your heart.
Sezincote House and Gardens
Deep in the heart of the Cotswolds countryside you’ll find the unexpected – a dazzling 200-year old Moghul Indian palace. Yep, really! Sezincote House, built in the “Indian style”, is a feast for the eyes, with its weathered-copper dome and elaborate curving orangery. The gardens are equally impressive – and exotic! – featuring a water garden and ornamental temples.
Cotswold Lavender Farm
Head to the Cotswolds between May and August and you’ll be in for a real treat, and a very aromatic one at that. Cotswold Lavender is located near the village of Snowshill and features 40 different types of lavender and more than half a million plants in total. Visit the farm, marvel at the colour and come home smelling amazing.
The entire Cotswold area is belted by hills, providing some top-shelf walking routes, and many of them use Cleeve Hill as a focal point. It’s the highest peak in Gloucestershire, and the Cleeve area covers about 1,000 acres (400ha), crisscrossed with public footpaths. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views in England.
Cotswold Falconry Centre
Birdwatching is fine if you know what you’re doing, but for a more up-close-and-personal experience, Cotswold Falconry Centre is a better bet. The centre is home to dozens of species, including eagles, vultures, hawks, falcons, owls and more. As well as getting a close look, you can watch the birds in flight during daily shows with the falconers.
Another must-visit old British village, Stow-on-the-Wold is in the dead centre of the Cotswolds and has a history dating back to the Iron Age. Now, it brims with antique shops that visitors come from all around to browse, as well as St. Edwards Church, whose huge north door sits between two yew trees and is said to have inspired the Doors of Durin in The Lord of the Rings.
Sitting on the River Avon, Warwick Castle is an especially important piece of British history, as it was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror, just two years after his successful invasion and defeat of the English army. Now, you can explore the grounds, go on tours of the interior and enjoy interactive shows detailing the castle’s storied past.
Additional reporting by Callum Davies
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