When we lived in London, once a year Cory and I would take a just-the-two-of-us trip while Lexie went off on her school’s annual week-long residential trip. These trips that were originally just a way to distract me from my separation anxiety, ultimately became something I began to look forward to every year. Since we were a family of three right from the start, these trips were a little glimpse into what marriage pre-kids must be like, and even though traveling as a family will always be my favorite way to travel, I can honestly say I’m not going to hate everything about couples-only travel.
Because we still wanted to be accessible in the event Lexie needed us while she was on her own trip, we always kept our couples holidays close to home by picking a new place to visit somewhere in England. Our first year we traveled to Bath and had a blast exploring one of the oldest cities we had ever been to. Our second year we spent a week hiking in and driving through western Cornwall, which is still in my Top 5 trips ever. And our third and final year, we got to visit somewhere I’d been looking forward to seeing since we moved to England – the Cotswolds.
Stretching from Stratford-upon-Avon in the north to Bath in the south, the places you’ll see in the Cotswolds are the things English countryside dreams are made of. (Or at least Hollywood ones, anyway.) Set amid rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep and cows, the towns and villages in the Cotswolds are pretty much English perfection. Thatched roof cottages, picture-perfect farmland, crumbling castles, towns made entirely of honey-colored Cotswold stone – visiting the Cotswolds is like going back in time.
There are so many great places to visit in the Cotswolds that the hardest part of our trip was deciding which towns and villages to see. Luckily, given the relatively small size of most towns and their close proximity to each other, it’s definitely possible to visit multiple places in the same day. We spent four days driving through the Cotswolds and of the many places we saw, the following were our favorites – partly because they offered more to do (walks, sights, food, etc), but also because they made the prettiest pictures. (FYI – These towns are all located in the northern and central regions of the Cotswolds. We didn’t make it down south on this trip!)
Chipping Campden is a small town in the northern Cotswolds that was once a popular wool-trading center back in medieval times. This is the town we used as our homebase for the duration of our trip and I couldn’t have been more pleased with our choice. We saw a lot of towns on this trip, but none of them had a High Street and city center quite like Chipping Campden. To add to its historic charm, Chipping Campden is one of those towns I mentioned earlier that was built using Cotswold stone nearly exclusively in the city center. If it weren’t for the cars on the roads, I really would have felt like we were back in ancient times here! Surrounded by farmland and offering plenty of choices for dining and accommodations, Chipping Campden was an attractive, ideal base for our trip.
Things to Do: Take a photo-walk along Hoo Lane, one of the most photogenic streets in Chipping Campden. Walk the portion of the Cotswold Way (a 102-mile trail) that runs from the center of town up to Dover’s Hill. Check out the 17th century Market Hall which still stands in the town center and visit St James’ Church.
A short drive south of Chipping Campden is Stow-on-the-Wold, another small town that’s worth a (possibly quick) visit. Stow-on-the-Wold has a small, idyllic town center with lots of boutiques, antique shops, and cafes, but what drew me to this town was a door. Yes, a door. But not just any door – the gateway to the elf world…or so they say. Supposedly, this door on the rear of St Edward’s Church was the inspiration for the Doors of Durin in The Lord of the Rings. Not having read the books or seen the movies, I have no idea what that is, but I do know a cool shot when I see one and I wanted one with this door.
Things to Do: Visit St Edward’s Church and take a photo of the famous door flanked by the two yew trees. Shop or grab a bite to eat in Market Square. Check out the Cricket Museum if that’s your thing. (The sport, not the insect!)
Just five miles south of Stow-on-the-Wold is Bourton-on-the-Water, a town quite a bit larger than both Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden. Known as the “Venice of the Cotswolds”, the River Windrush runs through Bourton-on-the-Water and a series of small bridges connect the town on either side of it. One of the most picturesque towns we visited, Bourton-on-the-Water was also one of the most touristy. We chose to avoid the touristy sights and spend our time relaxing and taking photos along the river, but if you’re traveling with kids, a stop in Bourton will probably be the highlight of their trip!
Things to Do: To see the less touristy side of Bourton-on-the-Water, check out the shops and restaurants in the center of town and take a walk along the river. For touristy sights, Birdland, the Model Village, and the Dragonfly Maze all look like good options for both adults and kids.
Back up towards Chipping Campden is the beautiful town of Broadway. Situated at the foot of Fish Hill (where monks used to store fish), if you’re feeling up for a little exercise, one of the coolest things to do in Broadway is visit Broadway Tower and then walk the Cotswold Way through the sheep farms to the town center. (It’s an easy, downhill walk into town…but not so easy on your way back up!) The town of Broadway itself, especially the main street, looks like an English version of Mayberry. The streets are so clean and all the cottages so perfectly manicured and tidy that it hardly looks like anyone actually lives there!
Read More: Cotswold Way Trail: Broadway Tower Walk
Things to Do: Take a tour inside Broadway Tower. Walk the scenic, 1.5-mile path on the Cotswold Way into town. Check out the 16th century Shakespeare Cottages in town. Stop in the shops and buy all sorts of traditional English treats and quirky souvenirs.
Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK thanks to its status as the birthplace of a famous playwright you might of heard of, goes by the name of William Shakespeare. Technically not within the boundaries of the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon is often known as a gateway to them. An unusual mix of old English village and modern city, Stratford-upon-Avon is quite a bit larger than the other towns we visited on this trip and definitely required a full day to be able to see most of it. If you’re visiting the northern Cotswolds, but prefer to stay in a town with a bit more to do, especially at evening, I’d highly recommend staying here.
Things to Do: Visit the sights in town associated with Shakespeare. (One ticket will get you into all of them.) Take a boat trip down the River Avon. For a little history, check out the Guild Chapel and Guild Hall. For more touristy sights or things to do with kids, visit the Butterfly Farm or Falstaff’s Experience at Tudor World.
So far all the towns listed here have been in the northern Cotswolds, but if you head to the center of this region, you’ll find the bustling town of Burford. The main street in Burford sits high up on a hill, so from the top of the road you’ve got a lovely view of the town plus the surrounding countryside. Of all the towns we visited, we probably spent more time just walking through the town here than we did anywhere else. We found so many lovely places to photograph in the side streets running off the main road. Besides a slew of restaurants and shops along the main road, there isn’t just a ton of things to do here, so if you’re not into photography, Burford will probably be a quick stop!
Things to Do: Take a photo-walk down the beautiful side streets in town. Grab a bite to eat or do a little shopping. Learn about the town’s history in the Tolsey Museum and visit the Parish Church of St John the Baptist.
And finally, not too far from Burford is my very favorite place in the Cotswolds (at least from a photography standpoint) – the village of Bibury. Famous for the strip of cottages known as Arlington Row, Bibury is a must-see on a visit to the Cotswolds. Besides the famous cottages, the town itself, though very small, is pretty much how I always pictured a village in the Cotswolds would look – crumbling stone buildings lining quiet streets, cozy cottages tucked away from the town at the edge of a forest, and a peaceful river running through the center of it. This is Cotswolds perfection right here!
Things to Do: Not a heck of a lot. Besides Arlington Row and the River Coln, there is a Trout Farm (ha!) where you can catch your own trout and have it cooked for you and a couple of nice places to get an afternoon tea, but Bibury probably isn’t somewhere you’ll be spending a lot of time after you’ve seen the cottages.
As you’ve probably guessed, a trip to the Cotswolds is mainly about three things – photography, shopping, and eating. This is not the place to come if you’re looking for a busy, active holiday which is probably why the majority of other travelers we met on our trip were in the 65+ crowd. :) But if what you’re looking for is a peaceful, easy-going getaway amid some of the prettiest countryside England has to offer, it doesn’t get much better than the Cotswolds!
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