A Cotswolds day trip from London is one of the most popular road trip itineraries from England’s capital city. Those wanting to escape the busyness of London, and sneak off to adorable stone cottages and charming villages often head to the Cotswolds.
This region is home to delightfully dreamy English villages surrounded by fields of lavender and rolling farmland.
If you’re looking for a vacation to the English countryside that feels like a journey back in time, this Cotswolds day trip itinerary is for you.
How to visit the Cotswolds in one day
The Cotswolds cover a significant portion of central and southwest England, spanning nearly 800 square miles. So, you won’t be able to see the entire region on a day trip to the Cotswolds.
For this reason, you’ll want to plan your Cotswolds day trip itinerary route in advance to determine which pretty Cotswolds villages you should visit.
We’ve laid out 2 Cotswold day trip itineraries that will take you to some of the most charming places to visit in the Cotswolds. But before we get to that, there are a few travel tips you’ll need if you’re planning a Cotswolds self drive tour.
You will a need a car
The Cotswolds are not known for their rail service. In fact, there are few places in the region that you can get to by train or public transport.
For this reason, you will want to rent a car and road trip to the Cotswolds. We always compare rates from various car rental companies and book on AutoEurope when renting a car in Europe.
Keep in mind, in the United Kingdom, they drive on the opposite side of the road than in the United States and mainland Europe.
It takes some getting used to, but it is doable – and worth renting a car to visit this region which has officially been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
ALSO READ: THE BEST OF LONDON IN ONE DAY
The area is somewhat rural
When taking a Cotswolds day tour, it’s a good idea to pay for a rental car with GPS. The area is somewhat rural, so your phone’s internal GPS may not always work because cell phone reception can be a bit spotty.
Roughly 80 percent of the Cotswolds is farmland, so when driving between the region’s beautiful villages, you’ll likely find yourself on some narrow roads that lack a shoulder on the side in the event you need to or want to pull over.
Parking is limited in the Cotswold villages
Parking is typically limited in the Cotswolds, particularly in small villages that were built centuries ago. They simply don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the tourism that the region now receives.
However, you’ll often find a parking lot or car park located just outside the village proper. The parking area is usually within a 5-10 minute walk from the village.
Cotswolds Guided Tours from London
If the idea of driving in the UK seems nerve-racking, you can also book a guided Cotswold day tour from London for about the same as it might cost you to rent a car.
Many of these guided day trips take you by minibus or van to some of the most popular locations in the Cotswolds, including Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Stow-on-the-Wold.
The tours offer plenty of free time to explore on your own, but you get to leave the driving to a professional.
Where to visit on a Cotswolds day trip
The most popular places to visit in the Cotswolds are the honey-hued stone villages that look like the setting of an English movie from the Regency period.
You’ll find numerous tiny parishes dotted across the Cotswolds’ landscape. But it would be impossible to visit all of them on one Cotswolds day trip.
There are two areas of the Cotswolds that tourists typically visit. The North and Central Cotswolds are perhaps most popular and can be paired with a visit to the city of Oxford or a tour of Blenheim Palace.
The South Cotswolds are a bit farther, but easily accessible off the M4. A south Cotswolds day trip itinerary can be paired with a visit to Bath.
We have laid out 2 separate popular Cotswold day trip itineraries for you to consider when planning your travels.
Cotswolds Day Trip Itinerary – Option #1 – Most popular villages
Our first itinerary for a day trip to the Cotswolds is one of the most popular driving routes through the region.
It takes you to several of the most quintessential Cotswold villages plus makes a stop at a UNESCO World Heritage palace.
Highlights of this Cotswolds Day Trip Itinerary
- Blenheim Palace
- Lower Slaughter
Renowned for its masterful Baroque architecture, Blenheim Palace is a stunning palace that is now the home of the Duke of Marlborough, and has been featured in various films and movies.
Most famous as the birthplace of Winston Churchill, the 300-year-old palace is the only palace in England that is not considered a royal building.
Home to England’s oldest pub, The Porch House, Stow-on-the-Wold is the perfect place to stop for lunch or simply just a cold brew. Once an important trading center in the Cotswolds, the village is built around an historic market square.
A must-see in the village, stop off at St. Edward’s church, where you’ll find a tree-framed doorway that looks like something built by ancient elves, hobbits, or forest creatures.
Lower Slaughter is an easy walk or an even easier drive from Bourton-on-the-Water. Most notable for its picturesque Old Mill, which is now a museum, coffee shop, and gift shop, Lower Slaughter is worth including on a Cotswolds day trip itinerary.
Less crowded than some of the larger villages nearby, Lower Slaughter sits along the River Eye.
Adorable footbridges cross the small river, adding both scenic appeal and making it easy to walk around. You can also follow the stream to Upper Slaughter, which is about a one-mile walk each-way.
One of the most popular villages to visit on a Cotswolds day trip, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the best places for window shopping and dining in the region.
Because of its picturesque canal with small bridges crossing over it, Bourton-on-the-Water is often referred to as “the Venice of the Cotswolds”.
You’ll even find a couple museums in this small village, including a model Cotswold village and a museum of vintage cars. Kids will especially love the Dragonfly Maze, which is a pristine labyrinth that is fun to explore.
Your final stop on our first Cotswold day trip itinerary is the town of Bibury, most notable for a street known as Arlington Row. This road lined with old weaver’s cottages is one of the most photographed places in the Cotswolds.
Bibury is also home to a trout farm, where you can buy fresh or smoked fish to take home with you.
Map of this Cotswolds Itinerary for 1 Day
To help you plan your route and get an idea of total drive time between your stops, here is a map that takes you from Central London to all of the stops on this Cotswold day trip itinerary.
Cotswolds Day Trip Itinerary – Option #2 – South Cotswold Day Trip
Our second Cotswolds day trip itinerary takes you to the southern area which includes the pretty village of Castle Combe and the historic town of Bath.
Highlights of this Cotswolds Day Trip Itinerary
- Castle Combe
Considered one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, Castle Combe is like the popular kid that doesn’t realize what all the fuss is about.
It is an adorable stone village that is only a couple of blocks long, but offers one of those seemingly made-for-Instagram views that make you want to visit.
Tour St. Andrew’s church and wander through the cemetery surrounding it. Then, walk down to the small, stone bridge to get the perfect viewpoint of the village.
While there are a couple of pubs in the town, you can also ring the doorbell at local homes that have signage out indicating coffee, cakes and other treats are available for purchase that day.
Biddestone is just a short drive from Castle Combe and makes for a nice brief stop on a south Cotswolds day trip itinerary. Twice named Wiltshire’s Best Kept Village, Biddenstone is a lovely Cotswold village dating back to the year 1086.
Visit St. Nicholas Church, meet the friendly ducks at the duck pond, see the historic school building, and take a peek inside the gates of The Close, a charming 18th century house in the center of the village.
If you’re hungry, stop in for a meal at the White Horse Pub, a cozy English pub that will make you feel like you’re in your grandmother’s kitchen.
On the way from Biddestone to Bath, you’ll visit the historic market town of Corsham. Unlike the previous two villages which have no real shops to speak of, Corsham has a good mix of independent shores and antique stores to peruse while you wander the town.
Tour the Lacock Abbey, an elaborate country house that was one of the Harry Potter filming locations in the UK. Parts of the movie Pride and Prejudice were also filmed here.
Just outside the southern edge of the Cotswolds, Bath is an easy and worthy addition to a south Cotswolds day trip itinerary.
Home to the Roman Baths Museum, one of the United Kingdom’s largest tourist attractions, you’ll find the greatestcollection of Roman artifacts in Great Britain in Bath. And of course, an ancient Roman spa or Bath House, which gives the city its name.
Map of this Cotswolds Itinerary for 1 Day
This map shows you the total drive time from Central London to all of the stops along our second Cotswold day trip itinerary.
Is one day in the Cotswolds enough?
A Cotswolds day trip gives you enough time to see some of the region, but one day is simply not enough time to see the entire region and its 787 square miles. However, much of the area is rural. While there are a lot of adorable villages in the Cotswolds, you don’t really need to visit all of them.
Aside from taking in the unquestionable beauty, the small villages don’t have a lot of things to do in them.
So, unless you are wanting to do what Cameron Diaz did in The Holiday, and take an extended soul-searching hiatus to the English countryside, either Cotswolds day trip itinerary above offers enough time to experience the highlights of the region.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds for one night
Given the charm of the Cotswolds, it is understandable that you might want to spend more than just one day in the Cotswolds.
If you visit the central or northern section of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is a pretty Cotswold village that is centrally located.
Staying in the village puts you within a short drive to other nearby towns and villages in the Cotswolds, like Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, or Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter.
The south Cotswolds puts you close to the town of Bath, on its western edge. Bath is worth visiting, as well. So, if you follow our south Cotswolds itinerary, Bath is a great place to stay if you want to extend your Cotswolds day trip itinerary for at least a night.
Staying in Bath offers more dining and nightlife options while still putting you within a 20 minutes to cute Cotswolds villages.
Are the Cotswolds worth visiting?
The short answer to “Are the Cotswolds worth visiting?” is YES! If country cottages, rose gardens, lavender fields, and ridiculously charming stone villages are your vibe, then start planning a trip to the Cotswolds. We hope this Cotswolds day trip itinerary post helps you do just that!
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This Cotswolds day trip itinerary was first published in September 2022 but was most recently updated in August 2023 for accuracy and current travel information.
Photo credits: Lavender field: David Stratton from Unplash | Cotswolds road: Devin Kleu from Unsplash | Blenheim Palace: Einar H Reynis from Unsplash | Stow-on-the-Wold: Jason from Unsplash | Lower Slaughter: Mick Haupt from Unsplash | Bourton-on-the-Water: Photo by Simon Godfrey from Unsplash | Bibury: George Hiles from Unsplash | Lacock Abbey: Virginia Choy from Unsplash | Roman baths: Loseitlady from Pixabay