Conjure up the typical English countryside scene: think of a patchwork landscape of fields laden with crops or dotted with sheep and cattle, interspersed with stately homes, church spires and quaint little villages. Not much of rural England looks like this anymore, but The Cotswolds really does.
It has something to delight everyone, whether it’s one of the many manor houses, which have been turned into luxurious country house hotels and spas; the village high streets largely made up of teashops, gastro pubs, beautiful shabby chic homeware stores, Willy Wonka-style sweetshops with shelves of glass jars crammed full of colourful sweets bought by weight and toyshops majoring on traditional wooden toys; or the countryside itself, which has the lure of dozens of outdoor pursuits.
Where are The Cotswolds?
‘Wolds’ are gentle hillsides, and this collection of shallow terrain stretches across south-west England. A ninety-minute drive north-east of London will take you to The Cotswolds. It’s perfectly doable in a daytrip from the Capital, but it’s sandwiched between Gloucester, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Bath – all fantastic cities to visit in their own right, you could easily spend a week exploring and enjoying the region.
Where should we base ourselves?
The Cotswolds probably has the highest concentration of luxury country house hotels in England and wherever you choose to stay once you’re in the area nothing is much more than a forty-minute drive away. It is also pretty easy to get around via public transport, but to save a lot of hanging about, you’ll need to make a note of the timetables. The Cotswold transportation site has some interesting bus route suggestions, however, you might want to check the timings still stand.
My favourite village is Bourton-on-the-Water, which is often ridiculously described as The Cotswolds’ little Venice. The River Windrush flows very gently through it. Historic cottages, built in the beautiful honey-coloured local limestone common to most Cotswolds’ buildings, butt up against its banks and it’s criss-crossed with cute little footbridges and paddled in by ducks and kids with rolled up trouser legs. Venice it isn’t, but it is charming. And once you’ve seen the life-size version, you can delight at the Model Village of the village, in the gardens of the Old New Inn. There is even a model village of the model village in the model gardens of the model Old New Inn.
Stow-on-the-Wold, Woodstock and Broadway
Stow-on-the-Wold, Woodstock and Broadway are other beautiful villages that are worth lingering in for a coffee, pub lunch or afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is somewhat of an event wherever it is served in England. Kids tend to delight in the structured formality of it and if you time it for five-ish you can get it to serve as supper too. Hotels tend to be the best place to stop for afternoon tea. If it’s done right, dainty sandwiches arrive first, followed by scones, which you must pile with jam and clotted cream and then the cakes follow.
So once my kids get village fatigue what next?
This is where your hotel will come into it’s own. Look for one with an indoor pool and acres of grounds with opportunities to cycle, horse ride, play tennis and water ski. It’s not hard to find places that tick all these boxes and more, plus many have excellent kids clubs and crèches as well. And don’t forget the spa for yourself too.
Source Ciukes Photostream on Flickr
If you can tear yourself away from the English country house set, head for the Cotswold Wildlife Park, to say ‘how do you do’ to penguins and pythons, meerkats and monkeys, camels and crocodiles, amongst others. There is also a fantastic adventure playground, a railway and if you visit over a summer weekend or during the UK school holidays, you can all try your hand at Brass Rubbing in the park’s manor house.
If the sun’s shining, which it does quite often, the Cotswold Country Park and Beach is another lovely day out. Bring your bucket and spade and swimming-cossies, because it’s home to the UK’s largest inland beach and this borders a lake that offers year-round swimming for the brave. While you’re here you can also hire bikes of all sizes, including child seats; and pedal or row boats. Oh and you can barbecue too.
Is there a best time to visit?
If you can coincide your arrival with the sun whatever time of year, it will be perfect. If you can’t arrange this, come prepared. Make sure that your accommodation has so many indoor pursuits that the kids won’t actually want to leave the premises. With a cream tea and a log fire in front of you, who cares what it’s like outside!
We’ll have a few reviews on Ciao Bambino shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a short list of some of my favorite options.
Cotswold Water Park hotel – good aparthotels are few and far between in the UK, but this one is smart, clean and offers plenty of sporting activities.
Calcot Manor – fantastic luxury family hotel ticks all the boxes I mentioned above
The Priory Inn Tetbury – great for babies and toddlers
Barnsley House Hotel – sister hotel to Calcot, slightly more sophisticated with more subtle child-friendly touches, but a lovely place to stay with well behaved kids.
Need help planning a trip to England or any other top family travel destination? Our Family Travel Advising Team can help! Request assistance by Connecting with a Family Travel Advisor.
Want to save all the great intel and tips you are finding on Ciao Bambino? My Trip Planner allows you to bookmark articles, family-friendly hotel reviews, and family vacation packages. Simply click the heart icon on anything you want to save. Site registration is required to get started. Happy planning!
Please fillout the form below to create your free My Trip Planner account.
Start a Discussion9 Comments
The Cotswolds is quite a big area, unless your children are serious ramblers, I would start the walks from a base. So either drive somewhere and do a circular walk back to the car or walk from a hotel. Alternatively, walk from your hotel to a village, if there are any within walking distance and you should be able to get a cab, or if you time things right and you’re lucky a bus. This website has some good routes on it: https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/cotswold-way/
We will be going to the cotswolds in June with our two kids 8 and 11. We would like to take advantage of the countryside walking but I am not sure if the classic walk from village to village will be a good idea. Does anyone have advice on if it is better to move around or do walks from a home base hotel or two?
We love the Cotswolds. Bourton on the water is a full day out. Slimbridge wildfowl trust is fun. Westonbirt Arboretum was fabulous for the children – plenty of surprise activities for them as you walk round. You can rent self catering accommodation at Stouts Hill resort which has plenty of activities itself – indoor pool, ping pong, darts, snooker, games, tennis, croquet, pitch & putt etc. The children love it and the local pub gardens suit us all!
The Cotswolds are host to many hidden treasures, such as bird world and the forest of dean! A perfect place to take the kids on holiday!
Perfect timing…we are leaving this afternoon for England and planning to spend several days in the Cotswolds with our kids. We’ll be camping so that will be an interesting experience (keeping my fingers crossed that goes well!). I studied at Oxford so I am eager to share the area with my husband and the kids. It really is a beautiful part of England. Thanks for highlighting the Cotswolds for family travel. One piece of advice…when booking rooms/cottages, be sure they allow children. Holiday Lettings is also a good place to search for longer term holiday rentals in the UK.
it really depends on how remote you are prepared to be for that length of time. There are dozens of stunning cottages available to rent for months on end in the Cotswolds, but many will be quite isolated. It’s probably best to base yourself in one of the larger villages such as Bourton-on-the-Water so that you are always within walking distance of a food store, restaurants and other people. Or, alternatively you might want to look at renting in Oxford and then making regular trips out to the Cotswolds. As it’s a university town you will find it particularly easy to find a good place to rent whilst the students are on holiday.
Check out this website for great self-catering options across the UK
What a magical place to visit. I plan on taking my family next summer. Where would you reccommend finding a good place to stay for an extended period of time. Like 3-6 months. Thank you for this inspiration.
I just found these great last minute rates at Calcot Manor Hotel, if anyone is interested.