Want to add a dash of English country charm to your UK vacation? The Cotswolds are located within a day trip from London, but deserve a 2-3 day itinerary all their own. Unlike many European destinations which are ideal for public transit, the Cotswolds are best explored by car. This way, families can plan their own itinerary, take their time, lingering where desired, and go off the beaten path.
Pick up a rental car in London, and head to any of the following towns and villages that make up the Cotswolds, or venture just a bit off-course to include history-rich towns such as Stratford-Upon-Avon. Get ready to be charmed: these villages boast more than just pretty names.
When I first visited the Cotswolds as a girl, my favorite town was–and remains–Bourton-on-the-Water. With the River Windrush flowing through the village (navigated by stone footpaths) and ducks making the town center home, I was charmed even at age 12. I also loved the Model Village (yes, of the village), which is located in the gardens of the Old New Inn. What to do with kids: check out the model village and try the Butterfly Maze (both on Rissington Road).
Gloucester is a very historic city (largest in the area) with a cathedral, cemeteries, and historic walking trails. Plan to spend at least a full day or overnight in Gloucester, and don’t be dissuaded by the few chain shops and restaurants you’ll find here. Gloucester is modernized, but not without its due share of Cotswolds charm. What to do with kids: head to Beatrix Potter’s House of the Tailor of Gloucester. See the inspiration for her beloved tales, and then check out the Folk Museum. If you have soccer fans in your midst, take in a game.
Known for its festivals and shops, Stroud leaves commercialization behind and embraces tourists with local culture and custom. The Stroud is the perfect place for walking (don’t tell the kids they’re hiking, and they’ll never notice). Trails bypass stone walls and pasture land, and offer ample opportunity for kids to stop and play, climb low trees, and spot wildlife. What to do with kids: take the family to Stroud’s award-winning farmer’s market or just hit the shops. What might be a chore at home (shopping, ick!) becomes a day of discovery at Stroud.
Berkeley is home to Berkeley Castle, a 12th century castle with a dark history. It’s been home to 24 generations of the Berkeley family, and presides over the town, which is worth exploring in its own right. Stop by Dr. Jenner’s house, the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine, and at least stay for the day, exploring the shops and eateries. What to do with kids: let them burn off energy at the Cattle Country Adventure Park, where slides and play areas combine with petting zoos.
Head north from Gloucester, and you’ll arrive within an hour in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the famous birthplace of William Shakespeare. En route, you’ll pass through Tewkesbury, an excellent medieval town, and once you’ve arrived, you can also tour Anne Hathaway’s home. Older children can see a play at the Royal Shakespearean Club theater, and everyone can walk through the town streets, gaining a feel for Olde England.
Where to stay:
You can’t really go wrong in the Cotswolds. This section of the UK houses a great number of their luxury house hotels (estate homes turned into hotels) and B&Bs shine here. With kids, we recommend house hotels for a slightly less intimate feel, and no matter where you stay, we suggest looking for properties with space for kids to play. One of my favorite Cotswolds memories is of floating paper boats down a creek outside our Stroud hotel.
Driving tips in the UK:
All visitors will know to stay on the left side of the road in the UK, but keep the following advice in mind:
- select a small to mid-sized rental car (parking spaces, roads, and alleys are smaller in the UK than in the US)
- take things slowly: take extra time to look behind you before moving into traffic, navigating roundabouts, and dealing with highway traffic
- keep a sense of humor: our family still talks about the time Grandpa stalled out in front of a group of punk rockers by Stonehenge and almost took on several unwelcome hitchhikers.
Enjoy the Cotswolds!
This post was done in partnership with Enterprise Rent-a-Car but they had no input on the content. All opinions are my own.
Photo credit: Flickr/tlarescott and Francisco Antunes