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How to plan a great day trip to the Cotswolds from London

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It comes as no surprise that visiting the Cotswolds from London is incredibly popular, especially for those looking to travel to the Cotswolds without a car. But how do you go about planning a day trip to the Cotswolds from London?

After all, the sight of rolling hills, honey-stone cottages and quaint villages is just too much to miss out on – no matter where you’re travelling from.

Ideally, you’d want at least a few days to explore this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but of course, a day trip from London to the Cotswolds is possible, when you know how. In this guide, we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about planning a Cotswolds day trip from London, so you can maximise your itinerary.

cotswolds london day trip to the cotswolds from london

A day trip from London to Cotswolds by car

There’s no doubt about it, exploring the Cotswolds is made far easier when travelling by car. This means you don’t have to rely on bus timetables, giving you room to explore at your own pace or drive to lesser-known spots for the perfect photo.

A Cotswolds London day trip by car takes around 2.5 hours, depending on which part of the region you’re looking to visit. This involves taking the M4 through Swindon to reach the South Cotswolds, the A40 through Oxford for the North and East Cotswolds.

Travelling to the Cotswolds by car may require you to set off early to make the most of your day trip, but believe us when we say, it’s certainly worth it.

Tips for driving in the Cotswolds

Hoorah, you’re here! Now what? Well, there are a few handy tips we’d love to share with you before driving in some of the most picturesque villages in the world. For Brits, driving in the Cotswolds isn’t exactly different to driving anywhere else in the UK. However, there are a couple of things that might be worth noting.

One thing’s for sure, some of the roads in the Cotswolds can include narrow country lanes, so if you’re renting a car (or considering bringing a big ol’ van!), you might want to opt for a smaller vehicle. This will not only make it easier to navigate these smaller, narrow lanes, but it’ll make it easier when it comes to parking too. With many narrow country lanes only wide enough for one car, be prepared to pull over to let others pass. If you’re driving to the Cotswolds for your day trip from London, take care and be prepared to stop/pull over where needed.

You may also like: Why visit the beautiful Bibury Cotswolds Village

Another thing to note… Cotswolds towns aren’t renowned for their signage! Which means it’s quite easy to get lost. Of course, the views are pretty spectacular wherever you end up, but if you have plans to get to on time, you might want to use Waze or sat nav to find your way around. That being said, there are some spots where your signal might be a little patchy, so think about your route in advance where you can.

Parking in the Cotswolds during your day trip from London

Now, once you’ve reached your destination, parking can be a little tricky. In most Cotswolds villages, parking is limited and it can get full up pretty quickly – especially at weekends and during school holidays.

So, if you’re travelling to say, Bourton-on-the-Water, or Bibury, we’d recommend getting there early. There is usually a mix of on-street parking and car parks available.

day trip from london to the cotswolds

Ready to plan a day trip to the Cotswolds from London? Here are 3 great itineraries

The beautiful Cotswolds covers a whopping 800 square miles, so if you’re planning a Cotswolds day trip, travelling by car is your best option to explore independently and cover the most during your trip. The chances are, you already have some ideas in mind as to where you’d like to visit. To make the most of your day trip to the Cotswolds, pick an area of interest or a selection of villages and work out your plans around them.

Below, we’ve put together three great itinerary ideas, for the perfect day trip. Each of these focus on different areas of the Cotswolds and can be easily tweaked to suit where you’d like to explore the most. While we’d always suggest having at least a few days to see the Cotswolds in its full, beautiful glory, a day trip from London is possible when you know how!

Itinerary 1: Visiting the big names of the Cotswolds

Travelling to the Cotswolds in your own car? No problem! For this day trip itinerary, you’ll quickly be out of central London and soaking up the sights of some of the Cotswolds’ most iconic towns and picturesque villages.

Start by heading East out of London on the A40 via Oxford. On your first stop, you’ll be hitting Burford – known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds. As well as the pretty stone cottages dotted on Burford Hill, you’ll also find antique shops, tasty cakes at Huffkins Bakery and a famous garden centre on the outskirts of town.

From here, head West to Bibury, home to the spectacular Arlington Row – one of the UK’s most photographed streets with its line of flower-decked medieval weavers’ houses. From here, travel north from Bibury to Bourton-on-the-Water.

Bourton on the water is probably the area’s most famous town, and is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, with picture-perfect stone bridges crossing the River Windrush. If you’re planning a day trip from London and you’re a fan of model villages, get ready to see the town in miniature at the Model Village, or visit the Motor Museum during your adventures.

Of course, for the foodies, there’s a great selection of riverside eateries available, no matter what you’re in the mood for.

Just 1.5 miles North, you’ll then find the tiny Lower Slaughter, with a watermill-turned-museum to behold. If you’re bringing your four-legged family members, there’s a great walk from here to neighbouring Upper Slaughter, before continuing on to the final stop in your Cotswolds day trip: Stow-on-the-Wold.

While visiting Stow-on-the-Wold, don’t forget to catch a glimpse of St Edward’s Church, the old stocks and plenty of historic pubs – including The Porch House, said to be the oldest pub in the UK. As your day trip from London comes to a close, head back towards Burford before heading home to London.

cotswolds day trip from london by car

Itinerary 2: South Cotswolds

Ready to explore a less-travelled region of the Cotswolds? Make your way from London along the M40 South via Swindon and you’ll find yourself in beautiful Malmesbury. With its 12th-century abbey, ruins, and acres of lush gardens perfect for exploring – it’s absolutely worth making it part of your itinerary!

Take a journey and discover delightful Tetbury, where you can grab lunch in this idyllic wool town gushing with charm. Admire the age-old buildings along the Chipping Steps and browse antiques at The Market House before continuing south to Westonbirt Arboretum – an extraordinary show of nature that is especially breathtaking during autumn.

From here, take a journey to the timeless beauty of Castle Combe. This delightful village is straight out of a fairytale, with its quaint cobbled streets and traditional buildings. It’s no surprise that it has been used as an enchanting backdrop in films and TV series, such as War Horse and Stardust – you’re sure to feel transported back through time when you visit. Delight your senses on this 10 mile/20 minute trip into another world.

As the last step in this South Cotswolds itinerary, it’s time to travel to another popular film location – Lacock. A trip to Lacock is unlike anywhere else. From its 13th-century abbey (featured in Harry Potter!), to quaint thatched roofs lining old cobbled streets – it’s easy to see why filmmakers fall head over heels for this majestic place owned by the National Trust. Discover amazing history at Fox Talbot Museum of Photography before heading back to London way along the M4.

Itinerary 3: The North Cotswolds

Discover the beauty and culture of the North Cotswolds! Uncover picturesque sites, some known to many and others only a few. Start your journey from London on the M40 towards Banbury then onto the A429 for just 100 miles (2.5 hours). Experience Chipping Campden – with its 250 listed buildings as it was once home to the Arts and Crafts movement, plus works by local artists at Court Barn Museum.

Get ready to explore Broadway next, starting with the stunningly picturesque and historic Broadway Tower. Take in the incredible panoramic views this fairytale folly has to offer before heading into the enchanting Broadway village. With its boutique shops, mouth-watering restaurants and cosy pubs – including one that once hosted Oliver Cromwell himself at The Lygon Arms – you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Take a break to explore quieter Cotswolds villages. Travel to two peaceful towns by heading South to Stanton (4 miles/7 minutes), followed by Snowshill (5 miles/11 minutes). Explore their charm-filled streets for an enjoyable stroll! Snowshill is home to the National Trust’s unique Snowhill Manor with its fascinating collections – or check out the Cotswold Lavender fields outside in the summertime. Relax and take it all in!

For the last stop, travel South to the historic town of Winchcombe, located just 9 miles away! Spend some time exploring Sudeley Castle – it’s a real treasure trove of fascinating architecture. Built all the way back in 1442, this gorgeous castle is also where Henry VIII laid his last wife Katherine Parr to rest. From here, travel back from your Cotswolds day trip to London via the A40 through Oxford.

day trip to cotswolds from london by train

Planning a day trip to the Cotswolds from London by public transport?

Exploring the Cotswolds doesn’t have to involve a car! Even though it’s a little trickier, public transport can still be used for some incredible day trips from London to the Cotswolds. An itinerary plan isn’t necessary as long you take time to look up bus schedules before setting out.

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Either way, planning ahead guarantees that your journey through this beautiful region will be stress-free and help you see everything you’d like to when travelling from London to the Cotswolds.

Exploring the Cotswolds by bus and train can be a little more difficult. With regular services to some of its larger towns and cities, you can hop onto local buses for a deeper dive into this special region. But don’t forget to plan ahead – we’ve got that sorted too (do not worry!) with three suggested itineraries covering day trips from London to the Cotswolds right here. Ready… got your suitcase? Let’s hit the road!

Our top tips for visiting the Cotswolds from London by train/bus

Exploring the Cotswolds has never been easier! With direct trains from London Paddington taking you to main towns and cities, like Cheltenham, Stroud, Moreton-in-Marsh, Kingham, Bath, Oxford and Chippenham – planning a trip from London to the Cotswolds is made a lot easier!

Of course, to save money when planning a Cotswolds day trip, it’s always worth booking your tickets in advance. While these tickets will likely restrict your time of travel, they tend to be a lot cheaper. The same goes for peak hours, and if you have a Railcard, even better!

When exploring the Cotswolds (or even planning your own Cotswolds tours!), take advantage of local transport passes – such as the Cotswolds Discoverer One Day Pass (£10.50 for adults, £5.25 children), which provides unlimited travel on Stagecoach buses (excluding the S2 from Cheltenham to Oxford) and local trains after 8.50am from Monday to Friday.

Finding your way around the Cotswolds (especially during a walking tour) is quite easy to do, with a reasonably comprehensive bus system connecting the main towns and villages. However, buses aren’t particularly frequent, so there is planning to be done.

London to the Cotswolds without a car – Three great itineraries

Explore the beautiful Cotswolds without a car – and without breaking your budget! Our three day trip itineraries from London to the Cotswolds will highlight some of its most picturesque small towns and villages. Taking a mix of train rides, as well as limited bus services (which are always subject to double checking!), you’ll have enough time for sightseeing so that you don’t spend all day travelling. Ready? Let’s go!

Itinerary 1: Cirencester and Bibury

For this route, start by taking the direct 08.28 train from London Paddington to Kemble, arriving at 09.41.

Heading South to Cirencester – the capital of the Cotswolds – you can quickly connect to the picturesque village of Bibury. With your train from London Paddington arriving in Kemble right on time, you can then catch the 882 bus for the short journey to Cirencester, departing at 10.05 and arriving at 10.17. From here, you’ll have around 45 minutes to grab a quick snack and a coffee (highly recommend Jack’s and Pretty & Pip), before taking the 855 bus to Bibury at 11.00, arriving at 11.17.

What does Bibury have to offer? Well, of course, you’ll be able to see the beautiful Arlington Row. If you’re planning a walking tour, take a stroll along the edge of the Rack Isle water meadows, the Trout Farm and catch a glimpse of St Mary’s Church – Psst, take a look at our blog on churches in the Cotswolds. In the area, there are two super-tasty pubs, perfect for lunch – The Swan and The Catherine Wheel.

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To travel back to Cirencester, you can catch the 855 bus which arrives back in Cirencester at 14.37 – giving you a couple of hours to explore Cirencester. See and read more about the town’s Roman history at the Corinium Museum, visit the abbey grounds or shop for local arts and crafts at New Brewery Arts.

At the end of your visit, take the 822 bus back to Kemble, which leaves Cirencester at 17.40 and arrives in Kemble 17.55, in time to catch the 18.20 train back to London Paddington, which gets in at 19.39.

Itinerary 2: Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold

If you’re travelling from London to the Cotswolds without a car, your best bet is to travel to Moreton-in-Marsh Station. Hop on the 801 bus for a one-day jaunt through two of the region’s most iconic towns – charming Bourton-on-the-Water and picturesque Stow–on–the Wold.

Jump into the action by catching an early morning direct train from London Paddington at 07.50 which arrives at Moreton-in-Marsh at 09.17. Once you’ve arrived, the 801 bus meets the train and departs from the station at 09.25, taking 30 minutes to reach Bourton-on-the-Water.

Come and explore the enchanting town of Bourton – take a stroll across its romantic bridges over the River Windrush, visit the delightful Model Village or enjoy classic cars at the Motoring Museum. Treat yourself to lunch in an inviting pub and don’t forget to make time to take a scenic walk to nearby Lower Slaughter (35 minutes each way). You’ll have four hours available – so let’s get started!

Itinerary 3: Chipping Campden and Broadway

Ready to explore the incredible charm of England’s countryside? Hop on board the 08.11 train from London Marylebone and experience a day of exploring two lovely towns in the North Cotswolds – Broadway and Chipping Campden! With just one change at Leamington Spa during your travels, you’ll reach Stratford by 10:14, ready for an unforgettable day out.

Explore the historic town of Chipping Campden by catching a scenic ride on bus number 2 from Stratford. Once you arrive, take in the beauty of Market Hall and St James Church, check out some beautiful old buildings and make sure to visit Court Barn Museum for an immersive experience!

From there, why not hop on the number 1 bus at 13.45 and uncover some more beautiful sights around Broadway? Treat yourself to lunch there – whether that’s Russell’s Fish & Chips or something from the Deli. Then you can take in some fabulous boutique shopping before heading up to Broadway Tower, where you can soak up the stretching views! It makes for an adventurous 4-mile/2.5 hour circuit walk… so don’t forget your walking boots!

Hop on the No. 1 bus from Broadway at 5:44pm and you’ll be back in Stratford by 6:46, just in time to catch the 7:12 train which will take you into London Marylebone for a 9:37 arrival!

cotswolds tours day trips from london to the cotswolds

Looking for Cotswold tours?

Whether a private tour or group Cotswolds tours, there are plenty of ways to explore the Cotswolds during a day trip from London.

Of course, travelling by car can make your day trip from London a lot easier, since you won’t have to wait around for buses or rely on other timetables! But… There is another way to explore the Cotswolds during a day trip from London! And it starts with us! We have teamed up with a wonderful local travel agent to create tailor-made travel itineraries.

No matter what you have in mind, our experts can help you plan your trip to perfection, and use up every ounce of free time to explore everything you can during your trip! Whether a walking tour – via famous Cotswolds villages – a panoramic tour, booking Cotswolds tickets, and so on! The opportunities really are endless.

Tailor-made travel to the Cotswolds

For more information, take a look at our tailor-made travel page, and our Cotswolds tours – where local knowledge really does come into its own! Our partners know the Cotswolds like the back of their hand are ready to give you the best experience of England’s largest Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty.

Whether you want a bespoke Cotswolds day tour, a small group tour, want to walk the hidden valleys or to ride an E-Bike through the historic towns, villages and countryside, we have you covered.

Looking for more to do in the Cotswolds? Take a look at our Cotswolds events page to find out what’s on during your stay, from yoga retreats to quad biking, year-round markets, comedy clubs, music festivals and children’s activities. There really is something for everyone!

What else does the Cotswolds have to offer?

There is so much to do here! For the latest, you can check our events, or find other great things to do from our collection of wonderful local businesses. Plus, there is plenty of accommodation available, if you do feel like extending your trip!

Don’t forget, many of the places to stay in the Cotswolds also welcome your four-legged furry family members, so you really can bring the whole family along.

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