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The Cotswolds by public transport: How to visit the Cotswolds without a car

Spread over 800 square miles of countryside, the Cotswolds isn’t the most obvious place to visit by public transport. But although it’s undeniably easier to get around by car, it doesn’t mean you can’t visit the Cotswolds without one – it just might need a bit more planning. Our bumper guide to public transport in the Cotswolds explains just how to do it, with details of train and bus routes across the region and five great suggested itineraries for visiting the Cotswolds without a car.

Looking down to Winchcombe
The Cotswolds

Can you get around the Cotswolds without a car?

Some people might say visiting the Cotswolds by public transport is too difficult to bother, but we disagree! Yes there are some villages and attractions which you can’t reach without travelling by car – or which would take too long or involve too many connections to be worth it.

But local train and bus links are good enough to reach the Cotswolds’ main towns and villages without a car, so not having access to one or not wanting to drive shouldn’t put you off visiting.

House in Painswick in the Cotswolds
Painswick

There are a few things you need to be aware of though if you’re planning on visiting the Cotswolds by public transport. One is that transportation around the Cotswolds doesn’t run very frequently. Although you can reach most of the main towns and villages using a combination of trains and buses, if you want to get out and explore then you’re limited by the bus timetables.

Busy routes might have one bus an hour each way, but many smaller services only have two to four buses a day – and on Sundays or public holidays there might not be any. So you need to plan carefully and keep an eye on the time, especially to make sure you don’t miss the last bus.

And with services usually finishing by 6pm, if you want to stay out for dinner you’ll probably need to take a taxi (it’s a good idea to book taxis in advance, especially at weekends or holidays).

Looking down on Cheltenham from Cleeve Hill
Looking down on Cheltenham from Cleeve Hill

If you’re planning to visit the Cotswolds without a car and only have a few days to spare, our advice is to base yourself in one place and take trips out.

You could either catch a train to one of the bigger towns or cities like Oxford or Cheltenham and do day trips into the Cotswolds by bus. Or catch a bus to one of the smaller town or villages like Broadway or Bourton-on-the-Water and stay there, using buses and footpaths to explore nearby. (Check out our post on where to stay in the Cotswolds without a car for more suggestions).

Our Cotswolds public transport map shows the main train and bus connections – and at the end of the post we have five simple itineraries for exploring by public transport to get you started.

Stroudwater navigation
The canal through Stroud

Cotswolds public transport map

The map below highlights the towns and cities in and around the Cotswolds which have train stations (shown in black with the British Rail logo) and also shows the main bus routes around the region (we’ve excluded services which only run once or twice a week). You can also click here to download and print a larger PDF version of our Cotswolds public transport map.

Map of public transport in the Cotswolds if visiting the Cotswolds without a car

The Cotswolds by train

Mainline trains

There are three main train routes which run through the Cotswolds – one in the north of the region, one in the centre and one in the south. They call at:

  • Worcestershire Parkway > Pershore > Evesham > Honeybourne > Moreton-in-Marsh > Kingham > Charlbury > Hanborough > Oxford (and on to London)
  • Cheltenham > Gloucester > Stonehouse > Stroud > Kemble > Swindon (and on to London)
  • Bristol > Yate > Cam and Dursley > Gloucester

There are also railway stations in larger towns and cities just outside the Cotswolds which are on different train lines: Stratford-upon-Avon, Chippenham, Bradford on Avon and Banbury.

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon

Though one thing to beware of if you’re planning on travelling around the region by train is that the routes don’t link up all that well. So often it’s quicker and easier to catch a bus between two destinations rather than having to change trains and hang around waiting at stations.

UK train tickets can normally be booked 12 weeks before the date of travel, with the cheapest fares available furthest in advance and if you avoid peak times (6.30am–9.30am and 3.30pm–6.30pm). You can avoid paying a fee by booking directly with one of the train operators like Transport for Wales* (they sell tickets for any rail journey in the UK, not just their own services).

Trains from London
Trains from London

The Gloucestershire–Warwickshire Steam Railway

There’s also another train service which you can use to explore the Cotswolds – the Gloucestershire-Warwickshire Steam Railway. This heritage railway runs steam trains along the following route:

  • Cheltenham Racecourse > Gotherington > Winchcombe > Toddington > Broadway

Their trains don’t run every day and the timetable varies through the year, but it’s a scenic way to travel around the Cotswolds – and is particularly useful for visiting Broadway from Cheltenham which is fiddly by bus. You can get normal single and return tickets as well as rover tickets which let you use the service all day and cost £26 for adults and £10 for children aged 5–15.

GWSR train at Cheltenham Racecourse station
GWSR train at Cheltenham Racecourse

The Cotswolds by bus

Although the Cotswolds is pretty well connected by bus, it’s not the easiest thing to get your head around – not least because services are run by eight different bus companies! The map above shows the route numbers and you can find a list of the routes by number below, showing the main stops and with a link to the timetables to check days, times and where the bus stops are.

Most UK bus fares are capped at a maximum of £2 until the end of 2024.

  • 1/2: Stratford-upon-Avon > Chipping Campden > Broadway > Moreton-in-Marsh (Stagecoach)
  • (Rural) 4: Evesham > Broadway > Willersey (NN Cresswell)
  • 41: Malmesbury > Old Sodbury > Yate (Coachstyle)
  • 50: Stratford-upon-Avon > Shipston-on-Stour > Chipping Norton (Stagecoach)
  • 51: Cheltenham > Cirencester > Cricklade > Swindon (Stagecoach)
  • 51: Stratford-upon-Avon > Shipston-on-Stour > Moreton-in-Marsh (Pulhams)
  • 60: Dursley > Wotton-under-Edge > Thornbury (Stagecoach)
  • 63: Gloucester > Stroud > Nailsworth > Forest Green (Stagecoach)
Pulhams bus in Chipping Campden
Pulhams bus in Chipping Campden
  • 64: Gloucester > Stonehouse > Stroud (Stagecoach)
  • 65: Stroud > Uley > Dursley > Stonehouse > Gloucester (Stagecoach)
  • 66: Cheltenham > Painswick > Stroud > King’s Stanley > Stonehouse (Stagecoach)
  • 69: Old Sodbury > Westonbirt > Tetbury > Nailsworth > Stroud (Stagecoach)
  • 76/77: Lechlade > Fairford (Stagecoach)
  • 84/85: Yate > Chipping Sodbury > Wotton-under-Edge (The Big Lemon)
  • 93: Malmesbury > Cirencester (Coachstyle)
  • 94: Cheltenham > Gloucester (Stagecoach)
Visiting Castle Combe: A Local's Guide
Castle Combe
  • 95/95A: Chippenham > Castle Combe (Faresaver)
  • 99: Swindon > Royal Wootton Bassett > Malmesbury > Chippenham (Coachstyle)
  • 233: Burford > Minster Lovell > Witney (Stagecoach)
  • 488/489: Chipping Norton > Hook Norton > Banbury (Stagecoach)
  • 606: Chipping Campden > Broadway > Stanton > Winchcombe > Cheltenham (Pulhams)
  • 620: Bath > Yate > Chipping Sodbury > Old Sodbury (Stagecoach)
  • 801: Cheltenham > Andoversford > Northleach > Bourton-on-the-Water > Stow-on-the-Wold > Moreton-in-Marsh (Pulhams)
  • 802: Kingham > Stow-on-the-Wold > Bourton-on-the-Water (Pulhams)
  • 855: Cirencester > Barnsley > Bibury > Northleach (Pulhams)
Winchcombe almshouses and high street
Winchcombe
  • 882: Gloucester > Cirencester > Kemble > Tetbury (Stagecoach)
  • D1: Bath > Bradford on Avon (First Bus)
  • S2: Cheltenham > Northleach > Burford > Witney > Oxford (Stagecoach)
  • S3: Oxford > Charlbury or Oxford > Chipping Norton (Stagecoach)
  • V19: Chipping Norton > Kingham (Villager)
  • W: Cheltenham > Prestbury > Winchcombe (Stagecoach)
  • X9: Chipping Norton > Charlbury > Witney (Pulhams)
  • X31: Chippenham > Corsham > Bath (Faresaver)
  • X34: Chippenham > Lacock > Frome (Faresaver).
Balloons in the sky over Bath Spa
Balloons over Bath

The Robin

As well as the regular scheduled buses around the Cotswolds, there’s also an on-demand bus minibus called The Robin. This covers rural areas in the North Cotswolds which don’t have regular bus services, with 59 different destinations available, many of them small towns and villages. So it means you can explore some of the Cotswolds’ hidden gems without needing a car

Among the destinations covered are Blockley, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Bourton-on-the-Water, Daylesford, Donnington, Guiting Power, Longborough, Lower Slaughter, Moreton-in-Marsh, Naunton, Stanway, Stow-on-the-Wold, Windrush and Wyck Rissington (see the full list).

The service runs from 7am–7pm (excluding Sundays) and you can book your journey online, via their app or by phone, from two weeks in advance right up to an hour before you want to travel. You just search for the route you want and it gives you different options to choose from.

The Robin is available to anyone, and journeys are only £2 under the price cap.

Longborough village in the Cotswolds
Longborough

Cotswold travel passes

If you’ll be travelling around a lot, there are couple of passes available which can save you money on travel. The Cotswolds Discoverer One Day Pass costs £13 for adults (£6.50 for children or £8.67 with a Railcard*) and includes unlimited travel on many buses and trains.

You can buy the passes at train stations or on board buses. But there are a few conditions – it only covers Stagecoach buses (excluding the S2 between Cheltenham and Oxford) and trains after 8.50am between Oxford and Moreton-in-Marsh, Swindon and Ashchurch, Gloucester and Yate.

Stagecoach also has a West Gold DayRider ticket which gives you one day of unlimited travel on services operated by Stagecoach West. You can buy them on the bus or online with their app (which saves a bit of money). Tickets cost £8 for adults or £7 for over 60s/children under 15.

St Mary's Church in Painswick
St Mary’s Church in Painswick

5 Cotswolds public transport itineraries

If you want to visit the Cotswolds without a car but have no idea where to start planning your trip, these five sample itineraries might give you some inspiration. Each itinerary involves basing yourself in one place and visiting nearby destinations by bus or train over a few days.

Our itineraries for visiting the Cotswolds without a car keep it simple so you don’t have to manage connecting buses or spend your entire time travelling.

The Broadway Tower
The Broadway Tower

1. Moreton-in-Marsh

The benefit of basing yourself in Moreton-in-Marsh is that it’s on a direct train line from London, so it’s an easy place to stay for a weekend break in Cotswolds without a car, as many bus services stop by 6pm so aren’t much use if you’re heading off after work. Moreton is a traditional market town in the Evenlode Valley with plenty of charm and a good selection of places to stay and eat.

From Moreton you can reach some of the Cotswolds’ best-known towns by bus. Catch the Pulhams 801 bus to Stow-on-the-Wold (20 minutes) or Bourton-on-the-Water (35 minutes).

You can also take the Stagecoach 1/2 bus to Broadway (25 minutes) where you can walk to the Broadway Tower, or carry along on the same line to Chipping Campden (40 minutes). Note the 1/2 doesn’t run on Sundays (the 801 has three services on Sundays from May–September only).

Read more: 10 easy day trips from Moreton to Cotswolds (without a car)

Moreton-in-Marsh shops
Moreton-in-Marsh

2. Cheltenham

Regency Cheltenham lies to the west of the Cotswolds, with good train connections to London, Birmingham and Bristol. It’s also linked to many towns in the central and northern Cotswolds by bus. The Pulhams 801 runs northeast to Bourton-on-the-Water (45 minutes), Stow-on-the-Wold (1 hour) and Moreton-in-Marsh (70 minutes), with around nine services a day.

The Stagecoach W connects Cheltenham with Winchcombe (25 minutes), as does the less-frequent Pulhams 606, which goes on to Broadway (1 hour 40 minutes) and Chipping Campden (2 hours). You can also reach Painswick on the 66 bus (35 minutes) or Cirencester on the 51 (40 minutes).

Alternatively, you could catch the train to Stroud where it’s a seven-mile walk along the canal to Stonehouse, where you can pick up a return train to Cheltenham. Or you can visit Winchcombe, Toddington and Broadway on the vintage Gloucestershire–Warwickshire Steam Railway. Services depart from Cheltenham Racecourse but they don’t run every day so check timetables.

Read more: 9 easy day trips from Cheltenham to Cotswolds (without a car)

Pittville Park in Cheltenham
Pittville Park in Cheltenham

3. Cirencester

The ‘capital of the Cotswolds’, Cirencester is a market town dating back to the Romans. Although it doesn’t have a train line, it does have plenty of bus connections. You can reach Cirencester via trains to Swindon, Kemble, Gloucester or Cheltenham. Kemble is the closest, with the Stagecoach 882 bus connecting to trains from London and only taking 12 minutes to reach Cirencester.

From Cirencester you can head north on the Pulhams 855 bus to visit Bibury (17 minutes), where Arlington Row is one of the Cotswolds’ most photographed spots. You can also head south on the Stagecoach 882 bus to visit the town of Tetbury (35 minutes), or take the Coachstyle 93 bus south to Malmesbury (50 minutes), which is known as the ‘Queen of Hilltop Towns’.

St John the Baptist church in Cirencester
St John the Baptist church in Cirencester

4. Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most famous villages in the Cotswolds – as well as being one of the busiest. Even during the low season its riverside is packed with day-trippers, but using it as a base means you can have it almost to yourself in the early mornings and evenings.

The easiest way to reach Bourton-on-the-Water by public transport is via the train to Moreton-in-Marsh or Cheltenham. The Pulhams 801 bus takes 35 minutes to reach Bourton from Moreton-in-Marsh, or you can also take the same bus from Cheltenham to Bourton in 45 minutes.

From Bourton it’s a lovely 1.5-mile walk along the River Windrush to Lower Slaughter, where you can do a short diversion to neighbouring Upper Slaughter, or 4.2 miles to Stow-on-the-Wold. Then it’s only 10 minutes from Stow back to Bourton on the 801 bus. You can also reach Northleach (12 minutes) using the 801 or visit the foodie hub of Kingham (55 minutes) on the Pulhams 802.

Bourton-on-the-Water

5. Oxford

You could easily spend a few days in the ‘city of dreaming spires’ and not run out of things to do. But as well as having colleges, museums and gardens to visit, Oxford is also a good base to explore the east of the Cotswolds. North of the city is grand Blenheim Palace – it’s easy to reach on the Stagecoach S7 or S3 bus (35 minutes), and you get a 20% discount on entry if you arrive by bus.

The Stagecoach S3 bus connects Oxford with Chipping Norton (65 minutes). Or you can take the Stagecoach S2 bus to the medieval town of Burford (1 hour), which then calls at Northleach (1 hour 15 minutes) on its way to Cheltenham (1 hour 45 minutes). A direct railway line from Oxford also makes it easy to visit Charlbury, Kingham and Moreton-in-Marsh by train.

Read more: 9 easy day trips from Oxford to Cotswolds (without a car)

Christ Church College in Oxford
Christ Church College in Oxford

Cotswold tours

If you’re limited on time or want an easy way to visit the Cotswolds without a car, there are also a range of guided tours that let you see some of the highlights in a day and include travel.

There are lots of Cotswolds tours departing from London* and most include similar stops – Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury, Burford and Stow-on-the-Wold – but some also visit Oxford* or Stratford-upon-Avon.* There are also some tours starting in the Cotswolds, which cuts down on time spent on the bus, with one departing from Moreton-in-Marsh* and another from Oxford.*

Bibury in the Cotswolds
Arlingon Row in Bibury

* This site contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission from purchases at no extra cost to you.

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How to visit the Cotswolds by public transport, featuring train and bus routes and five itineraries for exploring the Cotswolds without a car | Cotswolds travel guide | Cotswolds by bus | Cotswolds by train | Cotswolds without a car

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Yijing

Monday 26th of February 2024

Hi, im going to Cotswolds on May 3, 2024 to May 5, 2024, it happens to be Friday to Sunday , are there public buses run on the weekend? Thank you very much.

Lucy Dodsworth

Friday 8th of March 2024

Hi, generally most bus routes run on Saturdays but services are very limited on Sundays – depending on where you want to visit you can check the latest timetables with the links above.

Carla

Monday 30th of October 2023

I am new to this site. I will be in Oxford 11-15th November, after 4 days in London and visiting the UK for the first time in many years. My compliments for the wonderful information given here by Lucy. I need to do some planning and am very grateful to have discovered this site. I already hope to be back and stay much longer to explore the Cotswolds. Much appreciation!

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 30th of October 2023

Thanks Carla, really glad to hear it was useful and hope you have a brilliant trip!

Myriam Croce

Friday 25th of August 2023

Hola! Soy de Argentina y me emociona encontar alguien tan amable dispuesta a consejar!! Tengo planeado un tour de 3 dias todo en bus. La ultima noche me alojo en Stratford, per debo llegar a dormir alli un sábado. Me da miedo las frecuencias escasas de ese dia. Me conviene llegar desde Broadway o Chipping Candem? Tendré opciones por la tarde para acceder a ese tramo sin problema? Muchas gracias!!🙏🏻

Lucy Dodsworth

Tuesday 5th of September 2023

Hola Myriam! El autobus "Stagecoach" numeros 1/2 y pasa por Chipping Campden y Broadway antes de llegar a Stratford. No hay autobuses los domingos pero hay tres cada sabado, y el ultimo sale cerca de las seis de la tarde (https://tiscon-maps-stagecoachbus.s3.amazonaws.com/Timetables/Midlands/Leamington%20Timetables/Current/S123_TT_220725.pdf). Espero que pases un buen viaje!

Pan

Wednesday 23rd of August 2023

Hi, Lucy I am planning to visit oxford on the middle of Oct, and planning one day to cotswolds (Saturday), But I don't know if the bus S2 from Northleach to Oxford running on Saturday? and 801 from Moreton -in- marsh to Northleach running on Saturday? and does the ticket of discover includes the cost of S2 and 801? Hope your response, Thank you !

Lucy Dodsworth

Wednesday 23rd of August 2023

Hi, the S2 and 801 do run on Saturdays, but unfortunately the Cotswold Discover Pass doesn't cover either of them (you can see what it does cover here https://explorethecotswolds.com/cotswolds-discoverer-pass/).

Lenka

Saturday 29th of July 2023

Hi Lucy, what a fantastic resource you've put together. We're a group of 3 spending 2 nights in Cheltenham, in August 24-26. We plan to spend the 24th walking around Cheltenham (arriving in thw morning), and we kept 25th and 26th for visiting different villages in the Cotswolds. My question is what do you recommend to visit that isn't overflowing with tourists, reachable within 1,5h from Cheltenham, or potentially visiting even 2 villages on the 25th that can be easily combined...or visiting a village + a max 2 hour walk in the surrounding countryside? I was thinking about using the GWSR, but unfortunately it doesn't run on that day and the station seems a bit far from the centre of Cheltenham. On the 26th we are heading off to Bath in the evening, so I would keep it simpler on that day. Honestly, there seem to be so many choices :) I can't wait to visit.

Lucy Dodsworth

Saturday 29th of July 2023

Hi Lenka, have you seen this post which might be useful? https://explorethecotswolds.com/day-trips-from-cheltenham-to-cotswolds/ Painswick is lovely and you could walk to the Painswick Beacon. Or you could go to Stow and walk to Lower Slaughter and Bourton (though it may well be quite busy). If you're heading to Bath you could also visit Bradford-on-Avon, which you can reach from Cheltenham by train (I'll have a new guide to it coming up in the next week or so).

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