Take a two-day driving tour along the scenic roads of the Cotswolds on this romantic road trip. The Cotswolds Romantic Road is one of the Great British Drives, and includes some of the best-known and most beautiful Cotswold towns and villages, churches, country houses and gardens.
The Cotswolds Romantic Road is made up of two one-day circular driving routes, both starting in the Regency town of Cheltenham. The first loop runs through the north of the Cotswolds via Broadway, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water. And the second loops east from Cheltenham through Northleach, Burford, Lechlade, Bibury, Cirencester and Painswick.
The route includes a mix of famous and lesser-known destinations, so you can tailor the stops to suit what you want to see – whether you want to focus on the big names or get off the beaten track. We’ve suggested places to stop off along the route in the itineraries below to help plan your trip.
The distances covered each day aren’t that big, but there’s a lot to see so factor in plenty of time for sightseeing (and food, drink and shopping) stops. This Cotswolds Romantic Road itinerary covers two days, but you could also spread it over a longer time period and make more stops.
However you choose to drive it, the Cotswolds Romantic Road is a great way to see some of the highlights and hidden gems of the Cotswolds by car. Or if you’d rather not drive, we also have a series of guides which show you how to explore the Cotswolds by public transport.
If you don’t want to organise the trip yourself, you can also book a Romantic Road package with Compass Holidays, who organise accommodation, provide maps and GPS directions, and can also book car hire (or even a chauffeur-driven car) for you.
Tips for driving the Cotswolds Romantic Road
Cotswold roads are often narrow and may have just one lane. So take it slowly and be prepared to stop. If you need to pass a car going in the opposite direction, there are usually passing places on single-lane roads, but if not you may have to pull onto the verge to let them go by.
If you want to hire a car in Cheltenham, both Midlands Vehicle Rental and Enterprise car hire’s offices are within 15–20 minutes’ walk of Cheltenham train station. Booking in advance is advised – as is hiring the smallest car you need to make it easier to manoeuvre and park.
Parking can be difficult in the busiest Cotswold towns and villages, especially in summer and at weekends. Our locals’ guides give details of parking options in the main destinations.
There aren’t always many signposts in the Cotswolds so it’s useful to have a GPS or sat nav to help you navigate (though beware they usually show you the shortest way rather than the scenic route used in these itineraries). And a print map* is a good backup as mobile signal can be patchy.
Cotswolds Romantic Road day 1
The first day of the Cotswolds Romantic Road trip focuses on the north of the Cotswolds, mainly travelling on smaller, quieter B roads. The day’s highlights include Sudeley Castle, the pretty villages of Stanton and Snowshill, Broadway and its tower, Chipping Campden, Father Brown filming location Blockley, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water and the Slaughters.
Day 1 covers approximately 62.5 miles and if you drive it straight through it would take 2.5–3 hours. But that only includes driving time so allow a full day to make stops along the route.
Day 1 route
The route starts by heading northeast out of Cheltenham, passing through Prestbury and joining the B4632 as it climbs up Cleeve Hill. Cleeve Hill is the highest point in the Cotswolds, and if you want to admire the views you can stop off at the Quarry Car Park (signposted Cleeve Hill Golf Club) then take a short walk onto Cleeve Common following the Cotswold Way signs.
Continue along the B4632 into Winchcombe, which dates from the Saxon period. This is where you’ll find 15th-century Sudeley Castle. It was once home to Henry VIII’s last wife Katherine Parr, who’s buried in St Mary’s Church in the grounds. You can take a look around some of the castle rooms, visit an exhibition about its history and explore its 10 different gardens.
Stay on the B4632 as far as Toddington, then turn right onto the B4077 towards Stanway. This tiny village is one of the area’s lesser-known scenic spots. Stanway House is known for its 300-foot-high fountain, which is open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in summer.
Follow Stanway Road north through Stanton, which is one of our favourite Cotswold villages, with its vintage lanterns and half-timbered and Cotswold stone buildings draped in flowers.
Rejoin the B4632 north of Stanton and follow it as far as Broadway. The ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’, Broadway has great shops, cafés and restaurants – grab a coffee from the colourful Broadway Deli and take a walk along the High Street to admire its 16th- and 17th-century buildings. There’s also the Gordon Russell Design Museum and Broadway Museum and Art Gallery to visit.
Leave Broadway along Snowshill Road to the south. At Snowshill you can stop and visit Snowshill Manor with its quirky collection of curios and Arts and Crafts gardens. Then head east towards Cotswold Lavender, whose colourful fields are open to the public each summer.
After the lavender fields, follow Buckle Street past the Broadway Tower, a fairytale folly that was once an artists’ retreat, located at the second highest point of the Cotswolds. You can stop to admire views over 16 counties, climb the tower or visit the nuclear bunker hidden beneath it.
Carry on along Buckle Street until you reach the B4632, then turn right and drive through Weston Subedge. Turn right onto the B4035 which runs through Ashton Subedge to Chipping Campden. This former wool town has a lovely High Street to explore. You can find out more about the Arts and Crafts movement at the Court Barn Museum and see artisans at work in the Old Silk Mill.
Head south of Chipping Campden through Broad Campden, which has some charming thatched cottages, and along Park Street into Blockley. Blockley was once a centre of the silk milling industry but is now better known to fans of BBC TV series Father Brown as Kembleford. You can see filming locations from the show around the village, including the church and vicarage.
Drive south from Blockley along the B4479, then turn left when you reach the A44, driving through Bourton on the Hill towards Moreton-in-Marsh. Garden lovers might want to make a stop at either Batsford Arboretum or Bourton House Garden on the way into Moreton. There’s also the Wellington Aviation Museum on the edge of town, and a popular Tuesday market.
Turn right onto the A429, also known as the Fosse Way Roman road, which runs through Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold. Hilltop Stow is a great place to stop for lunch, with plenty of cafés, pubs and restaurants to choose from, including Huffkins Bakery, Cotswold Baguettes and The Porch House. And don’t miss visiting Edward’s Church with its famous Yew Tree Door.
Go right on the B4068 from Stow-on-the-Wold as far as Lower Swell, then turn left and keep left at the next two junctions on your way to Lower Slaughter. The last stretch runs along Copsehill Road, which was once voted the most romantic street in England. There are historic cottages and stone bridges across the River Eye to see – plus the cosy Slaughters Country Inn.
The next stop is Upper Slaughter, a mile away along Becky Hill. You can also walk there – it takes 20 minutes each way on an easy path along the river then across fields.
Backtrack to Lower Slaughter, then rejoin the A429 for the short drive into Bourton-on-the-Water. Bourton is one of the most popular Cotswold villages, in a scenic setting along the shallow River Windrush. There’s lots to see including the Model Village, Cotswold Motoring Museum, Birdland and the Dragonfly Maze – as well as plenty of waterside pubs and tearooms.
Drive through Bourton, crossing the A429 and driving along Buckle Street before turning left onto the B4068. You pass through the village of Naunton then merge onto the A436 and follow this to Andoversford. Then turn right onto the A40 which runs into the centre of Cheltenham.
If you have time to spare there’s lots to do in Cheltenham, including the Wilson Art Gallery and Museum, Holst Victorian House, Pittville Pump Room and independent shopping in Montpellier and the Suffolks. There are also some fantastic places to eat – our favourites include Lumiere for a special occasion, Petit Coco for French food, Kibou for sushi and Gallimores Kitchen.
Cotswolds Romantic Road day 2
The second day on the Cotswolds Romantic Road takes us east of Cheltenham and across the border from Gloucestershire into Oxfordshire. Highlights of today’s Cotswold road trip itinerary include Chedworth Roman Villa, Burford and the villages along the Windrush Valley, Lechlade-on-Thames, picturesque Bibury, Cirencester and Painswick with its church and Rococo Garden.
Day two covers approximately 87 miles and would take 3.5 hours to drive straight through.
Day 2 route
Start by taking the A40 southeast of Cheltenham, turning off at Dowdeswell and continuing on along quiet, country roads to the village of Withington on the banks of the River Coln. Look out for stables along the way – this area is home to some of the Cotswolds’ top horse trainers.
Follow King’s Head Lane out of Withington and through Cassey Compton until you reach the entrance to Chedworth Roman Villa. The villa was one of the largest and grandest Roman villas in Britain, and dates from the 4th century with ornate mosaics, underfloor heating and bathhouses. It’s now run by the National Trust and visitors can explore the site and museum.
Head east from the Roman villa through Yarnworth, merging onto the A429 and then turning off into Northleach. Northleach was an important wool town and has some lovely half-timbered buildings as well as the Church of St Peter and St Paul – known as the ‘Cathedral of the Cotswolds’. You can also stop for a cup of tea at the town’s former Old Prison, which is now a café.
Go east through Northleach, crossing Farmington Road and driving through the village of Farmington. The road then winds its way along the Sherbourne Brook and then the River Windrush. You drive through a series of small villages including Windrush and Taynton.
When you reach a roundabout on the edge of Burford, turn right onto the High Street. The road crosses an arched bridge over the River Windrush then climbs uphill through the town towards Burford Hill, lined with historic buildings. You can visit the Tolsey Museum of local history, shop for antiques and admire the stained glass windows in the Church of St John the Baptist.
Next backtrack to the roundabout and turn right onto the A361. Turn off to the right at Fulbrook and follow Beech Grove towards Swinbrook. The village pub the Swan Inn was once owned by Deborah Mitford – the late Duchess of Devonshire and youngest of the Mitford sisters.
Drive on into Asthall, another village with a Mitford connection – you can see the Jacobean Manor House where the family once lived next to St Peter’s Church. Then head south and turn right onto the A40, following it as far as Burford Garden Centre then turning left onto the A361.
Leaving the official Cotswold boundary behind you, drive south towards Lechlade-on-Thames. On the way you pass the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, where you can stop off to see over 250 different species of animals including rhinos, giraffes, leopards and lions.
Lechlade lies on the banks of the River Thames, and you can take a boat trip on the river or hire a kayak or paddleboard – or stay dry with a walk along a stretch of the Thames Path. Then turn right onto the A417 which passes the Cotswold Water Park lakes on its way towards Fairford.
Fairford was a coaching stop on the route between London and Gloucester, and many of its historic buildings were originally built as inns for travellers. There’s also St Mary’s Church which has fine medieval stained glass windows, and a traditional market every Wednesday.
From Fairford, drive north along Fairford Road, following the River Coln to Coln St Aldwyns. Then continue along the Salt Way to Bibury. Bibury is best known for the quaint stone weavers’ cottages on Arlington Row but there are also walks across the water meadows and the Trout Farm. You can try local trout in their café or have lunch at The Swan or Catherine Wheel.
Turn left onto the B4425, which passes through Barnsley – where you’ll find The Boot pub and Barnsley House hotel – on its way to Cirencester, ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’. Cirencester was an important Roman town and you can learn more at the Corinium Museum and Roman amphitheatre, as well as browsing crafts by local artisans at the New Brewery Arts centre.
After leaving Cirencester, head west, turning off onto the A419 Stroud Road before turning off again onto the smaller road which runs through the villages of Sapperton and Bisley on its way to Painswick. You can follow Painswick’s heritage trail, count the 99 yew trees around St Mary’s Church, visit the Rococo Gardens, or have a delicious afternoon tea at The Painswick.
Then finally end your trip on the Cotswold Romantic Road by driving along the A46 past Painswick Beacon and Cooper’s Hill – where daredevil competitors take part in the annual cheese-rolling competitions each May – before arriving back into the south of Cheltenham.
Where to stay in Cheltenham
Cheltenham makes a convenient base for driving the Cotswolds Romantic Road, and has a good selection of places to stay, eat and drink. Our favourite accommodation options include:
The Queens Hotel* is right at the heart of Cheltenham, overlooking Imperial Gardens. It was one of Britain’s first purpose-built hotels when it opened in 1838 and has lots of period features. There are 84 bedrooms spread over three floors, Victoria’s restaurant and the Gold Cup Bar.
No 38 The Park* is an elegant Regency townhouse on the edge of Pittville Park in the north of Cheltenham. There are 13 bedrooms in different categories from Cosy to Outstanding, and the hotel is decorated with antiques, flowers and artworks. It also has a bar and restaurant.
Neptune Apartments on the Promenade have Cheltenham’s best shopping, eating and drinking on their doorstep. The 12 luxurious apartments are a mix of studios and one beds, all sleeping two, and come with stylish décor, high-end appliances and their own kitchens and lounge areas.
Or just north of town but still within easy reach, Ellenborough Park* is a five-star country house hotel located close to the racecourse. Its 61 bedrooms are spread across several historic buildings and there’s a restaurant, bar, brasserie and a spa and swimming pool to relax in.
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