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How to plan a day trip from London to Cotswolds (with or without a car)

How to plan a day trip from London to Cotswolds (with or without a car)

The Cotswolds’ quintessentially English landscape of rolling hills, honey-stone villages, scenic viewpoints, castles and country houses make it one of the most popular areas of the country to visit. Ideally you’d want a few days to explore the Cotswolds, but if you’re limited on time you can still get a taste of the region’s highlights on a day trip from London to Cotswolds.

This post has all the details you need to plan your trip, and includes suggested itineraries for visiting the Cotswolds from London in a day – both with and without a car.

Bibury in summer on a day trip from London to Cotswolds
Bibury in summer

A day trip from London to Cotswolds by car

If time is limited, then having a car is the easiest way to explore the Cotswolds. You can see more in a day as you’re not tied to bus timetables, you can stop off wherever you fancy, get off the beaten track and visit some of the Cotswolds’ lesser-known spots.

The Cotswolds are easy to reach from London, which is around 100 miles/2.5 hours’ drive away, depending on which part of the region you’re visiting. Follow the M4 through Swindon to reach the south Cotswolds, or take the A40 through Oxford for the north and east Cotswolds.

Navigating the Cotswolds with a signpost in Withington
Navigating the Cotswolds

Tips for driving in the Cotswolds

Driving in the Cotswolds isn’t much different to driving anywhere else in the UK, though it can be a bit of a learning curve if you’re used to driving on the right-hand side of the road. If you’re hiring a car then it’s a good idea to get the smallest car you need as roads in the Cotswolds are often pretty narrow, so having a small car will make manoeuvring and parking easier.

Many country lanes are only wide enough for one car and although there are some passing places, be prepared to pull off onto the verge if you need to to let other cars go past. Drive slowly, keep your eyes on the road (however distracting the views might be) and be prepared to stop.

The Cotswolds isn’t all that well signposted and the region’s network of small roads can be confusing, so it’s a good idea to use a GPS to find your way around. Though beware that mobile and GPS reception can be patchy in some areas so set your destination in advance – and think about picking up an old-school paper map* as a backup.

Ford through the river in Upper Slaughter
Ford through the river in Upper Slaughter

When you’re planning your trip, double check the times between stops as well as the distance, as the narrow windy roads mean it often takes longer to travel from one place to the next than the mileage would suggest, and you don’t want to spend all day travelling. Or we have three suggested itineraries for a day trip from London to Cotswolds by car below.

Finally, parking is limited in most Cotswold villages, especially at weekends and in school holidays. So it’s a good idea to get to popular villages like Bourton-on-the-Water or Bibury as early as you can before spaces fill up. There’s usually a mix of car parks and on-street parking – our local’s guides give details of parking spots in each of the main Cotswold towns and villages.

Parking on the road in Burford on a day trip from London to Cotswolds by car
On-street parking in Burford

Car hire in the Cotswolds

If you don’t have your own car you can hire one for the day, either from London or catch the train to one of the larger towns and cities in or around the Cotswolds and pick up a hire car there. These include Cheltenham, Stroud, Bath, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon – the best place to hire a car will depend on which area of the Cotswolds you want to visit.

Beware that some places have limited car hire options so you’ll need to book in advance. And in larger cities car hire offices are sometimes miles from the train station and time spent travelling between the two can eat into the limited time have for your day in the Cotswolds.

Looking down on Winchcombe
Looking down on Winchcombe

These are the most convenient car hire offices for the main train stations around the Cotswolds, which are either walkable or you can take a taxi from outside the train station:

  • Cheltenham: Midlands Vehicle Rental Ltd and Enterprise (15–20-minute walk from station)
  • Stroud: Midlands Vehicle Rental Ltd (20-minute walk)
  • Bath: Hertz – Windsor Bridge (25-minute walk)
  • Oxford: Hertz or Thrifty (15-minute walk)
  • Stratford-upon-Avon: Enterprise (20-minute walk).
Shopping in Broadway village in the Cotswolds
Shopping in Broadway

3 great Cotswold day trip itineraries by car

The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers a huge 800 square miles, so you’re never going to be able to see it all in one day. So when you’re planning your trip it’s best to pick an area or a selection of villages you want to see and build an itinerary around them.

These three itineraries for a day trip from London to Cotswolds by car focus on different parts of the region. A lot of suggested itineraries also include cities like Bath, Oxford or Stratford-upon-Avon which could easily eat up half a day, so we’ve focused on the Cotswolds itself.

The mileage isn’t huge for any of the itineraries – you could drive straight through in a few hours – but there’s lots to see so we’ve allowed time to explore each stop. Mileage is based on a departure from central London, so may need to be adjusted slightly depending on your start point.

Map of itineraries for a day trip from London to Cotswolds by car
Click on the map to open an interactive Google Maps version

Itinerary 1: The big names

This itinerary takes in some of the Cotswolds’ most iconic towns and villages. Head east out of London on the A40 via Oxford to your first stop in Burford (74 miles/2 hours). This Oxfordshire town, known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds, has pretty stone cottages on Burford Hill, antique shops, tasty lardy cakes at Huffkins Bakery and a famous garden centre on the edge of town.

Next head west to the village of Bibury (10 miles/15 minutes) where you’ll find Arlington Row, one of England’s most photographed streets with its line of flower-decked medieval weavers’ houses. Then travel north from Bibury to Bourton-on-the-Water (12 miles/20 minutes).

Houses on Burford Hill in the Cotswolds
Burford Hill

Nicknamed the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, Bourton is probably the area’s most famous town, with picturesque stone bridges crossing the River Windrush. You can see the town in miniature at the Model Village or visit the Motor Museum and Birdland. There’s also a good selection of riverside pubs and cafés for lunch (Bakery on the Water does a great sausage roll).

Next it’s just 1.5 miles/5 minutes north to tiny Lower Slaughter, with its watermill-turned-museum. There’s also a lovely short walk to neighbouring Upper Slaughter (1 mile each way). Then carry on north to your final Cotswold stop at Stow-on-the-Wold (3 miles/6 minutes).

This historic wool town is centred around its market square, lined with shops and cafés. There’s also St Edward’s Church, the old stocks and plenty of historic pubs, including The Porch House, which is said to be the oldest pub in Britain at over 1000 years old. Then finally travel back towards Burford and retrace your steps back to London (84 miles/2.5 hours).

Mill at Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds
Lower Slaughter

Itinerary 2: The Northern Cotswolds

Our second itinerary focuses on the north of the Cotswolds, with a mix of well-known and quieter spots. Start by travelling to Chipping Campden from London via the M40 to Banbury and then the A429 (100 miles/2.5 hours). Chipping Campden has over 250 listed buildings and was a centre for the Arts and Crafts movement, with works by local artists at the Court Barn Museum.

Next head south towards Broadway, stopping off at the Broadway Tower (4 miles/7 minutes), a fairytale folly with panoramic views – and a nuclear bunker hidden underneath. Then carry on into Broadway village (4 miles/7 minutes) with its boutique shops, restaurants and pubs, including the Lygon Arms, a 1300s coaching inn where Oliver Cromwell once stayed.

The Broadway Tower
The Broadway Tower

The next couple of stops are smaller, quieter villages which don’t see so many visitors and have plenty of unspoilt charm. They don’t have a lot of attractions but are good for a wander around to soak up the scenic sights. First head south to peaceful Stanton (4 miles/7 minutes).

Then travel on to Snowshill (5 miles/11 minutes), which is home to the National Trust Snowshill Manor with its quirky collections – and if you’re visiting in summer you might want to stop off at the Cotswold Lavender fields which are just a mile outside of the village.

Continue south to your last stop at Winchcombe (9 miles/20 minutes). Allow time to have a look around Sudeley Castle, which was built in 1442 and is the burial place of Henry VIII’s last wife Katherine Parr. Then travel back to London via the A40 through Oxford (95 miles/2.5 hours).

Sudeley Castle and gardens in Winchcombe
Sudeley Castle

Itinerary 3: The Southern Cotswolds

This final itinerary focuses on the south of the Cotswolds, which isn’t as well-visited as the north part of the region but has more than its share of beautiful locations. From London, take the M40 south via Swindon to Malmesbury (96 miles/2.5 hours). This market town is known for its 12th century abbey which has ruins and five acres of gardens to explore.

Next travel on to the historic wool town of Tetbury (5 miles/12 minutes) to admire the houses along the Chipping Steps, visit the Market House and shop for antiques. After lunch, carry on south to Westonbirt Arboretum (4 miles/12 minutes) which is one of the best collections of trees and shrubs in the country, and is especially beautiful in autumn.

Tetbury's Market House
Tetbury’s Market House

Then travel on to Castle Combe (10 miles/20 minutes). This picture-perfect village looks like something from another century, with no street lights or telegraph poles, and has been used as a filming location for movies and TV series including War Horse and Stardust.

Finally travel outside the official Cotswolds boundary to another popular film location – Lacock (9 miles/18 minutes). The village is owned by the National Trust and has a 13th-century abbey (as seen in the Harry Potter films), the Fox Talbot Museum of photography, and plenty of thatched and half-timbered cottages. Then travel back to London (102 miles/2.5 hours) along the M4.

Castle Combe on a day trip from London to Cotswolds
Castle Combe

A day trip from London to Cotswolds by public transport

Having a car is undoubtedly the easiest way to explore the Cotswolds. But although getting around the Cotswolds by public transport is more fiddly, it’s still possible to plan a day trip from London by train and bus if you want to explore independently and don’t want to or can’t drive.

Trains don’t reach the Cotswolds’ most famous destinations, but you can take the train to some of the region’s bigger towns and cities and then connect onto local buses. Bus services aren’t very frequent though so you do need to plan your trip in advance – or we have three suggested itineraries for a day trip from London to Cotswolds by train and bus below.

Cotswold dry stone wall
Cotswold views

Tips for visiting the Cotswolds by train and bus

Trains from London run to the main towns and cities on the edge of the Cotswolds. The best destination will depend on which part of the Cotswolds you want to visit, but there are trains from London Paddington to Cheltenham, Stroud, Moreton-in-Marsh, Kingham, Chippenham, Bath and Oxford. Or from London Marylebone to Banbury and Stratford-upon-Avon.

If you want to save money on train travel in the UK, it’s worth booking in advance to take advantage of the discounted Advance tickets. These restrict you to travelling on a specific train service but are usually much cheaper than a flexible open ticket.

It’s also cheapest to travel outside peak hours (6.30am–9.30am and 3.30pm–6.30pm) – though that’s likely to be difficult if you only have a day in the Cotswolds. But you can save a third on rail fares with a Railcard* – these cost £30 and there are different versions for 16–25s, 25–30s, Seniors, two adults travelling together or Friends and Family (up to four adults and four children).

The Lych Gate at Painswick Church
The Lych Gate at Painswick Church

There are also a couple of local transport passes. The Cotswolds Discoverer One Day Pass (£10.50 for adults or £5.25 for children) includes unlimited travel on Stagecoach and Johnson’s buses and local trains (after 8.50am from Monday–Friday). Or the Explorer bus ticket gives unlimited travel on Stagecoach services for the day (£7 for adults or £4.80 for under 15s).

The Cotswolds has a reasonably comprehensive bus system connecting the main towns and villages, but services aren’t very frequent, finish early and often don’t run at all on Sundays or public holidays. They’re also run by six different companies which makes them a bit awkward to navigate – but our public transport guide has a map showing all local services.

Horses and riders in Stanton village in the Cotswolds
Local transport in Stanton

3 great Cotswolds day trip itineraries without a car

These three itineraries for a day trip from London to Cotswolds by train and bus take in some of the highlights of the area. It’s easy to just take a train to cities like Bath, Oxford or Stratford-upon-Avon for the day but these itineraries focus on the smaller Cotswolds towns and villages.

Because bus services are limited, the itineraries only includes a few stops so you have time to look around and don’t just spend all day travelling, and allow time for any delays. Each itinerary includes details of which train and bus services to take – though make sure to double check times (our full Cotswolds by public transport post links to all local bus timetables).

Map of itineraries for a day trip from London to Cotswolds by train and bus
Click on the map to open an interactive Google Maps version

Itinerary 1: Bourton-on-the Water and Stow-on-the-Wold (via Moreton)

Moreton-in-Marsh is one of the best-located train stations if you’re visiting the Cotswolds from London without a car. This itinerary uses the number 801 bus from Moreton to visit two of the area’s most famous towns in one day – Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold.

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

By the River Windrush in Bourton-on-the-Water
Riverside in Bourton

Then you have around four hours to explore Bourton – cross the bridges over the River Windrush, visit the Model Village or Motoring Museum and have lunch in a cosy local pub. Or you can take a scenic walk to the nearby village of Lower Slaughter (35 minutes each way).

At 14.12, get back on board the 801 bus for the short journey onwards to Stow-on-the-Wold, arriving there at 14.30. Spend a couple of hours in Stow, checking out its Market Square, antique shops and the magical Yew Tree Door at St Edward’s Church.

Then catch the 801 bus back to Moreton-in-Marsh, departing Stow at 17.15 and arriving in Moreton at 17.27. You can connect onto the 17.48 train back to London Paddington (which arrives at 19.28) or stay in Moreton for dinner and catch a later train back to London.

The Yew Tree Door at St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds
The Yew Tree Door in Stow

Itinerary 2: Cirencester and Bibury (via Kemble)

Our second itinerary takes us further south to Cirencester – capital of the Cotswolds – where you connect on to the picturesque village of Bibury, home to the photogenic houses of Arlington Row. Start by taking the direct 08.28 train from London Paddington to Kemble, arriving at 09.41.

After arriving in Kemble, catch the 882 bus for the short journey to Cirencester, departing at 10.05 and arriving at 10.17. Then you have around 45 minutes to grab a coffee (Jack’s and Pretty & Pip are a couple of our favourites) before taking the 955 bus to Bibury at 11.00, arriving at 11.17.

Houses on Arlington Row in Bibury
Arlington Row in Bibury

Spend the next three hours exploring Bibury. As well as Arlington Row there’s also the walk along the edge of the Rack Isle water meadows, the Trout Farm and St Mary’s Church to visit. And the village has two good pubs for lunch – The Swan and The Catherine Wheel.

At 14.19, catch the 955 bus which arrives back in Cirencester at 14.37. You then have a couple of hours to spend in Cirencester. You can find out 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.

Finally, take the 822 bus back to Kemble, which departs 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.

St John the Baptist church in Cirencester, capital of the Cotswolds
St John the Baptist church in Cirencester

Itinerary 3: Broadway and Chipping Campden (via Stratford)

The third itinerary visits the north Cotswolds, using the train from London to Stratford-upon-Avon to reach the towns of Broadway and Chipping Campden. Start by taking the 08.11 train from London Marylebone, changing in Leamington Spa and reaching Stratford at 10.14.

Once you get to Stratford, catch the number 2 bus to Chipping Campden, which leaves at 10.55 and arrives at 10.40. You then have a couple of hours in Chipping Campden to see the Market Hall and St James Church, admire the historic buildings and visit the Court Barn Museum.

The Lygon Arms hotel in Broadway, Cotswolds
The Lygon Arms in Broadway

Next board the number 1 bus at 13.42 and travel on to Broadway, arriving at 14.00. Broadway has a good selection of cafés and restaurants for lunch (our favourites include Russell’s Fish and Chips and the Broadway Deli) and is also home to boutique shops and the Gordon Russell Design Museum. Or you can take the a 4-mile/2.5-hour circular walk to the hilltop Broadway Tower.

Then take the number 1 bus from Broadway at 17.44, arriving back in Stratford at 18.46 in time to catch the 19.12 train which arrives into London Marylebone at 21.37.

The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon
The RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon

One-day Cotswolds tours from London

Another easy option if you want to spend a day exploring the Cotswolds but don’t have a car and equally don’t fancy battling with bus timetables is to take a guided tour. There are a variety of different day tours from London to the Cotswolds available, with different durations, stops and transport options so you can choose the one which suits you best.

This full-day tour* (9 hours) from London by minibus departs from Earl’s Court and stops in Burford, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold, with time to look around at each stop. Or there’s a similar tour* (11 hours) which includes lunch at the Swan Hotel in Bibury.

The Swan Hotel in Bibury
The Swan Hotel in Bibury

There are also various day tours from London which also include visits to other historic cities in the region – though this does limit the time you get to see the Cotswolds:

Or if you don’t fancy spending so long on the road, you can also catch the train to the Cotswolds and then join a tour there, which means you can see more in a day:

  • From Stratford-upon-Avon/Moreton-in-Marsh*: 8-hour minibus tour including Chipping Campden, Broadway Tower, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water.
  • From Oxford*: 7-hour minibus tour visiting Great Tew, Stow-on-the-Wold, Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford and Minster Lovell Hall.

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The ultimate guide to planning a day trip from London to Cotswolds, with or without a car, with suggested itineraries by car or public transport | Day trip to Cotswolds from London | London to Cotswolds day trip | Cotswolds day trip from London

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