Bristol is frequently voted one of Europe’s most livable cities, and visitors are also drawn in by its historic harbourside, colourful street art and independent shops and restaurants. But its location just west of the Cotswolds also means you can use it as a base for taking day trips to the region.
The easiest way to explore the Cotswolds from Bristol is by car, but you can also do it by public transport. You do need to choose the right day trip destinations though, as bus services are limited (particularly on Sundays) and don’t run that often or connect to each other very well.
Like nearby Bath, Bristol has limited bus services to the Cotswolds. So you’ll usually have to catch a train first and then change onto a bus. The destinations you can reach from Bristol are concentrated in the southern Cotswolds, so if you want to visit places like Chipping Campden, Broadway and Bourton-on-the-Water, it may be better to stay in Cheltenham or Moreton-in-Marsh instead.
But we have chosen six destinations which you can easily visit on a day trip from Bristol to Cotswolds, without needing to coordinate multiple connections. All take under 90 minutes to reach (and most are less than an hour) so you can easily get there and back from Bristol in a day.
If your favourite destination in the Cotswolds isn’t featured, we’ve also listed other Cotswold towns and villages which you can reach using public transport from Bristol at the end of the post. These do have limited services and more complicated connections, so may be better for longer trips.
Map of day trips from Bristol to Cotswolds
6 easy day trips from Bristol to Cotswolds without a car
The city of Bath is packed full of historic charm, and its proximity to Bristol makes it an easy day trip. Take a stroll through Bath’s UNESCO World Heritage Site city centre to admire the Royal Crescent, Circle, Bath Abbey and Pulteney Bridge. You can also go back in time at the Roman Baths – or try out the waters yourself with a soak in the rooftop pool at the Thermae Bath Spa.
Bath has a great selection of museums, including the Jane Austen Centre, dedicated to the author who lived in Bath in the 1800s. She’s also celebrated with an annual festival and Regency Parade each September. You can also indulge in a traditional afternoon tea at the Pump Rooms.
How to get there: Bath is 13 miles southeast of Bristol. They’re connected by rail and bus, with frequent direct trains from Bristol Temple Meads to Bath Spa taking 12 minutes. Or the First Bus X39 between Bristol and Bath runs up to every 15 minutes daily, and takes 50 minutes.
2. Bradford on Avon
Riverside Bradford on Avon is just outside the official Cotswolds boundary, but shares the region’s scenic charms. Call in for a cuppa at the pretty Bridge Tea Rooms. And explore its historic buildings, which range from a medieval tithe barn to Saxon churches and 18th-century mills.
You can walk, cycle, kayak or take a boat trip along the River Avon or Kennet and Avon Canal. Keen walkers could also combine Bradford on Avon and Bath in a day, as there’s a 7.5-mile walk between them which runs along the canal and up over Claverton Down for panoramic views.
How to get there: Bradford on Avon is 20 miles southeast of Bristol. Direct trains from Bristol Temple Meads to Bradford on Avon take around 30 minutes and run every day.
3. Castle Combe
The village of Castle Combe is often rated as one of the prettiest villages in England, with its 15th-century buildings and the packhouse bridge across the By Brook. There’s also the Market Cross and 13th-century St Andrew’s Church, which is home to a rare medieval faceless clock.
You can visit the Manor House Hotel to play a round of golf or have lunch in their Michelin-starred restaurant, or watch cars and bikes in action at the Castle Combe Race Circuit. Or why not head out into the surrounding countryside on a 6.2-mile walk through woodland to the village of Ford.
How to get there: Castle Combe is 21 miles east of Bristol. To get there, take a direct train from Bristol Temple Meads to Chippenham (15 minutes). Then catch the Faresaver 95/95A bus from Chippenham train or bus station to Castle Combe, which takes around 20 minutes. Note that buses to Castle Combe only run around once every two hours (and not on Sundays).
Lovely Lacock is another popular day trip from Bristol to Cotswolds (though technically it lies just east of the region). Lacock was taken over by the National Trust in 1944, and has kept an unspoilt feel, with half-timbered buildings, honesty shops, a 14th-century tithe barn and cosy pubs.
Lacock Abbey was built in the 13th century as a nunnery and later became a country house (with its cloisters appearing as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films). It’s surrounded by beautiful grounds, and you can also visit the Fox Talbot Museum to learn about the early days of photography.
How to get there: Lacock is 31 miles east of Bristol. Take the train to Chippenham (15 minutes) then catch the Faresaver X34 bus from Chippenham train or bus station to Lacock (13 minutes). Buses run twice an hour on weekdays and hourly on Saturdays, with no buses on Sundays.
5. Tetbury & Westonbirt
Tetbury is known for its antique shops, and is a great place to browse for vintage treasures. There’s also the cobbled Chipping Steps, which are lined with medieval weavers’ cottages, the Gothic Church of St Mary, and walks along the Tetbury Trail from the Goods Shed Arts Centre.
Or you can visit Westonbirt Arboretum, which is on the same bus route as Tetbury. This 600-acre garden has one of the best collections of trees and shrubs in Europe. There’s something to see year-round, from rhododendrons in springtime to autumn leaves and Christmas lights.
How to get there: Tetbury is 27 miles northeast of Bristol. First take a direct train from Bristol Temple Meads to Yate (20 minutes). Then change onto the Stagecoach 620 bus which runs from Yate Shopping Centre to Old Sodbury (12 minutes), where it meets the Stagecoach 69 bus to Westonbirt (15 minutes) and Tetbury (30 minutes). But there are no buses on Sundays.
The hilltop town of Malmesbury is England’s oldest borough, with a history dating back over 1000 years. The first Malmesbury Abbey was built in the 7th century, and you can visit the ruins of the later 12th-century building. Part of the abbey is also still in use as Malmesbury’s parish church.
There are also the neighbouring Abbey House Gardens to explore. And you can find out more about the town’s history at the Athelstan Museum, which also has a painting of the abbey by JMW Turner on display. And have lunch at a historic inn like the Old Bell, said to be England’s oldest hotel.
How to get there: Malmesbury is 27 miles northeast of Bristol. You can either take a train to Chippenham (11 minutes) then the Coachstyle 99 bus to Malmesbury (35 minutes), which runs hourly except on Sundays. Or take a train to Yate (25 minutes) and the Coachstyle 41 bus to Malmesbury (50 minutes), which runs three–four times a day excluding Sundays.
How do I get to…?
Is your favourite Cotswold town or village not listed above? We’ve included the main destinations you can reach easily on day trips from Bristol to Cotswolds without a car. But if you don’t mind a slower and more complex journey with more changes along the way, this is how to visit:
- Bourton-on-the-Water: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham, then Pulhams 801 bus to Bourton-on-the-Water.
- Burford: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham, then Stagecoach S2 bus to Burford.
- Cirencester: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Gloucester, then Stagecoach 882 bus to Cirencester. Or train to Cheltenham, then Stagecoach 52 bus to Cirencester.
- Painswick: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham, then Stagecoach 66 to Painswick.
- Stow-on-the-Wold: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham, then Pulhams 801 bus to Stow-on-the-Wold.
- The Slaughters: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham, then Pulhams 801 bus to Slaughter Pike and a 10-minute walk to Lower Slaughter or 30-minute walk to Upper Slaughter.
- Winchcombe: Train from Bristol Temple Meads to Cheltenham, then Stagecoach W or Pulhams 606 bus to Winchcombe.
Do double-check timetables as services and connections are limited, especially at weekends.
Guided tours from Bristol to Cotswolds
If time is tight and you want to visit several places in the Cotswolds in one day without hiring a car, another option is to take a guided day tour from Bristol to Cotswolds. There are a couple of different tours available which vary in which towns and villages they visit. Both combine the Cotswolds with another destination though so your time in the Cotswolds is limited to a couple of stops.
- Stonehenge and Cotswold Villages:* 8.5-hour mini coach tour which visits the archaeological sites of Stonehenge and Avebury, along with Lacock and Castle Combe.
- Beyond the Spires – Untold Oxford and The Cotswolds:* 9-hour tour by minibus which combines Oxford and the Cotswolds, with stops in Burford and Bibury.