Bourton on the Water is one of the best towns in the Cotswolds to visit, especially for families.
Not only is it a gorgeous town, full of honey-coloured houses, there’s absolutely loads to do here and everyone should manage to find something to appeal to them. You can choose from museums to wildlife sanctuaries, dinosaur trails, treasure hunts, and more.
Read on to explore what to do in Bourton on the Water with kids.
Bourton on the Water
Bourton on the Water is a fairly small town and one that should make your Cotswold must-see list.
The town is also known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, although sadly there’s no opportunity for punting here. Instead of boats, you’ll find pretty little stone footbridges crossing the River Windrush which flows through the town centre, giving it its name and a distinctive look amongst other towns in the area.
You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering through the streets, past beautiful old houses with immaculate front gardens. Browse for gifts in the local shops (the Cub’s favourite is the gem shop – so many sparkly things to touch!).
There are plenty of places to eat – try one of the many cafes by the river or bring a picnic and sit on the lawns or benches. Watch out for the determined ducks or you may lose your lunch. We’ve eaten in several places in Bourton on the Water and all have been pretty good; from lunchtime pizza to cream teas.
But there are plenty more attractions in Bourton on the Water other than the idyllic town centre. You’ll find enough to fill at least a whole day, probably two.
Motoring and Toy Museum
Bourton on the Water’s motoring museum is one of its best attractions.
It’s probably one of the most extensive motoring collections in the UK. The museum has around 30 classic cars in beautiful condition, some dating from over a hundred years ago. You’ll also find vintage motorbikes, caravans and all sorts of memorabilia. You won’t be able to count all the vintage signs – there must be hundreds!
We loved the caravans which you can look inside – one from the 1920s is beautifully restored and full of equipment from the same time period. The 70s flower power one was my favourite, though. I’m tempted to source one for our road trips!
The Motoring Museum is also a great place for kids. Bee is a huge fan of all vehicles so he was in his element anyway, but there’s a large toy collection at the museum too. It’s lovely to see that these toys have been played with and loved by children over the years – you won’t find many boxed. The amount of toys in the collectors room is incredible – they must have nearly every model car ever made.
Conveniently, there are toys set out around the museum (like farms and hammer benches) to keep toddlers occupied while parents and older kids look around. In the middle of the toy section there is also a play area for those kids frustrated that they can’t touch the exhibits. If you grew up in the UK you might remember Brum – there’s a replica of him here.
The gift shop is also great – especially if you’re a collector. I’ve never seen so many toy cars!
Buy your tickets when you get to the museum. An adult ticket costs £5.75; child £4.10; under 4s go free. They also do a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 kids for £18.
Bourton on the Water’s Birdland is one of the UK’s biggest bird parks and is home to over 500 birds, including penguins, flamingos and pelicans. It also houses rarer birds in aviaries and is part of breeding and educational programmes. Other exotic creatures include rhea and cassowaries.
There’s lots to see here and you could easily spend half a day at Birdland. When we visited, our kids were a bit young to take a huge amount of notice of the birds but they did enjoy seeing the penguins fed. You can still find plenty to entertain very small children here though; there’s a large play area and beautiful gardens to walk through.
Kids will also really enjoy visiting the Indoor Discovery Centre where you can take part in interactive sessions. Braver children can try handling a snake. Little ones will be fascinated by the eggs and chicks in the hatchery.
The best bit of Birdland for small kids is the Jurassic Journey, where you can find dinosaurs hiding along a woodland trail. Our kids loved looking for their footprints, listening to their roars and trying to count them. Kids can get hands on too by uncovering some fossils at the end of the trail. There are plenty of activities for kids along the trail so it’ll keep them busy for a while!
You will find a cafe and picnic area at Birdland. Tickets are 10% cheaper if you buy them from the website (where you can also check to see if there are any special activities on when you plan to visit).
A discounted adult ticket costs £8.96; child 3+ £6.26, and there are lots of family ticket options available.
The Dragonfly Maze
Just next to the entrance to Birdland is the quirky Dragonfly Maze.
The Dragonfly Maze is a yew tree maze with a difference; you have to collect clues as you go through the maze before you reach the centre. Hidden in the middle of the maze is a beautiful golden dragonfly, but unless you’ve collected the clues you won’t be able to find it. This is a bit of a hidden gem and is worth 30- 45 minutes to enjoy (depending on your detective skills!).
The golden dragonfly and the centre of the maze were designed by the author and artist Kit Williams, who is best known for his children’s book Masquerade. The book is an amazingly detailed real life treasure hunt for a jewelled, golden hare buried somewhere in the English countryside (though the treasure has long since been found). The dragonfly was made from the leftover materials from the golden hare. As a child I spent ages wondering even where to start with Masquerade’s puzzle – luckily, the Dragonfly Maze isn’t anywhere near as complicated!
I won’t spoil the surprise by saying anything more about the dragonfly, except that we really enjoyed the maze. The puzzle made it a lot more entertaining than just finding our way through to the centre. Kids a little older than ours will get stuck right in to the puzzle too.
Try to visit when it’s quiet, otherwise the surprise might be spoilt. The maze paths are quite narrow so I wouldn’t really recommend taking a buggy through them.
Buy your tickets at the entrance. Adults £3; children £2.50; under 4s free.
More things to do in Bourton on the Water
Bourton on the Water Model Village
The Model Village at Bourton on the Water is somewhere we haven’t yet managed to visit, but by all accounts it’s very detailed and pretty. The Model Village is set in the grounds of the Old New Inn. It’s also Grade II listed, which is very unusual.
The Model Village depicts Bourton on the Water from the 1930s so it’s also a bit of a time machine. The village is filled with carefully tended bonsai trees to keep the scale correct.
You can walk through the streets of the model village but you won’t be able to take pushchairs through so be prepared to carry baby. Entry is £3.60 per adult.
Model Railway Exhibition
In a similar vein to the Motoring Museum, the Model Railway Exhibition has a large display at the back of a shop which sells toy trains and accessories. It’s about £2.50 to enter.
Cotswold Perfumery runs perfume courses; either one or two days long. Learn how to identify scents and mix your own perfumes. More suited to older teens than little ones.
Cotswold Brewing Company
If you can find someone to mind the kids for a bit, try visiting the Cotswold Brewing Company who have been brewing their own lager since 2005. They run tours most weekends and occasionally in the week. Visit their website to get contact information to book your tour.
Walks around Bourton in the Water
You can’t go wrong with a walk in the Cotswolds. We’d recommend walking between the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter; don’t be put off by the name – they’re very pretty! The Slaughters are just outside of Bourton on the Water.
Know before you go
When to visit Bourton on the Water
As with the rest of the United Kingdom, Bourton on the Water’s weather can be hit and miss whenever you go. You’re almost as likely to get bright sunny days in the winter as the summer. April/May and September are usually good times of the year to risk a UK visit.
Do try to avoid school holidays, especially weekends in the summer. The narrow streets along the riverbank can be absolutely heaving with tourists; this can really take the shine off the place.
Getting there and away
A car is essential if you are visiting the Cotswolds independently. I wouldn’t trust the reliability of local bus services and taxis are horrendously expensive. However, if you’re arriving on public transport the nearest train station to Bourton on the Water is Moreton in Marsh (trains from London Paddington and Oxford).
There are a few car parks in Bourton on the Water – we usually use the one that’s next to Birdland on Rissington Road, but there’s another large car park on Station Road, before you get to the town centre.
Accommodation in Bourton on the Water
Bourton on the Water hotels
There are a couple of hotels in Bourton on the Water, and more in nearby Upper and Lower Slaughter.
You’ll also find lots of B&Bs in Bourton on the Water – take a look at some of them here.
Bourton on the Water holiday homes
If you’re travelling with family and want to stay in Bourton on the Water, booking a holiday home is a good idea as you get more space and access to your own cooking facilities. There are a good selection of holiday homes here.
Campsites near Bourton on the Water
If you’re on a budget or just love the great outdoors then try camping. There are several campsites nearby (but beware if you’ve got kids – at least one is adults only). Folly Farm is fairly close to Bourton on the Water.