Cirencester (Ciren, to us locals) is a market town known as the Capital of the Cotswolds. It’s big enough that there are plenty of things to do in Cirencester itself, but the town is also well located in the middle of the Cotswolds so you can use it as a base to get to pretty much anywhere in this lovely English area in little over an hour.
We’ve been living near Cirencester for the last five years and it’s one of our favourite towns in the Cotswolds. See why we’d recommend using Cirencester as a base for your trip to the Cotswolds, and find out what there is to do for families in this pretty town.
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Cirencester has a long history which has been traced back to the Neolithic age. But Cirencester was at its most important back in Roman times when it was called Corinium and was the second largest Roman town in England. Its population then was between 10 and 20 thousand people, which is comparable to Cirencester today.
There’s little evidence left of Cirencester’s Roman past on the surface; now it’s a busy market town, although slightly off the well-beaten tourist trail in the Cotswolds. The town is full of character; its market place is dominated by the huge parish church of St John the Baptist, and pretty pastel coloured buildings contrast with the honey coloured Cotswold stone of the rest of the town.
You’ll find plenty of things to do in Cirencester itself and its location means that you can use Cirencester as a base to see the rest of the Cotswolds (see above photo) and South West England.
Just down the road you’ll find the Cotswold Water Park and the famous picture perfect villages of Bourton on the Water and Bibury – but there’s plenty more to see and explore in the area.
If you’re interested in seeing more of the Cotswolds then read out guide to the best things to do in the Cotswolds with kids.
The best things to do in Cirencester
There’s enough things to do in Cirencester to take up at least a full day, although if you wanted to see everything I’ve listed below you’d need longer. A Saturday in summer is a good day to pick to visit – although it’s likely to be busy there are more things going on in town.
Cirencester Parish Church – St John the Baptist
The main building that you’ll notice in Cirencester is its enormous wool church, which sits in the market place – it’s nearly as big as a cathedral. St John the Baptist is one of England’s largest parish churches and it’s thought that it is so large due to the Wool Trade.
Some towns in England, like Cirencester, grew extremely rich from the Wool Trade in medieval times which allowed them to build much larger churches than you’d expect for the population; these churches are known as wool churches. There’s another good example in nearby Northleach.
Parts of this church date back an impressive 900 years, although most of it was built about 500 years ago.
Even if you’re not religious it’s worth a look inside for the architecture and stained glass windows. There are often displays inside and some interesting artefacts to look at, such as the Anne Boleyn cup. You may be able to take a guided tour of the church – click here to book.
On the last Saturday of the month between May and September you can climb up the tower which is definitely worth doing if you’re here at the right time.
You get a fantastic view from the top – and it’s pretty much the only way to see the Bathurst Estate house which usually stays hidden behind its enormous yew hedge. Children under the age of 8 aren’t allowed to climb up – the stairs are very narrow and steep. You can buy your ticket inside the church.
Explore Cirencester’s historic streets
Cirencester has some beautiful streets, both residential and full of shops. One of the best things to do in Cirencester is simply strolling through its honey coloured streets. A walking tour departs from outside the church on Sundays at 3pm between May and September.
If you can’t go on a walking tour, then make sure you walk down Coxwell Street, a couple of streets away behind the church, which is full of quaintly leaning houses. You can learn more about Coxwell Street in the Corinium Museum, but many homes here have hardly changed in 300 years or more. Look out for the wool merchant’s house at the end of the street.
When you reach the end of Coxwell Street turn left and cross the road to walk up Cecily Hill which is covered in flowers and also has stunning homes. These are two of the prettiest streets in Cirencester.
You can then choose to walk through the wrought iron gateway at the top of Cecily Hill into Cirencester Park, or back down Cecily Hill to the Corinium Museum, and from there through Black Jack Street to the Abbey and Marketplace.
If you’re interested in Cirencester’s history, then the Corinium Museum is the place to visit. Most of the museum is dedicated to the Roman history of Corinium (as Cirencester was then known) and there are some jaw-dropping mosaics and Roman items to look at. You can also see recreations of Roman homes and shops. There are plenty of hand-on items and games to keep children interested.
The museum also covers Cirencester’s history up until the present day so you can learn more about the town’s role in the Wool Trade and how the modern town has grown.
If you’re just going to visit one thing in Cirencester, I would recommend the Corinium Museum. You can read more about the Corinium Museum and Cirencester Amphitheatre in this post.
TIP: Another thing to note is that Cirencester tourist information centre is in the Corinium Museum. You don’t have to pay to enter – it’s in the little shop to the left when you walk in the main entrance.
Cirencester market place and shopping
Shopping in Cirencester is good – it’s worth looking around the independent shops and the market place for an hour or so. At a time when the typical British high street filled with chain shops is in decline, Cirencester seems to be holding its own and is known locally for having interesting independent shops and galleries.
Cirencester’s main market place has recently been regenerated and is now much more lively and varied than it used to be.
Every Monday and Friday there’s a charter market from 9am until 3pm, and a farmers’ market runs every second and fourth Saturday of the month (8am – 1pm).
The farmers’ market is a good place to grab some lunch. Our favourites are the Persian food stalls; we often go for a Persian vegetable cake, samosas and falafel followed by a slice of sticky, rosewater-drenched tart to finish. But there are other stalls full of chutneys, pickles, meats, cheeses, cakes, craft ales and more to whet your appetite.
You’ll also find jewellery, homewares, plants, clothing, and rugs among other things; all very tempting!
Independent shops in Cirencester
Don’t just stick to the main street when you’re shopping in Cirencester – the town has lots of fun-to-explore alleyways and narrow streets which are filled with independent shops and cafes. Spend an hour or so browsing what’s on offer.
Black Jack Street is one of the best streets to browse – it joins the parish church to the Corinium Museum. Little alleyways branch off from the main street where you’ll find boutique clothes shops, a chocolatier, sweet shops, cafes, traditional pubs and gift shops. Kids will love Octavia’s bookshop which has a fantastic selection of children’s books – there are often author events going on here too. If it’s a rainy day you could take the kids to Pick a Pot and Paint which will while away an hour or so.
You’ll find a toy shop, independent clothes retailers and a new deli in the Woolmarket, as well as Cafe Mosaic.
Another great place to browse is the Corn Hall just opposite the marketplace; there’s usually a craft or antiques fair in here, more independent shops and another cafe serving lovely tea, not to mention Made By Bob’s deli.
New Brewery Arts
The New Brewery Arts centre is a showcase for local artists, a shop and a cafe, and is something really different for you to explore in Cirencester.
In the main building there’s a beautiful shop with handmade items including jewellery, decorations, paintings, sculptures and more, all made by local artists. Upstairs there’s an exhibition hall which shows six exhibitions a year; currently there’s an exhibit dedicated to the print designer Lucienne Day, and last year Grayson Perry was one of the artists to put on a show. There’s also a cafe upstairs.
Outside and round the back of the main building you will find artists’ studios. You’re welcome to look in, watch them work and even buy their products. A favourite is watching the glass blowers work, but don’t forget to look in at the other craftspeople while you’re there – there are stained glass makers, bookbinders, ceramic makers, painters, upholsterers and more.
The New Brewery Arts centre also runs art classes run throughout the year, including classes for children aged 5 and up. Some are one day classes, others run for a term or more. You can also hold children’s art parties here too!
Check the website to see what’s on when you visit and to book a class.
Roman Amphitheatre Cirencester
Tucked away just outside the centre of town is Cirencester Amphitheatre. Visit it after you’ve been to the Corinium Museum for context.
It’s the second largest Roman amphitheatre found in the UK, and although you won’t see any exposed stonework, you can get a good idea of its size and shape from the top of the grassy mounds. It’s a favourite place for our kids to tear about and roll down the grassy slopes.
Cirencester has some lovely green spaces – perfect for wearing the children out, or taking a quiet stroll. On a sunny day grab a picnic from the markets and let the kids run free.
Part of the Bathurst Estate, you can enter Cirencester Park from walking up Cecily Hill (which I’d recommend doing anyway).
A long straight path gives you a lovely view back to the town and the church. There are little follies and paths to explore off to the sides, and the estate continues for some distance past the end of the paved path. It’s most beautiful in summer and autumn.
Just behind Cirencester Parish Church is a lovely large park with a wide expanse of grass perfect for families to enjoy a sunny day.
In the summer this park gets pretty busy and the whole place has a friendly atmosphere. You’ll sometimes find bands playing in the bandstand or other events; last year there was a medieval battle re-enactment and displays about medieval life for the Abbey 900 celebrations.
You might notice some paving slabs set out in the grass here – this is where the Abbey used to be until it was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The Norman Arch is the only part left standing.
More ruins can be found in the Abbey Grounds – at the far end, just past the duck pond, you’ll see some lumps in the grass. This is all that remains of the Roman walls that once surrounded Cirencester.
Also at the far end is an enclosed playground for children.
St Michael’s Park
A little outside the centre of town, St Michael’s Park has a children’s playground, games and a large grassy space, complete with barbecues for balmy summer evenings.
There’s a cafe selling drinks and ice creams, and you can rent equipment for the games from here. Toilet facilities are also available.
Cirencester Outdoor Pool
For summer fun, Cirencester’s Open Air Swimming Pool can’t be beaten! You’ll find the pool down a path next to Cecily Hill – look out for the wrought-iron sign and the hare either side of the path. Originally built in 1869, Cirencester Open Air pool is one of the oldest lidos in the UK and is run by volunteers.
At the lido there’s a large 28m pool and a shallow pool for toddlers, a patio to sunbathe on and a tuck shop for food and snacks. The pool’s spring water is heated to about 27°C so you don’t have to wait for the UK’s one hot day per year to visit.
Tickets cost £4.80 per adult and £2.50 for kids. Check opening times on the website as they do vary.
Suggested itinerary for sightseeing in Cirencester
A suggested itinerary and very general timings for your day in Cirencester:
9am: walk down Coxwell Street to Cecily Hill, into Cirencester Park, and then to the Corinium Museum.
11.30am: browse the shops in Black Jack Street and look at the market place
12.30: lunch – either a picnic from the market place or a more filling meal from Made By Bob
2pm: explore the New Brewery Arts centre and watch the glass blowers working
3pm: visit the parish church and go up the tower if it’s open
4pm: if you’ve got a nice evening try walking the Cirencester Hare Trail to build up an appetite for dinner; take the kids to the Abbey Grounds to run around; or visit the roman amphitheatre
In the evening have a meal at Tierra & Mar if you aren’t still full from lunch!
Seasonal events and festivals in Cirencester
There are many festivals and events running throughout the Cotswolds each year, mostly in the summer. Some of the biggest and best shows are held in Cirencester or its immediate surrounds, so before you visit check and see if you can make it to any of these family-friendly events.
Cirencester March Hare Festival and Trail
Since 2014 Cirencester has hosted a fundraising event, the Cirencester March Hare Festival. Each year has been slightly different but the main premise is the same: local artists and people decorate hares of varying sizes which are then hidden on a Hare Trail in Cirencester and its surrounds. Local companies sponsor the hares which are then auctioned after the trail finishes, and the proceeds go into developing the local community. It also encourages people to explore the area more thoroughly!
There is a permanent trail in Cirencester with six large hares to find – pick up the leaflet at the Tourist Information Office in the Corinium Museum, or download your copy here. This trail takes you around Cirencester’s outskirts and through some of its restored green spaces.
Cotswolds AONB Hare Trail 2018
For 2018 the hare trail has been expanded – it’s now called the Cotswolds AONB Hare Trail and it’s going to cover the whole of the Cotswolds. Running from May to September, there will be 60 large (5 foot) hares and over 70 smaller hares and leverets hiding throughout the Cotswolds to find. We’ve seen some of the hares already and they are stunning.
We’re going to try to find all the large hares and as many of the smaller ones as we can – check back after the Hare Festival to see if we managed it!
Further details can be found on the Cotswolds AONB Hare Trail website.
The Cotswold Show
Held over a weekend in July, the Cotswold Show is a huge fair on the Bathurst Estate. It mainly revolves around food, country life and animals.
We went in 2017 and found huge food tents and people selling local produce on stalls (although there weren’t many vegetarian options that I could find). There’s a farm section showing rare breeds and dog arena for dog trials and shows, as well as falconry displays.
In the main arena we saw parachutists land which the kids thought was great, as well as a medieval jousting display. The kids’ favourite part was the bouncy castle and bungee trampolines in the family area. Older kids can try tree climbing or go karting. It makes for a fun family day!
Royal International Air Tattoo (Fairford)
One of the husband’s favourite events, RIAT is usually held in July and brings visitors from all over the country to watch incredible aircraft displays. It’s run by the RAF Charitable Trust.
As well as the aircraft overhead, there’s a myriad of things to look at on the ground. You can usually look around some aircraft and get talks from RAF pilots and explore the Vintage Village with its historic cars, among many other attractions.
The husband usually goes each year but so far we haven’t taken the kids because of the aircraft noise. Perhaps we’ll risk it this year though – it’s the RAF Centenary so it’s going to be extra special.
RIAT is held in Fairford, a small town about 15 minutes’ drive from Cirencester. More information can be found on the RIAT website.
Gifford’s Circus is a travelling circus which puts on performances between May and September, mostly in the Cotswolds where it originated. Acts include acrobats, dancers, musicians, horse-riders and more. Gifford’s Circus also has its own travelling restaurant.
It makes a stop in Cirencester, usually for 10 days or so. Tickets can be booked here.
Where to stay in Cirencester
Cirencester has plenty of places to stay, ranging from high end luxury hotels to a friendly hostel. I’ve picked out some of the best hotels and B&Bs here.
TIP: If you’re driving to Cirencester be sure to check the parking situation – the town centre is old and some hotels may not have a car park on site. There are several public car parks in Cirencester town centre.
We often use booking.com to book our hotel stays – it’s great for flexibility as it allows you to cancel your reservation at no extra cost if you change your mind. I haven’t listed all the available properties in Cirencester – there are plenty more on booking.com.
Hotels in Cirencester
One of the main hotels is the newly refurbished King’s Head Cirencester, right in the centre of town. It’s a boutique hotel, full of character, with a great welcoming bar and a restaurant. The spa is highly recommended too. Children are welcome and extra beds can be put in the rooms. Check prices and availability here.
Also right in the middle of town in the marketplace is the Fleece Cirencester. Set in an historic building, its quirky rooms are full of character and there’s a bar and restaurant on site too. Click here to book your stay.
The Corinium Hotel is near the centre of Cirencester and is in another old, quirky building. It also has a bar and restaurant, and one of Cirencester’s rare beer gardens. Check availability for your stay here.
On the edge of town you’ll find a couple of budget options: the Premier Inn Cirencester is a 20 minute walk from the town centre. You always know what you’re getting with a Premier Inn – no frills but a comfortable bed and good sized family rooms. We have used several Premier Inns across the UK and they are always our pick for a budget stay. Check prices and availability here.
Slightly further out there’s a Travelodge, although you’ll need to drive into town from here.
B&Bs and Inns in Cirencester
The Old Brewhouse: this B&B is in the town centre and has family rooms and great ratings – click here to book your stay.
The Talbot Inn: Just 5 minutes away from the centre of town, the accommodation is part of a pub. Family rooms are available – check here for prices and availability.
Licatas Apartments are suitable for larger families – the apartments can sleep 6 people. Check prices and availability here.
Home from Home: this is a B&B in a private home on a quiet estate a 20 minute walk from the town centre. Scores very highly for cleanliness and its friendly host. Check here for prices and availability.
Hostels in Cirencester
If you’re on a budget or you like to meet other people when you travel then try out the Barrel Store hostel, next to the New Brewery Arts centre. They have en suite family rooms. Check prices and book here.
Hotels near Cirencester
There are lots of hotels near Cirencester if you don’t want to stay right in the town centre.
For an adult-only break your top pick should be the Barnsley House Hotel and Spa. This is a luxury hotel just outside of Cirencester in the village of Barnsley; it boasts beautiful gardens and a fantastic spa. The Village Pub opposite also does great food. Check prices for your stay here.
A more family-friendly option is the De Vere Hotel at the Cotswold Water Park, which also has a spa. If you’re looking at spending time at the water park then this is an ideal location. You can stay in the hotel itself – check prices and book here. Alternatively, you can stay in an apartment, which is probably the more family friendly thing to do. Click here to look at the apartments.
And for something really special, you could stay in one of the famous Arlington Row cottages in nearby Bibury. The cottage here is for rent through the National Trust and sleeps 3 people. Click here to find out more.
Getting to and from Cirencester
Getting to Cirencester by car
It’s best to drive to Cirencester, as the public transport options aren’t great.
If you’re coming from overseas, then hiring a car is the best way to get around the UK and the Cotswolds in particular.
While you can get to major cities easily using public transport, it can be difficult to access the smaller towns and villages you’ll want to see in the Cotswolds without a car. It also gives you much more flexibility and saves you hanging around for a bus that, let’s face it, might not turn up.
Cirencester is located about 15 minutes from the M4 motorway (exit at Swindon) so you can reach it by car from London. Driving time from London to Cirencester is approximately 2 hours.
If you need to hire a car, we recommend checking car hire prices here.
Getting to Cirencester by public transport
It’s a bit more difficult to reach Cirencester by public transport.
The nearest airports are Bristol, Birmingham and London Heathrow.
Cirencester doesn’t have a train station. The nearest station is Kemble, a few miles away. While there are some direct trains to Kemble from London Paddington, you may need to change trains at Swindon. You can get a taxi to Cirencester for under £20 from Kemble. Buses do run but intermittently and they’re not reliable.
National Express coach services also run to Cirencester from Victoria bus station in central London. The journey takes a couple of hours or more although prices are reasonable.
Places to eat in Cirencester
Cirencester has plenty of eateries to keep you occupied for a while! While the usual chain restaurants are present (and Pizza Express is always a kid-friendly choice) there are more locally-run businesses that you should try.
Here are some of our favourites, although I can’t list every restaurant in Cirencester unfortunately!
Made by Bob
Hands down, this is our favourite place to eat in Cirencester.
Made By Bob is a mix of restaurant, bar and deli, serving breakfast and lunch. The food is locally sourced and prepared fresh in the open kitchen and the husband swears that the best steak he’s had is served here. It’s child friendly although we only take ours if they can be trusted to sit quietly!
More details and menus can be found on their website.
Another locally run restaurant, you’ll find Jesse’s Bistro in another of Black Jack Street’s alleyways. It’s a cosy, welcoming restaurant serving typical English food. Ingredients are high quality and locally sourced, and Jesse’s has won several awards for food. It’s open for lunches and dinners.
You can book online here.
Tierra & Mar
This Andalucian restaurant is gathering rave reviews for its authentic and well-priced Spanish food, cooked using locally sourced ingredients. They serve tapas as well as a la carte options. Ask for the vegetarian menu. Book here.
Other restaurants in Cirencester include Indian Rasoi, Thai Emerald, and more.
Cafes in Cirencester
You’ll find plenty of cafes in Cirencester including the usual chains. I’ve listed a few of our favourites – the best here are the locally run cafes..
Cafe Mosaic, Woolmarket
You need to arrive early to beat the queues at the very popular Cafe Mosaic, or be prepared to wait for your seat. This cafe serves light meals, sandwiches, cakes and drinks; all freshly made on the premises. In the summer there’s often an ice cream stand outside. You can even get a glass of wine or beer with your meal.
This is a cocktail bar in the evenings, but in the daytime Somewhere Else serves cooked breakfasts and lunches and has a good salad bar. They do good veggie burgers. It’s kid-friendly, in the daytime at least!
New Brewery Arts Cafe
The perfect place to stop if you’ve been looking around the New Brewery Arts Centre, the cafe is upstairs in the main building. It serves drinks, sandwiches and freshly made cakes – try the scrumptious Bakewell Tart if you can resist the enormous slabs of Victoria sponge.
He Says She Waffles, Black Jack Street
Tucked away in a side street off Black Jack Street, He Says She Waffles is the place to come to for milkshakes and waffles. The milkshakes come in every conceivable flavour, served in old-fashioned glass milk bottles (ideal for Instagram!) The waffles are delicious, and served sweet or savoury.
It’s the perfect place to treat the kids – ours absolutely love it. In the summer you can sit outside in a pretty courtyard.
Yes, this is a chain cafe inside a chain bookshop – but the food is freshly made and the cakes are delicious (my favourite is the fruit cake). It doesn’t have the feel of a chain cafe either as it’s open to the bookshop, and happily, right next to the travel section.
Pubs in Cirencester
For pub lunches there are several traditional English pubs in Cirencester’s centre. A great British tradition is to have a Sunday pub lunch – so try one of these pubs in Cirencester town centre.
Try the Bear Inn on the corner of the market place, the Crown at the corner of Black Jack Street, the Golden Cross on Black Jack Street itself, or the restaurant in the Corinium Hotel. All of these pubs have beer gardens/courtyards although the Corinium Hotel has the best beer garden for families as it’s got a grassy area for kids to play in.
If you manage to get out of an evening without your kids (or you didn’t bring any!) Cirencester offers a few options for a drink. In addition to the pubs I’ve mentioned already, the bar at the Kings’ Head Hotel is lovely and atmospheric and you can also get cocktails in Somewhere Else.
For those who enjoy a dance, the local clubs/bars are Seventeen Black and ReVA nightclub (formerly known as The Rock). Both are in the centre of town.
I hope this post has been useful – and if I’ve overlooked something please let me know; I’ll happily add it!