The Cotswolds are packed full of sights for everyone, but there are lots of places with fabulous activities that will appeal to families in particular. Read on to find out about the best things to do in the Cotswolds with kids, from locals in the know!
Top things to do in the Cotswolds with kids: the best Cotswolds days out
Where are the Cotswolds?
The Cotswolds are one of the UK’s most beautiful areas, and worth a visit whether you’re travelling to the UK from abroad or if you live elsewhere in the UK. Stretching from Bath in the south-west, up towards Stratford-Upon Avon in the north, and Oxford in the east, the Cotswolds covers a large area of south-west England including parts of six counties; Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
The Cotswolds are full of gorgeous honey-coloured villages and towns surrounded by gently rolling countryside – it really is quintessential England. The great thing about visiting the Cotswolds is that you can spend a couple of weeks looking around or just take a weekend trip from London.
Either way, you’ll need to make a repeat trip as there’s no chance you can squeeze everything into just one visit!
If you’re wondering what to do in the Cotswolds with kids, then read on. Although I’ve created this list with families in mind, you’re bound to enjoy many of these Cotswolds attractions even if you’re not visiting the Cotswolds with kids.
I’m not going to go into much detail about Cotswold villages and towns in this post – this article covers individual attractions for days out rather than whole towns. This is an extensive article (I don’t use the words ultimate guide lightly!) so you probably want to grab a cup of coffee and get comfy before reading!
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The best museums to visit in the Cotswolds with kids
The UK has been inhabited for a long time. Throughout the country you’ll find examples of people’s lives stretching back to the Stone Age, and the Cotswolds is no exception. You’ll find a lot of information on Romans especially as they shaped two of the region’s biggest towns; the city of Bath and the market town of Cirencester.
Bath’s Roman Baths and Museum
Bath is one of the UK’s most beautiful cities. The whole city is a World Heritage Site and you could easily spend a couple of days or more exploring. There’s an absolute ton of museums in Bath but I’ve had to go with the Roman Baths for the purpose of this article. You can read more about what to do in Bath with kids here.
The Roman Baths give the city its name and are probably one of the top things to see in the UK. Don’t miss them!
Located right in the city centre, the stunning Roman Baths are still in working order although much of the original Roman building is now gone. Excavations also revealed a temple on the same site. Inside the on site museum you can learn about real Roman people who lived, worked and died here; all based on archaeological evidence. Reconstructions of the site and displays of artefacts are also fascinating. Costumed actors add some interest for small children; there are activity sheets and a child friendly audioguide too.
Don’t forget to taste the waters at the end of your visit – it’s a taste to remember!
When to visit the Roman Baths: Any time of year, except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Rainy day activity! Booking tickets in advance is recommended on the Roman Baths website.
Suitable for: All ages but children aged 5+ will get more out of the visit. No buggies allowed inside; baby slings are provided.
Chedworth Roman Villa, Chedworth
If you’re interested in Roman history then the remains of this beautiful villa are worth a look. Chedworth is only a few miles from Cirencester which was a huge Roman city thousands of years ago. The villa was probably lived in by an important person who worked in Cirencester, or Corinium as it was then called.
At the Roman villa site you can see the remains of the main house complete with beautifully preserved mosaic flooring, a Nymphaeum water shrine and the remnants of several outbuildings. There are often craft sessions and treasure hunts put on for children, and activity sheets can be picked up at the entrance.
The site is administered by the National Trust, so entry is free for NT members. Otherwise you can book your tickets online here.
When to visit Chedworth Roman Villa: Spring, summer, autumn. Closes late November for the winter; check online for the exact dates.
Suitable for: All ages, especially for kids studying Romans at school.
Corinium Museum, Cirencester
Back in Roman times, Cirencester was known as Corinium and was the second largest city in Britannia. Modern day Cirencester is a wool market town built on the foundations of ancient Corinium, and known as the capital of the Cotswolds. The best thing to do in Cirencester is to visit the Corinium Museum.
The Corinium Museum, which is much bigger than it looks from the outside, houses Roman artefacts found in and around Cirencester. There are plenty of hands on things for kids to play with – they can learn how to play ancient games, find out about real-life inhabitants of the town and piece together mosaics. The museum doesn’t just cover the Roman history of the town either; there’s lots of information on Saxons (including forensic recreations of real people) and events in Cirencester up to the present day.
When to visit the Corinium Museum: Any time of year: Rainy day activity!
Suitable for: All ages – plenty of hands-on activities for little ones.
Cotswold Motoring Museum, Bourton on the Water
This motoring museum is perfect for petrol-heads of any age. It holds an extensive collection of motoring memorabilia from stunning vintage cars to motorbikes and even camper vans. Some of the vehicles are over 100 years old! Signs and flags cover the walls and add to the vintage atmosphere.
There’s so much to look at it’s hard to take it all in and you can spend ages in here poring over the little details, especially inside the retro camper vans which come complete with fixtures and furnishings of the times. As you walk through the different galleries and rooms you’re taken on a journey through motoring history from one of the first blacksmiths to start experimenting with motors, to the impact that cars and other vehicles have had on modern day life.
A highlight for the kids is the amazing collection of toys, all of which have obviously been well loved and played with (there’s no pristine presented in the box toys here). For kids whose fingers have been itching to touch everything there’s a play area complete with a replica of Brum, the famous car from the kids’ 90s TV show. Make sure you find the real Brum, too – he’s hiding in the main gallery.
A tip is to budget extra money and time for the enormous gift shop – it took a while to coax my little boy out of here!
When to visit the Cotswold Motoring Museum: Any time of year. Check the website for opening times. Rainy day pick!
Suitable for: All ages (toys and hammer benches provided for toddlers).
There are plenty more things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water: check out our guide to Bourton-on-the-Water here.
Snowshill Manor and Gardens, Snowshill
Snowshill Manor has probably one of the quirkiest collections of objects in the country. Charles Wade began collecting when he was only 7 years old and he later bought Snowshill Manor to display his collection. The house was so full that Wade never lived in it; instead he lived in a small outbuilding just next to the main house. He didn’t want his collection to be thought of as a museum exhibit so he didn’t label anything – instead you’re supposed to appreciate his treasures for what they are, not because they’re rare or important. Lots of the objects come from the Far East – my kids’ favourite things were the suits of samurai armour.
The Arts and Crafts-inspired tiered gardens outside are beautiful especially in the spring and summer. One feature that will appeal to kids is the miniature village by the pond called Wolf’s Creek which is being rebuilt by the National Trust. Kids can follow a trail around the gardens and there are sometimes events and storytellers especially for kids. Inside the house there are special reproductions of items that kids can handle. Just don’t call Snowshill Manor a museum!
When to visit Snowshill Manor: Snowshill Manor is open from March to October. Check opening times online before you travel. Tickets for the Manor house are timed and might run out on busy days so arriving early is bests.
Tickets cost: £11.60 per adult and £5.80 per child for the whole property or £6.80 per adult and £3.50 per child for the garden only. Under 5s and National Trust members free.
Suitable for: All ages but no buggies are allowed inside the house.
Amazing castles and buildings to visit in the Cotswolds with kids
There’s more than museums for history lovers in the Cotswolds. There are several castles and plenty of stately homes, interesting follies and historical farmhouses to poke around. These make some of the best places to go in the Cotswolds with families.
Although you may think that these historical places might not be suitable for children, one thing that attractions in the UK are really good at is ensuring that everyone can enjoy them. The attractions I’ve listed will have activities aimed at kids so that even little ones can get something out of a visit.
Berkeley Castle and Gardens, Berkeley
Berkeley Castle is an ancient building which has been in the hands of the Berkeley family for the last 900 years. It was originally built as a defensive castle against Welsh invaders so it’s a typical looking castle with battlements and sits on a mound to give a good view of the surrounding countryside. The mound has now been transformed into tiered gardens.
On a day out at Berkeley Castle you’re able to take a guided tour of the castle itself and see where King Edward II was held in a dungeon and eventually murdered, as well as other castle rooms, galleries and the kitchens. You can explore the gardens which are filled with roses and especially beautiful in the summer months. Don’t miss the enchanting butterfly house which has over 40 species of butterflies and moths.
Berkeley Castle usually has a great programme of events for families including costumed actors, archery, falconry, knights on horseback and more. Check online to see what’s on for your visit. There’s usually something on every day throughout the summer holidays. Kids will also find outdoor games, trails both inside and outside the castle and dressing up clothes to play with.
When to visit Berkeley Castle: The castle is still lived in by the family and is open from Sundays to Wednesdays in spring, summer and autumn – check online before you visit for the exact dates. It’s always closed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so don’t try and visit on these days! The Butterfly House is open from May to September.
Suitable for: All ages
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock
Blenheim Palace has to be one of the UK’s finest stately homes. It’s a World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Inside you can walk through some of the stunning state rooms, which are covered in paintings and frescoes and have gorgeous furnishings. You’ll often find art exhibits in the state rooms, and there’s an exhibition on Churchill’s life too.
The grounds and gardens will be what the kids enjoy most. There are acres and acres to explore; from open parkland to the lakeside and manicured gardens. The best part of Blenheim Palace for children is the Pleasure Gardens where you can find a large playground, a butterfly house, funfair rides in the summer and a huge hedge maze. The miniature train ride to get there is the cherry on the top.
Blenheim Palace also puts on lots of events throughout the year – you might be lucky enough to catch a medieval jousting tournament, Chinese New Year celebrations, Christmas lights and more.
Read more about visiting Blenheim Palace with kids here.
When to visit Blenheim Palace: Any time of year – the Christmas light show is especially fabulous.
Suitable for: All ages
Broadway Tower, Broadway
For gorgeous views of the Cotswolds, you can’t beat Broadway Tower, near the northern border of the Cotswolds and the start of the Cotswold Way.
This lovely folly sits on top of the second highest hill in the Cotswolds and on a good day you can see for about 60 miles from the top. You can learn about Broadway Tower’s history and role in the two World Wars and the Cold War in exhibit rooms inside the tower.
Younger children will enjoy spotting deer in the park and exploring the Cotswold Way walks nearby. For children aged 12 and over, take a tour inside the secret nuclear bunker to see how volunteers monitored nuclear activity during the Cold War.
Broadway itself is a lovely town and has a fabulous playground for children, so you might like to walk down the Cotswold Way to Broadway after you’ve explored the tower.
Read more about what to do at Broadway Tower here.
When to visit Broadway Tower: Any time of year.
Suitable for: All ages, but the tower staircase is steep and the nuclear bunker is only for children aged 12+
Cogges Manor Farm, Witney
This beautiful, historic farm is just outside Witney in Oxfordshire. There has been a home here for a thousand years; the first known owner, Wadard, is recorded in the Domesday Book and is on the Bayeux Tapestry. The buildings on site today aren’t quite as old; the Manor House dates back to the 13th century and the farm buildings are from the 17th century. The Manor House is surrounded by picture perfect English gardens.
At Cogges you can explore inside the Manor House (our kids made biscuits in the kitchen when we visited), meet some of the animals and look around the farm buildings. There are often kid-friendly activities on, especially in school holidays. Kids will also love the adventure playground and the soft play barn area. Parents will enjoy learning about the history and spotting the filming locations for Downton Abbey, where Cogges stood in for Yew Tree Farm.
When to visit Cogges Manor Farm: Open March to November – check opening dates on the website.
Suitable for: All ages
Dyrham Park, near Bath
Dyrham Park is a large baroque manor house surrounded by a deer park and gardens. It’s near to Bath and makes a good day trip from this city. The original house was a Tudor mansion, but much of it was torn down and rebuilt in the 17th century. For much of its history the house was owned by the Blathwayt family until it was passed to the National Trust in 1956.
As with so many of these properties there’s lots to keep you and the kids occupied. You can take a tour inside the house, which is undergoing renovation and restoration, to see how the rich would have lived in the 17th century and to learn more about the house’s history and its inhabitants.
The gardens are a highlight, with formal manicured areas and large expanses of open parkland which are home to around 200 fallow deer. The gardens are perfect for picnics in summer and for letting kids loose. Special kids’ activities are put on in the summer months and during school holidays such as crafts and learning about nature in guided bug hunts. At other times kids can play in Old Lodge play area which has diggers to play with, a tractor and play equipment.
When to visit Dyrham Park: Open throughout the year (except at Christmas). Some of the house tours may differ in January. Summer is a good time to see the fawns, autumn is also a good time to spot deer. Dyrham Park is run by the National Trust so entry is free for NT members. Check prices and opening times on the website.
Suitable for: All ages
Lacock Village and Lacock Abbey
Even if you’ve never been to Lacock you’re bound to have seen it in films or on TV. Lacock village is owned by the National Trust and it’s kept in a state of careful preservation so you won’t see many signs of modern life here, other than cars parked outside the homes. Its good looks mean that the village is often used as a set for period TV shows and films; notably Pride and Prejudice, the White Queen and some of the Harry Potter films.
While wandering around the village is free and a lovely way to spend the afternoon, Lacock Abbey is worth the entry price. It’s one of the UK’s only remaining monasteries and was saved from Henry VIII’s purge as it already formed part of a large manor house. The nuns left, and the monastery’s buildings were left and are as well preserved as the rest of the village. Today the manor house also has a photography museum as one of its former inhabitants, Henry Talbot, invented the photographic negative. You can read more about visiting Lacock village and Lacock Abbey here.
Suitable for: All ages
When to visit Lacock: The village is open all year. The Abbey and Fox Talbot Museum are open most days but check opening times for the Abbey rooms as they are sometimes closed.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace historic buildings, Stratford Upon Avon
Stratford Upon Avon is sometimes called the Gateway to the Cotswolds as it lies right on the northern border. It’s where Shakespeare was born, so unsurprisingly there are plenty of places associated with the Bard to explore! This is perfect if you have older kids who are studying Shakespeare at school, but even if they’re not you’ll find plenty to entertain younger ones.
There are five main buildings associated with Shakespeare’s life in Stratford and they’re run by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust. In the centre of Stratford Upon Avon you can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace itself; a beautiful half-timbered building where you can learn about Shakespeare’s early life. You can also visit Shakespeare’s New Place which is the site of the Bard’s home in later life and where he died; today there’s a beautiful garden which is planted to give you an idea of the original building. Finally Hall’s Croft is where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived, where you can look around her Jacobean home and Tudor medicinal garden.
Mary Arden’s Farm and Anne Hathaway’s cottage, both on the outskirts of Stratford Upon Avon, are more likely to appeal to younger kids. You can meet the animals at Mary Arden’s Farm which is a working Tudor farm complete with a full days’ programme of events which kids will love. There’s an adventure playground too. For a quieter couple of hours, head to the beautiful gardens at Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
When to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace: Throughout the year (check opening times on the website as they vary) except Mary Arden’s Farm which closes for the winter. If you want to visit all of these places then a combination ticket is sold on the website to save you money.
Suitable for: All ages but Mary Arden’s Farm is hands-down the best place to visit with small children.
Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe
Sudeley Castle is one of the best places in the UK for lovers of all things Tudor. It’s the home (and burial place) of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife and the lucky survivor of his reign. You’ll find lots of information on Katherine and Henry’s other queens here. Katherine is buried in the on-site chapel.
Part of Sudeley Castle lies in ruins, including Elizabeth I’s rooms, but the rest of the castle is still lived in by the family. You can follow a tour through the open parts of the castle and kids will enjoy looking for the “20 treasures of Sudeley Castle.” The inside of the castle is beautiful, but perhaps more suited to older children. Some of the artefacts here include letters from kings and queens written hundreds of years ago, and a christening gown for Princess Elizabeth embroidered by Anne Boleyn.
The castle grounds and gardens are stunning in summer, especially the rose garden. Younger kids will have great fun in the gardens and in the adventure playground area which has recently been upgraded. My son loved looking at the birds in the aviary and looking for koi carp in the pond.
Suitable for: All ages, but older kids will get more out of the castle.
When to visit Sudeley Castle: Spring, summer and autumn. The castle is usually closed from December to March but check opening times on the website.
Animal Encounters in the Cotswolds for kids
All kids love animals, don’t they? There are plenty of animal themed attractions in the Cotswolds and they make for some of the best things to do in the Cotswolds for families. Here’s our pick of the best animal parks and sanctuaries in the Cotswolds.
Birdland, Bourton on the Water
One of the biggest bird parks in the UK, Bourton on the Water’s Birdland is home to over 500 birds including native and exotic species. Birdland covers a 9 acre area of parkland and gardens and among the animals you’ll be able to see here are penguins, flamingos, pelicans, storks and even a cassowary or two. Many more species of smaller bird like parrots, ibis and hornbills are kept in aviaries, and you can meet some amphibians and other small animals at the Indoor Discovery Zone.
Birdland also has a great area dedicated to the ancestors of birds. If you follow the Jurassic Journey trail you’ll encounter enormous dinosaurs in the undergrowth. This is always a hit with little ones! Along the trail there’s a discovery zone where the kids can dig for fossils. There’s also a nature reserve attached to Birdland which attracts plenty of wild birds, otters and more animals.
When to visit Birdland: Any time of year except Christmas Day. Tickets are cheaper if bought online.
Suitable for: All ages.
Butterfly farm, Stratford Upon Avon
If you’re visiting Stratford Upon Avon for its historical sites then the Butterfly Farm makes a welcome change from museums and timbered houses. This Butterfly Farm is the largest in the UK and it was absolutely packed with butterflies when we visited. At any one time there are about 1500 butterflies from over 250 different species.
You can spend ages counting different species and trying to spot them in the foliage. This indoor butterfly paradise has lush vegetation, waterfalls and pools filled with fish; again a bit hit with little kids. You can also see all life stages of the butterfly from egg to caterpillar, chrysalis and adult (education: tick).
As amazing as the butterflies are, it’s some of the other residents who steal the show. The leaf cutter ants take up an entire room – you’ll see why when you visit. Other creepy crawlies including giant tarantulas, centipedes, beetles, mantis and more. You can also spot parakeets and iguanas who live among the butterflies.
When to visit Stratford Butterfly Farm: Any time of year (closed Christmas Day). Check opening times on the website. You can buy tickets on arrival or through the website of partner company Avon Boating (likely another good pick; we haven’t done a boat trip at Stratford yet though).
Rainy day activity!
Suitable for: All ages, but toddlers (and adults!) might be a bit wary of all those legs – my little girl definitely was!
Cotswold Falconry Centre, Moreton-in-Marsh
The Cotswold Falconry Centre is near Moreton in Marsh and right next to Batsford Arboretum. If you’re a budding ornithologist then make sure you don’t miss a visit here! You’re able to learn about different species of birds of prey and falconry as an art, as well as meeting the birds. You will probably get the chance to handle them – an amazing feeling and a wonderful chance to see these beautiful birds up close.
Birds of prey such as eagles, falcons, owls and even vultures are among the 60 species of bird at the centre. Throughout the day flights are put on so make sure you stay long enough to watch one. You’ll find out a huge amount of information about the birds in the centre as well as the challenges that wild birds of prey are experiencing. The Cotswold Falconry Centre also breeds birds of prey and you can look around their breeding aviaries as well.
Older kids might enjoy one of the experiences you can book here. You can choose from an hour’s experience where you learn to fly a falcon (all ages) or a full day of handling different birds (16+). Children aged 12+ might like to go along to an owl evening where you walk through the local woods in search of wild owls as well as those who live at the centre. This is one for us to return to when the kids are old enough!
When to visit Cotswold Falconry Centre: Open February to November; exact dates vary and should be checked online.
Suitable for: All ages but there are age restrictions on some of the experiences, and small children may not be able to handle the birds. Check the website for more details.
Cotswold Farm Park
There are several farm parks in the Cotswolds but TV presenter Adam Henson’s farm park is the biggest and best known. This is a fun-packed day out, especially for little kids. You probably won’t get it all done in a single visit!
The Cotswolds Farm Park is a centre for rare breeds of livestock and is part of breeding programmes to prevent them becoming extinct. The centre breeds rare cows, goats, sheep, pigs, horses and ponies. Each day there’s a variety of events ranging from milking, to bottle feeding, and talks about animals. You can meet some of the smaller animals in the Experience Barn too.
Animals aren’t all you can see at the Farm Park though. There’s a great play area for kids including trampolines, zip lines, a maze, as well as an adventure playground and an indoor play barn with loads of activities for kids. The pretty Wildlife Walk takes you through the special habitats for threatened species and past ancient signs of human habitation. And of course, tractor rides always go down well with kids! The Cotswold Farm Park is guaranteed to wear the kids out.
When to visit Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park: From February to December, but look out for lambs in spring especially. Check opening times online.
Suitable for: All ages
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, Burford
Cotswold Wildlife Park is one of the best things to do in the Cotswolds with kids, and it’ll take you a whole day to look around properly. There’s a huge variety of animals to see here ranging from the small (meerkats) to enormous (giraffes). It’s probably the only place in the world where you can see white rhinos grazing in front of a manor house!
The Cotswold Wildlife Park is part of conservation efforts to breed rare animals. Some of the endangered animals you can see at the Park include bactrian camels, asiatic lions, and the greater bamboo lemur.
You’re able to get quite close to many of the animals here. Get a birds’ eye view of the giraffes in the giraffe house or walk through the open lemur enclosure. For those who want to get even closer there’s a petting area by the farm where you might be able to stroke the tamer animals. There’s a daily programme of events such as animal talks and feeds.
Some of the other things to do at Cotswold Wildlife Park include exploring the beautiful gardens, playing on the adventure playground equipment and taking a miniature train ride around the park (my kids’ favourite thing to do here).
When to visit Cotswold Wildlife Park: Any time of year (closed Christmas Day). Check opening times on the website.
Suitable for: All ages
Crocodiles of the World, Brize Norton
Crocodiles of the World is the only crocodile zoo in the UK. Here you can see over 150 different crocodilians from 15 different species. It’s a growing sanctuary for crocodiles saved from the pet trade as well as a breeding centre for threatened and vulnerable species. Most of the crocodiles are kept in a tropical crocodile house where you can see them through glass and from walkways above the enclosures. You can also listen to talks and see the Nile crocodiles being fed – and lots of kids with their mouths hanging open at this! There are also two large tomistoma which can grow to 5m long or more – they’re enormous!
Crocodiles of the World also has a rare komodo dragon. You can only see komodo dragons in three other zoos in the UK (London, Chester and Colchester) and this guy is worth a look! This dragon has recently been moved to a new large enclosure. The kids can also look at more reptiles and some small mammals including meerkats, otters and critically endangered cotton top tamarins.
Your kids are guaranteed to remember a visit here!
When to visit Crocodiles of the World: Any time of year (closed Christmas Day) Check opening times on the website. As most of the animals are inside, this is a Rainy Day Activity!
Suitable for: All ages; you can get buggies around the crocodile house.
Horse Riding, Bourton on the Water
Horse riding is a great way to get kids out and about in the fresh air and exercising without realising that they’re doing it! In the Cotswolds you’re able to join a riding school just for a couple of hours to get a taster of horse riding if you’re a beginner.
Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre makes a good choice as it’s close to plenty of other things you’re likely to want to see in Bourton on the Water. Novices can choose from an hour’s hack to Upper and Lower Slaughter (a different way to see these pretty villages) or a 30 minute gentle river ride around Bourton on the Water. They also offer lessons for beginners and more experienced riders. Check the website for contact details and to book.
Prinknash Bird and Deer Park, Prinknash
Prinknash Bird and Deer Park is a lovely gentle day out for families. Set in tranquil gardens, this is a bird sanctuary with plenty of peahens, kookaburras, waterfowl and chickens among others. For the most part the birds are free and not caged but some birds are kept in aviaries. There are several ponds and lakes full of wild birds and pheasants run around in the woods. Look out for the spectacular golden pheasants!
The stars of Prinknash are the tame fallow deer who you can feed by hand. Bring some change to buy some deer feed! There are also some super cute miniature donkeys in the spring and summer, pygmy goats and reindeer.
The Bird and Deer Park is right next door to Prinknash Abbey which is a working monastery – you can poke your head into the chapel if you like, or buy some of their incense from the gift shop. There’s a cafe here, although we haven’t tried it. The Bird and Deer Park only serves hot drinks and snacks so you could eat at the monastery or bring a picnic.
When to visit Prinknash Bird and Deer Park: Any time of year. Opening times vary by season so check online before you visit.
Suitable for: All ages
Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Slimbridge
Slimbridge Wetland Centre is a protected habitat for native and migratory birds, run by the WWT. Some birds are resident all year round, like the flocks of flamingoes, but other birds visit during different seasons so it depends when you visit as to what you’ll be able to see. We went in November and there was absolutely loads of birds, other animals and activities. You should make sure you climb the lookout tower to get a great view over the whole wetland.
There’s a daily programme of events that run at Slimbridge, and some special events and activities at certain times of year. If your kids are aged 3 and above then you can take a canoe safari through a set trail in the wetlands between March and October. Alternatively there’s a guided tour in a jeep at weekends and during the school holidays between May and October.
When we visited Slimbridge my kids loved looking out for giant Lego animals dotted about the wetlands, and this seems to be an annual experience. Kids can also play in one of the dedicated play areas; outside there’s a wet playground for kids to splash about in in the summer, and an indoor soft play centre for rainy days.
When to visit Slimbridge Wetland Centre: Any time of year, but autumn and winter are a good time to see lots of migratory birds.
Suitable for: All ages
The best outdoor places to visit in the Cotswolds with kids
Once you’ve tired your kids’ brains looking around the historical attractions in the Cotswolds, make sure you’ve left enough time to explore the beautiful outdoors. There are so many outdoor places to visit in the Cotswolds where you can enjoy the best parks, gardens and outdoor activities that the Cotswolds has to offer.
Batsford Arboretum, Moreton-in-Marsh
Batsford Arboretum is in the north of the Cotswolds. It was designed back in the late 19th century by Algernon Freeman-Mitford who had a real love of the far east, and of Japanese and Chinese plants and gardening in particular. He used these influences to shape his garden. After a time, the garden fell into decline and was restored and added to by Lord Dulverton in the 1950s. He added many rare species of tree, many of which can still be seen at the arboretum.
This arboretum is now most famous for its collection of Japanese cherries and acers. Other plants to look out for are magnolia and a large collection of bamboo (all oriental plants!). In the garden you’ll find a pretty Japanese-style rest-house, vermillion bridges crossing streams, and several sculptures of Buddha and Japanese deer.
Kids can pick up a trail to follow at the entrance and there are often special events running, especially in school holidays. There’s an adventure playground by the cafe for kids to burn off excess energy in! Check online to see what’s on for your visit.
When to visit Batsford Arboretum: Any time of year but my pick goes to spring to see the national collection of cherry trees in bloom.
Suitable for: All ages
Bibury Village and Trout Farm, Bibury
Bibury is one of the most famous villages in the Cotswolds. It’s a picture perfect collection of old cottages covered in rambling roses and ivy, and many surrounded by perfect English country gardens. The cottages are surrounded by gently bubbling streams and the whole place is very peaceful… except for the tour buses which roll up regularly throughout the spring and summer. You’ll want to arrive early or late to get photos of Arlington Row weaver cottages without anyone in them, and to nab a parking slot alongside the river.
Many people just snap a few photos of Arlington Row and some of the other cottages and then head off elsewhere. However you should take some time to look at the Bibury Trout Farm too. Kids can blow off steam in the play area and mine enjoyed feeding the fish and walking around the gardens. If you’re not veggie (like we are) then you can even catch your own fish and barbecue them on site – great fun for kids. Get more information on how to book a fishing spot and a barbecue on the website. Alternatively grab an ice cream from the cafe instead, or have lunch in the lovely hotel restaurant next door.
When to visit Bibury and Bibury Trout Farm: Any time of year for the village; the Trout Farm is also open daily but the cafe runs from March – September and fishing is available at weekends and school holidays between April and September only.
Suitable for: All ages, although small kids won’t be able to fish.
Cattle Country Adventure Park, Berkeley
If you really want to wear your kids out them bring them to Cattle Country Adventure Park. Cattle Country is part farm, part adventure playground for kids of all ages.
The whole place is geared around kids and there’s loads for them to do. The kids can meet animals in the Experience Centre where they can watch feeding and perhaps cuddle a small animal or two. You can check what’s on when you arrive as it varies. They can also look at animals in the farmyard, and take a tractor ride.
The rest of Cattle Country is dedicated to adventure play areas for kids. There are a couple of toddler areas so even little ones can join in. On rainy days kids can go nuts inside one of two indoor play barns, but on sunny days there’s a choice of going on a boating lake, running around in a maize maze or bouncing on trampolines and more.
Adults can chill out at the cafe – a shame they don’t serve stiff drinks!
When to visit Cattle Country Adventure Park: Any time of year. The park is open at weekends throughout the year and in the week during school holidays. Their schedule is a bit complicated to best to double check online before you go!
Suitable for: All ages
Cotswold Water Park and Cotswold Country Park & Beach, near Cirencester
The Cotswolds Water Park is a series of 150 or so lakes spread out over 40 square miles. The lakes were formed when quarry pits filled naturally with water, transforming the site into a wildlife haven and a fabulous place for all sorts of outdoor activities.
You can follow lots of walks and trails around the lakes and reserves, spotting wildlife as you go. Obviously, plenty of watersports are on offer, and you can go sailing, kayaking, waterskiing and more. You can also book other activities like cycling, tennis, horse riding, paintball, archery and adventure climbing. Many of the activities are concentrated around South Cerney lakes, on the outskirts of Cirencester. This is also where most of the accommodation is situated; there’s a variety of accommodation for all budgets including a large hotel and spa as well as holiday lets and campsites. There’s too much at the Cotswolds Water Park for me to cover in this blog post so take a look at the website to see what else is on offer.
South Cerney is also where you’ll find the Cotswold Country Park and Beach. This is set across two lakes; one for watersports and the other has a family beach. Kids aged 6+ will love trying out the Aquaventure inflatable obstacle course on the lake, and smaller kids can play in an enclosed paddling pool or just enjoy the beach. There’s a pizzeria and a cafe on site.
The beach is run separately to the Cotswold Water Park, and it’s best to book entry and the Aquaventure online before you arrive. The other activities are pay per play so make sure you bring extra cash.
When to visit Cotswold Water Park: Any time of year; the beach is closed over winter and it goes without saying that the water based activities are best done in the summer!
Suitable for: All ages, although watersports and activities are dependent on age.
Cotswold Way Walk
The Cotswold Way stretches from Chipping Campden in the north of the region and down to Bath. It runs along the spine of the wolds, or hills, giving great views out across the countryside as well as taking you through some of the Cotswold’s best villages.
However walking the whole 100 mile length with small kids might be more of a challenge than they (or you) would like, so you can choose to walk just a small part of the Cotswold Way. Once part that we really like is the way down the hill from Broadway Tower to Broadway village as you can get such a far-reaching view of the area, as well as meeting the local sheep. It’s almost like walking through the Shire with Frodo and Sam.
Another short walk in the Cotswolds that small children will enjoy is the walk between Upper and Lower Slaughter. These are two of the most beautiful villages in the Cotswolds and there’s a nice easy mile-long path between them. Lower Slaughter has a beautiful working water mill and little bridges over the stream as well as good dining options in the local pub and hotel restaurant.
When to walk the Cotswolds Way: Any time of year, as long as you’re dressed for it! Check out a full map of the Cotswold Way on the website.
Suitable for: All ages
Hidcote Manor Gardens are some of the most original gardens in the UK. The American Lawrence Johnston bought the 17th century manor house in the early 1900s and began work on transforming its gardens. Lawrence was heavily inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Today the gardens are immaculately kept and well worth half a day to visit, and are run by the National Trust.
The gardens at Hidcote were carefully designed by Johnston; a process which began over a hundred years ago. Johnston turned the fields around the house into a series of small, connected gardens, or “rooms,” each with their own theme; colour, water and geographical area. The garden design means that each room, separated from the others by hedges or walls, contrasts with the next. You can walk from a wild and scrambling English country garden into a structured garden with manicured hedges. Colour is also used to great effect here, particularly in the Red Border section.
Kids will have a great time exploring the gardens and grounds here; ours are notoriously difficult to impress and they loved these gardens. Pick up a kids’ trail at the entrance to keep them occupied. They can have a go at playing croquet and tennis on the main lawn. You can also peep inside the beautiful manor house itself, but the gardens are the main thing to visit. Make sure you get lunch in the cafe too, it’s really good.
When to visit Hidcote Manor Gardens: Spring, summer and autumn. The gardens close at the end of October for the winter. Check the exact dates on the website.
Suitable for: All ages
Lavender fields, near Snowshill
If you want to see lavender but can’t make it to Provence, then some of the best lavender fields can be found in the Cotswolds, near Snowshill. Cotswolds Lavender has several large fields full of different types of lavender for people to wander around in and lose hours to capturing the perfect photo for instagram. If you visit once harvest has started you might also be able to watch some of the lavender being distilled.
The shop in the farmhouse sells all sorts of lavender and camomile products. Make sure you grab some lavender ice cream or a lavender scone in the on site cafe.
When to visit Cotswold Lavender Farm: Summer only; the lavender begins to bloom in June, reaches its peak in July and is harvested in early August. Regular lavender updates are found on the website to help you time your visit to fit in with full bloom.
Suitable for: All ages
Painswick Rococo Garden, Painswick
For a visit to a garden with a difference, try Painswick Rococo Garden. It’s one of the only rococo gardens left in the UK, and as well as enjoying the plants in the gardens you’ll be enchanted by the rococo follies dotted around. Some of them are large enough to go into, like the one in the above photo, but others are beautiful facades.
This garden has a great variety of landscapes. There’s a cottage garden which grows food used in the cafe, there are manicured areas, a duck pond and wild woodland as well as a maze.
Kids will love the adventure playground and castle hidden in the woodland. Keep an eye out for the bridge and woodland swing, as well as magical fairytale carvings scattered through the wood. Painswick Rococo Garden runs trails for kids to follow and special events such as outdoor theatre performances in the summer months.
Once you’re done looking around the gardens the on site cafe serves good food. Read more about visiting Painswick Rococo Garden here.
When to visit Painswick Rococo Garden: Any time of year except November and December. The snowdrops are lovely in the January, daffodils and bluebells pop out in spring, and the summer and autumn colours are lovely. Check the website for opening times.
Suitable for: All ages.
Westonbirt Arboretum, near Tetbury
Westonbirt is the National Arboretum and covers an extensive area. There are 17 miles of paths to explore! There’s the Silk Wood (which is a dog-friendly area) which is not as structured as the Old Arboretum area, and an area of open grassland.
One of the main features at Westonbirt is its fabulous treetop walkway. This structure takes you up into the trees for a closer look at what’s happening in the canopy. Older kids can get stuck into the biology of trees (there’s loads of information displayed along the walkway) while little ones will love clambering up as high as they can. You can take daily guided walks from springtime onwards. There are plenty of kids’ activities in the school holidays, especially crafts, trails, and other activities. Some of these may need to be pre-booked.
Kids will love the Gruffalo and Gruffalo’s Child trails through the woodland. Try to spot all the animals from the book! The Gruffalo is quite big though, and very little ones might be a bit wary; my son needed a cuddle from grandpa when he met the Gruffalo! Otherwise, this arboretum is a great place to just let the kids run loose and explore by themselves without too many structured activities.
When to visit Westonbirt Arboretum: Any time of year – my personal favourite is autumn for the incredible colours on the Japanese maples and the delicious scent of toffee trees.
Suitable for: All ages, the paths are buggy friendly.
Visiting the Cotswolds with kids: Know before you go
Getting there and away
I will recommend that you have a car while you’re in the Cotswolds. While it’s easy to reach the Cotswolds by train from London Paddington (trains run to Moreton in Marsh, Kemble, Cheltenham and Bath Spa among others) public transport in the Cotswolds is lacking. You won’t be able to get to many of the above attractions without a car and taxis are horrifically expensive.
The Cotswolds lie on two motorways – the M4 and the M5 – which makes the area easily accessible from other parts of the country and London in particular. It’s about an hour and a half to two hours from London to Cirencester for example.
You can also reach the Cotswolds by bus. The National Express has departures from London Victoria Bus Station to Cirencester and Bath via Heathrow Airport.
The best places to stay in the Cotswolds with kids
You are definitely not short of options on where to stay in the Cotswolds! You can choose from large towns or small villages, or stay right out in the countryside – the choice is yours. We would advise booking as far in advance as possible.
Here is a brief selection of some of the best places to stay in the Cotswolds.
The most convenient town we recommend is Cirencester, which is located in the middle of the Cotswolds and just a few minutes from the M4 motorway, making it easy to reach from London by car. Cirencester has plenty to do and all the amenities that you could possibly need during your stay. You can reach all of the above attractions in an hour or less from Cirencester.
One of the main hotels in Cirencester is the newly refurbished King’s Head Hotel and Spa Cirencester, right in the centre of town. It’s a boutique hotel, full of character, with a great welcoming bar and a restaurant. Children are welcome and extra beds can be put in the rooms. Check prices and availability here.
Near Cirencester you could try 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.
You can 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.
The beautiful city of Bath is one of the best in the UK and is a great place to stay. The only caveat I’d place on basing yourself in Bath is that some of the above attractions are quite far away at the other end of the Cotswolds, so they could take a while to get to; for example Stratford Upon Avon would be a good couple of hours away by car.
However, you’ll also find plenty of things to do from Bath that aren’t in the Cotswolds, such as taking a trip to see the caves at Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole; England’s smallest (and most beautiful) city, Wells; visit the Neolithic Stonehenge; or meet the animals at Longleat House and Safari Park.
The Roseate Villa is a small boutique hotel next to Henrietta Park, with beautifully decorated, light rooms. Family rooms can be made up. You can eat breakfast here, and there’s a bar on site. Click here to book your stay.
A reliable budget hotel chain is Premier Inn. We’ve used them all over the UK; their family rooms are a good size and beds are comfy. Click here to book the Bath hotel which is located right in the city centre.
SACO Apartments are in the middle of Bath and have a two bed option which is perfect for families. There’s living and dining spaces as well as kitchens so you’ll have everything you need. Click here to check prices and availability.
Bourton on the Water
Bourton on the Water is a great location in the Cotswolds, if you’d like to feel a little more rural than Cirencester or Bath but still have a good choice of amenities on your doorstep. The town has plenty of accommodation options.
Bourton on the Water has some great things to do, especially for children. There are a couple in the above list but there’s even more to see. Nearby you’ll find the Cotswold Farm Park, Stow on the Wold, the Slaughters and more. Like Cirencester, Bourton on the Water is fairly centrally located.
Read our guide to Bourton on the Water here.
Have we missed your favourite place in the Cotswolds out? Let us know; we’ll visit and update this page!