How to spend a budget friendly week in the Cotswolds with kids
The quaint chocolate box villages of the Cotswolds have long been associated with romantic weekend breaks and celebrities escaping big city living for Instagram perfect paradise. Aside from these simple cliches however, the Cotswolds remain a popular choice for visitors of all ages at any time of the year.
Thanks to its excellent transport links connecting much of the UK, a vast and varied choice of accommodation options as well as a huge variety of tourist attractions to choose from, the Cotswolds ticks all the boxes for a budget friendly getaway with the kids.
Why choose to stay in the Cotswolds with kids
The Cotswolds region covers 787 square miles, is the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK as well as being the third largest National Park, after the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. The boundaries of the Cotswolds are roughly 25 miles across and 90 miles long; stretching across six counties, mainly Gloucestershire with the main administrative hub being Cirencester.
The area is defined by the limestone bedrock in which it sits; this golden stone is unique to the Cotswolds and is what gives the buildings their distinctive appearance. Tourism is of huge importance to this region and brings in over £373 million in a normal year from accommodation alone and a further £157 million from local attractions.
Staying close to the larger towns of Cheltenham, with its proximity to the M5 or further North in and around Stratford-Upon-Avon, serviced by the M40 will allow for a quicker journey time from the North and a greater range of amenities on your doorstep. Within 30 minutes of both Stratford and Cheltenham, you can be deep into the countryside exploring the distinctive honey-coloured Cotswold stone villages and visiting the many tourist attractions dotted around this region.
If travelling from the South and Southeast, the villages closer to Oxford and Bath serviced by the M4 and M5 may be a more convenient journey. Popular Cotswold villages with good transport links include Castle Combe, Chipping Norton and Tetbury.
Our home away from home in Winchcombe – Abbot’s Cottage
The delightfully quaint yet fully functioning village of Winchcombe, a short 15 minute drive from Cheltenham, was our home for a week’s holiday in the Cotswolds with kids.
The adorable Abbot’s Cottage, a small yet perfectly formed pale-stone holiday home on the main drag was everything we could have hoped for. Modern yet traditional, having enjoyed a recent refurbishment, the original quirky features remain in this pocket-size listed building. This property is newly available to rent via Sykes, follow the handy link at the end of this article for more information on prices.
The cottage had all the quirky touches: wooden beams, Cotswold stone walls and inglenook fireplace featuring a traditional log burner. The sparkling modern kitchen, plush soft furnishings and Scandi-style touches however gave it an understated feel that felt homely yet luxurious.
Sleeping four in two double bedrooms, the cottage had a small bathroom, lounge, downstairs toilet, and open-plan kitchen/diner. There was also an elevated outside terrace with seating, taking in the stunning views of the hills behind.
Although there was no parking directly outside the cottage, due to its central location, free on-street parking was available easily within a five minute walk as well as a reasonable priced long-stay car park nearby. We never had a problem parking a short walk away at the edge of the village.
As a family of four with two young children, we really appreciated the added extras that came as standard: Netflix TV, WiFi, a washing machine and dishwasher. The log burner was a real novelty for us and although the cottage was easy and quick to heat with central heating, cosying up around the fire every night was a lovely bonus. Logs for the fire were easy to buy in the village and the newsagents opposite was ideal for any last-minute essentials.
The only mild negative of the property was the lack of free-standing shower; the roll top bath was brilliant for the kids, and it did have a hand-held shower attachment, but we did miss the opportunity to dash into a quick shower! Also, a steep staircase would make it a little stressful for those with younger children and there were some low beams; something to be expected in a 300-year old cottage. A highchair, travel cot and bed guard were available free of charge, by prior arrangement.
Winchcombe – the ideal base to explore the Cotswolds with kids
Winchcombe itself is the ideal base to explore much of the Cotswolds with kids, sitting just a stone’s throw from the amenities of bustling Cheltenham yet only a short drive from the touristic villages of Broadway and Stow-on-the-Wold. It feels accessible and rural in equal parts. The Winchcombe Way passes close by, and the village is awash with walkers every hour of the day; with so many walking routes that pass around and through the village, it is popular with walking enthusiasts year-round.
The main high street and offshoots are scattered with whimsical antique shops, a museum, locally-run convenience stores and independent eateries including four cosy country pubs. On the outskirts of the village, there is a well-stocked Co-op for a bigger weekly shop and Hayles Fruit Farm within easy reach to pick up some of the region’s famous apple juice and cider. The famous Sudeley Castle sits on the outskirts of the village, a short 1/2 mile walk from the high street and the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway passes just outside the centre.
We visited the Cotswolds in Autumn which felt like the perfect time to see it at its best; the spectrum of colours was simply breathtaking with the low sunlight reflecting on the Cotswold stone, a real photographer’s dream. When visiting the Cotswolds with kids at any time of the year, there are so many wonderful walks, attractions, and day trips to keep them occupied. They don’t all have to cost a fortune either!
On our week in Winchcombe, the weather was mild yet a little unsettled, so we mixed up our days exploring local landmarks, taking child-friendly walks, and visiting some of the picture-postcard villages of the North Cotswolds. Below I have provided a roundup of our tried and tested family days out while visiting the Cotswolds with kids this October half-term.
Budget-friendly days out in the Cotswolds with kids
Pittville Park - this huge municipal park and playground is one of the best we’ve visited anywhere in the UK, paise indeed! We have visited this park on every occasion that we have been in the Cotswolds with kids and will continue to do so until they are too old.
The enclosed play area is modern and massive, featuring numerous wooden climbing frames for all ages, water and sand play, zip lines, swings, and accessible play equipment. Over the road there is an impressive skate park, boating lake and next to the playground, an aviary, toilets, and kiosk (open daily).
The magnificent Pittville Pump Room serves as the grandest survivor of Cheltenham’s spa regency buildings. The newly opened Heritage Deco Cafe serves daily with views out over the parkland and ornamental lake. This safe space is ideal for children to blow off steam with trees to climb, a bandstand to put on a ‘show’ and accessible, paved pathways suitable for prams, scooters, and wheelchairs.
Hayles Fruit Farm - this refreshingly non-commercialised offering is tucked away off the busy Broadway Road in the hamlet of Hailes. On the short 2 mile drive from Winchcombe to the fruit farm, you pass a pretty Norman church and directly opposite, the English Heritage Hailes Abbey.
Hayles Fruit Farm is a family-owned business of mixed fruit occupying 134 acres of rolling countryside. The on-site farm shop is a must, as is the traditional Tearooms open daily from 9am serving breakfast, lunch, and delicious cakes.
Snowshill Manor - when visiting a new area on holiday, I always ensure I check the map for any National Trust properties nearby. As we have a family membership, a trip to a National Trust house and/or gardens makes for an inexpensive few hours out. You can always guarantee a level of amenities, with good toilet facilities, picnic benches and often, a cafe.
Snowshill Manor is located in the sleepy hamlet of Snowshill, a 20 minute drive from Winchcombe through Broadway. The house was home to the eccentric Charles Wade, who possessed a passion for collecting unusual objects and interesting finds. The large Manor House, outbuildings, garden and orchards are filled with quirky nods to its previous inhabitant’s love of arts and craft including a delightful model village.
After visiting Snowshill Manor, the neighbouring Snowshill Arms is a family-friendly pub worth a stop for a traditional lunch. The playground and beer garden are a huge bonus, especially when visiting with kids, and the roaring open fires welcome you in during the cooler months. It’s also completely dog-friendly, inside, and out. During the warmer summer months, Snowshill Lavender Farm is a popular visitor attraction as is the nearby Broadway Tower.
Broadway Tower & Deer Parkland - located just outside the pretty Broadway village; the 200 acre parkland features the Tower Museum with roof platform and countless walks through the grounds (currently under renovation). Tickets for which can be booked in advance online, or you can just visit to enjoy the cafe, shop and walks by paying the nominal £3 parking for a 4hr stay.
The elevated views from here are simply phenomenal but it does get cold and very windy due to its open position so wrap up warm. There is an easy 1 mile signed circular walk around the perimeter of the tower as well as countless woodland and National Trust walks adjacent. A quick lunch stop in the Cotswolds with kids is Batsford Arboretum and Garden Centre; a short 20 minute drive from the Broadway Tower.
Although tickets for the Arboretum need to be purchased in advance to walk the landscaped gardens, the adjacent garden centre is free to access, and the cafe possess an excellent outdoor playground. With a raised outdoor decking area, the views across the countryside are beautiful and it makes for a great informal stop for refreshments.
Cleeve Hill - following the signs for Cleeve Hill Golf Club, a short drive from the centre of Cheltenham towards Winchcombe, walkers can park for free in the quarry car park overlooking the golf course and pick up the Cleeve Hill Common Ring circular. Cross-crossing the Cotswolds Way at various parts, the walk is 6 miles in total however it is easy to enjoy shorter sections of the walk while still taking in the incredible views over much of the North Cotswolds.
Cleeve Common is awash with wildflowers and bountiful wildlife that call this limestone grasslands home including adders and copious species of butterfly. On finishing this walk, the Cotswolds Way Cafe close to the car park serves refreshments, while the nearby village of Prestbury is home to a plethora of excellent pubs to refuel: The Royal Oak, The King’s Arms and Plough Inn.
Some more great days out in the Cotswolds with kids
Cheltenham - the thriving centre of Cheltenham is a mere hop, skip and jump from the northern villages of the Cotswolds. With its famous racecourse and palatial regency houses including the breathtaking Royal Crescent, you will feel like you have stepped out of the pages of a Dickensian novel or the set of Bridgerton!
With an excellent shopping and entertainment district featuring The Brewery Quarter, the home of Cineworld, Hollywood Bowl and The Playfarm softplay, there’s plenty to entertain all ages if the weather is bad. With the likes of The Botanist, Mowgli, The Alchemist, Five Guys and Nando’s; you will be spoilt for choice!
Bourton-on-the-Water - having visited the popular village of Bourton-on-the-Water before, we knew we wanted to return on this trip but had not anticipated quite how busy it would be. Nicknamed the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, the River Windrush dissects the main high street with a series of low stone bridges allowing access from one side to another. During the summer, it proves tempting for those looking to cool their feet and around the village, there are numerous tourist attractions to enjoy.
On this visit we prebooked a family ticket to Birdland, which at £40, I thought was relatively reasonable (compared to other similar attractions) although the whole place looked and felt a little tired after presumably, a busy summer season. Birdland Park and Jurassic Park sits in 8 acres of gardens straddling the River Windrush. It offers visitors the opportunity to spot Penguins, Flamingos, Pelicans and Parrots along with 500 other species of bird and surprisingly some dinosaurs too.
The Jurassic Journey trail consists of 50 dinosaurs dotted through the woodland as well as fossil digging at the activity tables. The Park has a playground, café, gift shop, picnic area and animal feeds throughout the day. Within walking distance of Birdland is the Dragonfly Maze, Motor Museum and Model Village offering alternative attractions to suit all ages while also being a short drive from the Cotswolds Farm Park is a must-see.
Cotswolds Farm Park - a ten-minute drive from Bourton on the Water, taking a slight de-tour through Upper and Lower Slaughter for some picture-postcard views, will have you arrive at the Cotswolds Farm Park owned and run by Adam Henson. This extensive rare-breeds farm is easily a full-day day out, suitable for children of all ages and fun whatever the weather.
There is the opportunity to take a pony ride, explore the wildlife trails and enjoy the countless indoor/outdoor activities on offer, including soft play for rainy days. My children loved the inflatable pillow and ride on tractors as well as the opportunity to feed so many different and unusual animals. Although pricey, it is an absolutely must when visiting the Cotswolds with kids; take a picnic to keep the costs down and make a full day of it.
Cotswolds Wildlife Park - if you fancy your animals a little wilder then the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens; home to Lions, Giraffes and Zebras, is a further 30-minute drive close to the picturesque village of Burford and a real must-see. This extensive wild animal park supports a thriving education initiative, endangered species breeding programme and supports several vital conservation projects across the world.
The impressive Victorian Manor house at the centre of the park includes a manicured walled garden and landscaped lawns. There is an onsite restaurant, picnic areas as well as an exciting adventure playground and miniature railway.
Stratford Upon Avon - famous for its literary links, this historic market town is perfect for budding historians and Shakespeare obsessed bigger kids. Spend time soaking up the sights and buildings associated with William Shakespeare including Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s Mother and Shakespeare’s own birthplace. Anne Hathaway’s cottage is located merely a mile away in Shottery and is also worth a visit.
The Canal Basin is a lovely spot to sit and walk along the River Avon whilst taking in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Boat tours can also be arranged through Canal and River Tours. The town itself is bustling with a vast array of souvenir shops and family-friendly restaurants to pick from, it is also the ideal base to explore the Cotswolds as you can easily access the outlying villages within a 20 minute drive of the centre of Stratford.