During our rare gaps between house sitting assignments, we absolutely LOVE exploring! With no house or pet responsibilities, we go all-in on seeing as much of a new place as we can and enjoying some time just the two of us. The Cotswolds is one of those places that has absolutely boomed in popularity in recent years – mostly due to the abundance of social media content showing its quintessentially British stone cottages and pretty scenery. While we usually prefer to avoid tourist hot spots, choosing to explore unknown places instead, back in January we decided to see what all the fuss was about and booked a few nights in the area. Having already visited Castle Combe on multiple occasions over the years, we made a map of all the places we’d heard so much about but not yet visited…

We arrived at our Airbnb in the evening and spent some time looking over our plans, taking note of the weather and figuring out which places were closer together and therefore how we could fit it all in! If you’ve been looking to explore the area yourself, hitting up all the most Instagrammable places in the Cotswolds, here’s how we did it all in 48 hours:

Day 1: Bibury, Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, Honington

We based ourselves at an Airbnb just outside Chipping Campden, which was the perfect location to easily reach the places we wanted to visit. Arriving at our accommodation the day before was essential as we hit the ground running on the first day of our trip, and headed to Bibury. Here you’ll find two of the most photographed spots in the Cotswolds – The Swan Hotel, and Arlington Row. There is a small area for parking just the other side of the bridge from The Swan Hotel where we found a space – we imagine in Summer this would be more difficult! There’s also on-street parking further along the main road, but we chose this little spot as it was perfect for admiring the Hotel. From here it’s a short walk along the river to Arlington Row. In the summer this picture-perfect row of houses is overrun with tourists, but when we visited we had the entire street to ourselves which made for a much more pleasant experience.

Afterwards we spent a short time in Burford, where the main road is set on a hill, with two rows of houses either side the road leading to the main part of the village at the foot of the hill. Though Burford has an array of sweet countryside shops, as well as a few independent cafes and pubs, we chose to head on to our next stop for lunch…

…At Stow-on-the-Wold, another popular spot for photographers. Here you’ll find the beautifully ornate door on the side of St. Edward’s Church that, rumour has it, inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Doors of Durin in Lord of the Rings. Whether the rumour is based in any fact is unknown, but it’s such a magical place we can see why people think it could be! There are SO many little hidden gems in Stow-on-the-Wold, with its cobblestone alleyways and quaint shops tucked away along winding streets. We enjoyed stopping at Lucy’s tea room for a cuppa with a spot of lunch, watching passersby from the window seat.

Full of yummy food and ready to see more beautiful places, we headed into Chipping Campden to explore the town and stroll around the pretty residential streets. The residential area, just off the main high street, is made up of thatched cottages featuring little animals woven into their design, as well as sculpted topiary. It’s incredibly peaceful – a real oasis of tranquil countryside living. In contrast to the cottage-lined roads, the main street of Chipping Campden is bustling with life! The buildings in this market town date back to the 14th century and as such are full of character. We paused for a slice of delicious cake at The Bantam Tearooms to soak up the atmosphere, and got chatting to a local couple enjoying a cup of tea – they had an adorable dog called Walter who received lots of head scritches and belly rubs from us!

Tearing ourselves away from doggo cuddles, and becoming increasingly aware of the fading daylight, we set off for our last stop of the day. This was a quick one, as we drove to the sleepy village of Honington to admire one place in particular – Rose Cottage. The cottage is truly straight off a British countryside postcard – if you asked someone to draw a picture of a quintessential British cottage from memory, Rose Cottage is what they would draw. Admiring this beautiful home at sunset made it all the more magical, and it was definitely worth the quick stop before we headed back to our accommodation.

Rose Cottage at Honington

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Day 2: Bourton-on-Water, Lower Slaughter, Broadway, Snowshill

Getting up and out early for our second and final day in the Cotswolds proved to be worth it, as we visited two of the most popular destinations in the Cotswolds – Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter. In Summer these two pretty villages would be overrun with tourists, but we had them almost completely to ourselves! It was so lovely to stroll through the streets and barely see another person – it meant we could admire the beautiful Old Mill at Lower Slaughter at our leisure, and enjoy the peace and quiet of these two picturesque villages. Come lunchtime, however, Bourton-on-the-Water was bustling with people and we just managed to nab the last indoor table at the gorgeous Bakery on the Water! After filling our bellies with warming pasties and hot chocolate, we took a slow stroll along the roads to visit some of the local shops that appear to be frozen in time, and walk the bridges across the river filled with ducks. Mostly though, we just daydreamed about living in one of the houses on the water!

From here we drove a short distance to Broadway village (you’ll find if you plan your trip well enough, every stop is just a short car ride away!). We popped in to the main street to visit some of the local shops (if you haven’t noticed by now – the Cotswolds is full of quaint little shops in each village!) before heading away to the deserted residential streets lined with more archetypal Cotswolds cottages, including Cruck Cottage. We made a beeline for this one in particular for its classic style, but upon more research we’ve learned that you can book a stay in this cottage as it is holiday accommodation! (Though we’d happily stay in any of the beautiful houses here!!) 

Just before we lost all daylight, we drove to our very last stop on our 48 hour trip – Snowshill – to admire St Barnabas Church in the dying sunlight. It’s around an 8 minute walk from the free car park, just outside the village, to the centre. We saw only one other couple as we made our way there, and when we arrived at the Church it was deserted. Gazing out over the view from the top of the hill in this tiny village (the population of which is just 164!) made for the perfect tranquil end to our whistlestop trip.

Our top tips for visiting the Cotswolds: 

When to visit

We booked our short trip in January, and found we had all the places we wanted to visit and photograph almost entirely to ourselves. This is the benefit of visiting in winter – despite colder temperatures and some foliage not being out (for example, the climbing leaves on The Swan Hotel in Bibury) you’ll enjoy a more peaceful trip. Being able to pop in to a village, quickly find a parking space, and easily explore without hoards of tourists getting in frame of all our pictures was ideal, and we could enjoy each place at leisure.

Get out early

We’d still recommend getting up and out if you want to see all the pretty places! Some walks took longer than we anticipated as we kept stopping to admire the surroundings, and while some villages didn’t live up to our expectations, others far exceeded them and we spent more time there than we’d planned for. Make sure you can still enjoy your trip at a relaxing pace, instead of having to rush around.

Be respectful

One thing that Instagram photos don’t show you is that many houses now have ‘No Photography’ signs on their gates and doors. In some cases, Arlington Row for example, home owners had put locks on their front gates due to tourists trying to get a cutesy shot entering up their garden path. It was a real shame for us to see that this has now become a necessity in parts of the Cotswolds.

We’re sure the residents are used to it by now, but it should go without saying that you should keep your distance if you are photographing homes, out of respect for the owners, and NEVER let yourself onto their property! At one home in Chipping Campden, a resident waved at us through their window as we took pictures of their thatched cottage, and when we realised and said ‘Sorry!’ with an apologetic wave, they just laughed and waved back. In case not everyone is so understanding, err on the side of caution and consider just how many times they’ve had to feature in tourist photographs that day!

Driving is essential

To see all the gorgeous places in the Cotswolds, whether in a 48 hour trip or longer, you’ll need a car. Trying to navigate public transport or arrange taxi transportation will be a nightmare, as the villages aren’t easily connected, and taxi journeys will soon make your trip very expensive. The main towns have car parks, though we imagine these fill up quickly in Summer (all the more reason to get up and get out!), but be prepared to walk further in the small, picturesque villages as parking can be hard to come by. Again, be respectful and make sure you’re not parking illegally, or in a resident’s parking area.

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