30 free things to do in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is one of the most picturesque places in Britain.

The area showcases the British countryside at its breathtaking best. It’s home to a fantastic range of ‘chocolate box’ villages, gorgeous sights, scenic walks and intriguing historical monuments. Plus, the great news is that you can enjoy a break in The Cotswolds without spending a single penny. Here’s our guide to 30 of the best free things to do in The Cotswolds and the surrounding areas*.

1. Museum in the Park

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by @museuminthepark

The Museum in the Park in Stroud regularly hosts free workshops, exhibitions and events that the whole family can enjoy. The museum is set in the grounds of Stratford Park, which is a Grade II listed 17th century mansion house. The museum contains over 4,000 objects and famous painters like Mark Stopforth and photographers such as David Corio often exhibit here, too. There’s even a walled garden to explore.

  • Address: Stratford Park, Stratford Road, Stroud, GL5 4AF. Opening times here.
  • Driving distance from our Stonehouse hotel: 13 minutes.

2. Jet Age Museum

The Jet Age Museum celebrates the best of Gloucestershire’s rich aviation history. You can learn more about the early days of flight, sit in the cockpit of a plane and have your photograph taken with works that are currently under restoration. Popular exhibits include a Hawker Hurricane from World War Two and the Gloster Meteor.

  • Meteor Business Park, Cheltenham Road East, Gloucester, GL2 9QL. Opening times here.
  • Driving distance from our Gloucester hotel: 15 minutes.

3. Tewksbury Museum

A visit to the Tewkesbury Museum will help you learn more about the rich history of the town. The museum is housed in a 17th century building and the collection of artefacts includes everything from Roman remains to relics of wartime austerity. It’s a great space for kids too because it’s full of activities that will keep them absorbed for hours.

  • Address: 64 Barton Street, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, GL20 5PX. Opening times here.
  • Walking distance from our Tewkesbury hotel: 28 minutes.

4. Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History welcomes over 800,000 visitors every single year. Although it sits a little outside the Cotswolds, it’s easily accessible and the museum is home to an impressive collection of zoological and geological finds. Expect to see extinct dodos, dinosaurs that used to roam around Oxfordshire and an impressive whale skeleton.

5. The Ashmolean Museum

Similarly, The Ashmolean is arguably the best museum in Oxford. It brings together temporary and historical collections under one roof, with highlights including drawings by Michelangelo and paintings by Picasso. Many exhibitions are free but some collections require a small fee to enter. If you’re passionate about art and history, this is the place to be.

6. Tewkesbury Abbey

Tewkesbury Abbey is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. Not only is the abbey a great example of Norman architecture, but it’s also beautifully preserved. As you wander around the nave, you can learn more about the abbey’s history and look at the ornate stained-glass windows. You’re also welcome to stay for a service, and you can wander freely in the gardens.

  • Address: Church Street, Tewkesbury GL20 5RZ. Opening times and service times here.
  • Walking distance from our Tewkesbury hotel: 34 minutes.

7. Moreton in Marsh Market

The Moreton-in-Marsh outdoor market is the largest street market in The Cotswolds. It’s incredibly popular with tourists visiting the area and huge coaches of people often pull up to see the local traders who sell everything from leather goods to pet products. The market is held every Tuesday and visiting is a great excuse to see this quintessentially British town.

  • Address: High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire GL56 0AZ.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 23 minutes.

8. Cleeve Hill Circular Walk

If you’re searching for impressive views, look no further than Cleeve Hill. On the 6-mile-long Cleeve Hill Circular walk, you’ll encounter plenty of rare plants and birds. But, prepare to be enchanted when you reach the summit, which looks out over The Malverns. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Wales.

  • Address: Southam, Cheltenham GL54 4EU.
  • Driving distance from our Cheltenham hotel: 24 minutes.

9. Cheltenham Craft Market

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Joseph William (@jwod7)

The Cheltenham Craft Market was established in 2008 and aims to support talented arts and crafts people from all over the Cotswolds. It takes place every third Saturday of the month and you can expect to find all sorts of gifts, homewares and hand-made goods. It’s particularly popular with families due to the range of children’s toys available and it’s the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.

  • Address: Promenade, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1PJ.
  • Driving distance from our Cheltenham hotel: 12 minutes.

10. Cornbury Park Walk

The Cornbury Park Estate is home to Lord and Lady Rotherwick. The estate itself is beautiful and, when you arrive, you can roam the public footpaths that wind though over 1,700 acres of parkland. If you like, you can even venture into the ancient Wychwood Forest. Once you’ve finished exploring, the nearby town of Charlbury is a fantastic place to visit for a pub lunch.

  • Address: Cornbury Park OX7 3HL.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 14 minutes.

11. Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral caters for adults and children alike. You can climb the tower, take part in a family-friendly activity, explore the cloisters or see the tomb of Edward II. As well as being a stunning place to visit, the cathedral is also open for services and it even hosts community events.

  • Address: 12 College Green, Gloucester GL1 2LX. Opening times and service times here.
  • Walking distance from our Gloucester hotel: 15 minutes.

12. Painswick Beacon Walk

Painswick Beacon is a favourite with the locals. As you walk along the five-mile loop, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. From the top, you’ll receive an outstanding panorama of the entire county below. Just make sure you take your camera because the views from the summit are certainly Instagram-worthy.

  • Address: New St, Painswick, Stroud GL6 6UT.
  • Driving distance from our Stonehouse hotel: 14 minutes.

13. St Edward’s Church

The doorway to St. Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold is so beautiful that many believe it inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Doors of Durin. Walk through them and it feels like you’re about to be transported to a mythical world. On the inside, the building is a fantastic mixture of architectural styles. While some furnishings date back to the 1000s, some are as recent as the 1600s.

  • Address: 2 Crossways House, The Square, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cheltenham GL54 1AB. Opening times and service times here.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 17 minutes.

14. Cirencester Park

If you love long walks then Cirencester Park is the place for you. The land is owned by the 9th Earl and Countess Bathurst, but they’ve kindly opened it up to the public. The grounds are crossed by wide avenues and, if you visit on a Sunday, you may even catch a polo match.

  • Address: The Bathurst Estate, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 6LA.
  • Driving distance from our Cirencester hotel: 12 minutes.

15. Traverse Cotswold Way

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Christine Wright (@soprano3)

The Cotswold Way is arguably one of the most famous walks in Britain. Starting in Chipping Campden, it stretches for over 100 miles before it finally finishes in Bath. Although some people do walk the entirety of The Cotswold Way, this takes several days. Thankfully, the trail is well marked with circular routes, so it’s easy to plan a walk that suits your fitness.

16. Broadway Activity Park

Energetic kids love Broadway Activity Park. The park is divided into four specific areas for kids of all ages, with grassland separating each section. Expect to find see-saws, climbing poles, spinners and even a skate ride simulation. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon and enjoy some family-friendly fun.

  • Address: 69 High Street, Broadway WR12 7DP.
  • Driving distance from our Tewkesbury hotel: 24 minutes.

17. Chipping Camden Walking Tour

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Nigel Wood (@nigelwood1970)

The Cotswolds is packed with beautiful towns and villages that you can explore for free. One of the best of these is Chipping Campden, which has its own child-friendly walking tour. It’s charming and unspoilt here and, as you wander around, you’ll encounter Elizabethan, Georgian, Jacobean and Victorian architecture. Perhaps it’s no wonder that it’s regularly voted as having ‘the most perfect high street in England’.

18. Paddle on Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most charming villages in The Cotswolds. It’s located on the River Windrush and, because the water passes directly through the heart of the village, it’s known as ‘The Venice of The Cotswolds’. The river is tranquil and fed by springs. This means it’s a great place for kids to paddle and for the whole family to enjoy a picnic on the banks.

  • Address: High Street, Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham GL54 2AP.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 18 minutes.

19. Walk the Thames Path

Although we associate the Thames River with London, the river’s source is in the Cotswold Hills. From here, it stretches for over 180 miles until it reaches the sea. As you walk along The Thames Path, you’ll encounter peaceful meadows and unspoilt rural villages. Plenty of pubs also line the route, so it’s easy to stop for a meal and a well-deserved pint after your walk.

  • Address: Trewsbury Mead, Kemble GL7 6NY.
  • Driving distance from our Cirencester hotel: 13 minutes.

20. Watch the Tetbury Wool Sack Races

The Tetbury Wool Sack Race is a highlight of the local calendar. Every year, teams of four run in relays carrying heavy sacks of wool up Gumstool Hill. It’s free to watch and there’s plenty of entertainment on offer for spectators, including food stalls and entertainment. Over 5,000 people attend each year and help raise money for charity.

  • Address: Gumstool Hill, Tetbury GL8 8DG. Event information here.
  • Driving distance from our Cirencester hotel: 20 minutes.

21. Pittville Park

Pittville Park is the largest ornamental park in Cheltenham and it’s divided into two sections. The eastern side is perfect for families. Not only does it overlook the beautiful pump room, but it also has a vast play area for kids that includes a sand and water play area. The second section features an impressive lake, more play areas and a skate park.

  • Address: Evesham Road, Cheltenham GL51 9JZ.
  • Driving distance from our Cheltenham hotel: 13 minutes.

22. Cotswold Water Park

Cotswold Water Park includes over 170 lakes and it’s the perfect destination for families who fancy an adventure. You can cycle and explore the area, watch any of the 20,000 wintering waterbirds or go for an open-water swim. If you really want to make a day of it, there are some paid-for activities too, such as the bathing beach.

  • Address: Rigsby’s Ln, Cirencester GL7 6FJ.
  • Driving distance from our Cirencester hotel: 15 minutes.

23. Kilkenny Lane Country Park

Kilkenny Lane Country Park is a popular location with walkers, joggers and relaxers alike. This is because the dedicated footpaths mean you can visit without getting muddy. Plus, kids can blow off some steam on the adventure play area, which has been designed to stimulate the mind as well as the body. They’ll love the zip-wire, swings and slide.

  • Address: Elmhurst Way, Carterton, Oxfordshire OX18 1EY.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 8 minutes.

24. Greystones Farm Nature Reserve

Just outside Bourton-on-the-Water, you’ll find Greystones Farm Nature Reserve. This family-friendly place is a great location to take the kids because they’ll be endlessly entertained by the Discovery Barn and the Iron Age Roundhouse. Plus, there are plenty of beautiful walks you can try if you’re feeling active. There’s also a café for when you’re feeling peckish.

  • Address: Greystones Lane, Bourton-on-the-Water GL54 2EN. Opening times here.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 19 minutes.

25. See ‘The Most Romantic Street in Britain’

Lower Slaughter is one of the prettiest ‘chocolate box’ villages in The Cotswolds. But, although the entire village is beautiful, it’s well worth heading to Copse Hill Road, which runs adjacent to the stream. The road is lined with lush green trees and beautiful stone cottages. As a result, it has been voted as ‘the most romantic street in Britain’. Where could be better for a selfie?

  • Address: Copse Hill Road, Lower Slaughter, Cheltenham GL54 2HY.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 19 minutes.

26. Picnic at Coaley Peak

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by G (@gs_walkabouts)

When you venture to Coaley Peak, you’re treated to one of the best views in The Cotswolds. From the viewing point, you can see right across the Severn Vale and across to the Forest of Dean. Due to its location, the site is a great place to watch the sunset. The walk is beautiful but, if you have children with you, then you can park nearby.

  • Address: 21 Rock Road, Dursley GL10 3TP.
  • Driving distance from our Gloucester hotel: 21 minutes.

27. Visit Gloucester Docks

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Marie Hancock (@marievh24)

Gloucester is home to one of the UK’s most inland shipping ports. This popular tourist attraction is completely free to visit and is a great example of a Victorian port. At Gloucester Docks, you can see the fine warehouses, learn more about the port’s history and even take photos of the ships that pass through.

  • Address: Southgate St, Gloucester GL1 2EH.
  • Walking distance from our Gloucester hotel: 5 minutes.

28. Foxholes Nature Reserve

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Paul Quigley (@iggyquiggy)

Throughout spring and summer, Foxholes Nature Reserve is transformed into a sea of bluebells that stretches for as far as the eye can see. As a result, it looks like something from a fairy tale. The entire site slopes towards the picturesque River Evenlode and you’ll see plenty of beautiful butterflies as you wander. As a bonus, the circular Wildlife Walk is clearly signposted and perfect for kids.

29. Stratford River Festival

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Rach (@rachello1990)

For two days in July, Stratford’s riverside comes alive with free events and activities. In 2018, over 70,000 people visited the town to sample the Stratford River Festival. During this free festival, you can listen to bands, watch the illuminated boat parade, try your hand at crafts and take in the fireworks display.

  • Address: Bridge Foot, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6GW. Latest event information here.
  • Driving distance from our Burford Cotswolds hotel: 48 minutes.

30. Bath Christmas Market

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Lisa (@canuckrunningamuck)

If you’re visiting The Cotswolds during the festive season, then take a trip to Bath Christmas market. During December, Bath transforms into a winter wonderland and the Georgian streets become packed with over 150 chalets. You can wander, sample the live music and purchase hand-made goods from any of the stallholders.

  • Address: Bridgwater House 2 Terrace Walk, Bath BA1 1LN. Latest event information here.
  • Driving distance from our Cirencester hotel: 1 hour.

Book your trip to The Cotswolds today

The Cotswolds is a beautiful place to visit and the whole family will fall in love with the beautiful views, welcoming villages and intriguing museums. Our great range of hotels in The Cotswolds will provide a perfect base for your break. So, why not book online today?

*Some of the places included are closed due to COVID-19 at the time of writing. As the situation develops, this information may become out of date. Please refer to the websites of the particular locations for more information. You can look out for further information about Covid-19 and how it’s affecting travel in your area or the locations listed above here:  https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.