We continue our series of guides to some of the most popular British counties for families with our pick of 10 things to do in the Cotswolds with kids.
There’s a lot more to the Cotswolds than black Range Rovers and the Chipping Norton set. Despite what the press may say, the odds of having your Sunday lunch disturbed by the former Prime Minister and Alex James discussing cheese over a bitter shandy are mercifully small, and a family break among the stunning Cotswold hills and honey-coloured houses is every bit as good as the hype. We pick the go-to activities to enjoy with kids in tow, from farm shops and miniature villages to wildlife, walking and the quintessential Sunday pub lunch. Just remember to dunk your wellies in some mud; nothing marks you out as an urban day tripper quicker than a pristine pair of Hunters.
10 things to do in the Cotswolds with kids
FARM PARK: The family farm of Countryfile presenter Adam Henson, the Cotswold Farm Park is a much-loved attraction with over 50 flocks and herds of rare breed animals and stacks of family activities. It runs a busy daily schedule of events for kids including farm walks, bottle feeding, sheep shearing, tractor school and a farm safari ride. There’s also an adventure playground, maze and plenty of eating options – from picnic spots to Adam’s Kitchen and a bistro open in high season.
COUNTRY WALK: For those looking for an easy stroll with children you can’t beat the mile long walk between two of the area’s prettiest villages: Upper and Lower Slaughter. The footpath follows the River Eye and crosses open fields and is easy terrain to manage with small people. Make it a round trip from Lower Slaughter and congratulate yourself with afternoon tea at Lower Slaughter Manor (if your children are of the well behaved variety) or ice cream from the riverside Old Mill tea rooms.
WILDLIFE PARK: Just south of Burford, The Cotswold Wildlife Park is set in 160 acres of landscaped parkland and boasts a fantastic collection of animals: from the elusive red panda and asiatic lions to tapirs and the magnificent white rhinos (Ruby, Nancy, Monty and little Astrid born in 2013) strolling in front of the manor house. The raised open viewing platform in the giraffe enclosure allows you to see eye to eye with them and there is a daily line-up of ‘animal encounters’ (including feeding) for kids. Two excellent playgrounds and a train that tours the grounds all add to the appeal. The restaurant gets very busy in the summer months – pack a picnic instead or, better still, combine it with a trip to the nearby Five Alls in Filkins or The Swan in Southrop.
SHOP: To call it a garden centre is an understatement. The Burford Garden Company is a mecca for locals and visitors alike and it is all too easy to lose several hours (and several weeks’ salary) there on a sunny afternoon. Although still very much one of Britain’s best nurseries, the plants and trees are only a small part of the picture nowadays and there are stylish homewares, outdoor furniture, an art gallery, café and an exceptionally well-sourced kids toy shop to explore too. The food hall is stocked with fresh produce grown on site as well as local, British and European delicacies. If you can get the kids out of the toy shop there are chickens to peer at in the small holding section and a popular playground.
ARBORETUM: Westonbirt, The National Arboretum (near Tetbury) covers some 600 acres and you’d be hard pressed to find a better (or more spectacular) place to let kids blow off steam on a warm day. Home to over 15,000 species of tree and plant, there are play areas and a series of self-guided adventure trails for kids aged 5-11. Kids go free from 21 July to 31 August and there is a schedule of summer holiday activities. If you’re further East, head to the smaller but very pretty Batsford Arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh.
THE FARM SHOP: The flagship outpost of the growing Daylesford Organic empire needs no introduction – famously dubbed “the Ferrari of farmshops” by The Times, it is firmly on the radar of most weekenders. But’s there is a lot more to Daylesford than retail therapy (although good luck leaving the beautifully edited homewares and garden shops empty-handed). Sustainable, organic farming is at the heart of what Daylesford does – it was recently awarded ‘Most Environmentally Friendly Farm in the UK’ – and walking trails through the busy working farm are open to the public year-round. Tractor tours and market garden visits take place through the year and there are Pick Your Own strawberry events during the summer. The annual Summer and Harvest Festivals (in May and September respectively) are an absolute must for families. Just don’t leave without having pizza and prosecco from the outdoor counter in the summer.
WATER PARK: No, not the type with flumes but rather 150 interconnecting lakes in the southern Cotswolds, which offer pretty much every outdoor pursuit you can imagine, from angling and watersports to walking, birdwatching to biking. It’s a great place to base yourself for a long weekend dedicated to the outdoors (stay at one of the Lakes by Yoo rentals) and perfect if you fancy having a go at fishing. The inland beach at the Cotswold Country Park is very popular but the parking is extortionate and a combination of the crowds, the bouncy castles and zorb balls make for a less than relaxing experience. We say stick to the riverside walks and activities in the rest of the (enormous) park instead.
THE VILLAGE: You certainly won’t be the only people in Bourton-on-the Water during the summer so take advantage of early rising kids and go early before the tour buses arrive. While there are equally beautiful and less touristy options, if you do have to pick just one picture-perfect village with children in tow, make it this one – its proximity to the wonderfully crafted Miniature Village (pictured above), Dragonfly Maze, Model Railway and the brilliant Birdland (complete with penguins, pelicans and flamingos) makes it a perfect choice for combining boredom-busting activities with some classic Cotswolds sightseeing, mandatory bridge photography and tea room indulgence.
HORSE RIDING: If equestrian pursuits are your bag, head to where the locals teach their kids to ride. Barton End Equestrian Centre near Stroud offers lessons for all abilities (and even has a horse simulator for particularly nervous first timers) but hacking through the nearby fields, streams, woods and bridle paths is the real attraction and both group and private hacks, including to the pub, can be organised.
THE RAINY DAY SAVIOUR: A soft play centre on a small industrial estate is not somewhere we would ordinarily advise spending quality family time. But Magicland in Cirencester has long been a rainy day life-saver for Gloucestershire parents and it’s a useful back pocket option if the Great British weather lets you down.
Making a weekend of it?
Mr Fox Eats at: Weekend lunch at The Five Alls in Filkins. For fuelling after the Westonbirt Arboretum, head to The Trouble House, near Tetbury. For a glorious view of the Evenlode Valley, a sprawling lawn and award-winning food book ahead at The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote. Locals head to the Horse and Groom in Bourton-on-the-Hill for excellent seasonal pub food (no dogs, no highchairs but a lovely garden).
Mr Fox Stays at: Contemporary Cotswold chic at Dormy House Hotel in Broadway. Perennial family favourite Cowley Manor. The Wild Rabbit in Kingham (above) – the family room has a separate floor with bunkbeds. The swish but unashamedly child-friendly Calcot Manor. And the cabins and cottages at Farm House – the much vaunted outpost of Soho House in Great Tew – are family weekender perfection. Call now and you might just get a room in autumn 2025….
Compiled by Kate Douglas-Hamilton. With thanks to Daisy Finer.