Cotswolds in winter: 9 magical things to do
The Cotswolds is a section of the UK that is classified as an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’.
It’s riddled with cobbled towns and surrounded by breathtaking views; it’s the perfect escape from the city.
When a dusting of snow sprinkles the Cotswolds, it feels slightly magical and transforms the entire area into a pocket of winter wonderland that’s hard to beat.
I’ve been lucky enough to have this gorgeous part of the UK previously on my doorstep for a number of years and explored the Cotswolds in winter extensively.
In this guide, we’ll cover a few essential things to know before you visit and then jump into all the best things to do in the area.
At the end of the guide, we’ll cover some recommendations for where to stay, as well as some FAQ’s.
What to know before you visit the Cotswolds in winter
Where in England are the Cotswolds?
The Cotswolds spans over 2000km and sits within 6 counties, predominantly Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.
Driving from the south to the north of the Cotswolds takes roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes, with the majority of the most popular villages being in the central or northern area.
Below is an interactive map so that you can see the exact location.
How to travel to/around the Cotswolds in winter
The best way to travel to and around the Cotswolds in winter is by car.
This is because the Cotswolds are made up of lots of little villages that are connected by sometimes very small and winding roads.
It will give you more flexibility to explore on your own timetable, as it’s highly likely that you’ll find places to stop that weren’t on your original Cotswolds itinerary.
Check prices: Rentalcars.com
If you can’t drive or you don’t want to, then don’t worry – you have options.
There is a great bus network in the UK and plenty of smaller buses to hop on once you arrive in the Cotswolds.
However, this will take more careful planning and mean that you’ll be tied to a timetable.
Alternatively, there are a number of trains from all over the UK which feed into the Cotswolds.
The most popular train station is Moreton-in-Marsh, with many quick trains coming in from London.
Check prices: trainline.com
Things to do in the Cotswolds in winter
Christmas lights and afternoon tea in Burford
Burford is commonly known as ‘the gateway’ of the Cotswolds.
Like many Cotswolds towns, it’s quaint and only looks like the kind of place you see in movies.
In fact, Forbes Magazine added it to their list of Europe’s Most Idyllic Places To Live and it’s even attracted celebrities over the years, with Kate Moss and Kate Winslet both previously residing there.
When you visit Burford at night you’ll be in awe of how magical it looks.
The high street is on a steep hill and when you glance down from the top, you’re met with a sea of glistening and festive lights that embellish the town.
Not only is Burford picturesque, but it’s a hotspot for afternoon tea.
Huffkins is an award-winning and family-run bakery that started out in 1890 with deliveries by donkey and cart.
This small business has grown over the years and now there are 5 cafes dotted around the Midlands, including in my previous home town, Stratford-upon-Avon!
They offer a traditional English afternoon tea and particularly tasty cherry Bakewells that we recommend stocking up on!
You’ll find that most towns and villages in the Cotswolds will host some type of Christmas market, all with their own unique selling point.
However, one thing they all have in common is delicious homemade mince pies and hot chocolate topped with a mountain of whipped cream and gooey marshmallows.
Our tried and tested favourite Christmas markets in the Cotswolds are Broadway, Bath, and Bourton-on-the-Water.
Broadway is situated in the north of the Cotswolds and although it’s a fairly small village, it has a lot to offer when winter swings around.
The shops stay open until late (roughly 8:30 pm) and Christmas stalls offering hand-made crafts pop up along the high street and within the hidden courtyards.
A string of fairy lights illuminate the town and live performances ignite the Christmas spirit among its visitors.
This is by far one of our favourite small villages in the Cotswolds that offers a fantastic Christmas market that we highly recommend!
On the southern edge of the Cotswolds is Bath.
It’s a city that has a tremendous amount of things to do, particularly at Christmas time.
Its Christmas market is a big event for the city, with over 200 huts packed with hand-made gifts, scrumptious sweet treats, and plenty of booze.
You’ll want to allow a few hours to explore this Christmas market as there is plenty to keep you entertained, including choirs and brass bands that are dotted throughout the venue.
Bourton-on-the-Water is another small village, however, its riverside location provides something a little different.
The town’s Christmas tree is situated in the middle of the water and with the lights reflecting back, it makes for a great photo!
You’ll find festive stalls offering all the usual hand-made crafts and treats among a cheerful atmosphere that this beautiful post-card village exudes.
Visit Broadway Tower
Broadway Tower dates back to 1799 and stands a mighty 65 feet tall.
It’s situated atop Fish Hill and subsequently offers panoramic views over the Costwolds which are magnificent.
Some great walks in the Cotswolds lead to the tower, however, there is also parking nearby for those who don’t fancy a slippery and steep stroll to the top!
We recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset, as the light beams directly onto the tower which makes for some stunning photos.
Personally, we love waking up early and zipping over to the tower before anyone else gets there as it’s really peaceful and means nobody gets in the way of any pictures!
After visiting the tower, it’s worth popping into Broadway town as there are some great places for brunch.
The Market Pantry is a rustic cafe that offers great food and even better cakes, and the Broadway Deli will serve you up something hearty to warm the soul.
Cosy up by the fire in Kingham
Kingham is a great village to visit in the Cotswolds if you’re doing a day trip from London as it’s just 90 minutes on the train.
It’s the perfect village to visit on a winter’s day for any self-confessed foodies out there.
Daylesford farm shop is a lovely place to pick up some organic fresh produce and a hot drink, while The Wild Rabbit is the perfect pit-stop for some heart-warming food before heading home.
Stopping by this pub and settling in by the fire while you wait for your meal to be served is like a home away from home; it’s not often you have the privilege to relax by a fire in a restaurant and it’s certainly something you’ll appreciate after exploring in the snow!
Blenheim Palace festival of lights
Blenheim Palace Festival of Lights is an incredibly popular event that’s held every day between November and early January.
You’ll find a magical trail of lights leads you around the vibrantly lit palace.
As if this place wasn’t awe-inspiring enough in the daylight, it certainly looks like it’s taken to a whole new level once its festive lights pour over it.
The closest town to the palace is Woodstock; a historic market town.
Although it’s not a huge town, it’s filled with great restaurants, and as such, we recommend combining your trip with a meal here – Brothertons Brasserie is an authentic Italian restaurant that people travel to from great distances just to get a slice of their homemade pizza!
Embark on a snowy hike along the Cotswolds Way
The Cotswolds Way starts in Chipping Campden and stretches 102 miles down to Bath.
It’s an undulating route throughout and offers some of the best views you’ll find in the Cotswolds in winter.
For most people though, hiking 102 miles in a British winter is going to be far too cold.
Luckily, the Cotswolds Way forms many other routes that are much shorter.
Perhaps one of the best is the Stanton, Snowshill and Standway Ciruclar.
It’s roughly 10km and although it’s a steep incline for the first 20-30 minutes out of Stanton, it’s nothing that anyone with moderate fitness levels wouldn’t be able to handle.
The majority of the walk following this is flat, before heading downhill into Stanway. Stanton, Snowshill, and Stanway are all equally beautiful villages in the Cotswolds that would resemble a perfect snow globe if scattered with snow.
You can find more details about this walk – along with plenty of other perfect Cotswolds winter walks – on our list of best Cotswolds walks.
New Year’s Day at Cheltenham Racecourse
If you’ve heard of Cheltenham Racecourse, then the Gold Cup race held at the Cheltenham Festival each year is likely ringing some bells.
It’s one of the largest horse racing events held in England each year, however, New Years’ Day Racing follows closely in popularity.
The grounds at Cheltenham Racecourse are immaculate; you’ll have the chance to see some mighty fine horses and their jockeys thud across the track faster than you can say ‘happy New Year’ on race day.
Most people enjoy the thrill of placing a bet and mentally spending their winnings before they do/don’t land into their bank account, however, queuing in line at the tote poll to snatch the hopefully winning ticket only exacerbates the excitement.
Although England has been lucky with winter sun on New Year’s Day over the years, it’s important to note that the best view of the track is usually outside, and thus, it’s important to wrap up warm – you’ll find a list of what to wear for the Cotswolds in winter down below to fully prepare you.
If you’d rather stay inside then you’ll still be able to see the track, it just won’t be as obvious if you’ve hit the jackpot until it’s announced over the tannoy.
Discover Arlington Row in Bibury
Bibury is one of the most popular villages in the central area of the Cotswolds.
Arlington Row in particular has been featured in many movies, most notably Bridget Jone’s Diary.
The entire village looks like a postcard, with cobbled houses beside the river and among the trees.
When a blanket of snow is laid across the village during winter, it only adds to its charm.
Most people visit Bibury to wander down Arlington Row, however, there are also some great traditional English pubs in the village, too.
The Catherine Wheel is a cosy place to stop for some lunch, as well as The Swan.
Indulge in sweet treats at The Pudding Club
It would be criminal to visit the Cotswolds and not plan a trip to The Pudding Club.
The Three Ways House Hotel has been running The Pudding Club since 1985 in a bid to preserve the great British pudding.
From sticky toffee pudding to a classic crumble, the recipes have been perfected to the very best over the years.
England in winter might be cold, but the desert here will certainly warm you up.
You may think that you just rock up, have some pudding and then leave, but it’s not quite that simple.
You’ll be offered a light main to begin with, before indulging in as many sweet treats as your sugar levels can handle.
The Pudding Club also likes to put their own spin on things and have its guests clapping and spoon-bashing as they parade their puddings around for the night ahead.
It’s certainly a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else!
After exploring the Cotswolds in winter there is no better way to relax than treating yourself to a spa day.
Bath Spa is unique as it’s the only natural thermal spa in Britain, and while it uses the same water that you see in the Roman Baths in the city, the water is treated to ensure it’s safe to use.
There are a number of indoor pools, along with a jacuzzi that sits between the walls of the ruins and a rooftop pool that offers panoramic views over the city.
The rooftop pool adds to the experience of bathing in natural thermal springs, as there is something refreshing about tip-toeing against the ice-cold floor and sinking into warm water while the winter air smacks against your cheeks!
Tip: whilst you’re there, don’t forget to explore inside the Roman Baths
Best Cotswolds tours
Here are some of our top picks from both platforms.
- Classic Cotswolds Private Tour (all day): a personalized and exclusive day of sightseeing through a private tour that caters to your preferences.
- Private Cotswold Village Tour (4 hours): private tour of the Cotswolds’ most adorable villages.
- Whisky Distillery Guided Tour & Tasting: an award-winning tour of an excellent English Whisky Distillery.
Best time to visit
Cotswolds in December
The weather during December in the Cotswolds can be quite varied, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for a range of conditions.
Here’s what you can generally expect:
- Temperature: December is winter in the Cotswolds, and temperatures can be quite cold. Average high temperatures range from 4-8°C (39-46°F), while average low temperatures can drop to around 0-3°C (32-37°F). It’s advisable to pack warm clothing, including coats, sweaters, gloves, and scarves.
- Sunlight: December has shorter daylight hours due to its proximity to the winter solstice. Expect around 7-8 hours of daylight, with the sun setting early in the afternoon. This means you’ll have limited time to explore outdoor attractions and activities.
- Snow: While not guaranteed, snow is a possibility in the Cotswolds in December. Snowfall is more likely in the later part of the month as temperatures drop further. The region can look picturesque under a blanket of snow, but it’s also essential to be cautious when travelling, as snowfall can impact road conditions.
Cotswolds in January
January continues to be winter, and the weather is quite similar to December, with a few variations.
Heres what you can expect:
- Temperature: January is one of the coldest months in the Cotswolds. Average high temperatures range from 4-7°C (39-45°F), and average low temperatures can drop to around -1-2°C (30-36°F). It’s essential to pack warm clothing, including winter coats, layers, gloves, and hats.
- Sunlight: January still has relatively short daylight hours due to its position near the winter solstice. You can expect around 7-8 hours of daylight, with the sun setting early in the afternoon.
- Snow: Snow is more likely in the earlier part of January, especially if colder temperatures persist from December. Snowfall can create picturesque scenes in the Cotswolds, but it’s essential to be cautious while travelling, as roads and paths can become slippery.
Cotswolds in February
February in the Cotswolds continues to be part of the winter season and can be quite volatile, with some years offering bright blue skies and other years heavy snowfall.
Here’s what you can generally expect in terms of weather in the Cotswolds during February:
- Temperature: February remains a cold month in the Cotswolds. Average high temperatures typically range from 5-8°C (41-46°F), and average low temperatures can drop to around -1-2°C (30-36°F). Warm clothing, including winter coats, layers, gloves, and hats, is essential to stay comfortable.
- Sunlight: February sees slightly increasing daylight hours compared to January as the days begin to lengthen slowly. You can expect around 8-9 hours of daylight, with the sun setting somewhat later in the afternoon.
- Snow: Snowfall is still a possibility in February, especially in the early part of the month. Snow can enhance the beauty of the Cotswolds’ landscapes but be cautious of slippery conditions if you plan to explore outdoors.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds in winter
Broadway – The Broadway Hotel
Here’s what we love:
- Central location
- Excellent food
- On-site parking
- Pet friendly
Check prices: Booking.com
Burford – The Highway Inn
Here’s what we love:
- Characterful building with a modern twist
- Central location
- Great outdoor dining space
- Pet friendly
Check prices: Booking.com
Tetbury – Priory Inn
Here’s what we love:
- Historic building
- Fantastic restaurant that’s popular among locals
- Away from the hustle and bustle but still within walking distance to Tetbury
For more recommendations, head over to my complete guide on best places to stay in the Cotswolds (area and hotels).
What to pack for winter in the Cotswolds
Packing the right clothing and equipment for your trip to the Cotswolds in winter is extremely important – there is nothing worse than being cold as this will make or break your trip.
English weather is unpredictable and today is the perfect example of that – one minute it was blue sky and sunshine, the next it was throwing down pea-sized hailstones.
To cover all eventualities of the fickle forecast, you’ll need:
- A merino wool base layer (him/her). If you aren’t aware, merino wool keeps you cool when it’s hot and hot when it’s cool. Need I say more after today’s weather?!
- A hat (him/her). It’s no use layering up and then all the heat escaping from the top!
- Peeling your gloves off every two minutes to use your phone or camera is irritating, which is why we love touchscreen gloves.
- A scarf makes all the difference to keeping warm – we love this unisex cashmere scarf as it doesn’t irritate the skin.
- A thick pair of hiking socks (him/her). Roasty-toasty-toes are our preference when you’re slushing through the snow.
- Hiking boots (him/her). The Cotswolds is packed with awesome hiking routes and nobody likes to be slowed down by a cheap pair of boots that offer you nothing but blisters!
- A warm jacket (him/her). You’ll be spending most of your time outside so this is key.
- An umbrella. Who knows what the English weather will throw at you, so it’s always best to be prepared. Plus, the one we linked to folds up really small and can be used in summer to block UV rays!
What are the best places to visit in the Cotswolds in winter?
Aside from all of the things to do on this list, there are plenty of additional towns and villages to consider visiting.
The very best places to visit are:
- Chipping Campden
- Castle Combe
- Lower Slaughter
- Upper Slaughter
How many days are enough for Cotswolds?
With so much to see and do here, anywhere between 2 days and 2 weeks is great for exploring.
- 2 to 3 Days: With this amount of time, you can visit a couple of the major towns or villages, explore their attractions, enjoy some countryside walks, and experience the Cotswolds’ ambience. It’s a good option for a short getaway.
- 4 to 5 Days: This duration allows you to delve deeper into the Cotswolds. You can visit more towns and villages, explore additional attractions, take longer walks or hikes, and have a more relaxed and immersive experience.
- 1 Week or More: If you have a week or more, you can thoroughly explore the Cotswolds at a leisurely pace. You can visit a wider range of towns and villages, engage in more outdoor activities, take your time to enjoy local cuisine and cultural sites, and truly soak in the Cotswolds’ charm.
Is December a good time to visit the Cotswolds?
Visiting the Cotswolds in December can be a wonderful and unique experience and one that I’d definitely recomment.
In fact, if you can, then visiting the Cotswolds at christmas is something worth consideing.
Let us know your thoughts on visiting the Cotswolds during the winter
So what do you think – does the Cotswolds in winter sound like your perfect festive getaway?
We would love to know if you tried any of our suggestions and if you’ve found any more great things that we could try too – let us know by dropping a comment below!
Read more: If you’re planning a trip to Europe, then we’ve got some other posts you might like too:
- WHERE TO STAY IN THE COTSWOLDS: BEST AREA + HOTELS
- THE COTSWOLDS AT CHRISTMAS: THE COMPLETE GUIDE
- A WONDERFUL COTSWOLDS ITINERARY FOR A FAIRY-TALE WEEKEND AWAY
- 9 ROMANTIC THINGS TO DO IN THE COTSWOLDS FOR A COUPLES BREAK
- 10 QUIRKY COTSWOLDS GLAMPING SPOTS WITH HOT TUBS AND OUTDOOR BATHS
- 11 ROMANTIC THINGS TO DO IN STRATFORD-UPON-AVON: A LOCALS GUIDE
- 40 FANTASTIC THINGS TO DO IN THE WYE VALLEY
- GDANSK IN WINTER: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
Or, if you’re looking to go further afield, then why not check out Bozeman in winter, where you’ll be able to see grizzly bears!
Stay Wild Travels.
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