Fun things to do in the Cotswolds for all the family

The Cotswolds are one of the most picturesque parts of England – but that doesn’t cut the ice with all children! So when your kids need a break from the chocolate-box prettiness and quaint tea rooms, why not try something more child-friendly? There are plenty of fun things to do in the Cotswolds for all the family to enjoy – take a look through our favourites below.

All the destinations suggested are fun for the whole family – so all you mums and dads can enjoy yourselves too!

1. Take a ride on a steam train

One of GWSR's restored steam engines.

Few things appeal to the whole family as much as a ride on a steam train! The Cotswolds have a few to choose from – our favourite is the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway. This runs from Cheltenham Racecourse to Broadway in the north Cotswolds, a 28-mile round trip with stops at Winchcombe and Toddington amongst others. If you love steam engines and heritage diesels, or just feel like sitting back while someone else does the driving, this will be a must-visit. A lovely alternative way to see some really beautiful countryside with the added excitement of an old-fashioned train ride! You can buy single, return, or day rover tickets (hop on and off all day) and children under 5 go free.

If you get off at Toddington, why not have a look at the half-mile Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway? The round trip is 25 minutes, with trains pulled by steam and diesel locomotives from all around the world. These are smaller in stature than main line engines, but no less punchy! Fans of Thomas the Tank Engine will love this place.

Both venues are open March to October. You don’t need to pre-book tickets but it’s a good idea to visit their websites to check when trains are running.

2. Explore a prehistoric barrow

A short walk from the road brings you to the ancient barrow at Belas Knap.

The Cotswolds boast a fine selection of prehistoric burial chambers, known as barrows. The two best examples are Belas Knap long barrow and Hetty Pegler’s Tump. You may need a pair of wellies for the walk from the car, but once there you and the kids will be able to explore the chambers and soak up the 5,000-year history. Well worth a side trip if you’re visiting other attractions nearby.

3. Visit Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle in beautiful Cotswold stone - a mixture of inhabited castle, ruins, glorious gardens and adventure playground - there's something for all the family here.

Steeped in history, Sudeley Castle is a partially restored Tudor castle built on the site of a Saxon manor house. It is the burial place of a queen – Catherine Parr, the sixth and last of Henry VIII’s wives – and was formerly owned by Richard III.

Many visitors come to explore the glorious gardens, and kids will love the adventure playground. A large carp pool, aviaries and tea room help make Sudeley Castle one of the Cotswolds’ best places to visit for all the family.

4. Pretend to be a giant

Feel like a giant walking through the model village at Bourton-on-the-Water!

The Model Village in Bourton-on-the-Water is arguably the most popular family attraction in the Cotswolds – a must-see for children and adults alike. Wander around this replica of 1930s Bourton-on-the-Water at 1/9th scale, peer in windows and marvel at the astonishing detail. Can you find the model village in the model village?

5. Walk among the trees (and treetops!)

Westonbirt Arboretum is a great place for the whole family to visit year round.

Westonbirt Arboretum – the National Arboretum – is a huge garden of trees, most spectacular in spring and autumn, but worth visiting at any time of year. With miles of walks and trails, plus the 13m high tree top walkway, there is something new at every turn!

There’s a good cafe and gift shop, and plenty of places to sit while you watch the kids. Encourage them to partake in “nature play”, building dens and obstacle courses, identifying bugs and animal homes, and much more. Of course adults are welcome to join in!

6. Experience the wonder of birds

See amazing birds at Cotswold Falconry Centre - a great family destination.

If you or your children are interested in birds or other animals, there are quite a few attractions in the Cotswolds to appeal to all the family. Our favourites are the Cotswold Falconry Centre and Slimbridge Wetland Centre.

Cotswold Falconry Centre is a very popular visitor attraction, renowned for its amazing flying displays and informative, entertaining presentations. Regular flying displays throughout the day delight young and old alike. You can even book sessions to get up close and try falconry yourself. Open from February to November, and there’s a 10% discount if you’re also visiting the Batsford arboretum next door.

Another must-visit if you love wildlife is the Slimbridge Wetland Centre – a great day out with lots to explore for all the family. Aviaries and pens house birds from all over the world, and walks through the extensive reserve bring you to hides where you can watch birds in their natural habitat. The children can feed the ducks and geese, meet native amphibians, and also play and splash at Welly Boot Land. Open all year round, with a 10% discount if you book tickets online (free entry for children under 4).

7. Which way to the Chamber of Secrets?

Gloucester Cathedral, one of the finest gothic cathedrals in the country, and of course a film set for the Harry Potter movie franchise!

Gloucester Cathedral has been used as a location for filming on many occasions, most famously in some of the Harry Potter movies, where the cloisters were transformed into Hogwarts School corridors. Harry Potter fans aside, however, there is much to interest all the family at this magnificent gothic cathedral. There are the wonderful cloisters, the whispering gallery, tours of the crypt and tower and a children’s interactive area with dress-up costumes and an opportunity to design your own gargoyle! Gloucester Cathedral should definitely be on your must-see list for this area.

If you have time and a Peter Rabbit fan in your family, stop in at the Tailor of Gloucester museum in College Court just adjacent to the cathedral.

8. Discover Roman remains

Mosaic floor depicting Acteon, on display at Corinium Museum.

You could easily build days of things to do in the Cotswolds just around Roman remains alone. There are the Roman Baths at Bath, of course, and several Roman villa sites such as the National Trust property at Chedworth – check out this blog post for more ideas.

But if you have a budding historian in your family, one of the best places to see Roman artefacts is the Corinium Museum in Cirencester. Most of the major exhibits are Roman era, with several stunning mosaic floors all found locally. There is also a collection of tombstones, coins and intricately worked jewellery. Interactive displays bring the exhibits to life and you can even try your hand at playing Roman games such as Tabula. Open all year round (children under 5 go free), check the website for daily opening times.

9. Be sorely tempted at Stroud Farmers’ Market

Widely considered one of the best in the country, Stroud farmers' market has an array of tempting produce on offer.
Photo credit: Jongleur100 / Public domain

If you’re a foodie, or just want a novel shopping experience, one of the best things to do in the Cotswolds is visit the Stroud Farmers’ Market.

This is one of the biggest and best farmers’ markets in the country, and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Held every Saturday from 9am-2pm, its hub is the Cornhill Marketplace but it has spilled over into the surrounding streets. It’s big, bustling and filled with locally grown produce, tempting cakes, artisan cheese, craft beer, local wine and much more.

You’ll find something for all the family here as you browse and sample your way around the stalls. Introduce your kids to the delights of Single and Double Gloucester cheeses, and stop for a hot cuppa and a freshly sizzling sausage in a bap along the way!

10. Explore a mediaeval castle

Mediaeval Berkeley Castle offers a great day out for the whole family.

Mediaeval Berkeley Castle is reputed to be the site of a grisly murder – of a king, no less! – and is also unusual in having been in the same family for about 900 years. Make sure you tag onto a guided tour – the guides are very knowledgeable and informative. Children will be interested to try on the chain mail tunic – very heavy – and events and activities are run throughout the year, so check the website for dates. The gardens are very pleasant to walk in and the butterfly house is an added bonus. Check out the cafe in a yurt! Open Sunday to Wednesday, from Easter to the end of October (butterfly house open from May).

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