62 Best Sights in Bath and the Cotswolds, England

Corinium Museum

Fodor's choice

Not much of the Roman town remains visible, but this museum displays an outstanding collection of Roman artifacts, including jewelry and coins, as well as mosaic pavements and full-scale reconstructions of local Roman interiors. Spacious and light-filled galleries that explore the town's history in Roman and Anglo-Saxon times and in the 18th century include plenty of hands-on exhibits for kids.

Cotswolds Distillery

Fodor's choice

Founded in 2014 by a New Yorker inspired by the area's barley fields, the Cotswolds Distillery is a gem of the area. Although the long-term goal was to make whiskey, that aging process takes time, so in the interim, the distillery experimented with 150 different botanical spirits, including 60 recipes for gin. The best of those experiments was put into production as the Cotswolds Dry Gin, and the first whiskey was ready three years later. The distillery now offers a variety of tours and masterclasses as well as tastings. Distillery tours take place daily at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm, and cost £20. You can combine a visit with lunch at the Still House Café onsite. It's located in Stourton, 8 miles northeast of Moreton-in-Marsh.

Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms

Fodor's choice

In its role as the Assembly Rooms, this neoclassical building was one of the leading centers for social life in 18th-century Bath. Jane Austen came here often, and it's in the Ballroom that Catherine Morland has her first, disappointing encounter with Bath's beau monde in Northanger Abbey; the Octagon Room is the setting for an important encounter between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. Built by John Wood the Younger in 1771, the building was badly damaged by wartime bombing in 1942 but was faithfully restored. Its stunning chandeliers are 18th-century originals. Throughout the year, classical concerts are given here, just as they were in bygone days. The Assembly Rooms are also known today for its Fashion Museum, displaying apparel from Jacobean times up to the present. You can see examples of what would have been worn in the heydays here, as well as glamorous frocks from the 20th century—a dress of the year is an annual addition. Besides admiring the changing exhibits, you can have fun trying on corsets and crinolines. An audio guide is included in the admission price.

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Gloucester Cathedral

Fodor's choice

In the center of Gloucester, magnificent Gloucester Cathedral, with its soaring, elegant exterior, was originally a Norman abbey church, consecrated in 1100. Reflecting different periods, the cathedral mirrors perfectly the slow growth of ecclesiastical taste and the development of the Perpendicular style. The interior has largely been spared the sterilizing attentions of modern architects and is almost completely Norman, with the massive pillars of the nave left untouched since their completion. The fan-vaulted roof of the 14th-century cloisters is the finest in Europe, and the cloisters enclose a peaceful garden (used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).

Don't miss the Whispering Gallery, which has a permanent exhibition devoted to the splendid, 14th-century stained glass of the Great East Window. Tours of the tower (269 steps up; £8) are available, as are guided tours (£5.50). Gloucester is 13 miles southwest of Cheltenham and reachable from there on frequent buses and trains.

Hidcote Manor Garden

Fodor's choice

Laid out around a Cotswold manor house, Hidcote Manor Garden is arguably the most interesting and attractive large garden in Britain. Crowds are large at the height of the season, but it's worthwhile anytime. A horticulturist from the United States, Major Lawrence Johnston, created the garden in 1907 in the Arts and Crafts style. Johnston was an imaginative gardener and avid traveler who brought back specimens from all over the world. The formal part of the garden is arranged in "rooms" separated by hedges and often with fine topiary work and walls. Besides the variety of plants, what's impressive are the different effects created, from calm open spaces to areas packed with flowers.

Look for one of Johnston's earliest schemes, the red borders of dahlias, poppies, fuchsias, lobelias, and roses; the tall hornbeam hedges; and the Bathing Pool garden, where the pool is so wide there's scarcely space to walk. The White Garden was probably the forerunner of the popular white gardens at Sissinghurst and Glyndebourne. If you have time, explore the tiny village of Hidcote Bartrim with its thatched stone houses; it borders the garden and fills a storybook dell. The garden is 4 miles northeast of Chipping Campden.

Highgrove House

Fodor's choice

Highgrove House is the much-loved country home of King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort. Here the king has been making the 37-acre estate his personal showcase for traditional and organic growing methods and conservation of native plants and animals since 1980. Joining a tour of 26 people, you can appreciate the amazing industry on the part of the royal gardeners who have created the orchards, kitchen garden, and woodland garden almost from nothing. Look for the stumpery, the immaculate and quirky topiaries, and the national collection of hostas. You can sample the estate's produce in the restaurant and shop or from its retail outlet in Tetbury. Be sure to book well ahead and bring a photo ID as well as your pre-booked ticket. Allow three to four hours for a visit to the garden, which is 1½ miles southwest of Tetbury.

Holburne Museum

Fodor's choice

One of Bath's gems, this elegant 18th-century building and its modern extension house a superb collection of 17th- and 18th-century decorative arts, ceramics, and silverware. Highlights include paintings by Gainsborough (The Byam Family, on indefinite loan) and George Stubbs (Reverend Carter Thelwall and Family), and a hilarious collection of caricatures of the Georgian city's fashionable elite. In its original incarnation as the Sydney Hotel, the house was one of the pivots of Bath's high society, which came to perambulate in the pleasure gardens (Sydney Gardens) that still lie behind it. One visitor was Jane Austen, whose main Bath residence was No. 4 Sydney Place, a brief stroll from the museum. There's also an excellent café and tea garden on site.

Malmesbury Abbey

Fodor's choice

Although now a fraction of its original size, Malmesbury Abbey is still the defining feature of the entire town. There has been an abbey on this site since 1180; the current abbey is the third. During the dissolution of the monasteries, the abbey was used as a wool store and many parts were destroyed. But during the 16th century, the magnificent building became the parish church of Malmesbury, which it has remained since. The breathtaking Norman porch and its ornate carved figures depict the story of Creation through the death of Christ; it is considered one of the best examples of such in Europe. In the northern section of the building is King Athelstan's tomb; Athelstan was crowned king of Wessex in 925 and united England by 927. Malmesbury Abbey is also famed for its stained-glass windows; the Luce window is by Burne-Jones.

Number 1 Royal Crescent

Fodor's choice

The majestic arc of the Royal Crescent, much used as a film location, is the crowning glory of Palladian architecture in Bath. The work of John Wood the Younger, these 30 houses fronted by 114 columns were laid out between 1767 and 1774. The first house to be built, on the corner of Brock Street and the Royal Crescent, was Number 1 Royal Crescent. The museum now crystallizes a view of the English class system in the 18th century—the status, wealth, and elegance of the upstairs in contrast with the extensive servants' quarters and kitchen downstairs. You can witness the predilections of the first resident, Henry Sandford, in the cabinet of curiosities and the electrical machine, as well as a Georgian love of display in the sumptuous dessert table arrangement in the dining room. Several varieties of historic mousetraps make their appearance downstairs. Everything is presented with elegant attention to authenticity and detail.

Roman Baths and the Pump Room

Fodor's choice

The hot springs have drawn people here since prehistoric times, so it's quite appropriate to begin an exploration of Bath at this excellent museum on the site of the ancient city's primary "watering hole." Roman patricians would gather to immerse themselves, drink the mineral waters, and socialize. With the departure of the Romans, the baths fell into disuse. When bathing again became fashionable at the end of the 18th century, this magnificent Georgian building was erected.

Almost the entire Roman bath complex was excavated in the 19th century, and the museum displays relics that include a memorable mustachioed, Celtic-influenced Gorgon's head, fragments of colorful curses invoked by the Romans against their neighbors, and information about Roman bathing practices. The Great Bath is now roofless, and the statuary and pillars belong to the 19th century, but much remains from the original complex (the Roman characters strutting around, however, are 21st century) and the steaming, somewhat murky waters are undeniably evocative. Tours take place hourly for no additional charge, and you can visit after 6:30 pm in July and August to experience the baths lighted by torches. Wear sensible shoes as the ancient stones are uneven and can be slippery. A state-of-the-art Learning Centre helps students learn about the town's history and heritage.

Adjacent to the Roman bath complex is the famed Pump Room, built in 1792–96, a rendezvous for members of 18th- and 19th-century Bath society. Here Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen "paraded up and down for an hour, looking at everybody and speaking to no one," to quote from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Today you can take in the elegant space—or you can simply, for a small fee, taste the fairly vile mineral water. Charles Dickens described it as tasting like warm flatirons.

Snowshill Manor

Fodor's choice

Three miles south of Broadway and 13 miles northeast of Cheltenham, Snowshill is one of the most unspoiled of all Cotswold villages. Snuggled beneath Oat Hill, with little room for expansion, the hamlet is centered on an old burial ground, the 19th-century St. Barnabas Church, and Snowshill Manor, a splendid 17th-century house that brims with the collections of Charles Paget Wade, gathered between 1919 and 1956. Over the door of the house is Wade's family motto, Nequid pereat ("Let nothing perish"). The rooms are bursting with Tibetan scrolls, spinners' tools, ship models, Persian lamps, and bric-a-brac; the Green Room displays 26 suits of Japanese samurai armor. Outside, an imaginative terraced garden provides an exquisite frame for the house. Admission is by timed tickets, so in peak season be sure to pre-book online or arrive early.

Sudeley Castle

Fodor's choice

One of the grand showpieces of the Cotswolds, Sudeley Castle was the home and burial place of Catherine Parr (1512–48), Henry VIII's sixth and last wife, who outlived him by one year. Here Catherine undertook, in her later years, the education of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey and the future queen, Princess Elizabeth. Sudeley, for good reason, has been called a woman's castle. The term "castle" is misleading, though, for it looks more like a Tudor-era palace, with a peaceful air that belies its turbulent history. In the 17th century Charles I took refuge here, causing Oliver Cromwell's army to besiege the castle. It remained in ruins until the Dent-Brocklehurst family stepped in with a 19th-century renovation.

The 14 acres of gardens, which include the roses of the Queen's Garden (best seen in June) and a Tudor knot garden, are the setting for Tudor fun days in summer. Inside the castle, visitors see the West Wing, with the Long Room where exhibitions illustrate the castle's history, and the East Wing, which contains the private apartments of Lord and Lady Ashcombe, where you can see paintings by van Dyck, Rubens, Turner, and Reynolds. Art tours can also be booked in advance. Rare and exotically colored birds strut in the pheasantry. The 11 cottages and apartments on the grounds are booked for a minimum of three-night stays. The castle is a mile southeast of Winchcombe.

The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum

Fodor's choice

From the 1880s onward, Cheltenham was at the forefront of the Arts and Crafts movement, and this is still demonstrated by the fine displays of William Morris textiles, furniture by Charles Voysey, and wood and metal pieces by Ernest Gimson at this museum and art gallery. Decorative arts, such as Chinese ceramics, are also well represented, and British artists, including Stanley Spencer, Vanessa Bell, and Jake and Dinos Chapman, make their mark. The Summerfield Galleries demonstrate life through the ages in easily digestible chunks. Exhibits on Cheltenham's history complete the picture; one is devoted to Edward Wilson, who traveled with Robert Scott to the Antarctic on Scott's ill-fated 1912 expedition. The museum café, the Wilson Kitchen, is open daily for lunch, coffee, and cake.

Thermae Bath Spa

Fodor's choice

One of the few places in Britain where you can bathe in natural hot-spring water, and in an open-air rooftop location as well, this striking complex designed by Nicholas Grimshaw consists of a Bath-stone building surrounded by a glass curtain wall. The only difficulty is in deciding where to spend more time—in the sleekly luxurious, light-filled Minerva Bath, with its curves and gentle currents, or in the smaller, open-air rooftop pool for the unique sensation of bathing with views of Bath's operatic skyline (twilight is particularly atmospheric here). Two 18th-century thermal baths, the Cross Bath and the Hot Bath, are back in use, too (the latter for treatments only). End your session in the crisp third-floor café and restaurant.

It's essential to book spa treatments ahead of time. Towels, robes, and slippers are available for rent. Note that changing rooms are coed. Weekdays are the quietest time to visit. You must be 16 to bathe here and 18 to book a spa treatment.

American Museum & Gardens

A 19th-century Greek Revival mansion in a majestic setting on a hill 2½ miles southeast of the city holds the only museum of American decorative arts outside the United States. Rooms are furnished in historical styles, such as the 17th-century Conkey's Tavern, the beautifully elegant Greek Revival room, and the lavish, richly red New Orleans bedroom from the 1860s. Other galleries explore historical themes (the settlement of the West, the Civil War) or contain a large collection of quilts, as well as porcelain and Shaker objects; a separate building is devoted to folk art, including a fine collection of decoy wildfowl. The parkland includes a reproduction of George Washington's garden at Mount Vernon, and the New American Garden Project features many plants native to the United States. Take a bus headed to the University of Bath and get off at the Avenue, where signs point to the museum, half a mile away. The City Sightseeing bus also drops off here.

Off A36, Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, BA2 7BD, England
01225-460503
sights Details
Rate Includes: £13; gardens only £7.50, Last entry at 3 pm

Arlington Row

The town has a famously pretty and much-photographed group of 17th-century weavers' cottages made of stone.

Athelstan Museum

Located within the town hall, the Athelstan Museum contains a general history of the town of Malmesbury, as well as details on the Abbey and King Athelstan. The museum also has exhibits about the lace-making industry, the town's wool trade, and locally made clocks and bikes. Local-born philosopher Thomas Hobbes gets special attention, too.

Bampton

Fans of the television drama Downton Abbey probably already know that the interior shots of the series are filmed at Highclere Castle near Winchester, but they might be interested to learn that most of the exterior shots are concentrated on the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds. Visitors can walk the sleepy streets of mellow stone, see the library in Church View which doubled as the Downton Cottage Hospital, and visit the church of St. Mary, the setting of both Mary and Edith's weddings. Lady Sybil and Branson planned their elopement in the Swan Inn at the nearby village of Swinbook, 2 miles east of Burford. Bampton is 6 miles southeast of Burford and 18 miles southwest of Oxford, from where there is a regular bus. Drivers should take the road signed Brize Norton off the A40.

Bath Abbey

Dominating Bath's center, this 15th-century edifice of golden, glowing stone has a splendid west front, with carved figures of angels ascending ladders on either side. Notice, too, the miter, olive tree, and crown motif, a play on the name of the building's founder, Bishop Oliver King. More than 50 stained-glass windows fill about 80% of the building's wall space, giving the interior an impression of lightness. The abbey was built in the Perpendicular (English late-Gothic) style on the site of a Saxon abbey, and the nave and side aisles contain superb fan-vaulted ceilings. Look for the 21st-century expressively carved angels on the choir screens. The building's heating comes from the adjacent Roman baths. There are four services on Sunday, including choral evensong at 3 pm. Tower tours (45 minutes; Monday through Saturday; £10) allow close-up views of the massive bells and panoramic cityscapes from the roof; the 212 dizzying steps demand a level of fitness.

Buy Tickets Now
Abbey Churchyard, BA1 1LT, England
01225-422462
sights Details
Rate Includes: Abbey £5 suggested donation, tower tours £10, No tower tours Sun.

Bath Skyline Walk

An excellent way to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of Bath is through the Bath Skyline Walk. One of England's most popular walks, it is 6 miles of greenery that encircles the city and includes woodlands, valleys, meadows, and trails with captivating views of the city's architecture. Grab a picnic and some strong shoes and head out on the waymarked path. The starting point is on Bathwick Hill near the entrance to the National Trust Bathwick Fields; you can download a free walking guide from the National Trust website. If you don't have the time (or energy) for the full walk, take the 3-mile "Walk to the View" waymarked from Bath Abbey.

Bath World Heritage Centre

This enlightening spot hosts interactive exhibits and displays to educate and inspire visitors about the history and heritage of Bath. It covers all the aspects that earned Bath its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, including the hot springs, Roman ruins, Georgian architecture, and surrounding landscapes. The center also provides free walking trails and guides.

Belas Knap Long Barrow

A bracing 2-mile walk south of Winchcombe on the Cotswold Way, one of Britain's national walking trails, leads to the hilltop site of Belas Knap, a Neolithic long barrow, or submerged burial chamber, above Humblebee Wood. During Victorian excavations, the remains of 31 people were found in the barrow's chamber. The site isn't much to see, but you hike through one of the most enchanting natural domains in England, with views stretching over to Sudeley Castle.

Broadway Tower & Park

Among the attractions of this park on the outskirts of town is its crenelated tower, an 18th-century "folly" built by the sixth Earl of Coventry and later used by William Morris as a retreat. The panoramic view from the top takes in three counties and looks over peaceful countryside and wandering deer. There are plenty of nature trails and good spots for picnics, as well as a café. Wall panels on the three floors inside describe the tower's connection with the local Arts and Crafts movement and World War II. Note that the spiral staircase is narrow and steep. A nuclear bunker is open on weekends during the summer. E-bikes are available to rent.

Chastleton House

One of the most complete Jacobean properties in Britain opts for a beguilingly lived-in appearance, taking advantage of almost 400 years' worth of furniture and trappings accumulated by many generations of the single family that owned it until 1991. The house was built between 1605 and 1612 for William Jones, a wealthy wool merchant, and has an appealing authenticity: bric-a-brac is strewn around, wood and pewter are unpolished, upholstery is uncleaned. The top floor is a glorious, barrel-vaulted long gallery, and throughout the house you can see exquisite plasterwork, paneling, and tapestries. The gardens include rotund topiaries and the first croquet lawn (the rules of croquet were codified here in 1865). During busy periods, admission is by timed ticket on a first-come, first-served basis. Note that there is no tearoom or shop here, but the church next door sells tea and snacks when the house is open. Chastleton is 6 miles northeast of Stow, signposted off A436 between Stow and A44.

Chedworth Roman Villa

The remains of a mile of walls are what's left of one of the largest Roman villas in England, beautifully set in a wooded valley on the eastern fringe of the Cotswolds. Thirty-two rooms, including two complete bath suites, have been identified, and covered walkways take you over the colorful mosaics, some of the most complete in England. Audio guides are available, and there's a small museum. Look out for the rare large snails, fattened on milk and herbs during Roman times, in the grounds; they come out on warm, wet days. There's a café here, but it's also an ideal place for a picnic. Look carefully for the signs for the villa: from Bibury, go across A429 to Yanworth and Chedworth. The villa is also signposted from A40. Roads are narrow. The site is 6 miles northwest of Bibury and 10 miles southeast of Cheltenham.

Circus

John Wood designed the masterful Circus, a circle of curving, perfectly proportioned Georgian houses interrupted just three times for intersecting streets. Wood died shortly after work began; his son, the younger John Wood, completed the project. Notice the carved acorns atop the houses: Wood nurtured the myth that Prince Bladud founded Bath, ostensibly with the help of an errant pig rooting for acorns (this is one of a number of variations of Bladud's story). A garden with large plane trees fills the center of the Circus. The painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) lived at No. 17 from 1760 to 1774.

Intersection of Bennett, Brock, and Gay Sts., BA1 2EU, England
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Cotswold Farm Park

The family-run Cotswold Farm Park is the best family day out in the Cotswolds, and an excellent showcase for British farming. In addition to meeting the animals, including the iconic Suffolk Punch horses, there are wildlife and woodland walks, outdoor and indoor playgrounds, and viewing towers and platforms to climb. At the Muddy Kitchen, all the kitchen appliances and utensils are provided to help make your very best mud pie. The park's Ox Shed restaurant and farm shop sell delicious food from local suppliers, and you can stay on-site in a lodge, camping pod, or luxury glamping tent. Cotswold Farm Park is 6 miles west of Stow-on-the-Wold in Guiting Power.

Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection

Housed in an old mill and marked by a topiary vintage Mini car, this museum has seven rooms crammed to the rafters with more than 30 shiny vintage and classic cars, delightful caravans from the 1920s and 1960s, ancient motorbikes and bicycles, road signs from past times, and a shepherd's hut on wheels. If this and the assortment of motoring memorabilia is not enough, there are also children's toys, pedal cars, models, and board games.

Court Barn Museum

Near the church of St. James, this museum occupies an old agricultural building that has been smartly renovated to showcase the area's prominence in the fields of craft and design. You can admire examples of silverware, ceramics, printing, woodcarving, jewelry, and cutlery, as well as changing exhibitions. Opposite the barn is an important row of almshouses dating from the reign of King James I.

Church St., Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6JE, England
01386-841951
sights Details
Rate Includes: £7, Closed Mon. except bank holidays

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway

Less than a mile north of Winchcombe at Greet, this steam-hauled train, run by a team of volunteers, chugs its way along the foot of the Cotswolds connecting Winchcombe with Toddington, Cheltenham Racecourse, and the northern hub at Broadway.

Greet Rd., Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, GL54 5DT, England
01242-621405
sights Details
Rate Includes: Return tickets from £12, Closed Nov.–mid-Mar.