When people think of England, many different images and ideas might appear in their minds. Some will think of the nation’s artistic and literary prowess, being reminded of great writers like Dickens, Shakespeare, and Austen. Others will immediately think of castles and ruins from eras gone by. Some will think of the big metropolis of London with its notable landmarks like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

More ideas: Best Weekend Getaways, Best Day Trips

Some people, meanwhile, will think of natural beauty and pretty countryside villages when they think of England, with the country being home to some stunning rural locations and charming little towns, many of which typically feature centuries-old churches, adorable thatched cottages, colorful gardens, and friendly people working at the local stores and post offices.

Many people who head to England on a vacation will start and end their journeys in the nation’s capital of London. London is a great place to visit as it simply has so much to do and see, from the shows of the West End to the shops of Oxford Street and the walks of Hyde Park. It’s a wonderful city, but it is very much a pure city, a far cry from the small riverside villages and towns of rural England.

Fortunately, if you’d like to make your English vacation a little more varied and memorable, you can head out of London on a day trip to a region of outstanding natural beauty like the Cotswolds. Featuring multiple villages across several counties like Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds is a part of south central Englan known for its rolling hills and unparalleled charm. Here’s how to plan a Cotswolds day trip from London.

Getting to the Cotswolds from London

The Cotswolds is a very large area, measuring about 25 miles wide and 90 miles long in total. There are a lot of lovely little towns and villages in this area, and it's quite conveniently placed within reach of London for the purposes of a day trip.

However, it's important to note that some villages in the Cotswolds will be much further from London than others, so it's wise to plan out your day trip in advance and do the necessary research to pick the village or villages you'd like to see during your day out.

It's also worth noting that public transport in the Cotswolds area is quite minimal, so you'll either need to drive there and have your own vehicle to get around, or take a guided bus tour. You could also catch a train, but your options will be more limited.

Getting to the Cotswolds from London by Car

Driving to the Cotswolds from London is one of the best options available to you for the purposes of a day trip. Having your own car will allow you to plan out your day trip to the smallest detail, able to choose when you set off, what stops you make along the way, which route you take, which villages you visit, and when you head back to London.

The drive is mostly an enjoyable and scenic one, especially once you get out of the Greater London area and start to approach the Cotswolds. You'll be able to follow the M40 towards Oxford and then continue onto the A40 to get to the Cotswolds. Once there, you'll take different roads depending on which town or village you'd like to see first. The drive will take 2-3 hours.

Getting to the Cotswolds from London on a Tour

Taking a bus tour to the Cotswolds is a good idea if you don't have your own car available, but you'll need to be careful when choosing your tour. A lot of tours of the Cotswolds can seem tempting at first, but actually just involve a bus driving through the air and not making many stops, often heading out of the Cotswolds area to stop at places like Warwick or Stratford Upon Avon.

If you really want to stop off at the little villages like Bourton on the Water or Kingham, you'll need to choose a tour that guarantees village stops in the Cotswolds. Be sure to do all the necessary research and compare tour options to find the right one for your and your family or friends.

Getting to the Cotswolds from London by Train

If you're going to rely on public transport to get to the Cotswolds, you'll need to set off early as the train ride can take a few hours. You'll have to take a train from Paddington Station towards Oxford, and then change onto a service for Hereford and Worcester, with this train stopping at locations in the Cotswolds like Moreton in the Marsh.

You could also take a train from Paddington to Gloucester and then get off at Kemble, transferring to buses to varous Cotswolds locations like Bourton on the Water and Stow on the Wold from there.

Villages to See in the Cotswolds

- Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter - These charming little villages might have odd-sounding names, but Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter are actually very picturesque. Lower Slaughter has its own water mill and a cute little stream passing through, while Upper Slaughter is filled with stone houses and charming cottages.

- Castle Combe - Located in the southern part of the Cotswolds, Castle Combe is quite near the city of Bath, so if you have time, you can double up your day trip and see Bath and the Cotswolds in just one day. Despite the name of this village, it doesn't actually have a castle anymore, but it does have some gorgeous old houses and lovely walks along the river.

- Stow on the Wold - If you'd like to do some shopping in the Cotswolds on your day trip, head to Stow on the Wold. It's famous as a key antiques location, and the main market square is surrounded by shops and inns. This town is also situated on a hill and is the highest of all the Cotswolds villages, enjoying lovely views all around.

- Bourton on the Water - Arguably the most popular and certainly one of the most visited locations in the whole Cotswolds region, Bourton on the Water has earned the nickname 'Venice of the Cotswolds' due to its unique beauty and the fact that a river runs right through the middle of the town. There are lots of little bridges across the water and some lovely bakeries and small shops dotted around too.

- Moreton in Marsh - Many of the Cotswolds towns and villages are quite sleepy locations, but if you head to Moreton in Marsh on a Tuesday, you'll see the biggest market in the whole region and get a chance to meet lots of locals. It's a popular event for Cotswolds residents and visitors, and the town itself has hundreds of years of stories to tell.