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Small Group Day Tour Of The Cotswolds, Oxford & Stratford Upon Avon From London

Author: Bob Handford

Although this tour covers Oxford and Stratford Upon Avon and both in a meaningful way, the unique selling point of this tour is its coverage of the Cotswold region.

For the visitor to the UK who wants to sample the best of the famous green English Countryside and idyllic English villages, the Cotswold region is the number one destination to head for from London.

Public transport within the Cotswold region is poor, so for most it’s a choice of hiring a car or taking a tour.

The problem with standard tours of the Cotswolds are the standard large touring buses used are too big to venture down the country lanes and the unspoilt, quiet sleepy villages that are the major reason for visiting the Cotswolds. Such villages can be hostile to the tour bus crowd and there are many restrictions on large tour buses where they can go. As a result the large tour buses are largely restricted to the main highways and larger, commercialised villages along them.

For this reason the small group format using a small 16 seat air conditioned touring bus comes into its own when visiting the Cotswolds.

From London, International Friends are the only scheduled operator running scheduled tours year round several times a week visiting the Cotswold region with small group buses. As such they are your only opportunity to sample the “real” Cotswolds venturing down single track roads and seeing unspoilt villages a world away from the larger commercialised villages.

Well that was the theory, so one Sunday morning in August Bob boarded the tour at Earls Court in London to see for himself what the tour was like.

The bus arrived 5 minutes early just before 8 a.m. at Earls Court, the last pick-up point in London. I was the last passenger to be picked up making a tour group of 11 in the 16 seat bus.

There are only a handful of pick-up points strategically located across the centre of London so the pick-ups only last 30 minutes and at 8 a.m. we were heading out of London to the first stop Oxford.

The group included people from China, Australia, USA and Canada plus the driver-guide.

By 9:15 we were in Oxford and had learnt the basics about Oxford, its history, contemporary status and of course all about the university, driving past many of the famous colleges. The small size of the group meant that as the day progressed you realised that the commentary was being adapted to the individual group.

After a short break, time for me to grab a quick coffee before a local guide from Oxford took the group on a 45 minute walking tour of the “best of Oxford”.

Typical view of a Cotswold Village from tour bus

Typical snapshot taken from tour bus driving through Cotswold villages

Afterwards there was again free time to re-visit or follow up things pointed out by the guide.

Unlike some tours there were no souvenir stops or stops in the middle of nowhere at an approved lunch venue. At all stops there was significant free time to explore independently with just guidance from experience from the guide the best places to grab something to eat – the exact choice was yours. Despite driving as well as guiding the commentary was virtually non-stop on the bus and of a high quality.

From mid-morning to mid-afternoon the tour spent its time in the Cotswolds. There was a short 30 minute stop at Burford and a much longer lunch stop at Stow on the Wold. During this time the bus ventured along single track roads for some time driving through some idyllic Cotswold villages and countryside.

Mid afternoon we had left the Cotswolds and were entering Stratford Upon Avon, famous of course for Shakespeare. After an orientation tour of Stratford the tour included entrance into Shakespeare’s Birthplace the main centre for things Shakespeare in the town. We still had an hour’s free time in Stratford.

At 4:30 p.m. we were leaving Stratford for return to London, a journey of around 2 hours along the fast motorway, the longest leg of the day.

If seeing the English countryside and unspoilt villages of the Cotswolds is a priority for you and like most visitors you do not have time to spend 2 or 3 days in the countryside, this tour from London would be the one I think I would choose. Purely because of the small group format enabling the bus to get away from the tourist trail and experience the “real” charm of the Cotswolds.

Small Group The Cotswolds, Oxford & Stratford Tour From London

Below is a video I made of the day that show in pictures much better than my few words above what to expect.

Related Information

Alternative Lunch In The Cotswolds Tour– Large Bus Tour Of The Cotswolds With Lunch

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Oxford – What to expect

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Stratford Upon Avon – What to expect

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Want To Discuss Any Aspect Of This Tour?

If you are thinking of going on this tour and have a question or three, just leave your query on the discussion facility below and I’ll usually get back to you within 24 hours.

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  • Bob

    To my knowledge there are no day tour operators at all at Southampton. We just do the Southampton to London cruise tour transfer service via Windsor, Stonehenge and Salisbury

  • Kim Hudson

    Hi there. Question: We can only do one of the small group tours. We can’t decide between the Canterbury/Dover/Leeds Castle tour or the Oxford/Cotswolds/Stratford tour. If we did the Cotswolds tour, we’d have to be up and about less than 24 hours after arriving in London with a huge time zone adjustment, whereas the other tour would be a few days after we would arrive and have time to acclimate. One more thing to consider…my husband is a photographer, so I’m thinking the Cotswolds trip might offer more opportunities but I think both trips sound amazing. Any advice?
    Thank you,
    Kim

    • Bob

      I guess everybody is different in terms of what appeals.
      In terms of variety both in terms of interest at tour stops and landscape travelled through I would say the Cotswold/Oxford/Stratford tour is the best tour to do. The tour runs every Thursday and Sunday
      Clearly though it could just be a blur if you are arriving from the other side of the world the day before.
      In term of photography and diversity I would also point out the Lacock, Bath and Stonehnege tour.
      The Avebury, Stonehenge and Salisbury tour is more laid back than the others covering a relatively small area and pottering around the villages and lanes but still visting the main attractions of Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral.

      If you have time there is a weekend tour that runs every Saturday and Sunday that covers the Cotswolds and Oxford the first day, overnights near Bath spends the Sunday morning in Bath and return via the south Cotswold villages including Lacock before a stop at Stonehenge and then London. The fact that the tour cost includes an overnight stay at a hotel will probably mean that if you factor in the price one nights stay at a London hotel it would work out cheaper than the 1 day tour.
      If you are interested in the Downton Abbey TV series a new 2 day tour will be launched in the next couple of weeks that spends the first day in Oxford and the Cotswolds with a focus on filming locations of Downton Abbey, overnights in the Cotswolds and returns to London the next day visiting Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.

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