Discover the National Arboretum at Westonbirt near Tetbury. One of the world’s most spectacular tree gardens, it’s great for relaxing family walks year-round but also boasts a lively program of child-friendly events, including the annual Festival of the Tree (August), with giant-tree carving, kids’ activities, crafts and the like, wonderful Christmas events including an illuminated woodland trail, and regular workshops.
Head for the marvellous Slimbridge Wetland Centre west of Stroud, where, against the spectacular backdrop of the Severn Estuary, you can get up-close and personal with swans, ducks, flamingos, geese and other wetland life by Land Rover ride or canoe-safari. Younger visitors can also feed geese by hand, experience nature first-hand in the pond zone, splash themselves silly in the Welly Boot Land wet play area, and bounce around in the Pond Zone soft-play area.
Seek out more animal encounters at the longstanding Cotswold Farm Park, a rare breeds conservation site near Bourton-on-the-Water, offering horse rides, a wildlife walk, a touch barn and the opportunity to bottle-feed lambs and goats, a play barn, an adventure playground, a maze, seasonal demonstrations and more.
At Bourton-on-the-Water itself, show kids the town’s one-ninth scale replica, the Model Village complete with a miniature River Windrush, then head for the Birdland Park & Gardens, home to more than 500 birds from around the world (don’t miss the penguin cam or the Marshmouth nature walk).
Track down Cattle Country Adventure Park at Berkeley for yet more animal interaction, a wildflower garden, bison-handling pens, mini-tractor rides, a boating lake, an agility course and various other attractions. Its mini-castle is based on nearby Berkeley Castle, where you’ll find a tropical butterfly house plus oodles of family activities and events, including storytelling, archery demonstrations and historical puppet shows.
Check out the more exotic mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates from around the world residing at the Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens just south of Burford, or the birds of prey at the Cotswold Falconry Centre near Moreton-in-Marsh.
Tour the Cotswolds’ ‘capital’ Cirencester, the second-largest Roman settlement in Britain after London – a history you can learn all about at the award-winning Corinium Museum with its hands-on displays and regular workshops and activities. There’s also a Roman amphitheatre in town. In summer, cool off at the Cirencester Open-air Swimming Pool, filled with heated spring water and equipped with a tuck shop.
Head on to Chedworth Roman Villa near Cheltenham. These ample remains of what was once one of the country’s largest villas including mosaics, bathhouses and a latrine are best-visited with kids during one of the costumed interpretations or living-history events featuring gladiators and Roman soldiers; there are also school-holiday trails, quizzes and mosaic-making sessions.
Have a day out at Sudeley Castle, a stately home with wonderful gardens, interesting historical exhibitions, medieval ruins and a great adventure playground. Those here on family holidays and breaks can also stay in the grounds, in cottages or apartments.
Ride the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway through spectacular Cotswold scenery between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse. The heritage railway has both steam and diesel trains and runs a busy program of events including Thomas the Tank Engine days and Santa Specials.
Discover the Cotswold Water Park, the largest in Great Britain, with more than 150 lakes in old gravel quarries, 150km+ of pathways, bridlepaths and cycling trails, fishing and watersports galore, and lots of family-oriented events (plus a wide choice of family-friendly places to eat and several places to stay, from hotels/inn to self-catering cottages; see below).
Walk some or all of the c.160km Cotswold Way, which offers gorgeous views over the Cotswold edge the entire way. The website has guides to walks starting at just 4km and details of accommodation and luggage transfer services.