We were spoilt for choice when choosing the best of the Cotswold villages to visit, as there are so many picture-perfect places. With charming, thatched cottages, quaint tea houses and traditional pubs each one has the making of the quintessential English village.
Plus, with its rolling hills and miles of unspoiled countryside the Cotswolds really is one of the prettiest regions in England. It’s no surprise it was designated an Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty in 1966.
The Cotswolds is in the south of England and is ideal for day trips from London, romantic weekends away or a longer family staycation. We spent a week in the north Cotswolds and had plenty of time to explore all the local area. Here’s our pick of the best Cotswold villages to visit.
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Bourton-on-the-Water is a beautiful Cotswold village on the River Windrush. Not only is it one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, but one with the most tourist attractions.
Whether an animal lover or motor enthusiast, you’ll find something to do in Bourton-on-the-Water. One end of the village is home to the wildlife park, Birdland, with over 500 birds and a scattering of dinosaurs, as well as the Dragonfly hedge maze. At the top of the village is the Cotswold Motor Museum, which houses a collection of motoring memorabilia and vintage toys. And of course, you mustn’t miss the Model Village, a one-ninth scale replica of Bourton-on-the-Water.
Famed for its low-arched bridges over the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water has everything you’d expect in a typical English village.
Without a doubt, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the best Cotswold villages to visit with kids.
Blockley is the best Cotswold village to visit for any followers of the television series, Father Brown. Fans will recognise Blockley as the programme’s fictional village of Kembleford. The Norman church St Peter and St Paul’s was the location for the fictional St Mary’s Church and the vicarage was Father Brown’s home.
However, before its TV fame, Blockley was a significant centre for the silk industry of the 18th and 19th centuries. The water from the brook in the village centre was used by the silk mills.
Today, you can still see important historic features such as the old dovecote and the village hall, dating to 1792. It is also a good stopping point on the Monarch Way walking trail, as it has a small shop and delicatessen/café.
Bibury is home to Arlington Row, one of the most picturesque streets in the Cotswolds. It is so pretty it appears on the inside cover of all UK passports and is one of the most photographed places in England. William Morris once described the Cotswold village of Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England”.
Arlington Row in Bibury is a row of 14th century weavers’ cottages. Originally built as a monastic wool store, the cottages converted to homes in the 17th Century. Today it is owned by the National Trust and attracts thousands of visitors with their cameras each year.
Once you have taken your photo, head across Rack Isle, a small nature reserve in front of Arlington Row. From here you can visit Bibury Trout Farm or stop for a pint in the Catherine Wheel pub.
I have counted the Slaughters as one village. However, it is actually the collective name for the twin hamlets, Upper and Lower Slaughter. Though you musn’t be put off by the macabre name. Both hamlets are gorgeous, and the name just comes from the old English “Slohtre”, meaning muddy place.
We always start our visit in Upper Slaughter. From here you can walk on the Wardens Way across open fields to Lower Slaughter. It’s a scenic walk that takes about 20 minutes each way.
Now, Lower Slaughter really is picture-box pretty. The main attraction is its historic mill, which dates to the time of the Doomsday Book. Nowadays the Old Mill is a museum and sits alongside a cosy tea room, ice cream parlour and gift shop. You may recognise the mill from the set of the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.
Lower Slaughter can proudly boast the title of “most romantic street”. No doubt, the gorgeous honey-hued cottages and historic stone bridges crossing the River Eye helped this claim.
To spend longer in the Slaughters have a picnic by the river or pop in at the Slaughters Country Inn. If you’re feeling flush, you could even stay overnight at the Lower Slaughter Manor.
Lower Slaughter is so idyllic that it really deserves its place in our list of best Cotswold villages to visit.
If you like meandering through narrow alleyways on the quest for artisan shops, then Stow-on-the-Wold is one of the best Cotswold villages to visit. Think curious antique shops, intimate galleries, and gift shops with traditional Cotswold ware.
Stow-on-the-Wold has always been an important market town for the Cotswolds. For many years it held two annual fairs which attracted farmers and thousands of sheep. Today there are less sheep at the market, but it’s still a vibrant market town.
As well as shops, Stow-on-the-Wold has a good offer of old pubs and plenty of cute tea shops. Try the ancient King’s Arms Posting House or step back in time at England’s oldest inn, Porch House.
Stow-on-the-Wold is the highest of all the Cotswolds towns and was originally a junction for many routes, including the Roman Fosse Way. You can still see many historic buildings overlooking the ancient cross and if you cross the centre, you’ll see the old town stocks.
Take time to explore the grounds of St Edward’s Church and its magical northern door. This 13th century door is flanked by two ancient yew trees, giving it a fantastical look. Lord of the Rings fans will love this portal, believed to inspire J.R.R. Tolkien’s Doors of Durin.
The market town of Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire is definitely one of our best places to visit in the Cotswolds. It’s bigger than some of the local villages and offers a good choice of independent shops, cafés, and galleries. We stayed here for a week on our most recent visit to the Cotswolds.
During this trip, we discovered that Chipping Campden has some of the loveliest honey-coloured old buildings in the Cotswolds. Historically, it was a very wealthy town, thanks to prominent wool traders who invested here in the late medieval period. Today, it still has a vast collection of significant buildings and easily ranks as one of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds.
Allow time for a stroll up the wide High Street to see the Market Hall, Grevel House or historic almshouses. There’s also plenty of places to stop for afternoon tea or a traditional pub meal.
If you’re a keen walker, Chipping Campden marks the start of the Cotswolds Way, a National Trail that stretches as far as Bath. The first stretch of this walk will take you up the nearby Dover’s Hill and on to the neighbouring town of Broadway. If you keep going for a hundred miles, you’ll end up in the Roman city of Bath.
Known as “the Jewel of the Cotswolds”, you’d expect Broadway to be pretty and it really is. Broadway, in Worcestershire, was once a popular coach stop for travellers going between Wales and London. It became a wealthy town, and this is still evident in the beautiful buildings today. One such building is the splendid Lygon Arms. Now a hotel, the Lygon Arms is a 600-year-old coaching inn, which welcomed guests as prominent as King Charles I.
Today, Broadway is a vibrant village, with a choice of quirky shops, gorgeous tea houses and historic pubs.
One of the most important landmarks in Broadway is its iconic folly, Broadway Tower. This monument is the second highest point in the Cotswolds and makes a perfect viewpoint for admiring the Cotswold countryside. Climb to the top from the village and reward yourself with a visit to the National Trust café.
Snowshill makes the list of our best Cotswold villages to visit as it’s so picturesque and unspoilt. You really could turn back time and keep the same views (apart from the red telephone box by the church!)
Snowshill is a postcard-pretty English village, with not much more than a church, a 15th century pub, and village hall. It’s flanked on three sides by lovely honeycomb stone cottages. The focal point in Snowshill is its Victorian Church, St Barnabas, which stands on the village green in the centre. You may even recognise it from the film Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Snowhill’s only attraction is the National Trust’s Snowshill Manor & Gardens. The 16th century country house was the home of Charles Wade, who bought it to house his eclectic collection of possessions. The gardens are quirky and reflect his unique personality.
Getting to the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds covers an area of nearly 800 miles, so decide where to visit before you set off. However, as it is just 80 miles from London, it’s easy to get there by car or train.
If you’re coming by car, you can access it by the M4, M5 or M40.
If you are visiting the villages above, take the train from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh. From here you can take a bus or taxi.
A guided tour of the Cotswolds
Alternatively, you may prefer to do a guided tour, which takes in many highlights of the Cotswolds.
Have you got a favourite Cotswold village? We’d love to hear your comments below.
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