The Cotswolds villages are an embodiment of picture-perfect English countryside. But there’s hidden variety in these rural charmers. Here’s our list of the best Cotswolds villages to visit, each offering something a little different.
Against the soundtrack of delicate china clinking in cosy tea rooms, beautiful Cotswolds villages fulfil an England that exists in the dreams of many.
Honey-coloured stone cottages with steeply pitched roofs backed by rolling green hills, conjure a scene of English delight. Lace shops waft with the scent of lavender; art galleries beacon the well-heeled and cobbled streets rumble to the sound of tourist coaches.
But many of the prettiest Cotswolds villages rarely see visitors. Real working towns with minimal signs of commercialisation except for a cramped old pub. Beautifully set hamlets whose only objective is to provide the starting point for a great hike.
And, there’s the up and coming hipster scene where avocado on toast and craft beer is just starting to attract the attention of visitors to the Cotswolds.
Despite outward appearances, there are interesting and diverse things to do in the Cotswolds. Our list of the best Cotswolds villages to visit includes not only the most iconic but also ones that offer something different, a unique experience, a notable attraction or extra charm.
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WHAT ARE THE COTSWOLDS?
The Cotswolds is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the southwest of England. Famous for pretty villages and bucolic countryside, it’s a popular spot for a relaxing getaway in rural England.
A bedrock of Jurassic limestone creates two of the famous features of the Cotswolds. Fertile soil supports the lush grassland habitat, and honey-coloured rock supplies the stone that built the beautiful Cotswolds villages. Both have become the signature aesthetic of the area.
The result is one of the best destinations in the UK full of interesting experiences. Stunning country hikes, stately homes, quirky villages, artisanal craftsmanship and wonky old pubs.
WHERE ARE THE COTSWOLDS?
The Cotswolds cover an area of 787 square miles across the centre of England, conveniently located within easy access of London, Bristol and Birmingham making it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway.
At the northern end the area starts just south of Stratford-upon-Avon and the southern section ends at Bath. The western edge of the Cotswolds is marked by a steep escarpment at the Severn Valley and the eastern edge is the university town of Oxford.
WHICH ARE THE BEST COTSWOLDS VILLAGES?
From honey-hued villages in forested valleys to regal towns with stately manor homes; rustic hamlets to posh art-filled centres, here is our pick of the best villages in the Cotswolds to visit.
1 – CASTLE COMBE
With a distinct lack of tourist shops and a real lived-in feel, Castle Combe is one of the most beautiful villages in the Cotswolds. Surrounded by wooded hills, rows of honey-coloured cottages extend from a 14th-century market square up a gentle slope, framed by a green backdrop. The enclosure of the valley gives Castle Comb a protected feel, like a village from a different time.
An otherworldly vibe has earned Castle Combe a regular appearance in the film industry and it’s easy to see why. With no cars allowed in the village, it takes little imagination to be transported back to another time.
But it’s the setting that steals the show. With green forested hills, quaint cottages, a babbling river and a romantic bridge, Castle Combe is easily one of the prettiest Cotswolds villages.
Take a picnic lunch and sit on the bench by the river opposite the old weaver’s cottages. Framed by the surrounding valley walls, it’s the classic view of Castle Combe and a great day out in the Cotswolds.
HOW TO GET TO CASTLE COMBE
Castle Combe is a 35-minute drive from Bristol and just over 2 hours’ drive from London. To get to Castle Combe via public transport, take the train to Chippenham Station (1 hour, 15 min from London) which is about 5 miles from Castle Combe. Bus 35 runs every 2 hours from Chippenham. Castle Combe is also an excellent day trip from Bath.
2 – BIBURY
Often described as the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds, Bibury centres itself around a picturesque church surrounded by a village green.
It is most famous for Arlington Row, a collection of 17th-century weaver cottages that form one of the most picture-perfect visuals in the Cotswolds. It’s hard not to be seduced by the iconic English cottages with their steep pitched roofs, elegantly ascending up the gradual rise of the hill. A watery meadow in front of Arlington Row is perfect for catching the early morning light.
Bibury, and Arlington Row, in particular, is a popular spot for bus trips and it can be teeming with visitors throughout the day. But, if you make it to Bibury for sunrise, you’ll have one of the best Cotswolds villages all to yourself.
Arrive at Arlington Row for sunrise to beat the steady throng of bus tours later in the day. The mist slowly rising over the water in front of the cottages is the other reward.
HOW TO GET TO BIBURY
Bibury is a 1-hour drive from Bristol and a 1 hour, 45-minute drive from London. To visit Bibury, a good base is the larger but still charming village of Bourton-on-the-Water. To get here via public transport take the train to either Kingham Station or Moreton-in Marsh Station.
From Bourton-on-the-water, bus 855 runs to Bibury.
3 – BROADWAY
Set at the foot of the western end of the Cotswolds escarpment, Broadway is one of the best Cotswolds villages for shopping and modern country style. Old style tea rooms encourage visitors into their lace-lined doors with the allure of high tea and high society. Antique shops styled in subtle Cotswolds grey, are crammed with well-heeled urbanites keen to pick up a unique piece.
But it’s the art galleries that feel most at home in Broadway. Lured by the picturesque high street, famous artists including Claude Monet, have called this place home.
Visible from the high street on top of the nearby Fish Hill is Broadway Tower – a popular endpoint for a great hike from the village.
Position yourself on the grass under the tower on the top of Fish Hill for sweeping views of the village below and the vast Cotswolds countryside. Sunset is ideal.
HOW TO GET TO BROADWAY
Broadway is 25 minutes from Cheltenham, and a 2 hour, 15-minute drive from London. To get to Broadway via public transport, take the train to Evesham Station, then catch the R4 bus which runs every couple of hours (except on Sunday). You could also arrive at Moreton-in-Marsh and get bus 1, however, this is very infrequent.
It’s a 15-minute taxi from both Evesham and Moreton-in-Marsh to Broadway. More information about getting to Broadway is available in our guide to the best weekends in the Cotswolds.
4 – STANTON
Stanton is a quiet, peaceful village. The only sign of commercialisation is The Mount Inn. Set at the foot of Shenbarrow Hill, the pub is perfectly positioned above the town with sweeping views. On a clear day, see all the way to the Welsh mountains.
From the deck of the pub, the consistent architecture of Stanton is displayed in typical Cotswolds style: steeply pitched roofs and honey-coloured stone. But Stanton manages to create a cosy feel on its own merits, without appearing specifically contrived for tourists.
Stanton is one of our favourite villages in the Cotswolds. Apart from feeling like a real lived-in town, it’s also a great base for some excellent country walks.
After completing the Stanton Snowshill walk (all the details are in our circular walks in the Cotswolds article), finish with a pint on the deck of the Mount Inn overlooking Stanton and the Welsh mountains.
HOW TO GET TO STANTON
Stanton is 5 kilometres south of Broadway, which makes a great base to visit Stanton from. It’s one of the best Cotswolds villages for starting some excellent country hikes. Read more about our favourite Cotswolds walks.
5 – MINSTER LOVELL
Minster Lovell assumes a veiled location by the banks of the Windrush River. It’s a beautiful tiny village where you can enjoy afternoon tea while watching a game of cricket on the green.
But the main reason for visiting Minster Lovell is the picturesque ruins of a 15th-century manor house. Resting on the banks of the river, it’s an idyllic location in the English countryside.
If the weather is warm enough, the river that meanders past the ruins is one of the best places to go wild swimming in the Thames. A bit further downstream, more picnic opportunities reveal themselves in the grassy fields either side of the river and a weir provides the perfect spot to leap in for a reed-fringed swim.
Minster Lovell is one of the best Cotswolds villages for an interesting and atmospheric experience in a beautiful rural setting.
Take some beers to the village green behind the cottages to watch a game of cricket on a weekend. Then, head down to the river for a swim.
HOW TO GET TO MINSTER LOVELL
Minster Lovell is a 1 hour, 30-minute drive from London. The nearby town of Burford is 15 minutes’ drive away and a great base to visit Minster Lovell from. To get to Burford via public transport, take the train to Shipton-under-Wychwood which is a 10-minute taxi to Burford.
6 – PAINSWICK
The prosperity Painswick enjoyed from the 17th century is evident in the rows of elegant grey limestone buildings that make this one of the more regal Cotswolds villages to visit. A maze of cobbled laneways provide plenty of spaces to explore with the village cascading down the side of a hill.
The real drawcard is the central church and its immaculate grounds. Decorated with rows of perfectly trimmed yew trees and surrounded by tombs and monuments, it’s one of the most photogenic spots in the Cotswolds.
The story goes that there are 99 yew trees in the church grounds and if a 100th tree is planted, it’s immediately killed by the devil. The last official count put the number of trees at 103.
Take a stroll through the fanciful Rococo Gardens on the outskirts of Painswick complete with magical follies and surprising views of the surrounding countryside.
HOW TO GET TO PAINSWICK
Painswick is 15 minutes away from Gloucester and a 2 hour, 30-minute drive from London. To visit Painswick by public transport, take the train to Stroud Station then take Bus 66 for a 10-minute ride. The town is big enough for a couple of days especially if you head over to scenic Slad or Cranham which are both within walking distance.
7 – BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER
Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the best Cotswold villages with a range of activities to keep the whole family entertained. A picturesque canal runs down the high street with handsome stone bridges connecting either side of the road. Trendy cafes mix with quaint tea rooms and ice cream stands. Like any small village worth its salt, there are plenty of bakeries – our pick is Bakery on the Water.
At the end of the high street, the Cotswolds Motoring Museum houses Brum, the star of the 90’s BBC children’s TV show about a small radio-controlled car. If you’re not happy with seeing the village once, Bourton enthusiasts can check out the Model Village which is an exact (but miniature) replica.
On the outskirts of town, the Cotswolds Brewing Company is open to the public every weekend for tastings of their homegrown lagers.
A hearty breakfast at The Croft sitting on their deck watching the ducks float down the River Windrush. It’s a great way to kickstart a weekend itinerary in the Cotswolds.
HOW TO GET TO BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER
Bourton-on-the-Water is a 2-hour drive from London. To go via public transport, take the train to either Kingham Station or to Moreton-in-Marsh, then the bus to Bourton-on the-Water. The bus services can be infrequent so check the timetables and time your train to connect with them. Only the 801 service (between Bourton and Moreton) runs on Sundays, and only in summer months (twice daily).
A cab from Kingham or Moreton-in-Marsh to Bourton will take around 20 minutes.
8 – UPPER SLAUGHTER & LOWER SLAUGHTER
Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are two tiny villages that perfectly capture the aesthetic of the prettiest Cotswolds villages. With no building taking place in the Slaughters since 1906, they remain quintessential English rural villages.
River Eye – a tributary of the River Windrush – winds its way through honey-coloured cottages and cute churches with little bridges dotted along the brook. There are no shops in either village, just several places along the river to soak up the scenery and plenty of photo opportunities.
There’s no better way to appreciate the beauty of the area than on a meander between the two. The path follows the river from Lower Slaughter over an easy 20-minute walk. Grand hotels and manner houses, bucolic English countryside and lush green meadows cut a dreamy scene.
Book a traditional afternoon tea at the Slaughters Manor House for a taste of the good life in a majestic setting. Must be washed down with Champagne.
HOW TO GET TO THE SLAUGHTERS
The best base to visit the Slaughters is Bourton-on-the-Water (see above). From here, it’s just a 15-minute walk to Lower Slaughter, then another 15 minutes to Upper Slaughter. On a longer hike, you can reach Naunton, another village that very nearly made the list.
More details are in our guide to the best weekends in the Cotswolds.
9 – KINGHAM
Kingham is a small working community and the best Cotswolds village for foodies.
The local pub – The Kingham Plough – is operated under a Heston Blumenthal prodigy who has reinvented classic dishes on their innovative menu. It’s the perfect cosy pub to enjoy a pint and some top-quality cooking after a long day hiking in the area. The Wild Rabbit craft culinary masterpieces in an impressive but relaxed setting. Their recent Michelin star has given the prices a whack but for fine dining in the Cotswolds, it’s difficult to go past.
The nearby Daylesford Organic has a farm shop with an excellent selection of local produce, a bewildering array of cheeses, and a modern café with on-trend lunch options. Book a weekend at either the Plough or the Wild Rabbit – two of the best places to stay in the Cotswolds.
Try and time your visit to coincide with the annual Kingham Farmer’s Market organised by the Plough. The market is held on the first Sunday in May and is a great way to support local artisan suppliers.
HOW TO GET TO KINGHAM
Kingham is a 1 hour, 40-minute drive from London. It has its own station on the mainline, however, it’s one mile outside the village centre, so you’ll need to organise a taxi from the station. The villages of Bledington, Lower Oddington and Churchill all have famous Cotswolds pubs and are only 30 minutes to an hour’s walk away.
10 – LACOCK
Lacock is owned and managed by the National Trust so it lacks the lived-in feel of other Cotswold’s villages. However, the protection of the trust has ensured that Lacock has been beautifully preserved; unchanged since it was established in the 13th century as a wool trading centre.
Half-timber, half stone cottages line wonky laneways that fill the village with charm and character. Shops have maintained their original simple branding and films such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma have been lured in by authentic facades.
The main attraction in Lacock is the Abbey, founded in 1229 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. It’s a quirky country house with varying architectural styles inherited over the centuries. The medieval rooms contain a clock house, a brewery and a bakehouse, all enclosed in naturally wooded grounds.
The abbey grounds must be booked in advance.
Explore the Fox Talbot Museum which displays the works of former resident William Henry Fox Talbot who invented the negative / positive photographic process – the basis of present-day photography.
HOW TO GET TO LACOCK
Lacock is 40 minutes’ drive from Bristol and an easy day trip from Bath. From London, it’s a 2 hour, 10-minute drive. Lacock is 20 minutes’ drive from Castle Combe, so Chippenham is the closest train station.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE COTSWOLDS
The Cotswolds is an area that is as diverse as it is beautiful, with a host of wonderful things to do. From sleepy hamlets to cities with imposing stately homes; bucolic rural countryside to the dramatic landscape of the escarpment. You could spend several weekends in the Cotswolds and have a different experience each time.
FOR PRETTY COTSWOLDS VILLAGES
For pretty villages, the area around Bourton-on-the-Water and the central Cotswolds is ideal. Here you’ll easily be able to visit the Slaughters, Kingham and a number of other local villages nearby. For more information on putting a weekend together, read our guide to the best Cotswolds weekend breaks.
If you are looking for some great hiking options, Broadway is a good choice with several great walks easily accessible along the Cotswolds Way. It’s also close to several great walks leaving from Stanton. For more information about great walks in the area, read out guide to the 6 best walks in the Cotswolds.
The area around Kingham is great for food, and there are plenty of things to do in Oxford – another great base for exploring the villages of the Cotswolds. We have a full list of the best areas with accommodation options in our article on where to stay in the Cotswolds.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE COTSWOLDS VILLAGES
The versatility of these beautiful Cotswolds villages means they are an all-year destination.
In summer, enjoy a walk in the Cotswolds over undulating landscapes dotted with sheep as the sun lights up the fields. Timeless villages similarly come alive when bathed in English sunshine. However, summer is the busiest time of year, so accommodation will be more expensive and some of the villages will be bursting with tourists.
Few other areas in the country display rusty autumn colours quite like the Cotswolds when a stroll on a crisp day is food for the soul. In winter, be captivated by the pretty stone villages frosted in snow as you curl up in front of an open fire with a glass of red in a country pub.
But it’s spring when the Cotswolds really comes alive. The gardens are at the most beautiful; the hiking trails are full of blossom and wild garlic; and the villages still quiet and relaxed before the summer rush.
MAP – PRETTIEST COTSWOLDS VILLAGES
Being centrally located, the Cotswolds are an excellent weekend destination. However, as a rural part of England, visiting via public transport can be tricky. Here are your options for visiting the Cotswolds villages.
VISITING THE COTSWOLDS BY CAR
The best way to visit these beautiful Cotswolds villages and enjoy the scenery that surrounds them is by car. With your own wheels, you could easily visit several villages in a day, without waiting for public transport. If you need to hire a car for the trip, we recommend Auto Europe.
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ITINERARY FOR VISITING THE COTSWOLDS VILLAGES
Many of the best villages in the Cotswolds are close to each other making them easy to visit in one day if you have your own car. Our guide to the best Cotswolds weekends has five itineraries to see several of the villages in one weekend along with pub and restaurant recommendations and things to do.
If you would like to get outside the villages, our favourite hikes in the Cotswolds include 6 very achievable walks through the beautiful English countryside. All are circular and most finish at a great pub.
Being centrally located, the Cotswolds villages are also great for a day trip. We have put together 10 ideas for great day trips to the Cotswolds which include all the information for a full day out.
VISIT THE COTSWOLDS VILLAGES ON AN ORGANISED TOUR
The other way to see the prettiest Cotswolds villages is via an organised tour. This is a great way to see some of the area if you’re pressed for time or just want to meet some other people who are up for a day out in the Cotswolds as well.
We use Get Your Guide as our booking partner who have strict COVID-19 safety precautions in place. Tickets will be sent to your smartphone with all the information you need about where to meet and what to bring. Booking through our links helps provide an income (at no extra cost to you) to keep Anywhere We Roam on the road.
FROM LONDON – OXFORD, BURFORD & BIBURY
FROM LONDON – BLENHEIM PALACE & DOWNTON ABBEY VILLAGES
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