The Cotswolds was a place I’d never heard of before moving to the UK, but it has fast become one of my favourite regions. Filled with idyllic English villages, an abundance of green spaces and a haven away from the hustle and bustle of city life, The Cotswolds offer a taste of quintessential village life in Britain. During our first visit in May 2018, I immediately felt like I had been transported into a scene from Postman Pat or The Bill, shows that shaped my perception of what life in Britain must be like. Sandstone cottages, thatched roofs and narrow lanes lined with stone walls are all part of the uniform in The Cotswolds.
Without a doubt one of the most picturesque regions to visit in the UK, the towns and villages that form The Cotswolds each hold their own charm from quaint hamlets to market towns, open fields to organic farms. To help you navigate your visit, I’ve put together a guide of the best villages in The Cotswolds so you can maximise your time. Whether you’ve got time for a day trip, a weekend getaway or a longer break to really settle into the slower pace of life, you’ll return from The Cotswolds feeling refreshed.
1. Castle Combe
Only a 30 minute drive from Bath, this small village in the south of The Cotswolds filled with honey-coloured sandstone cottages was built in the 1600’s and is a regular feature on lists of the UK’s prettiest towns. Pop by St Andrew’s church for a look around the grounds and inside, before stopping by The Old Rectory Tearoom for a spot of afternoon tea in true English fashion. Head downhill from Market Place to the brook that runs through the bottom of the village and cross the bridge for the most iconic photo of this idyllic town, before turning your attention to The Manor House with a quaint laneway of floral-dressed cottages. As you reach the bottom of the path you’ll be welcomed with the view of the incredible Manor house and gardens. In spring it will be covered in green climbers, or plan your visit for Autumn if you want to see them all turn a vibrant shade of red.
Insider tip: Across from the Market Cross Monument and to the left of the church, you might be lucky enough to purchase delicious homemade cakes made by Mac. Payments here work on an honour system, and the Victoria Sponge was the best I’ve ever eaten.
2. Lower Slaughter
One of my favourite villages in The Cotswolds is Lower Slaughter. Possibly the most beautiful of all them all, it features an old mill and houses either side of the River Eye, with two footbridges and a town pub on the corner. Locals here don’t enjoy having their homes photographed, as charming as they are, so focus on trying to base yourself around the river and footbridges or mill for any photos you plan to snap. If you fancy catching up with some of the locals, head around to the paddocks at the back of The Slaughters Country Inn after enjoying a crisp cider in the sunshine to meet some friendly cows. It can be a little busy here during the middle of day, visit closer to sunset to have the place almost to yourself.
Larger than the previous two, this is a town rather than a village. In the north-west corner of The Cotswolds, this is a lovely area to walk around or check out a few local activities. It’s not uncommon to spot a vintage car here, or jump aboard the vintage double-decker for a tour of the region. Once you’ve explored the town, its shops and tearooms, make your way up to nearby Broadway Tower atop of an ancient beacon site that is the second highest point in The Cotswolds. Admission is only £5 for adults and £3 for children.
4. Chipping Campden
Another personal favourite of mine, Chipping Campden caught us by surprise on our first visit. More expansive than we initially thought, this beautiful market town full of new and old sandstone houses is brimming with tea rooms, a terraced high street and the grand St James Church. If you’ve worked up a bit of an appetite after picking out your new home as your admire the lifestyles among quiet streets, call in for tea at Badger’s Hall. You can also treat yourself to a spot of pampering at The Cotswold Hotel and Spa if a little R&R is on your radar.
A great place to use as a base, we stayed here during both our visits to The Cotswolds. Central to many of the towns on this list, it is located in the north of the region and has plenty of boutique accommodation. The town was founded by Norman Lords and is at a junction which proved well for trade. In the centre of town you’ll find St Edward’s Church with ornate stained glass windows and its famous tree-framed doorway that is reminiscent of something from Lord of the Rings. For more tea (well, you’re in England after all!) head to Lucy’s Tearoom or partake in a traditional Sunday Roast at The Bell.
We found this to be the perfect home for our travels in The Cotswolds due to it’s proximity to many of the other villages we wanted to visit. As a couple we stayed at The Stag at Stow which offers some lovely rooms with clawfoot tubs and exposed beams, and as a group we stayed in this cottage which has plenty of rooms and bathrooms to accommodate groups of up to 8. Both were in the centre of town within walking access of the key sights and dining options.
One of the busiest towns in The Cotswolds, it’s most notable for Arlington Row which features in the British passport. Don’t let the crowds put you off, but do be prepared to spend some time searching for a parking space. Arlington Row, now a heritage listed site, is a row of weavers cottages built along the river Coln dating back to 1380. Surrounded by an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Bibury is worth a visit but you won’t need too long here. There is also a trout farm and a few quiet streets to explore at the back of the town. If you want to get a shot of Arlington Row without hoards of other tourists, visiting later in the day toward sunset or early morning will be your best opportunities.
A gateway town in the east, Burford is only 30 minutes drive from Oxford. The small medieval town was built on the River Windrush with a sloping high street that overlooks the Windrush Valley. Here you’ll find yourself dipping into antique stores, local produce suppliers and taking a wander down the whimsical side streets. At the bottom of Burford as you head toward the river you’ll find Burford Church, a brilliant building that stands out among it’s neighbouring cottages. Expect tree-lined footpaths, doorways draped in wisteria and a quintessential english village vibe here. We picked up a few local goodies from Mrs Bumbles Delicatessen including pomegranate balsamic vinegar and peach and apricot jam.
Oh, isn’t this one a charmer? This lovely little hamlet in the north of the Cotswolds didn’t fit into our itinerary the first time around, but we’re glad we made it here for our second getaway. A small village, home to only 165 people, it’s easily walked around in 10 minutes and offers one commercial establishment; the local pub. St Barnabas Church is the centrepiece of Snowshill skirted by a stone wall and a small graveyard. For sweeping views over the surrounding valley, follow the streets toward the back of town, or if visiting between June - September, be sure to visit the Cotswold Lavender for a sea of purple blooms.
Just squeezing onto the list is Bourton-on-the-Water. A little busy for my taste, this town is popular among almost all tourists that flock to The Cotswolds. After initially stopping by mid-afternoon, we returned early the following morning for a much more peaceful experience. Bakery on the Water offers some delightful, freshly baked treats before you make your way to The Model Village, where you’ll feel like you’re in a scene of inception with a miniature replica of the town built for you to walk around.
Just a collection of the most picturesque, charming or notable villages and towns to visit in The Cotswolds, you can spend as little or as long as you like in each. There are so many small places to explore, we have no doubt we’ll find a few more favourites to add to the list the next time we visit.
Have you been to The Cotswolds? Let me know in the comments which villages you loved most.
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