Every Cotswold village has its own character, unique things to do and places to visit. The Cotswolds is known for its honey-coloured stone, thatched cottages, ancient inns, charming churches and for being quintessentially English in every possible way. Want to discover some of the best Cotswolds villages? Read on…
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I have a lot of love for the Cotswolds. This ridiculously gorgeous area of south central England is packed with picturesque villages, quaint towns, stately homes and historic buildings. As if that isn’t eye candy enough it’s all enveloped by the rolling green hills of the beautiful English countryside.
I never pass up the chance to stop at a Cotswold village if we’re passing and am happy to make quite the detour to do so. Better still, I’d book a pretty little Cotswold cottage and spend a night or two.
The Cotswolds area of outstanding natural beauty is the largest in England and Wales so there’s a lot of exploring to be done. The Cotswolds reach into six counties and if it’s your first visit to the area it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of quaint little villages and towns.
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So, which are the best Cotswold villages to visit? Well, that depends on you and your interests. To help you decide which ones to add to your itinerary I’ve covered my favourite Cotswold villages in this post with tips on things to see and do. Read on to discover some beautiful places including my take on the prettiest Cotswolds village. Although I’m sure I’ll change my mind next time I visit.
The River Windrush flows through this picturesque village and is the reason it’s often known as the Venice of the Cotswolds. The cute stone bridges crossing the river add to the Venetian vibes and there are some lovely shops, galleries and restaurants to explore.
Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the best Cotswolds village for quirk. The quirkiest feature by far being the fabulously detailed Grade II listed model village of itself which is built to a 1:9 scale out of Cotswold limestone.
It’s a wonderful place for kids who’ll love seeing the real life tiny trees and gardens, shops, houses. If you look closely, there’s even a model village of the model village within the model village itself. The miniature village was built in the 1930s and can be found in the gardens of the Old New Inn.
If that isn’t enough quirk for you then visit during August Bank Holiday weekend to cheer on the players in the Football in the River match. A game of football is actually played in the river and has taken place annually for over 100 years. For petrol heads, the Cotswold Motoring Museum is also located in the village.
Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the best Cotswold villages to stay because its one of the busier villages. You’ll find lots of good restaurants, cafes, shops and places to stay along with some of the best things for the whole family to enjoy.
Broadway is one of the larger Cotswold villages and is known for its gorgeous honey-coloured High Street which is packed with antique shops, boutiques, restaurants and pubs. Broadway is great for shopping and is one of the most well-known villages in the Cotswolds.
Pick up something to read at Blandford Books, choose your picnic goodies at Broadway Deli from their pick of local produce or pick up a gift at the very cute Whatever the Weather.
We had a lovely lunch in the Crown & Trumpet and sat outside as it was a gorgeously sunny day but inside is pretty good too.
Nearby is Broadway Tower, the highest castle in the Cotswolds, which is well worth a visit. The tower, which is one of the best places for far-reaching views of the countryside, was built in 1798 by Capability Brown.
The iconic Cotswolds landmark charges £12 per adult to climb the tower for a 20-minute visit. The best views are from the top of the tower but they are still very good from the grounds too.
Parking is £3 but you can walk from the village of Broadway along the Cotswold Way. The footpath to Broadway Tower is 1.25 miles.
The onsite café, Morris and Brown, is a nice spot for lunch. Named partly after William Morris who stayed at the tower. You’ll find many Morris inspired items in the nearby gift shop.
Upper and Lower Slaughter
These two pretty villages sit just a mile apart. Lower Slaughter sits on the banks of the River Eye about 6.4 km south west of Stow-on the-Wold and is one of the best Cotswolds villages for pretty footbridges. The village has remained fairly unchanged since the 19th century.
The whole village is built around the river which carries on to Upper Slaughter and then to Bourton-on-the-Water. Two pretty limestone footbridges will stop you getting your feet wet as you cross from one side of the village to the other.
The Mill is the main tourist attraction and was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086. It stopped being a working flour mill in 1958 and became a tourist spot in 1995.
Drop into the museum to learn how the mill operated, have tea and cake at the Riverside Café and seek out some souvenirs at the craft and gift shop.
Lower Slaughter is a short drive from Burton-on-the-Water so combine the two when you visit to make the best of your time. Upper Slaughter is very pretty but with little to do except have a wander around the village.
If you like walking you could walk from Lower Slaughter which is around one mile away and a short walk, around 20-minutes, depending on your pace.
Sitting high on Stow Hill at 800ft (244 metres) this village is the highest in the Cotswolds and dates back to Roman times when it was an important trading centre.
The charm of this market town lies in the typical honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings which make it one of the prettiest market squares in the Cotswolds. Cute narrow streets lead off the square which has a market cross as a focal point.
Shopping is still a big thing with many independent boutiques, galleries and antique shops sitting alongside some good restaurants, delis and cafes around the handsome market square. The Cotswolds Cheese Store was probably my favourite shop. A farmer’s market still takes place on the second Thursday of each month.
The Porch House which dates back to 947 AD is said to be the oldest inn in England and a visit to St Edward’s Church is a must-do. This unique church is famous for the two yew trees that appear to have become part of the doorway at the north porch.
I love a sleepy Cotswold village but it’s not where I’d choose to stay – I like to head out in the evening and enjoy a good restaurant and the buzz of a cosy pub or bar. This delightful stone cottage with internal wooden beams fits the bill perfectly as it’s just half a mile from the centre of Stow-on-the-Wold and easily walkable.
Stow is more small town than village but I’ve included it here because it’s a must-do on any Cotswolds itinerary, beautiful town and the perfect place to explore the Cotswolds from.
Castle Combe is often cited as being the ‘prettiest village in England.’ Well it is rather gorgeous and is one of the best villages in the Cotswolds for Instagrammers. Maybe that’s due to the fact that nothing new has been built in Castle Combe since the 17th century. It really is like stepping back in time.
If you do one thing then stroll to the quaint little bridge that crosses the River Bybrook. The Market Cross is also a lovely spot and the nearby Castle Inn makes a good lunch stop.
Castle Combe is one of the most iconic photo spots in the Cotswolds and, like most beautiful places, you’ll need to go early unless you want hordes of tourists in your photo too.
Due to it being one the Cotswolds prettiest villages, Castle Combe has featured in many films. It might also have something to do with the fact that there are no satellite dishes or overhanging wires – it’s all underground cables. You’ll spot Castle Combe in Stardust, Spielberg’s War Horse and the original version of Dr Doolittle with Rex Harrison. It also featured in Agatha Christie’s Poirot and many more TV shows.
Snowshill is a darling Cotswold village located on the escarpment above a trio of villages; Buckland, Laverton and Broadway. With a population of just 164 on the 2011 census, it’s also rather exclusive and probably more hamlet than village. Snowshill is my current favourite small Cotswold village and for good reason. It’s just so unbelievably pretty!
The old church which sits on the village green is lined by a cluster of higgledy piggledy stone cottages. If you think it couldn’t possibly get any more picturesque then look out for the red telephone box that stands nearby. You may recognise the village green from the film Bridget Jones’ Diary – it’s where she visits her parents for Christmas.
The main attraction in Snowshill is the National Trust run Snowshill Manor which sits in beautiful gardens. The manor house is overflowing with all manner of oddities and an eclectic mix of treasures collected by Charles Wade during his lifetime. There’s a teashop and restaurant on site or you could drop into the 15th century Snowshill Arms pub for lunch.
One of the best Cotswold villages for snowy scenes, Snowshill is named so because as one of the highest villages in the Cotswolds it usually sees snowfall before any of the others. As if this little village could get any more charming!
If you’re visiting between June and August then pay a visit to nearby Cotswold Lavender fields. You can read more about the fragrant fields in my article showcasing all of the Lavender Fields in the UK. If you’re visiting at other times of year then seek out the wildflower meadow.
You’ll find Cotswold Lavender at Hill Barn Farm, Snowshill, Broadway, Worcestershire, WR12 7JY
Snowshill is only 2.9 miles from Broadway so it’s worth combining a visit to both of these Cotswolds villages.
The Cotswold Way passes through both Broadway and Snowshill so both are good spots to stop for hikers and dog walkers with plenty of country pubs en route. Check out these dog friendly cottages in the Cotswolds.
If you own a red British passport then you’ll already be familiar with the cottages on Bibury’s famous Arlington Row because they feature on the inside cover.
The picturesque 14th century cottages sit steps away from the banks of the River Coln on Awkward Hill. The area has a long history with the wool trade and the cottages were first built for wool storage before being converted into weaver’s cottages. The Grade I cottages are probably one of the Cotswold’s best known sights and now belong to the National Trust.
William Morris said of Bibury ‘the most beautiful village in England’ which surely makes it one of the best Cotswolds villages to add to your bucket list. I absolutely agree that it is one of the prettiest Cotswolds villages – even when it’s raining.
After ambling down Awkward Hill and taking a look at Arlington Row, take a circuit around the small village where you’ll find the old mill, a National Trust nature reserve and St Mary’s Church.
A stop at the Swan by the bridge is always a good idea. The former coaching inn is a great place to enjoy a delicious Cotswolds afternoon tea. Bibury Trout Farm is next door.
Lacock is one of the oldest villages in the UK. Its name translates to ‘little stream’ evidenced by Bide Brook which dances its way prettily through the centre of town. Laycock is probably the best Cotswold village for Harry Potter fans. Well, all film fans actually, because so many have been shot in Lacock.
Downtown Abbey, the Pride and Prejudice series from 1995 and His Dark Materials have all had scenes filmed in the village. As well as being totally unspoiled and untouched by modern wires and signposts, it’s probably one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.
Virtually the whole of Lacock village is owned by the National Trust and is beautifully preserved and maintained. One of the main attractions is the 13th-century Lacock Abbey.
The beautiful abbey was founded by the Ela, Countess of Salisbury in 1232 as a nunnery for Augustinian canonesses and was converted to a private house after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The abbey became the home of photography pioneer William Fox Talbot who invented the photographic negative. Check out the museum which exhibits some of his works and ideas and be sure to explore the cloisters and the beautiful abbey grounds.
Cotswolds Villages Map
The best way to get around the area is by car. Use this map to help plan your route and itinerary around Cotswolds towns and quaint villages. You’ll see at a glance which places are nearest to each other. Alternatively you can download an Ordnance Survey Map.
I hope this guide has given you an idea of the best villages in the Cotswolds to visit. It’s one of my favourite places and I hope it becomes one of yours too.
If you plan to stay a few nights then why not book a Cotswold cottage for a few days so that you can pay a visit to range of beautiful villages. Which one will you be going to first?