Cotswold villages have names that are as intriguing as the sound. Narrow winding roads twist through green rolling hills, each turn providing a fresh view of the English countryside and many beautiful places to visit in the Cotswolds. Limestone villages, streets burst with quaint antique shops and sheep grazing in green pastoral farms are an addition to the never-ending pretty picture-postcard views.
Honey-coloured stone and charming architecture blend harmoniously into the lush green countryside. Picking the best Cotswold villages isn’t easy as they are all lovely in different ways. Even the names of the towns on the map sound enticing.
So, leave behind the landmarks in London and pack your bags for a trip around these beautiful Cotswolds villages.
10 Best Cotswold Villages To Explore On Your First Visit
William Morris’ quote about travelling to Bibury “the most beautiful village in England” might not be apparent if you arrive at night.
Early in the morning, as you wake with the sun streaming on your face, the trickle of a bubbling stream and the quacking of ducks outside the attic window is a different story.
Your eyes are greeted with delightful gardens spread along the banks of a crystal-clear stream and a large pond.
Across the road from the pond is a row of quaint cottages, the most photographed in England, known as Arlington Row.
For a historic stay, book a room at the Swan Hotel where breakfast is a charming English affair, with bacon and eggs served in the formal dining room.
Tables have crisp white napkins, delicate china crockery painted with beautiful roses and a neatly folded copy of the Sunday Times.
Bibury is a tiny town with two pubs, an old mill and the Bibury Trout Farm where you can buy fresh fish (or catch it yourself).
Visit the Church of St Mary, a church of Saxon origin. With its earliest features from the 11th century, expect to see some incredible examples of Saxon architecture and stonemasonry.
The church is filled with Saxon and Norman carvings, and beautiful medieval stained-glass windows.
If you happen to arrive at Bourton-on-the-Water at the right time, look for the Cotswolds Motoring Museum, and you might be lucky enough to see a convoy of antique cars and their proud owners driving through the town.
Antique cars fit into the landscape of the stone cottages, and rolling hills and the museum also has a collection of old teddy bears and aircraft.
Find a tea house by the river and tuck into iced tea and scones while you watch the action on the river banks.
Families and pets wade through the shallow river ducking their heads under a succession of low-arched stone bridges.
The Windrush River is the town’s landmark and its unique course right through the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water, making it the Venice of the Cotswolds.
When you’ve had your fill of scones and tea, drive off into the picturesque hills that concealed layers of a long and historically rich past.
The Neolithic period left a legacy of long barrows – mysterious prehistoric burial mounds under the hills – like Belas Knap and Hetty Pegler’s Tump.
Roman ruins tease you with glimpses of the Cotswolds’ intriguing historical past.
Gloucester and Cirencester were the first Roman administrative centres, while substantial Roman settlements once existed in many of the villages and town.
Exotic birds might be the last thing you expect to see in a quaint English village, however, Birdland Park and Gardens offers just that.
Making the Cotswolds their home are penguins, flamingos, macaws, emus and a range of birds of prey.
The Dragonfly Maze should be next on your list.
A traditional Yew hedge maze, the Dragonfly Maze houses a hidden golden dragonfly, designed by Kit Williams.
The one place to look forward to seeing is Stow-on-the-Wold.
Just the name conjures images of hobbits, elves and exciting adventures to be had with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
Stow-in-the-Wold is the heart and highest point of the Cotswolds.
It’s impossible to get lost as its narrow winding streets lead you back to the town centre and market square.
These narrow lanes were designed to lead sheep directly to the market square and are a legacy from the town’s wool trading heyday.
Its unusual name came from Saxon times (Stow means holy place and Wold means hill).
During medieval times, the Cotswolds prospered on the sheep’s back.
Native Cotswold sheep were known throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high-quality wool which commanded high prices.
Wealthy wool traders built mansions and churches, known as “wool churches” in the area and some of these buildings remain today, completing the beautiful countryside with pleasing stone architecture.
A walk through the town reveals its historical past, as many of the town’s 16th-century houses are still standing.
The oldest is the Crooked House, which was built in 1450.
The battle cries of the last battle of the English Civil War once rang through Stow’s rolling hills, and the Kings Arms Inn is where King Charles I stayed before the battle of Naseby.
An excellent place to stay is Porch House, which was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as one of the oldest inns in England, dating back to AD947.
It is stylishly decorated and comes complete with a resident ghost and a tunnel leading to the church opposite.
As you wander along Digbeth Street, you’re sure to see a local butcher shop.
Stop to admire his window display and go in when the butcher, dressed in his crisp white coat, beckons you with a juicy pork pie.
Then wander on, browsing through the quaint shops that sell everything from polo memorabilia to art and antiques.
Wandering around always goes hand-in-hand with a cup of tea and date scones at a charming tea shop.
For a more unusual stop on your visit, head to the Cricket Museum.
The museum houses a fantastic collection of cricketing artefacts from all over the world, shares the sports rich history with visitors and divulges information on some illustrious cricketers.
Not far from Stow-on-the-Wold lies Moreton-in-Marsh, which was a market town during the 13th century.
Old traditions die hard, and the Moreton-in-Marsh market becomes a bustling market town each Tuesday.
The Cotswold Falconry Centre near Moreton-in-Marsh is an exciting place to visit to see the handlers flying their eagles, hawks, owls and falcons.
Falconry was introduced into the United Kingdom at the end of the 7th Century AD by the Saxons to fill their dining tables with fresh meat.
A short drive from Moreton-on-Marsh is Batsford Arboretum.
Home to one of the largest private tree collections in the country, the varying flora and fauna here change with the seasons bringing something new to the garden each time.
The arboretum spans 56 acres of wild gardens dotted with ponds and streams, and tucked away you can find oriental statues nestled amongst the leaves.
If you feel peckish after your stroll, the Garden Terrace Café offers traditional home baking and afternoon teas.
The crooked roof lines and leaning walls of Burford’s long and steep main street are crammed with small hotels, galleries, antique shops and tea rooms.
From the 14th to the 17th centuries, Burford was a wealthy wool town.
In 1649, a mutiny of 800 men from Oliver Cromwell’s army spent a night in Burford but unfortunately, Cromwell tracked them down and locked them in the church of St John the Baptist where bullet holes can still be seen today.
Huffkins tea room is a must when visiting Burford. Huffkins was opened in 1890 and has been serving the people of Burford since then.
With five additional branches open around the Cotswolds, it is no wonder that the homemade cakes and other baked goods from Huffkins have earnt notoriety, with luxury department store Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, and the royal palaces placing orders from this tiny village bakery.
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At Stroud, the 12th century Berkeley Castle lays claim to being the fatal murder scene of Edward II and is believed to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream”.
The castle’s Great Hall dates back to the 14th century and once hosted King Richard II and Queen Elizabeth I.
Each year, thousands of people are attracted to the Joust, which is one of the UK’s largest and most spectacular medieval festivals.
At the festival, you can step back 500 years into history and mingle with minstrels, dancers, knights, knaves, lords and ladies, while armoured knights battle for possession of the castle.
Stroud’s canals and waterways once transported coal, corn, sugar and chocolate and are fascinating to explore.
Wander through Stroud and the five valleys that surround the town to view the area from the eyes of those in the creative industries.
The area was, and still is, frequented by writers, artists and craftspeople.
Author Laurie Lee made this area famous with his memoir of his early childhood, “Cider with Rosie”.
The 12-room farmhouse where William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, grew up is a famous landmark in England.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, Warwickshire, near Stratford-upon-Avon draws crowds of visitors who flock there to see the well-known thatch cottage and lovely gardens.
No visit to Stratford-upon-Avon would be complete without indulging in a little Shakespeare.
Visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for Shakespearean plays in all of their glory, and some with a modern touch.
8- Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden was once one of the most important medieval wool towns in England, with its fame for its high-quality wool reaching far across Europe.
Evidence of the village’s wool trade is still evident through St James’ Church, a church built with money from the wool trade.
With its 120ft tower, the church is famed for housing one of the oldest altar tapestries, which was woven before the reformation.
The town received conservation status in 1970 for the High Street and much of the surrounding town in a bid to ensure that the ancient town could be preserved for future visitors to enjoy.
Hidcote Manor Garden is a must-visit when in Chipping Campden.
Like many buildings of such standing in the Cotswolds, Hidcote Manor was once a favourite of members of the Arts & Crafts movement.
The gardens offer outdoor rooms with unique character reflected in their plants and sculptures.
The gardens are filled with traditional plants from England, as well as more unusual foliage from around the world.
Situated opposite the Ancient Market Hall, built in 1627 by Sir Baptist Hicks, is Bantam Tea Rooms.
With tranquil views over the heart of the town, a selection of homemade cakes, fluffy scones with jam and cream, and a variety of light bite lunches and snacks are available to indulge on.
9- Lower Slaughter
Lower Slaughter is the epitome of the traditional ‘chocolate-box’ village the Cotswolds is famous for.
Nestled beside the River Eye, this stunning village along with its sister village Upper Slaughter, have remained completely unchanged since 1906 as no building work has taken place.
Continue your step back in time with a visit to The Old Mill, a restored 19th-century flour mill.
While exploring its gift shop filled with an eclectic mix of tokens and gifts, and of course stopping off for a cup of tea and slice of cake in the tea room, keep your eyes peeled for signs of the mill’s working life.
Mechanisms, presses and grindstones are all still visible.
A final stop on your stroll through Lower Slaughter takes you down Copse Hill Road, named the most romantic street in Britain.
Beautiful limestone cottages line this idyllic street and the views are simply stunning.
Visit the Riverside Tea Room, for a traditional ploughman’s lunch, or if you fancy something a little sweeter, try their delectable homemade scones with jam and cream in idyllic surroundings.
Dubbed the ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’, the streets of Broadway are lined with honey-coloured cottages made from Cotswold stone, and on High Street, are joined with lines of horse chestnut trees.
Base yourself at The Lygon Arms Hotel for the night, or simply pop in for a quick pint of beer, and explore its rich history.
During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell spent the night at the hotel before the Battle Of Worcester, and King Charles I used the building to meet with and rally his royalist supporters.
Overlooking Broadway is Broadway Tower and the surrounding country park.
This historic monument was built for the Earl of Coventry in 1798 by architect James Wyatt.
This 20 m (65ft) tall building became a countryside retreat for those in the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th century and was frequently visited by textile designer, novelist and poet William Morris and his daughter May.
Now, the tower houses a museum which spans three floors.
All proceeds from the museum go towards the preservation of the tower and its now-iconic spot overlooking this pristine landscape.
Antique shops and art galleries are in abundance in Broadway.
Head to The Old Print Gallery for limited edition prints, or Cheltenham House Antiques for a vast array of antiques, silver and art all nestled in Cotswold stone, leafy building.
Where is the Cotswolds?
The Cotswolds is an easy two-hour drive from London and spreads across the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Somerset.
All local tips and the text for Chipping Norton, Lower Slaughter and Broadway written by Sarah Holmes, who lives in the Peak District and has visited the Cotswolds many times.