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.
7 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.