The Cotswolds villages fulfil an idolised English dream. 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, the 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 there are also Cotswolds villages that rarely see visitors. Real working towns with minimal signs of commercialisation except for a cramped old pub; or beautifully set villages on narrow country lanes whose only objective is to provide a 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, not everything in this part of England is the same. Our list of the best villages in the Cotswolds to visit includes the ones that offer something different; a unique experience, a notable attraction or just extra charm.

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10 BEST VILLAGES IN THE COTSWOLDS


CASTLE COMBE

Honey-hued cottages tucked into forested hills

BROADWAY

Antiques, art galleries and the well-heeled

BIBURY

The iconic view of English weaver cottages

STANTON

A perfect pint in a proper walker’s pub

PAINSWICK

Grand architecture and an immaculate churchyard

MINSTER LOVELL

A romantic picnic by atmospheric medieval ruins

BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER

Hipster brunch and family attractions

THE SLAUGHTERS

Picture perfect babbling brook and golden-hued cottages

KINGHAM

Cotswolds thriving foodie scene

LACOCK

Expansive mediaeval Abbey beside a film-set village

CASTLE COMBE

Honey-hued cottages tucked into forested hills

BROADWAY

Antiques, art galleries and the well-heeled

BIBURY

The iconic view of English weaver cottages

STANTON

A perfect pint in a proper walker’s pub

PAINSWICK

Grand architecture and an immaculate churchyard

MINSTER LOVELL

A Romantic picnic by atmospheric medieval ruins

BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER

Hipster brunch and family attractions

THE SLAUGHTERS

Picture perfect babbling brook and golden-hued cottages

KINGHAM

Cotswolds thriving foodie scene

LACOCK

Expansive mediaeval Abbey beside a film-set village


1 / CASTLE COMBE

Best Cotswolds village for honey-hued cottages tucked into forested hills

With a distinct lack of tourist shops and a real lived-in feel, Castle Combe is an unspoilt Cotswolds experience in a beautiful setting. 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 Combe a protected feel; like a village from a different time.

Castle Combe was once a weaver’s town and the centre of the Cotswolds wool industry. A row of weaver’s cottages still occupies a strip along the river backed by the surrounding hills – the classic view of this tiny village. The 12th-century church contains a monument to a Norman knight and houses what is thought to be the oldest working clock in England.

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 villages in the Cotswolds. Castle Combe is also the start of one of our favourite walks in the Cotswolds.


DON’T MISS /

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.

2 / BIBURY

Best Cotswolds village for the iconic view of English weaver cottages

Often described as the most beautiful village in the area, Bibury is an excellent base for a weekend in the Cotswolds. Founded in the 8th century but mostly built in the 11th, the Saxon church has an imposing view over the nearby village green which hosts village festivals all year round.

Like many villages in the Cotswolds, Bibury’s leading industry was wool and textiles. In the 17th century, a monastic wool store was converted into a row of cottages for weavers. Today, Arlington Row is possibly one of the most visited and photographed spots in the Cotswolds.

The watery meadow in front of Arlington Row is seasonally flooded and perfect for catching the early morning lights. 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 in the background.

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 visit Bibury for sunrise, you’ll have one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds all to yourself.


DON’T MISS /

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.

3 / BROADWAY

Best Cotswolds village for antiques, art galleries and the well-heeled

Set at the foot of the western end of the Cotswolds escarpment, Broadway has a wide grass-fringed high street lined with all the right retail outlets to give it a reputation for being one of the posher villages in the Cotswolds. It’s the perfect country sojourn after a day in Oxford.

Old style tea rooms encourage visitors into their lace-lined doors with promises 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, bestowing a legitimacy on a small but thriving art scene.

Visible from the high street on top of the nearby Fish Hill is Broadway Tower. Constructed by the 6th Earl of Coventry in the late 18th century, the tower – nothing more than a folly – is a popular endpoint for a great hike from the village and well worth visiting.


DON’T MISS /

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.

4 / STANTON

Best Cotswolds village for a perfect pint in a proper walker’s pub

It’s a good thing Stanton often doesn’t rate a mention on many guides about the Cotswolds. Its charm is assumed in the quiet, unaffected peacefulness of a regular village. It just happens to be a very pretty one.

The only sign of commercialisation in the village 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. It’s one of our favourite walks in the Cotswolds and finishing with a pint at the Mount Inn doesn’t disappoint.

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.

The architectural building of note is the church, occupying prime position in the centre of the village. The grade I listed building dates back to the year 1200, however numerous additions over the centuries have created a mish-mash of styles.


DON’T MISS /

After completing the Stanton Snowshill walk, finish with a pint on the deck of the Mount Inn overlooking Stanton and the Welsh mountains.

5 / MINSTER LOVELL

Best Cotswolds village for romantic picnic by atmospheric medieval ruins

Past a small tree-lined cricket pitch and over a babbling brook, Minster Lovell assumes a veiled location by the banks of the Windrush River. It’s a beautiful tiny village with a classy hotel and oodles of Cotswolds charm.

But, head passed the immaculate chocolate box houses, the main reason for visiting Minster Lovell presents itself. Here, the picturesque ruins of a 15th-century manor house, rest on the banks of the river creating an idyllic location in the English countryside.

It’s the perfect spot for a picnic by the grassy banks under the ruins. If the weather is warm enough, the river that meanders past is one of the best places in the Cotswolds for a wild swim. 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. It’s a beautiful rural setting and ideal for an easy walk in the Cotswolds.

As a Cotswolds village with a difference, Minster Lovell is less about charming village life and more about enjoying the great outdoors in England.


DON’T MISS /

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.

6 / PAINSWICK

Best Cotswolds village for grand architecture and an immaculate churchyard

The prosperity Painswick enjoyed from the 17th century is evident in the rows of fine pale grey limestone buildings. Unlike the cute honey-coloured cottages of the other Cotswolds villages, the high street in Painswick is imposing and grand.

In the village, cobbled laneways provide plenty of spaces to explore, making it a great day out in the Cotswolds. Pop in and out of shops, stumble upon hidden gems and take in a vantage point from the village as it cascades down the side of a hill.

Whichever street you stumble upon all roads lead to the church. The oldest part was built in the 14th century with many additions and modifications occurring over the years.

The real drawcard, however, is the immaculate grounds. Decorated with rows of perfectly trimmed yew trees and surrounded by tombs and monuments from the 17th century onwards, it’s one of the most photogenic spots to visit 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.


DON’T MISS /

Take a stroll through the fanciful Rococo Gardens on the outskirts of Painswick complete with magical follies and surprising views of the surrounding countryside.

7 / BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER

Best Cotswolds village for hipster brunch and family attractions

Most villages in the Cotswolds can find a reference to someone somewhere saying they are “one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.” Bourton-on-the-Water is no exception. However, it’s the only one that can claim to be the Venice of the Cotswolds.

Yes, Bourton has a canal-like river and over-crowding during sunny weekends, but lazy comparisons aside, it’s a great base for a weekend in the Cotswolds. Unlike many other villages which take their charm from having nothing to do, Bourton-on-the-Water has attractions.

A picturesque river 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 – we like 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 local brewery in the Cotswolds is something we find hard to resist – a similar story with the Jurassic Coast region.


DON’T MISS /

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 exploring the area.

8 / THE SLAUGHTERS

Best Cotswolds village for picture perfect babbling brook and golden-hued cottages

Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are two tiny villages that perfectly capture the aesthetic of the Cotswolds. For quintessential English rural villages and all the charm that make this part of the world so appealing, make sure to visit the Slaughters.

With no building taking place in the Slaughters since 1906, both villages have remained untouched for over a century. River Eye – a tributary of the River Windrush – winds its way through beautiful 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 gentle meander between the two. The path follows the river from Lower Slaughter over an easy 20-minute walk and one of our favourite things to do in the Cotswolds. Grand hotels and manner houses, bucolic English countryside and lush green meadows cut a dreamy scene.


DON’T MISS /

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.

9 / KINGHAM

Best Cotswolds village for a thriving foodie scene

Kingham is a small working village in the Cotswolds that’s not known for its pristine beauty or distinctive architecture. There’s a tastier morsel putting Kingham on the Cotswolds map: the quality of the food scene.

The local pub – the 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.

Ingredients dished up at the Wild Rabbit are sourced from their farm, the nearby Daylesford Organic. The farm shop attached to Daylesford has an excellent selection of local produce, a bewildering array of cheeses requiring their own room, and a modern café with on-trend lunch options.


DON’T MISS /

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.

10 / LACOCK

Best Cotswolds village for an expansive mediaeval Abbey beside a film-set village

Strictly speaking, Lacock isn’t in the Cotswolds, but it’s a fuzzy border and it deserves a mention.

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, following the death of her husband, William Longespee, the son of Henry II. The abbey is 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.

Due to current social distancing restrictions, access to the abbey grounds must be booked in advance.


DON’T MISS /

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.

MAP / BEST COTSWOLDS VILLAGES TO VISIT

The Cotswolds is an area of outstanding natural beauty in the south-west of England. It stretches from Stratford-Upon-Avon in the north to Bath in the south and covers over 700 square miles. With limited public transport options, a car is the easiest way to visit the many places in the Cotswolds.

We recommend Auto Europe to book your hire car – book here if you are based in Europe or here if you are based in the USA.

To take our map with you as you explore, click on the star. This will save the map in your Google Maps app; you’ll find it at SAVED [bottom menu bar] -> MAPS [far right of the top scrolling menu].


WHERE NEXT?

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Oxford is an excellent jumping-off point to visit the Cotswolds. All our writing on the area is on our Britain page.

Here are some other great days out in the south-west of England:


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