If you’re planning a trip to the Cotswolds, you’re in for a treat. Declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, the region is England’s second-largest protected area after the Lake District. Its neat fields and mature woodland are crisscrossed by a network of long-distance tracks, perfect for walking or cycling, with the most notable being the 164km Cotswolds Way.
But apart from its rolling hills and charming countryside, this area of England is mostly famous for its quaint chocolate box villages!
These are a delightful tangle of cobbled lanes littered with honey-colored stone cottages with thatched roofs, cute antique shops, and cozy pubs. The picturesque scene is completed by peaceful rivers running through, spanned by tiny stone bridges.
But with so many towns and villages to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to go. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the best places to visit in the Cotswolds. From bustling market towns to hidden gems off the beaten track, we’ll show you the must-see destinations that will make your Cotswolds trip unforgettable.
Get ready to fall in love with the Cotswolds!
Known as the “Gateway to the Cotswolds,” Burford boasts picturesque streets, lined with vintage signs, antique shops, and charming old houses. Take a stroll along the most picturesque of them all, Church Lane Street, perched on a hill and home to the “Toll House,” once the meeting point for wool merchants and now housing the “Tolsey Museum.”
Then pay a visit to one of the town’s most prominent landmarks, the Church of St. John the Baptist, which stands tall over the center of Burford. This impressive church is a testament to the town’s prosperous wool trade and features stunning stained-glass windows, a spire that started to move after being added later, and weathered old gravestones scattered throughout the churchyard.
Snowshill is a tranquil hamlet comprised of a delightful mishmash of ancient cottages that huddle around a small green. At its heart stands St Barnabas Church, overseeing the village with its serene presence. And true to its name, Snowshill is often the first to receive snowfall in the region, adding an extra layer of charm to this already picturesque village.
Snowshill is particularly famous for its 17th-century manor house, Snowshill Manor and Garden, which was once home to Charles Paget Wade, an eccentric collector of art and antiquities. The manor is now owned by the National Trust and offers visitors a glimpse into Wade’s eclectic tastes, with rooms filled with curious objects from around the world.
During the summer season, Snowshill’s charming lavender fields burst into bloom, creating a stunning vista that’s ideal for taking a leisurely stroll.
While it may share a name with the famous theatre district in New York City, this Broadway is a world away in terms of atmosphere and lifestyle.
The village, known for its peaceful ambiance, is home to the iconic Broadway Tower, a historic landmark built in 1798 on the 312m-tall Beacon Hill. The tower has since served as a printing press, artists’ retreat, farmhouse, and even a nuclear bunker site. Make your way up to the rooftop to take in the breathtaking views or take the 1.5km circular walk around the park and spot the red deer that live there.
And if you are a train aficionado, prepare to be wowed by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway. Starting from Broadway and using steam and heritage diesel engines, it offers a round trip of 45km through the stunning Cotswold scenery.
Nestled beneath the slopes of Shenbarrow Hill, the small village of Stanton is renowned as one of the most architecturally distinguished of the smaller villages in the Cotswolds. Its charming narrow streets are lined with impeccably attractive thatched cottages, built almost completely out of golden-tinged Jurassic limestone.
The Sheppey Corner cottage, the Jacobean Stanton Court, and the impressive Church of St. Michael & All Angels, possibly standing on the site of a Saxon church, will probably capture your attention.
Situated along the Cotswold Way, a 164-km trail that runs through some of the most beautiful countryside in England, the village is a favored destination for hikers as well. To discover Stanton’s allure firsthand, consider taking this enchanting walking trail that links the village with the neighboring hamlet of Snowshill.
Another charming little town, Stow-on-the-Wold is situated atop Stow Hill, an ancient stronghold that dates back to the Iron Age.
The heart of the village is the Market Square, featuring high-walled alleyways, a traditional Market Cross, and a crooked house from the 15th century. Since 1107, Market Square has hosted regular markets, with over 20,000 sheep being traded at the height of the wool trade. Nowadays, a lively farmers’ market takes place on the second Thursday of every month.
A must-see spot in Stow-on-the-Wold is the north entrance of St. Edward’s Church, which is one of the most photographed locations in the town. Its thick wooden door, adorned with nails and surrounded by gnarled yew trees, is said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Doors of Durin. So, don’t forget to bring your camera!
The Slaughter Villages, consisting of Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter, are two of the most enchanting and picturesque villages in the Cotswolds.
Despite the ominous name, the word “Slaughter” actually has a benign origin, deriving from the old English word “slothre” which means “muddy place”. This name likely arose because of the presence of the River Eye, which flows through both Upper and Lower Slaughter.
Upper Slaughter is all about wandering around the golden stone houses, originally built as almshouses, and heading to the market square, known simply as “The Square”. In Lower Slaughter the main attraction is the Old Mill, now home to a museum, where, you will be guided through the history of breadmaking and learn how a corn mill works.
A 1,5km footpath following the course of River Eye and winding its way through lush green fields and pastures, connects the two villages.
With its honey-colored stone houses, babbling brooks, and quaint footbridges, Bourton-on-the-Water seems to have been plucked straight out of a storybook. Dubbed the “Venice of the Cotswolds” for its network of arched stone bridges that span the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water is a village that exudes a timeless beauty that has attracted travelers for centuries.
But this charming village offers much more than just picturesque scenery.
From its fascinating Model Village, which is a 1/9th scale replica of the village itself, to its collection of vintage cars and toys found in the Cotswolds Motoring Museum, Bourton-on-the-Water is a destination that promises to enchant and delight all who visit.
And in case you prefer taking long strolls and wish to discover the neighboring Slaughters villages on foot, there is this 11km circular trail that you can follow.
Resting snugly on the banks of the River Coln, Bibury seems to have been lifted right out of a beautifully conserved painting.
With picturesque bridges and well-preserved 14th-century farmhouses, it is no wonder that Bibury has become the most renowned village in the English countryside. The village’s fame extends far beyond the English borders, with its captivating beauty adorning British passports and capturing the hearts of Hollywood filmmakers, featuring in box office hits such as “Stardust” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”.
But Bibury’s claim to fame is not just for its postcard-worthy scenery; it is also a true Cotswolds village that flourished through the wool trade, and its attractions reflect this. The iconic weaver’s cottages in Arlington Row, Arlington Mill where wool was degreased, and Rack Isle where it was dried afterward, are all reminders of the village’s bustling wool trade.
Read more: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bibury
Even though the castle in Castle Combe is long gone, the village remains a captivating destination that transports visitors to a bygone era.
Its true charm lies in its tiny streets lined with crooked cottages, ancient pubs, and quaint gardens. And despite having only one main road appropriately named “The Street”, this is brimming with character and life. As you meander down it, you will find small tables outside some locals’ cottages, offering scrumptious baked goods, eggs, plants, and even second-hand books. What you will not find, however, is employees, as they run completely on the honor system.
A spot not to be missed is the southern end of the village, where the honey-hued weavers’ cottages, wraparound woodland, and packhorse bridge converge over a little brook, creating a photo-worthy scene.
Read more: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Castle Combe
Often referred to as the “Queen of the Cotswolds,” this small town boasts stunning architecture, gorgeous gardens, and a thriving arts and culture scene.
One of the most popular attractions in Painswick is St. Mary’s Church, which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the town. This stunning church dates back to the 14th century and is known for its impressive spire and beautiful architecture. Even more unique than the church itself is the beautiful churchyard with its 99 ancient yew trees, expertly trimmed and shaped into interesting forms.
The town is also home to a number of stunning parks and green spaces, including the Rococo Garden, which is a 10-acre garden that is famous for its ornate bridges, exotic plants, winding paths, and ornate follies. The Painswick Beacon is also a popular spot, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Intrigue awaits in the Cotswolds, where you can uncover the secrets of a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The rolling hills and quaint towns of the Cotswolds are like pages from a storybook, with each village offering a new chapter in the area’s fascinating past.
From the picturesque villages of Bibury and Castle Combe to the rolling hills of Broadway Tower and the hidden gems of Lower Slaughter and Snowshill, you will be spoilt for choice. Whether you’re sipping on local ale in a traditional pub or hiking along the Cotswold Way, you’re sure to be captivated by the magic of this place.
So, pack your bags, leave behind the hustle and bustle of modern life, and step into the enchanting world of the Cotswolds.