Having oohed and aahed at photos of the English region known as the Cotswolds for many years, I was thrilled to be finally able to visit the area myself and I wasn't disappointed.
One thing you notice when visiting the Cotswolds is that you quickly run out of superlatives. Just when you think you've seen the cutest village on earth, another is waiting a few miles away to surprise and delight you.
The gorgeous honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings, some with thatched roofs, and the rolling green countryside, are what makes this area so picturesque.
Below you’ll find my list of must-visit villages in the Cotswolds. They are all easily visited on a three day Cotswolds itinerary.
On both my visits to the Cotswolds we have based ourselves in Chipping Campden. For me, this is the perfect location as the town was big enough to provide all the basic services a holidaymaker needs, including a good choice of restaurants and pubs, as well as oozing with 'chocolate box' charm.
Like a number of towns in the region, Chipping Campden’s wealth was built on the back of the wool industry and it was a thriving market town back in the day. Thanks to that wealth, it is home to the impressive St. James' church, one of the finest 'wool' churches in England.
The long-curved High Street is lined with elegant stone buildings which house independent shops, pubs, galleries and restaurants, and taking pride of place in the centre of town is the old covered market hall which dates back to the early 17th century.
Chipping Campden is home to street after street of gorgeous honey-coloured houses, many of which sport traditional thatched roofs. One of the most photographed is Pike Cottage, and it’s not hard to see why!
Just one mile from Chipping Campden is Dover Hill lookout which offers stunning views over the Cotswolds landscape, and a few miles in the other direction you’ll find Hidcote Gardens, one of England's most famous gardens.
Where to stay in Chipping Campden
The Chance, a delightful B&B on the main road into Chipping Campden. Lovely rooms, delicious breakfast and a wonderful host.
Crafty Cottages are three self-catering cottages owned by the same couple that own The Chance. Located in the centre of town on Sheep Street and finished to a very high spec, these are the perfect Cotswold cottages to rent. We stayed in Number Five (June 2018).
Where to eat in Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden has at least a dozen restaurants and pubs to choose from. We mostly prepared our own meals in our cottage but did enjoy a lovely dinner one evening at The Eight Bells, a traditional English pub. (Mains £15 - 20, desserts £7)
Near to Chipping Campden
Getting to Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden, in the northern Cotswolds, is situated about 35 minutes from Stratford-upon-Avon, one hour from Bath and two and a half hours’ drive from London.
The town of Broadway is a thriving tourist magnet with plenty of souvenir shops, cafes and tea rooms, but it has managed to retain its charm - it must be those honey-coloured buildings that do it!
The town green makes a nice place to sit and watch the world go by as you savour the lovely surroundings and admire the houses, complete with roses around the front door.
Like all of the towns and villages in the Cotswolds, you’ll find lots of independently-owned businesses in Broadway and one that we loved was Broadway Deli. The shop is stocked full of fresh fruit and vegetables and local produce - all displayed beautifully - and also serves meals in the pretty rear courtyard. We enjoyed a delicious, healthy lunch in the courtyard on a sunny day.
A couple of miles from Broadway is Broadway Tower, a former folly and nuclear bunker, which dates back to the late 1700’s.
From the top of the tower (reached by a spiral staircase) you get fantastic views over the lush fields and quaint villages below. On a clear day you can see as far as the Welsh mountains. Entry fee is around £5 per adult.
If you’d rather not climb the tower and look in the museum, you can still get some good views from the site. There’s also a gift shop and cafe near the car park.
Parking costs £2 but is refunded on purchase of your Tower ticket.
Where to stay in Broadway
Try Buckland Manor, an elegant country manor house set in 10 acres of grounds. Click here to check prices.
Whilst Stanton may not have any notable sights, it’s what I regard as a quintessential Cotswold village. This small village (without any shops) is home to an abundance of Cotswold stone buildings complete with roses around the door and adorned with brightly coloured flower pots.
Located on the Cotswold Way walking path, Stanton is mostly visited by walkers and is off the regular tourist trail making it the perfect village to visit for a taste of ‘real’ English village life.
The tiny villages of Upper Slaughter and its ‘sister village’ Lower Slaughter are just a mile apart and connected by the River Eye.
Noteworthy buildings in Upper Slaughter include the Norman church, which has parts dating back to the 12th century, Upper Slaughter Manor (first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086), and Lord’s of the Manor Hotel, which dates from the mid-17th century.
Surrounded by rolling green hills, Upper Slaughter’s setting couldn’t be prettier but I have to say that it was Lower Slaughter that got my vote for ‘favourite sister’.
A gently flowing stream, an old mill - complete with waterwheel - and a cluster of Cotswold stone cottages are what greeted us on arrival at Lower Slaughter.
Whilst tourism is the primary business in the village, it is far quieter than many other Cotswold villages. Thanks to the narrow roads that wind their way over the aforementioned rolling green hills, buses are unable to access the village, restricting day trippers to those with their own vehicles.
There are a couple of pubs and manor houses at Lower Slaughter, as well as a cafe and tea rooms at the Old Mill.
Where to stay at Lower Slaughter
Straddling the meandering River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most visited - and probably most photographed - villages in the northern Cotswolds.
Its location right on the river gives Bourton a real point of difference from most of the other Cotswold villages. A number of pretty stone bridges cross the river, providing easy access to the cafes and gift shops that line its path and adding to the charm of the village.
Bourton has a busy town centre with plenty of services and a variety of shops, including a Christmas shop. Also in town you’ll find the Bourton Model Railway, The Model Village (where the village is built in miniature) and the Cotswold Motoring Museum.
Most visitors head not to Bibury itself but to a small hamlet just beyond the village called Arlington Row.
This row of former weavers’ cottages, built beside the River Coln, is a great example of picture-perfect Cotswold stone cottages. Said to date back to the 14th century, the cottages are now owned by the National Trust but are still home to permanent residents today*.
*One cottage is available for short term holiday rentals but often books out a year in advance.
One look and you can see why the Arlington Row cottages are much-photographed and much-visited.
Just along the river from the cottages is The Swan Hotel, a traditional English Pub that offers meals and accommodation. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the sunny courtyard. Across from The Swan is the Bibury Trout Farm.
There are no real services to speak of in Bibury itself but the village is worth a wander. It is home to a number of impressive buildings including Bibury Court, the former Arlington Mill and St. Mary’s Church.
At the southern end of the Cotswolds is a village that is often referred to as ‘The prettiest village in England’. Having visited Castle Combe myself, I’d have to agree that it’s up there with the best.
Built around a central market hall, Castle Combe’s gently curving main street is lined with meticulously kept honey coloured cottages.
St. Andrew’s Church, which dates back to the 13th century, sits opposite the market hall. It’s clock (thought to be late 15th century) is one of the oldest working clock in England.
The village itself consists of only about four streets where you’ll find a couple of pubs and a tea room, all you need to sit and enjoy the incredible view.
At the end of the village, an ancient humpback bridge crosses the Bybrook River, completing the idyllic scene.
A car park for visitors is located just outside the village (about a 10 minute walk).
Where to stay in Castle Combe
For absolute luxury, why not stay a night or two at The Manor House Hotel and Golf Club. Click here to check prices.
More Cotswolds villages
Of course the term ‘best Cotswold villages’ is subjective. I didn’t have time to visit Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh or Burford, three other Cotswold towns I have heard great things about, but I am sure they would all be worth a visit, too.
Where are the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds, cover an area of around 2,000 km2 which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They stretch from Bath to just south of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Visiting the Cotswold villages
A car is highly recommended to visit the smaller towns and villages of the Cotswolds, although there is a train station at Moreton-on-Marsh.
If you don’t have your own transport or are basing yourself in London, a number of Cotswolds day tour from London are available, including:
- Cotswolds day tour with pub lunch and visit to Blenheim Palace - click here for prices
- Lunch in the Cotswolds with a visit to Shakespeare’s home - click here for prices
For more accommodation options in addition to those mentioned above, click here to browse hotels, B&Bs, apartments, cottages and more.
This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated and re-published.
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