15 Best Cotswolds Villages
The Cotswolds, located in southwest England, has long been a favourite for tourists looking to escape the hustle-and-bustle of London.
The region’s rolling hills and meadows are home to numerous villages, many of which remain preserved in their Medieval states.
Visiting the Cotswolds gives an authentic look at life and history in the English countryside.
Most visitors stick to the more touristed villages, but this guide will take you through the top 15 villages to visit, so you can venture further along the tourist path, and see the Cotswolds’ best, sans crowds.
One of the most popular villages in the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water has been voted among the prettiest villages in England.
Visitors here can immediately see why. The River Windrush cuts through the village, and is connected by five historic bridges, earning Bourton-on-the-Water the moniker of “Venice of the Cotswolds”.
The village offers a wide range of attractions, making it great for families travelling with children.
Stop by the Cotswold Farm Park or the Birdland Park & Gardens to see everything from baby pigs to King Penguins.
Adults can also tour the Cotswold Brewing Company, a family-run brewery which offers a large selection of craft beers and lagers.
There’s also delightful museums like the Cotswold Motor Museum and the Bourton Model Railway and Village, which offer unique perspectives on English life.
Another great activity is hitting up the shops while strolling through the village streets. Bourton-on-the-Water has local artisan shops selling perfume, pottery and sheepskin.
Burford is well-known for its picturesque High Street, flanked by uninterrupted views of the surrounding meadows.
However, its town centre isn’t its only claim to fame. You can stay in the Bull Hotel, which was once frequented by King Charles II, or wander amongst Burford’s numerous Medieval landmarks. Burford is even home to England’s oldest pharmacy.
To experience the village’s Medieval history, visit the Tolsey Museum, located in a former trading house, or admire the architecture of the Church of St John the Baptist, with its picturesque crossing tower and Medieval art collection, including one of the first depictions of indigenous Americans.
Many visitors come to Burford for Levellers’ Day, commemorating the execution of three revolutionaries in 1649, held annually on the nearest Saturday to May 17th.
Cirencester is known as the “Capital of the Cotswolds”, and is one of the largest villages in the region.
Its size, however, doesn’t deter from its charm.
The town is steeped in history, going all the way back to Roman times, when it was Britain’s second-largest town.
To see these Roman relics, visit the Corinium Museum, home to one of the best collections of Roman mosaics in the world, and the Cirencester Amphitheatre, now buried underneath a landscape of grassy mounds.
Like many villages in the Cotswolds, Cirencester was also a bastion of Medieval wealth, thanks to its wool industry.
This wealth can be seen in the Church of St John the Baptist, decked in flamboyant Gothic style.
Another favourite of visitors is Cirencester Park, part of the grounds of the Earls of Bathurst, which is now open to the public.
Other attractions include the town’s weekly markets, including the Street, Cattle and Antiques Markets.
Castle Combe is named for its 12th-century eponymous Castle, which once stood just north of the city.
The castle is almost long gone, but there’s still plenty to see.
The village’s picturesque streets and rowhouses have long been popular as a filming location, having been featured in 1967’s Doctor Dolittle, as well as more recent films, like War Horse.
This tiny town with a population of just 344, looks much the same as it did in 15th century.
Stop by the historic water pump, the 12th-century St Andrew’s Church, or see one of the oldest working clocks in England.
Another village on the tourist track, Chipping Campden is a popular home base when visiting the Cotswolds.
Its central location allows easy access to other Cotswold villages, as well as other towns in the region, like Stratford-upon-Avon.
Chipping Campden is known for its seasonal beauty, offering colourful blooms in the spring from its bluebells and daffodils, and snow-topped cottages in the winter.
Besides the village’s natural beauty, visitors can also be delighted by the historic Market Hall and Silk Mill, which still produces prized silkworks today. Additionally, Chipping Campden is a hotspot for local business, with several antique-sellers, antiquarian bookshops, and artisan craft and food stores.
The village of Blockley offers a unique landscape from other Cotswold villages.
Retaining the golden-coloured charm of its neighbours, Blockley is a compact town, sheltered by the surrounding hills.
The streetscape is built in a circle-like formation, making the village easily walkable, and Blockley offers a look at a more modern style.
The Medieval almshouses seen in other Cotswold villages are not present here, in exchange for wider cottages.
There’s also the quaint Church of St Peter and St Paul, which has recently been used as a filming location for the British television series, Father Brown.
Most visitors come to Blockley for its classic cars.
Watsonian Squire has been building sidecars since 1912, and has been based in Blockley for the past 30 years.
Visitors can hire out classic cars to explore the area from Classic Car Hire North.
Located at the crossroads of several local roads, Stow-on-the-Wold became a powerful trading force during Medieval times.
It’s also the Cotswolds’ highest village, sitting on top of an 800-ft hill, which proved useful during the English Civil War.
Visitors can still see remnants of this history today.
First stop for all visitors should be the expansive Market Square.
During the height of Stow’s power, this square held some of the Cotswolds’ largest sheep fairs.
You can still catch the market atmosphere during the monthly Farmers’ Market.
Stow is also a popular spot for walking. You can see stunning viewpoints from within the town, or wander out to the neighbouring villages.
Stanton is popular with visitors walking the Cotswold Way, a national hiking trail.
Consisting of just a few streets, there isn’t much here in the way of sightseeing.
However, this tiny village of just under 200 people, is one of the most picturesque in the Cotswolds, and is relatively void of large crowds.
Despite its size, Stanton is home to several historical buildings, including the Church of St. Michael, most likely built on a former pagan site.
There are also a few cottages and manor houses, like Sheppey Corner and Stanton Court.
You can also venture just outside the village and wander the gardens of nearby Snowshill Manor and Stanway House.
Tetbury lies on the Southern end of the Cotswolds, and is a great base for exploring this part of the region.
The village is larger than other Cotswold villages, thus providing a great opportunity for walking.
Visit the Church of St. Mary’s, with one of the tallest spires in England, then head up the Chipping Steps for the town’s best viewpoint.
Like many villages in the area, Tetbury was a wool trading hub, and its Market House, one of the best-preserved in England, still hosts two weekly markets.
You can also visit the Police Museum, a quirky institution with a collection of local memorabilia.
Tetbury is also a hotspot for shopping, with 25 antique stores, and several high fashion boutiques.
Another gem of the south Cotswolds, Painswick is a hub for local culture and art.
The colourful village features the famed golden stone buildings typical in the Cotswolds, as well as some Medieval half-timbered buildings.
The Painswick Hotel is a favourite base for travellers, and the hotel provides several self-guided walking tours for visitors.
One favourite walk is up to Painswick Beacon, which has sweeping views of the Severn Valley.
The main attraction of Painswick, however, is its eccentric culture.
Pubs serve local ales and café like the Patchwork Mouse Art Café serve coffee and fresh-baked pastries.
Do be sure to explore the town’s galleries, or better yet, visit during the Arts Festival or Art Couture Painswick Festival.
Moreton-in-Marsh enjoys a direct rail link to London, and serves as a gateway for many travellers and day-trippers to the area.
There are numerous historic hotels and inns, so the village makes another excellent base for exploring the Cotswolds.
Another market town, Moreton-in-Marsh still has a Tuesday street market on High Street. In fact, it’s the largest open-air market in all of the Cotswolds.
Nearby attractions are the Cotswold Falconry Centre, a unique spot for nature lovers, and the Batsford Arboretum, home to over 2,800 species of flora.
Moreton-in-Marsh also has a unique fantasy twist. J.R.R. Tolkien was a frequent visitor, and The Bell Inn and nearby Four Shire Stone inspired locations in his Lord of the Rings series.
Nearby the large village of Cirencester is the tiny hamlet of Bibury.
This idyllic spot has received much acclaim for its natural beauty, and The Huffington Post recently named it one of the “Most Charming Towns in Europe”.
The main attraction here is Arlington Row, one of the most photographed spots in England, even featuring on the inside of UK passports.
The row of weavers’ cottages was built in the 14th century, and gives a quintessential slice of countryside England.
For a more unique slice of life, stop by the Bibury Trout Farm, the oldest in the country, where you can catch your own dinner.
Alternatively, head to the farm’s shop and make your own picnic to take into the surrounding countryside.
I wrote an article about Bibury. You can click here to read about our experience of visiting Bibury.
Northleach is great stop to get away from the crowds.
Its located along the main tourist track, at the intersection of the A40 and the Roman Fosse Way, and just 10 miles from Cirencester.
Northleach offers the same attractions as many Cotswold villages: an old Market Place with a weekly market, half-timbered buildings, and a gorgeous “wool” church, the Church of St Peter and St Paul.
You can also explore the historic architecture at the Old Prison, now home to a café.
It’s a great place to shop at local businesses, from bakeries and wineries to more unique artisan stores selling everything from doll houses to music boxes.
Northleach also makes a great place to stay if you’re set on finding a more untouched side of the Cotswolds.
Broadway is a hotspot for walkers and view-seekers.
Visitors often head to Broadway Tower, for one of the most picturesque viewpoints in the whole region. However, it’s not just scenery.
Broadway also has an illustrious past.
The Lygon Arms Hotel once hosted Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War, and the town was a favourite of many artistic figures.
Gordon Russell, a renowned furniture designer, grew up in Broadway; the Gordon Russell Design Museum houses his former workshop.
There’s also the Broadway Museum, which tells the story of Broadway and its resident artists, like John Singer Sargent.
Broadway’s also a great stop for active travellers. The town offers opportunities for golf, horse riding, and even clay pigeon shooting.
Upper and Lower Slaughter
The Slaughters actually consists of two neighbouring villages but are often paired together by travellers and residents.
Lower Slaughter is known for its historic mill, built-in 1658.
Now restored to its former glory, the mill still has its original water wheel.
You’ll also find the quintessential Cotswold stone cottages, and a stream running through the town.
Lower Slaughter has a simple, workaday charm that wins over visitors and has made it a favourite in the region.
Surprisingly, as you continue on to Upper Slaughter, you’ll find that most of the crowds thin out, as the majority of visitors opt for Lower Slaughter. The main attraction here is the Eyford House.
This mansion, built in 1911, maintains the atmosphere of the surrounding village.
Its rooms are lavishly but tastefully decorated, and it makes a great contrast from the mill in Lower Slaughter.