The Cotswolds in England is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it’s not hard to see why. With quaint villages, sandy coloured Cotswold stone houses, leafy lanes and rolling hills, the Cotswolds are the place to go to experience the quintessential English countryside.
Having lived in Oxford, on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds for two years, my weekends were often filled with road trips into the Cotswolds countryside: walking trips, picnics in the fields and exploring the most beautiful Cotswold villages in the area. So to help you plan your trip to this beautiful English destination, this is a guide to 15 beautiful villages to visit in the Cotswolds.
Click here for my complete Cotswolds Weekend Guide.
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15 beautiful villages to visit in the Cotswolds
1 Castle Combe
Regularly labelled as the prettiest village in England, this quintessential English village is straight out of a fairytale. It was even used as a movie location for the filming of Stardust and the original Dr Doolittle film - so it really is magical and one of the most beautiful villages to visit in the Cotswolds!
You might have seen Castle Combe on Instagram, the most famous angle of the village is from the bridge crossing the river and looking up the main street. Whilst this shot is beautiful, there is so much more to this quaint village.
Be sure to stop at the Old Stables cafe, a cute mis-match of furniture in an old stable with great sandwiches and cake! Or enjoy a pub lunch and a pint at the Castle Inn, if you sit outside then you have a view down the Main Street in the opposite direction towards the bridge. Wander around St. Andrew’s Church and from here you can access West Street to get into the Manor House Hotel grounds. This stunning 4-star hotel is also a golf club and a bar. You can take a few photos in the grounds or take a stroll down the track at the back and towards the brook.
Remember this village is inhabited by locals and the hotel has paying guests, so please be respectful of people’s property and space.
Where to stay in Castle Combe: The Manor House Hotel and Golf Club
2 Lower Slaughter
Located on both sides of the River Eye, this small village is picturesque and is one of the most photographed villages to visit in the Cotswolds. The traditional water mill by the river and the peaceful sound of the babbling stream really makes this village idyllic and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. If you’re wondering where to visit Cotswolds history and authentic village life, this is possibly the best village in the Cotswolds for that.
Lower Slaughter is also another place that has been used in several filming locations. While you’re here, you can visit the Lower Slaughter Museum which is housed in the old mill and also visit the Craft Shop next door. The small bridges crossing the river make for some great photo opportunities.
Where to stay in Lower Slaughter: The Slaughters Country Inn
3 Upper Slaughter
Just a couple of minutes drive from Lower Slaughter, it is worth visiting both of the Slaughters on your trip. Although I prefer to visit and photograph Lower Slaughter, Upper Slaughter is also very picturesque and often much quieter as it’s less popular with tourists.
Although it’s less popular, make sure to visit Upper Slaughter Manor and Gardens which are just on the right before Upper Slaughter as you drive from Lower Slaughter. These beautiful gardens and Elizabethan style Manor House are stunning to spend a sunny afternoon exploring.
Where to stay in Upper Slaughter: Lords of the Manor
Being one of the Cotswolds villages near Oxford, Bibury was one of my favourites for a quick afternoon trip to escape the city.
Probably most famous for the picturesque Arlington Row, this heritage row of Cotswold houses is frequently seen on Instagram and used as an example of quintessential English living. And luckily for you, you can actually stay in No.9 Arlington Row! This cottage offers holiday accommodation as one of the stunning National Trust properties, click here to book.
Also a National Trust protected area in Bibury is Rack Isle. This is a water meadow with many important species which are important to the biodiversity of the area. Take a stroll in the meadows and see the range of birds, dragonflies and maybe even a vole or two in the area!
After your visit to Arlington Row and stroll through the meadows, head to the village for tea and scones at the WIlliam Morris Tea Room. William Morris called Bibury “the most beautiful village in England,” so it’s fitting to have a tearoom here named after him and for Bibury to make it onto this list of the most beautiful villages to visit in the Cotswolds.
Painswick is located just a little south of Gloucester and is much bigger than the previous villages listed so far. Painswick is actually a town and as such is a much bigger place to explore with better transport links to nearby cities of Gloucester and Stroud.
You can easily park at the Stamages Lane Car Park and take a stroll into the centre of the town. With three churches in the town centre, there’s no shortages of striking architecture and 15th century houses to explore.
Grab a coffee at the Painswick Pooch Coffee House and head up to the Painswick Rococo Gardens, these really are the gem of Painswick! As the only complete surviving Rococo Gardens in the UK, these landscaped gardens are an incredible place to relax and explore the unique flamboyant outdoor nature of the early 18th century. Visit in February to see snowdrops, April for tulips, August for sunflowers, October for the autumn festival and check their seasonal guide on their website for information on what’s in season.
Where to stay in Painswick: The Painswick Hotel and Restaurant
Kingham is a great option if you’re coming to the Cotswolds from London and don’t have a car because the train station has direct train links with London Paddington. There are also direct trains to Hereford, Worcester and Oxford giving you plenty of options if you’re coming from elsewhere in the UK.
You’re going to wish every house in Kingham was yours! Every house is so quaint with perfect gardens and wildflowers growing along the hedgerows in summer.
I also love Kingham because it’s a great base to start from for a walk or bike ride. One of my favourite easy walks to do is a circular one that starts from the station, so really easy to access if you’re arriving by train. It’s a Cotswolds Conservation Board Walk, 3.5 (6km) long and follows hedge lines through fields over stiles, past ponds and along the river before bringing you back to the station. You can get the downloadable PDF here.
Stop at the Kingham Plough for a hearty lunch reward, the stunning interior is Cotswold Stone with rustic wooden tables and exposed beams. You can also stay overnight here.
7 Chipping Campden
Chipping Campden is a market town in the northwest Cotswolds and makes a great base for exploring the northern areas of the Cotswolds. Some of the houses date back as early as the 14th century and there is a history Market Hall in the centre, owned by the National Trust.
Chipping Campden has some of my favourite thatched houses in the Cotswolds as well as an insanely picturesque High Street. There are countless boutique stores, gift shops, independent businesses, bustling tearooms and hearty pubs here for you to really enjoy Chipping Campden as a base for a longer Cotswolds trip.
Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most famous villages in the Cotswolds, it’s the village where most tours from London bring tourists, as you’ll see from the designated ‘Coaches car park’. So while it definitely is one of the most interesting villages to visit in the Cotswolds, it’s also one of the busiest, so be prepared!
Being fortunate to live close by, I learnt my mistake the first time and realised that Bourton-on-the-Water is best visited early in the day, ideally before the 10am coaches. There are several Pay and Display car parks in the village and then you can take a walk into the village centre and enjoy the incredibly picturesque stone bridges that cross the River Windrush running through the village.
Spend some time sitting on the river banks under the willow trees or on the edge of the bridge over the babbling river. Then explore some of the main attractions in the village, including the vintage cars and toys collection at the Cotswold Motoring Museum, the Victorian Christmas Shop an all-year-round Christmas store, and see the delightful Model Village which shows Bourton-on-the-Water in miniature form!
Enjoy a breakfast of tea and scones at The Rose Tree right on the river, then take some time to wander into the quieter streets behind the main street. Here you’ll find picture perfect houses and gardens as well as cute stores like the Bourton’s Little Sweet Shop, the Cotswolds Perfumery or the Pottery Shop.
Stow-on-the-Wold has great historic significance being located at the crossroads of the Cotswolds, it was founded by Norman lords who used its location for the significant trade links that converged there.
It is still at the junction of the crossroads today with the A249 running through it towards the North and South and the A242 coming from the West while the A436 runs East.
Stow-on-the-Wold is often featured in photos of the top Cotswolds villages not only for its quaint houses and picturesque stone High Street, but also because of St Edward’s Church in the centre of the town. This church is a sight to visit as two huge Yew trees flank either side of the door and look as if they’re growing out of the church itself.
You’ll find plenty of great pubs and bistros here too, don’t miss Lucy’s Tearoom for breakfast or The Kings Arms for pub grub. I also loved Little Stocks Coffee Shop for great cake.
Broadway is a large village in the far northeast Cotswolds and it’s one of the villages to visit in the Cotswolds that you could easily spend a whole weekend in, with a large range of attractions, accommodation, food, drink and outdoor activities.
Located just a couple of minutes off the A44 right on the edge of the Cotswolds, it’s easily accessible from Worcester in the west.
The High Street is classic Cotswolds Stone with sandy brickwork, wide pavements, wisteria draped storefronts and boutique shops. It’s also a great base for many walks in the area. The Cotswolds Way is a 103 mile walking path that runs through the Cotswolds from Chipping Campden, through several villages and towns before finishing in the historic city of Bath.
You can pick up part of the Cotswolds Way walk here in Broadway if the full 103 miles sounds a bit much! You can find information and a map of the trails here. My other favourite trail takes you out to the splendid Broadway Tower, a historic folly built by Capability Brown which leads to Broadway’s strong association with the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The walk is a loop which takes you to the tower, down to Snowshill where you can stop and explore the National Trust Snowshill Manor and Gardens, then loop back to Broadway. The route instructions can be found here.
Not necessarily the most photogenic Cotswold village but I like Moreton-on-Marsh because of it’s direct train links with London Paddington.
The town also has a lot of history, the White Hart Royal is where King Charles I sheltered during the Civil War. Also being located on the Fosse Way, the town has historically strong trade routes. Be sure to visit the Redesdale Hall built in 1887, this is the main town hall and there are regularly craft fairs and antique markets held here.
Just on the outskirts of Moreton-in-Marsh is the Four Shire Stone, believed to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s Three-Farthing Stone in Lord of the RIngs, because Tolkien regularly visited the town during his time at Oxford. The Four Shire Stone marks the historic meeting point of the four counties Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
Where to stay in Moreton-in-Marsh: The Manor House
Burford is one of the most underrated villages to visit in the Cotswolds. Being just 25 minutes from where I lived in Oxford, I would often drive here after work to enjoy the village life and also the beautiful surrounding fields which are often full of yellow rapeseed in the late spring and beautiful poppies in the summer.
Burford High Street is called The Hill and it really is a stunningly picturesque road to drive on into the village, with Mew style houses in Cotswold Stone on either side.
There is free car parking in the Burford Car Park, signposted off The Hill. I love the beautifully quaint storefronts in Burford, made from historic wood and stone. The Cotswold Arms pub on the corner is a great place to sit outside during summer and people watch.
Where to stay in Burford: The Highway Inn Burford
13 Minster Lovell
Minster Lovell really is an undiscovered village to visit in the Cotswolds, situated on the very edge of the AONB close to Witney in the east, this tiny village consists of three parts: Old Minster, Little Minster and New Minster.
I love the peace and quiet of this sleepy little village that sits by the River Windrush, however it is supposedly the most haunted town in the Cotswolds, thanks to the ancient ruins of the 15th century Minster Lovell Hall, owned by generations of the Lovell family. Workmen found a chamber containing the skeletons of a man sitting at a table and a dog in 1708, believed to be Francis Lovell who went into hiding after defeat in battle in 1487. Only one servant knew his hiding location but the servant's sudden death left Francis Lovell to die trapped in this chamber.
Today, the Hall ruins are fully open to walk around and explore behind the Minster Lovell Church. You can park for free at the car park at the end of the lane and walk down to the church. In the summer take a picnic and blanket and enjoy a picnic by the river in the meadow of this ancient hall.
Daylesford is a tiny, privately owned village in the Cotswolds. It is so small that it’s worth visiting at the same time as you visit Kingham, because they’re so close.
What makes Daylesford unique and worth visiting is the Daylesford Organic Farm, one of the most sustainable farms in the UK, family owned and run for over 40 years.
There is a farm shop, cafe and restaurant with onsite parking. All produce comes from on site, with the onsite creamery and cattle just 30 metres away. Restaurant meals and snacks like soup are made fresh on site each day.
They also have annual food festivals and shows during the summer. If you’re a foodie, this is absolutely a must-visit on your Cotswolds trip.
15 Chipping Norton
Last but not least is Chipping Norton, the most northerly town in Oxfordshire. Chipping Norton prides itself on being a Cotswolds town that hasn’t been completely overtaken by Cotswolds tourism, so you’re less likely to find crowds here.
This market town is known for its antique stores and theatre performances so you can definitely find something different here in the Cotswolds.
In the town you’ll find the Chipping Norton museum and a little further out is the famous Soho Farmhouse if you really want to treat yourself.
Where to stay in Chipping Norton: The Fox Hotel
I hope this guide to the 15 most beautiful villages to visit in the Cotswolds helps you plan your trip. You might also find my Cotswolds Weekend Guide helpful to plan a two day getaway.
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