Last Updated on 18th February 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
If you’re looking for a glimpse quintessential Britain, then you simply must head to the Cotswolds, an area of outstanding natural beauty filled with traditional stone cottages and over two millennia worth of history. Here are some of the most beautiful Cotswolds villages and towns you simply must visit for yourself!
Introducing the Cotswolds, the prettiest area of England
If you make it your mission to venture out into the British countryside just once during your UK visit, make a trip to the Cotswolds. After all, once there, chocolate box towns and pretty as a postcard villages can be found in abundance alongside lush rolling hills and babbling streams.
So whether you have one day in the Cotswolds, or have a little longer to play around with, there’s no shortage of things to see and do. From enjoying a coffee in an antique shop to discovering Roman ruins to wandering around chocolate box towns that feel akin to stepping back in time, you can’t go wrong by dedicating at least a little time to discovering this world-famous area of England.
20+ Beautiful Cotswolds Villages & Towns You Must Visit!
Located along the River Churn, Cirencester is the largest town of the Cotswolds. Once known in Roman times as Corinium, today some of the best things to do in Cirencester include a visit to the Roman history Corinium Museum, as well as checking out Cirencester’s Roman amphitheatre (which is owned and managed by English Heritage and also happens to be free to visit!)
#2 The Slaughters
Despite their seemingly ominous names, the villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter are pretty little hamlets tucked away in the heart of the sleepy Cotswolds. And so, if you’re looking for picture perfect England, then a visit to these villages is simply a must!
Though there is little in either by way of attractions in either place (one of the only ‘must-see attractions’ is the Old Mill Museum in Lower Slaughter), the charm of the two Slaughter hamlets lies in their secluded nature and beautiful Cotswold architecture.
Once said to be the prettiest town in England by artist William Morris, Bibury is best-known for ‘Arlington Row,’ a series of quintessentially Cotswold cottages which are even pictured within all UK passports. Arlington Row was first constructed in 1380 as a monastic wool store.
In other news, the beautiful village of Bibury is located 10 km North of nearby Cirencester and is home to plenty of coffee shops, tea rooms, and lots of little shops, making it one of the must-visit places in the Cotswolds. Bibury is well worthy of a venture through on any trip in this English district, especially so in the European shoulder seasons when temperatures remain warm while tourists are fewer.
The population of Stow-on-the-Wold hovers around two thousand, meaning that this Cotswold settlement is a delightful little market town which is best seen in the early morning when cars in the market square are at their fewest and the light is at its best.
Once known for its annual fairs where tens of thousands of sheep would be sold at once, the town is also home to the medieval church of St Edward’s, which is consequently where you’ll find the iconic 13th-century North door which is flanked on either side by ancient yew trees.
#5 Chipping Campden
If you’re looking for a pretty as a postcard town, then you simply must visit the market town of Chipping Campden. This historic settlement enjoyed great wealth during the Middle Ages when wool merchants would opt to settle here, including William Grenville, a landowner and affluent vendor during the 15th-century.
In more modern times, if you’re a fan of 20th-century art, then it’s well worth noting that Chipping Campden (the name ‘Chipping’ actually derives from the old English for ‘market’) was well associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. This was following Charles Robert Ashbee’s move to the town in 1902, together with his Guild.
Self-proclaimed to be the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds,’ Bourton-on-the-Water is where I opted to stay during my stay in the Cotswolds. Complete with tiny little bridges and quaint pubs which lie along the river’s edge, opt to stay here and you’ll find many inns, taverns, and teashops.
Otherwise, there’s fun for all the family attractions such as Bourton on the Water model village and the rather hard to complete Dragonfly Maze. During my weekend visit to the Cotswolds last year, I booked myself into the Mousetrap Inn and found it to be incredibly cosy (complete with a wonderful dining area). Check rates and availability here.
#7 Castle Combe
Those searching for a typically British village will surely find it in Castle Combe, a village whose name derives from a nearby 12th-century Castle. Situated in the pretty English county of Wiltshire, the town is often referred to as one of the prettiest Cotswolds villages, if not one of the most stunning settlements in England.
Some of the best things to do once there include spying some filming locations (the village has been used to shoot the movies ‘Stardust,’ ‘War Horse’ and many more) and simply wandering the pretty streets, seeing where your feet take you. If you’re a fan of adventure sports, then you may also enjoy a visit to the nearby track of Castle Combe Circuit.
Home to a churchyard with 99 yew trees (it’s said that as soon as the 100th tree is planted, it will die), the pretty town of Painswick, like many other Cotswolds villages, first made its money in the wool trade. As such, plenty of typically Cotswolds cottages, inns, and ecclesiastical buildings can be found throughout the maze of streets which make up Painswick.
Elsewhere in the Cotswold settlement, there are several independent tea rooms, as well as some of the very best places to stay in the entire region. For example, the Painswick Court House Manor lies just outside the historic town centre and oozes charm and chic luxury, providing the perfect base from which to explore the area.
If you’re a fan of all things outdoor and garden related, then you simply must see the Rococo Garden to the outskirts of Painswick. First founded in the 1700s, the green space is not ordered into flower beds and special gardens, but is instead a curious mixture of quirky follies and unusual landscapes. Today, the Rococo Garden remains one of the best examples of 18th-century British taste in England.
Film buffs who are looking to visit some Cotswolds villages where they’ll find literal movie sets and picture perfect views need to look no further than the charming town of Broadway. Self-proclaimed to be the ‘jewel of the Cotswolds’, the village is well-associated with the arts and crafts movement, as well as the wool trade of the Middle Ages. In more recent times, Broadway has been used as a breathtaking backdrop for several feature films.
For those who enjoy a little antiquing, as well as frequenting independent coffee shops, Winchcombe is a must-see. I highly recommend a visit to Winchcombe Antiques Centre. This pretty building hosts a whole maze of little rooms you could easily spend several hours getting lost in, as well as a quaint tea room in the basement serving a selection of fresh cakes, cold drinks, and warm beverages.
The outskirts of the market town is also home to Belas Knapp, an ancient Neolithic burial grounds, Hailes Abbey, the ruins of a 13th-century Cistercian abbey, and Sudeley Castle. As such, if you really want to make the most of your time in Winchcombe, then I highly recommend dedicating an entire day to exploring this quaint Cotswolds town.
Located along the River Windrush, the town of Burford is where you’ll find a whole load of medieval architecture, notably a bridge dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as an ancient church which dates back hundreds of years.
Once in this historic town, Burford is also home to England’s oldest pharmacy, as well as shop in the George, a former inn turned antique shop where Charles II once rested, and where Nelson once dined. Other places of interest in Burford include the Madhatter Bookshop, a store that combines the owners’ love of books and hats in a rather eclectic way!
Though technically not located within the designated area of outstanding natural beauty, Stratford-upon-Avon is a town of timber-framed houses and many a Shakespeare connection. After all, it’s in this Cotswolds town where the Bard was born, buried, and where he spent much of his life. Want to know more about the William Shakespeare link? Here are the very best Shakespeare locations in Stratford-upon-Avon!
Best-known for its Roman Villa, which lies a little outside this picturesque little village, Chedworth is best explored on a sunny day when the weather is warm and you can snap all of the photos. While Chedworth has little by way of attractions or touristic things to do (there is the Seven Tuns Inn, a Farm Shop… and that’s it!) most people head here to check out the almost two-thousand-year-old Classical remains of the Roman Villa.
#14 Guiting Power
The tiny little settlement of Guiting Power is seldom spoken of in comparison with more popular destinations. However, on any road trip through this area of outstanding natural beauty (and it’s true that the best way to see the Cotswolds is by road), the hamlet is worth a wander through, if only to snap a few souvenir photos.
Lying sleepily in a secluded valley, not far from the much larger market town of Stow-on-Wold, Naunton was first attested in the Domesday book as Niwetone. Today, it’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life in the most literal sense of the word- there is no phone signal and little internet service to be found here!
Home to one of the best-preserved sets of Medieval stained glass windows in England, Fairford is a pretty town with little by way of attractions. With the exception of a few high street brands, Fairford is largely populated by independent boutiques and stores.
Best-known for its large and imposing abbey, the fairly large town of Malmesbury rose to true prominence thanks to the wool trade, an industry which benefitted many a village, hamlet, and town in the Cotswolds during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, the town is home to plenty of independent shops and eateries.
One of the best-kept secrets of the Cotswolds is the town of Wotton-Under-Edge. Once home to several dozen pubs (some of which were little more than someone’s front room living room), today, highlights of the town include a pretty as a postcard set of almshouses, a small heritage centre, and a centuries-old church.
Pretty and with little by way of attractions, Stinchcombe is home to a centuries-old church (though it was locked when I visited), a small water fountain, and little else. Tucked away somewhere between Berkely and Dursely, you only really want to visit this little Cotswold village if you’re en route to somewhere else!
#20 North Nibley
North Nibley lies on the West edge of the Cotswolds, not far from the significantly larger town of Berkely where you’ll find the likes of Berkeley Castle and Dr Jenner’s House, Museum, and Garden. Aside from its proximity to much larger towns, there is one main attraction in North Nibley, and that’s the Tyndale Monument! So vast is this towering monolith that it can even be spied from the nearby M5 motorway.
Close to Broadway, the impossibly cute village of Snowshill was even used for plenty of scenes in the box office hit ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary,’ starring Renee Zellweger. In the movie, Snowshill was named ‘Snozzle’ and was where Bridget Jones’ parents lived.
If you’re looking for a rainy day activity, or simply want to see a rather unusual property, then you simply must head to Snowshill Manor, a house that was purchased in 1919 simply to house the rather eclectic collections of Charles Wade.
If you’re wondering ‘Is Lacock in the Cotswolds?’ then you’ve come to the right place. After all, located to the south of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and not far from the Cotswold city of Bath, Lacock is a beautifully-preserved 13th-century village that’s largely owned and run by the national trust.
Best-known as being the birthplace of the photographic negative, the village is also home to an abbey which was created close to eight centuries ago. Nowadays, thanks to a lack of TV aerials and masts, the village is incredibly popular as a filming location. Having been featured in Wolf Hall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the village is best-known as a Harry Potter filming location!
One of the more off the beaten path Cotswolds villages is that of Blockley, a charming English settlement of around two thousand residents just a couple of miles north of Moreton-in-Marsh. Though there is little by way of attractions, Blockley does happen to boast two pubs (public houses), a medieval church, and a café.