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. After all, once there, chocolate box towns and pretty as a postcard villages can be found in abundance alongside lush rolling hills and gently babbling streams. Here are some of the most beautiful Cotswolds villages and towns you simply must visit for yourself!
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!)
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.
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.
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. Nearby, 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.
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, 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.
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.
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!