One long high street set upon a hillside and filled with buttery stone houses characterise the medieval town of Burford, a Cotswold settlement which has seen more than its fair share of history over the years. Situated West of Oxford and on the fringes of an area of outstanding natural beauty, here’s a guide to the best things to do in Burford, the absolutely adorable gateway to the Cotswolds.
According to Forbes in 2010, the town was voted as the sixth-best place to live in Europe. Centuries prior, the town had gained wealth and prosperity thanks to a booming wool trade from the 14th to 17th-centuries. Once a major hub of industry in the region, today the sleepy medieval market town is populated by antique shops, quirky cafés, and a place where history is always just around the corner…
St John the Baptist Church
Like many such medieval towns in the UK, the Parish Church is the oldest building in Burford and finds its roots dating all the way back to the 12th-century. One of the larger churches in this part of England, within its walls you’ll find highlights such as a pre-Christian carving and a memorial plaque to the Barber-Surgeon of Henry VIII.
When wandering towards the large wooden door of the church, be sure to spy some of the grave markers, tombs, and gravestones to be found in the churchyard. The tombs with the rolled design are unique to this part of the Cotswolds and can be found in several other graveyards in the area; the Barringtons and Windrush to name but a couple.
Antiques at the George
If you love antiquing and searching for vintage wares, then it’s worth noting that the Cotswolds is full of beautiful venues perfect for picking up your next treasure. While in Burford, be sure to check out Antiques @ The George in the very middle of the High Street.
Set across three levels, within this building’s walls you’ll find everything from wooden furniture to ceramic plates. Also of note is the former occupation of the building. Once an Inn named the George, it was here where Charles II brought his mistress!
Oldest Chemist in England (Robert Reavley)
Situated within a building which was constructed at the turn of the 18th-century, Robert Reavley claims the title of the oldest pharmacy in the UK and has been in operation since 124. Located close to the Madhatter Bookshop, be sure to glimpse through the vintage windows when walking past.
One of the most beautiful bookshops in the Cotswolds can be found in the form of Hatters, i.e. the Madhatter Bookshop. So-called because the bibliophile owners have an interest in quirky hats, wander into the two-room shop and you can expect to find shelves stacked with both books and hats!
When descending the Burford high street towards the medieval-looking bridge which crosses the River Windrush, it’s hard to miss the town museum, AKA the Tolsey Museum. Solely open during peak season and a few months of the European shoulder seasons, this building is as historic as the objects contained within.
All timber-framed and sagging roof, the Tolsey Museum was once the meeting place for the wool traders who brought such prosperity to the town in the first place. Now, the museum is dedicated to all things Burford and gives a glimpse into what life in the town may have been like many centuries ago.
Where to stay in Burford
If you want to make a long weekend (or perhaps even a longer stint) of your visit to the Cotswolds, then Gateway to the Cotswolds, town of Burford is a great place in which to base yourself. After all, from here it’s easy to reach many of the must-see Cotswold Villages and roads into the place are good.
Within Burford itself, you’ll also find a large selection of cafés, restaurants, and drinking establishments, while the fringes of the town offer countless country walks. Here are the best places to stay in Burford (based on web reviews and location):
The Bull Hotel: Rooms come complete with four-poster beds in this four-star hotel. Well-reviewed online, other amenities of this accommodation include plenty of period features.
The Bay Tree Hotel: Just off the main high street which slices its way through the heart of Burford, The Bay Tree is just steps away from all the action. Close to several shops and restaurants, facilities include a bar on-site, a restaurant, and room service.
Attractions and things to do near Burford
Due to its position as the ‘gateway’ to the Cotswolds, Burford makes for a great place from which to explore the area as a long weekend road trip. From the town, it’s easy to reach the rest of the Cotswolds, as well as the wider Oxfordshire area. Otherwise, check this guide for how to visit the Cotswolds from London.
Bibury: Often touted as the most beautiful village in England, Bibury is best-known for its picturesque set of 14th-century Almshouses known as ‘Arlington Row’. Elsewhere in the village, which happens to be the birthplace of designer William Morris, there are countless cottages worth a glimpse.
Oxford: Also known as the City of Dreaming Spires, Oxford is a beautiful city famed for its world-class university. Home to the buttery stone architecture that is so synonymous with the region, you can’t go wrong by dedicating at least a day to exploring the Oxfordshire capital!
Little Barrington & Great Barrington: Just a five-minute drive away from Burford, these quaint hamlets are often collectively referred to as ‘the Barringtons’. Though they offer little by way of attractions (the only public place in both villages is simply a lone church), the charm of these settlements lies in their secluded nature and ambience.
Wheatley: The sleepy town of Wheatley was first founded Centuries ago and was once within the control of the Abbey of Abingdon. Today, traces of history can be found throughout the town. This is particularly true while at the town lockup, or when exploring the restored windmill above Wheatley.