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The Cotswolds region is one of the most scenic areas of England. Known for its rolling hills dotted with golden-hued stone villages, the Cotswolds is nearly 800 square miles of both natural and man-made beauty. In recent years, the Cotswolds have become a popular tourist destination, thanks in part to movies and television series that have glamorized the charm of rural England. In fact, the pretty villages in the Cotswolds are some of the most popular day trips from London. If you want to experience the allure of this picturesque region yourself, we’ve narrowed down the best villages in the Cotswolds to visit.
This travel guide to the best villages in the Cotswolds highlights the 9 prettiest Cotswolds villages to visit, plus what to see and do while you’re there.
Book a Cotswolds tour from London here.
About the Cotswolds, England
The Cotswolds villages are to England what Giethoorn is to the Netherlands, what Bruges is to Belgium, and what Rothenburg ob der Tauber is to Germany. These astonishingly adorable English villages look like a page out of a storybook.
Stretching across central and southwest England, the Cotswolds have been designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Eighty percent of the area is made up of farmland, and lavender fields paint the rolling hills in shades of purple each summer.
“Wolds” means hills, and the region, which covers parts of five counties, is known for just that.
But beyond its hilly landscape, the Cotswolds picture-perfect, honey-colored stone villages, stately homes, and pristine gardens have made the region a popular vacation destination.
The beautiful Cotswold villages boast well-preserved homes and buildings from the 18th century that were constructed with Cotswold stone, a type of limestone rich in marine fossils that has a golden-yellow tint.
ALSO READ: COTSWOLDS DAY TRIP ITINERARY
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
Where to stay in the Cotswolds really depends on which part of the region you plan to visit. After all, the best villages in the Cotswolds are sprinkled across 787 square miles. We recommend focusing your visit on either the north or the south portion of the Cotswolds. If you visit the central or northern section, Bourton-on-the-Water is a pretty Cotswold village that is centrally located. Stay in the village and do a day trip to other nearby villages in the Cotswolds, like Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, Snowshill, or Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter.
The southern portion of the Cotswolds puts you closer to the city of Bath, which is worth visiting itself. There are fewer notable Cotswolds villages in the southern section, however, those that you will find in the south are among the most charming villages in the Cotswolds. In the south Cotswolds, you can stay in the town of Bath and take day trips to Castle Combe, Biddestone, or Marshfield.
Finally, if you prefer to stay in a quiet country village, Marshfield is a central alternative to explore the best villages in the Cotswolds southern region.
Map of the best villages in the Cotswolds
To give you an idea of where each of these pretty villages in the Cotswolds is located, here is a map showing the region (shaded in a darker blue) and the different Cotswold villages mentioned in this article. Click on the image to open it in Google Maps.
The 9 Best Villages in the Cotswolds
Approximately 38 million people visit the Cotswolds each year, and many are on a quest to see the prettiest Cotswolds villages. Most people visit the Cotswolds as a day trip from London. Here are 9 of the best villages in the Cotswolds to consider for your travels.
Often considered the prettiest village in England, Castle Combe feels like a medieval parish stuck back in time. With a total of 344 residents, the tiny village roughly 5 miles northwest of Chippenham gets its name from a castle that once stood in the area but was demolished centuries ago.
Although there is limited parking within the small village, there is a parking lot or car park just up the street from the pretty Cotswold village.
In Castle Combe, you’ll find a couple of small pubs, but don’t expect bustling cafes or souvenir shops. Instead, visitors can ring the doorbell at local homes and purchase coffee, cakes, and other sweet treats from residents when they have signage out indicating they’re available.
In the center of Castle Combe, you’ll find the market cross, an outdoor pavilion used as a gathering place. Directly across from the pavilion, step inside St. Andrew’s Church, an old cathedral that dates back to the 13th Century. Although nearly all of the church was reconstructed in 1850, the tombstones surrounding the chapel tell a story many centuries old.
The village has grown in notoriety having been a filming location for several movies and television shows, including Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, the 2007 film Stardust, and parts of the hit series Downton Abbey. When visiting Castle Combe, be sure to walk down to the village bridge for the most iconic view looking back toward the church. For a 5-star Cotswold experience, book your stay at The Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe, a 14th-century manor house which offers a luxurious, quiet countryside escape.
Bibury is one of the prettiest villages in Cotswolds, which shouldn’t be missed on a trip there. Bibury is located midway between north and south Cotswolds, which makes it an easy destination for a weekend in the Cotswolds itinerary.
The village is famous for Arlington Row – a picturesque line of old cottages one next to another which is probably one of the most photographed places in the Cotswolds. The cottages are now individual residences, but their original purpose was a wool store converted into homes for weavers, when it was first built in the 14th century.
Besides Arlington Row, there are other things to do in Bibury. One of them is visiting the Bibury Trout Farm where you can feed the fish. The farm has a small shop from where you can buy fresh or smoked fish, as well as other local products.
The Swan is the local picturesque hotel and restaurant, which makes a great place to have a drink with a view.
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Bourton on the water is an idyllic place, where chilling by the water creates the vibe. Despite the many tourists, it’s just so tranquil. Nestled at the river Windrush, magic touches the view of honey-colored houses. Its five stone bridges dwell in the picturesque images.
Bourton holds strong historical traces leading to the Saxon origins. Even the Saxon word burgh (which means a fort) inspired the name. The Roman times built on the surface the Fosse Way. It’s an important road that connects the West country to Lincolnshire.
Plenty of shops and restaurants will offer you the alluring delight of local sweets and souvenirs. Watching the ducks and enjoying the atmosphere is the way Bourton lives.
Many museums enrich your visit. The Model Village is especially popular, existing since the 1930s. It’s the mini version of Bourton where narrow streets rule. The Motoring Museum from 1978 holds the vast collection of historical cars that belonged to Mike Cavanagh. The museum also covers the toy collection.
Dragonfly Maze is an attractive labyrinth that will give you a lot of fun.
The best time to visit Bourton is definitely the spring with the fewer crowds. Bourton has several lovely hotels and b&b. Chester House Hotel is centrally located in a picturesque ambiance. The Dial House is a cozy place with a lovely restaurant.
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Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter
The Lower and Upper Slaughter are two villages notable for their traditional, well preserved, Cotswold-style houses.
The most beautiful building in the Lower Slaughter is the Old Mill, now a 3-in-1 museum, coffee shop and gift shop selling local products.
Very close to the mill, there is a path that leads to Upper Slaughter that takes you along the stream through the countryside. It is a very pleasant walk of less than half an hour.
As you reach Upper Slaughter, the first building you see is the Slaughters Manor House, converted into a hotel. This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the area, with an Elizabethan-style façade.
The easiest way to reach the Slaughters is by car. But the most enjoyable way is by walking through the countryside from Bourton-on-the-Water. This is one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds and there are many more things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water than in the Slaughters, so it’s a great idea to visit the three villages together.
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Stow-On-the-Wold is the highest of the Cotswold villages and sits at an important trading point at the junction of six Roman roads. During the height of the wool industry, it was known for its annual fair where up to 20,000 sheep were sold.
Now a town of just over 2,000 residents, you’ll find antique shops, cafes, tea rooms, and other shops to browse. You’ll find plentiful parking at Market Square. Look closely at the far end of the square and you’ll see the remains of the Medieval Town Stocks. Closer to the center of town, you’ll find an ancient cross.
Make sure to visit St. Edwards Church. Once you’ve taken a peek inside, walk around to the side to see the yew tree framed doorway. Rumor has it that this doorway inspired J.R. Tolkien’s Doors of Durin leading to Moria in the Lord of the Rings.
Stop into the Huffkins Tea Room (since 1890) for a light lunch, or get some sandwiches for a picnic from Cotswold Baguettes on Church Street.
Stow-on-the-Wold also boasts the oldest pub in Britain- you’ll find The Porch House on Digbeth Street. You can also stay in one of the 13 elegant rooms here, though you’ll need to book ahead.
If you’re looking for a special place to spend the night, Dumbleton Hall Hotel is just a 30-minute drive. This elegant manor house sits on 19 acres of gardens.
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Painswick is affectionately known as the “Queen of the Cotswolds” because of the prosperity it saw with the cloth and wool trade during the medieval period. The town is arguably one of the prettiest in England with most buildings made with the locally quarried pale Cotswold stone.
The history of the area goes back to the Iron Age. Just outside the town you can still see the earthworks from the Kimsbury Camp hill fort. During the English Civil War, King Charles I and his army passed through the area before and after laying siege to Gloucester.
It’s not just the pretty streets and history that attract visitors, there are plenty of things to do in Painswick. You can enjoy a historic church and churchyard, unique art galleries, charming shops, restaurants, and more surrounded by glorious countryside.
St. Mary’s Church has a spire that reaches 639 feet above sea level, but it may be best known for the yew trees in its churchyard. Legend has it that there could only be 99 yew trees and if they tried to plant more the Devil would not allow them to grow.
To mark the Millennium, they decided to test things and planted one more tree. It went OK until 2007, when one of the yew trees toppled over. You can try to count the yew trees, but make sure you also take time to go inside the church where you can see their collection of more than 300 embroidered kneelers.
Additionally, just outside the town, there is the Painswick Rococo Gardens. They were restored in the late 1980s to their original design based on a painting by Thomas Robbins. Today they remain the UK’s only complete surviving Rococo garden.
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Snowshill is one of the best villages in The Cotswolds because of its unspoiled beauty, rustic English charm and small-village vibes. The village has a population of just under 200 and can be dated back to the Bronze Age. Artifacts found from the Bronze Age in Snowshill have been put on display at the British Museum in London.
The village sits at over 700 feet and boasts narrow roads between picturesque buildings which keeps away bus-loads of tourists making it a lesser-known Cotswold village. In the center of the village is a church, graveyard, and grass area with the iconic British, red telephone box on the edge. As the name suggests, the best time to visit is in the winter when snow has settled around the area making it the postcard-perfect place to visit in The Cotswolds.
Snowshill was made famous as a filming location for Bridget Jones’s Diary. The village is where Bridget’s parents lived in the hit movie. You can see the house used as their home and other scene locations from the film throughout the village.
Another thing to do in Snowshill is visit Snowshill Manor which houses over 20,000 collections from Charles Paget Wade, an architect and poet, who donated the manor to the National Trust. Lastly, just a mile away from Snowshill is The Cotswolds’ lavender fields. There, you can explore the fields of purple and purchase genuine lavender products.
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About 3 miles east of Chippenham and 4 miles south of Castle Combe, Biddestone is a tiny village of less than 500 residents. Located in the county of Wiltshire in southwest England, there are records that indicate the town dates back all the way to 1086. However, most of the classical stone buildings in the Cotswold village are from the 18th century.
Twice named Wiltshire’s Best Kept Village, Biddestone has 2 pubs, 2 rental cottages, an old school and the small historic Norman chapel, St. Nicholas Church. All are within a short walk to the village’s quintessential duck pond in the center of Biddestone.
While Biddestone is an easy stop on the way from Castle Combe to Bath as part of a Cotswolds day trip, you could also spend a couple of nights at Anvil Holiday Cottage on the grounds of The Close, a charming 18th century house with a picturesque private garden.
Biddestone is a relaxing place to stay while exploring the area. It’s only 20 minutes from historic Bath and 45 minutes from Stonehenge. Stop in for lunch or dinner at the White Horse Pub. The pub and restaurant has a cozy atmosphere that will make you feel like you’re having a home-cooked meal in your grandmother’s kitchen.
Are the Cotswolds worth visiting?
The Cotswolds are worth visiting if you are looking for a relaxing, low-key getaway. You won’t find a lot of exciting things to do in the Cotswolds. Instead, you’ll find old-English beauty, charm, and serenity. People seek out the best villages in the Cotswolds for the picturesque views of the English countryside and the historic allure of these tiny and beautiful Cotswold villages.
So, if you are contemplating a visit to the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, the region is definitely worth visiting if you are going for a quiet escape rather than a bustling adventure.
How much time do you need to visit the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds?
The majority of people who visit the Cotswold villages do so as a Cotswolds day trip. However, it really does make for a long day, especially if traveling with kids. Trust us, we’ve done it, and it is a lot of driving. Instead, it is a much more relaxing experience to slow down and spend at least one night in one of the charming Cotswold villages.
Breaking up your trip and seeing several of the best villages in the Cotswolds over 2 or 3 days is a much more enjoyable vacation. It gives you the opportunity to stop for afternoon tea or have a longer lunch in a small pub. But, if time is limited, and you can only do a day trip to the Cotswolds, check out this guided tour, which comes highly recommended and often sells out.
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