Uncover the beauty of the Cotswolds: A guide to the 10 prettiest villages
Nestled in the heart of England, the Cotswolds are dotted with charming villages and towns that seem to have been plucked straight out of a fairytale.
From the honey-hued stone cottages and winding cobbled streets to the idyllic countryside scenery and picturesque streams, the Cotswolds villages have long been a favorite destination for travelers seeking a quintessentially English experience.
It's no wonder the Cotswolds have been declared one of the United Kingdom's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Whether you're interested in exploring country estates and historic churches or simply taking a leisurely stroll through some of England's most stunning countryside, the Cotswolds has something to offer everyone.
Each village has its own unique character and charm, and offers a glimpse into the area's rich history and heritage.
So sit back, relax, and prepare to be transported to a world of enchanting beauty and timeless charm as we take a tour through the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.
Located in the heart of the Cotswolds, Bibury is famous for its idyllic setting along the River Coln and its rows of charming stone cottages.
One of the most iconic sights in Bibury, and possibly in the entire Cotswolds region, is Arlington Row. These charming cottages, with their steeply pitched roofs and honey-colored stone walls, were originally built as a monastic wool storehouse in the 14th century. They were later converted into weaver's cottages in the 17th century.
Arlington row is so beautiful that the cottages have been featured on the inside cover of the British passport. Today the cottages are Grade II listed buildings, owned by the National Trust and let out to private tenants. One cottage is also available as a very popular vacation rental.
Another enjoyable sight in Bibury is the Bibury Trout Farm, one of England's oldest working trout farms.
The farm's crystal-clear waters are supplied by a natural spring that rises nearby and flows into the River Coln. Take some time to feed the fish and learn about the history of trout farming in the area. If you're staying somewhere with a kitchen, you can buy fresh trout from the farm shop to prepare for dinner.
Bibury is also home to the lovely St Mary's Church. The Norman church building was established in the 12th century, but a Saxon gravestone embedded in the wall indicates that the site was used for worship even earlier.
The Grade I listed building features a stunning medieval stained-glass window and a unique oak timber roof that dates to the 15th century. St Mary's is surrounded by a peaceful churchyard that provides the perfect spot for a few moments of quiet reflection.
The village's setting, surrounded by rolling hills and fields, makes it popular with walkers and hikers. There are numerous walking trails leading through the surrounding countryside.
One popular walk is the Coln Valley circular walk, a 6-mile route that takes in some of the most beautiful scenery in the Cotswolds, including Bibury and nearby villages such as Coln, St Aldwyns, and Quenington.
Take some time to enjoy a meal at one of the Cotswold village's local restaurants or tea rooms, which serve up delicious meals, freshly baked scones, cream teas, and locally sourced trout.
If you'd like to stay in Bibury, the Swan Hotel is a lovely historic 17th-century inn located in the heart of the village. The inn offers a range of rooms and suites, each individually decorated, with traditional Cotswold furnishings and a cozy atmosphere.
Bourton-on-the-Water, in the heart of the Cotswolds, is also referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds.” This is due to the number of bridges crisscrossing the River Windrush, which flows through the center of the village.
The Bourton-on-the-Water dates back to the Saxon period when the area was first settled. It was originally known as "Burgeton," meaning "the town by the fortified enclosure," and was later mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Over the centuries, Bourton-on-the-Water grew to become a thriving market town, with industries such as wool and silk production contributing to its prosperity.
One of Bourton-on-the-Water's most popular sights is the Model Village, a 1/9th scale replica of the Cotswold village that was built in the 1930s. The Model Village features exquisite attention to detail, with miniature stone buildings, tiny trees, choirs singing in the churches, and even a tiny working model of the Model Village itself.
The Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection features a collection of classic cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, as well as a display of vintage toys and memorabilia. While you're there you can learn about the history of motoring in the Cotswolds and see some of the most iconic vehicles of the 20th century.
Bourton-on-the-Water has a beautiful high street lined with shops, tea rooms, and restaurants. Take a leisurely stroll along the river, walk the many bridges that crisscross the river, and enjoy the beautiful, tranquil scenery.
Broadway dates back to the 11th century, when the village was granted to the abbey of Pershore. By the 16th century Broadway had become a major stop on the coaching route from Worcester to London, with numerous inns and coaching houses catering to travelers.
The Cotswold town continued to prosper through the 19th century, becoming a popular destination for authors and artists like William Morris and J.M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan.
For some of the best views in the Cotswolds, if not all of England, climb to the top of Broadway Tower. An 18th century folly built by the Earl of Coventry, the 65-foot-tall Broadway Tower has panoramic views of up to 16 counties on a clear day.
Broadway is also home to several picturesque gardens, including the famous National Trust property, Snowshill Manor and Garden. Snowshill Manor features a collection of over 22,000 items, including musical instruments, costumes, and toys, while the garden boasts stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
For those who enjoy walking, Broadway is situated on the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile-long trail that runs from Chipping Campden to Bath. The village also has a number of shorter walks that take visitors through the surrounding countryside and villages.
Take some time to visit the range of shops, galleries, and restaurants that offer a taste of the Cotswolds. Sample local produce, such as cheeses and meats, or enjoy a traditional cream tea in one of the village's tea rooms.
Castle Combe is often listed as the prettiest Cotswolds village, as well as the most beautiful village in England. The town dates back to the 12th century, when it was known for its wool production and thriving market.
The village grew in prosperity over the centuries, with the construction of its medieval castle and the establishment of a thriving weaving industry. Today the village is a well-preserved example of traditional English village life, with many of its historic buildings, stone cottages and streetscapes remaining intact.
Castle Combe has served as a popular filming location for movies and TV. One of the most well-known films shot in Castle Combe is the 1967 movie "Doctor Dolittle," starring Rex Harrison. The village was transformed into the fictional Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, with its picturesque cottages and winding streets serving as the backdrop for many scenes.
More recently Castle Combe has been used as a filming location for "Downton Abbey." The village was featured in the show's fourth season as the location of the Crawley family's visit to the fictional village of Yew Tree Farm.
The show's producers praised Castle Combe for its "timeless quality" and said it was the perfect location to capture the essence of traditional English village life.
Other films shot in Castle Combe include "The Wolfman," starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, and "Stardust," starring Claire Danes and Robert De Niro. The village's picturesque streets and historic buildings have made it a popular choice for filmmakers looking to capture the essence of traditional English village life.
You can take a guided walking tour of the village to learn more about its history as a filming location and see some of the sites used in popular movies and TV shows. These tours offer a unique perspective on the village's rich history and cultural significance, and are a must-do for film buffs and history enthusiasts alike.
Chipping Campden is a delightful market town in the north Cotswolds. Its name, "Chipping," comes from the Old English word "ceapen," meaning market or trade, and reflects the town's history as a thriving center of trade in the Middle Ages.
The town dates to the 14th century, when it was a major center for the wool trade. Many of the town's most beautiful buildings were constructed between the 14th and 17th centuries, including the impressive St. James' Church, with its magnificent 120-foot-high spire.
The 17th-century Market Hall has served as a hub of trade and commerce for centuries. Today it belongs to the National Trust and hosts a range of events, including markets and craft fairs, and is considered one of the most iconic buildings in the village.
Chipping Campden is also situated on the Cotswold Way, allowing walkers to walk part of the 102-mile route through the surrounding countryside. There are multiple shorter walks through the countryside as well, including a walk up Dover's Hill, which rewards you at the top with breathtaking views over the Cotswolds countryside.
Hidcote Manor Garden, located just outside of Chipping Campden, is one of the most beautiful and well-known gardens in the Cotswolds.
Designed by the American horticulturist Lawrence Johnston in the early 20th century, the garden is renowned for its stunning layout. It incorporates a series of interconnected outdoor rooms, each with its own unique character and style.
Stroll through the garden's many paths and discover a wealth of beautiful plants, flowers, and trees, all arranged in intricate patterns and designs. Some of the highlights of the garden include the vibrant red borders, the tranquil pool garden, and the fragrant rose garden, which features more than 900 different varieties of roses.
Lower Slaughter's name comes from the Old English word "slough," meaning "wet land," which reflects the village's location in a valley that is prone to flooding.
The village dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086, which records it as a prosperous settlement with an old mill and a church. The village continued to prosper through the Middle Ages, with agriculture and wool production being the main sources of income.
While you're there you can visit the Old Mill, a picturesque watermill that dates back to the 16th century. Also make a stop at the historic St. Mary's church, with its beautiful stained glass windows.
The Cotswolds villages of Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter are only a mile apart, with a walking trail connecting them. This makes them perfect for grouping together into a single day.
Considered by many to be the prettiest village in the area, Painswick first appears in historical records in the Doomsday Book of 1086 as Wiche, meaning “dairy-farm."
The wool trade and agricultural industry fueled the town's growth throughout the Middle Ages. Today the village is renowned for its well-preserved historic Medieval and Georgian architecture.
Painswick's beautiful churchyard features a stunning collection of yew trees that date back to the 18th century. The trees are said to have been planted in the shape of a labyrinth. The churchyard also features a range of historic monuments and tombs, including the tomb of Captain John Stuart, a local hero who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.
The stunning countryside around the town offers a range of hiking and walking trails that showcase the natural beauty of the Cotswolds. The nearby Painswick Beacon, a hill that offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside, is a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers.
Painswick offers a range of museums and galleries that showcase the village's rich heritage. The Painswick Rococo Garden, a restored 18th century garden that features many rare plants and flowers, is a must-see for anyone interested in historic gardens and landscaping.
The picturesque village of Stow-on-the-Wold is a charming market known for its lovely streets, historic buildings, and bustling markets. It was once a settlement along the Fosse Way, a major Roman road that connected the cities of Exeter and Lincoln.
In the 11th century the village was an important center for the wool trade. Over the centuries, the town grew in prosperity, with its location at the junction of several important trade routes making it a hub of commerce and culture.
Today Stow-on-the-Wold is renowned for its well-preserved historic architecture, with many medieval and Tudor buildings and cottages.
The market square dates back to the 12th century. The square is home to a range of shops, restaurants, and pubs, as well as the town's monthly market, which takes place on the second Thursday. At the market you can browse local produce, crafts, and other goods, or simply soak up the lively atmosphere of this historic market town.
If you enjoy the outdoors, Stow-on-the-Wold offers a range of walking and hiking trails that showcase the town's natural beauty. The Cotswold Way passes through Stow-on-the-Wold and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Stow-on-the-Wold is also known for its connection to famed author J.R.R. Tolkien, who was said to have been inspired by the town's historic architecture and landmarks when writing "The Lord of the Rings." In particular, the tree-flanked door of St. Edward's Church is said to have been a major inspiration for Tolkien when he depicted the doors of Moria.
In addition to St. Edward's Church, Tolkien is also said to have been inspired by the nearby Rollright Stones, a prehistoric stone circle located just outside of Stow-on-the-Wold.
Explore the town's rich history and learn more about its connections to Tolkien and other notable figures. Stroll through its historic streets and absorb the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Tetbury also dates back to the 11th century, when it was a small market town known for its wool trade. Today, Tetbury is renowned for its well-preserved historic architecture, with many of its buildings dating back to the medieval and Georgian periods.
The village's market hall was built in 1655 and is supported by three rows of stone pillars, allowing a covered market to be held underneath. How perfect given the English weather! Today the market hall still hosts farmers markets and other events.
If you enjoy spending a morning or afternoon browsing in an antique shop, Tetbury is the village for you. It’s known for having the most antique shops of any Cotswolds village, and is one of the best places to browse for a treasure to take home with you.
Just outside of Tetbury you'll find Highgrove House and Gardens, the private residence of King Charles III and the Queen Consort. The estate is known for its beautiful gardens, which are open to the public at select times. The gardens feature a range of rare plants, flowers and trees, as well as sculptures and other art installations.
In addition to its historic and natural attractions, Tetbury is home to one of the Cotswolds villages' more unusual cultural events. The town's annual Woolsack Races, held every May, feature locals racing up and down a steep hill while carrying a sack of wool on their back.
The Cotswold village of Upper Slaughter mainly dates to the 11th century, although there is some evidence of earlier settlement during the Roman era.
Located near Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter (just a mile away), Upper Slaughter is a bit quieter than some of the more visited Cotswolds villages. The three villages are close together enough that you can walk between them, making for a lovely full day exploring some of the best villages in the Cotswolds.
If you decide to walk between the three villages I recommend parking in Bourton-on-the-Water since it's a larger village than the other two.
Upper Slaughter doesn't have a lot of must-see sights, but St. Peter's Church is worth a visit. The interior is lovely, and the Norman building dates back to the 12th century.
Located just a short distance from the heart of the village, Eyford House is a prime example of an idyllic English country house, complete with breathtaking gardens.
The grounds are only occasionally open to the public, but it's certainly worth planning a visit when they are. In fact, Eyford House has been recognized as England's best country home by Country Life, and it's not difficult to see why.
With its picturesque setting and stunning views, a trip to Eyford House is a true delight for anyone looking to experience the quintessential beauty of the English countryside.
While Upper Slaughter may not have much in the way of “must-see” attractions, the true beauty of the village lies in embracing a slower pace and soaking in the beauty of the Cotswolds.
The bottom line: The Cotswolds villages
The Cotswolds is a magical destination that will capture your heart. The stunning Cotswolds villages and towns, each with their own unique character and charm, offer a glimpse into a bygone era and a simpler way of life.
Whether you're interested in exploring the area's rich history and heritage, or simply want to soak up its natural beauty and enjoy some traditional English hospitality, the Cotswolds has something to offer everyone.
From the charming streets of Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold to the idyllic scenery of Lower Slaughter and Castle Combe, each village is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. It's time to plan your own Cotswolds adventure and see for yourself why this area has captured the hearts of travelers for centuries.
If you're ready to start planning your next luxury Cotswolds vacation it's time to schedule a free consultation call!