Last year more of us than ever enjoyed a staycation, discovering – perhaps for the first time – that the UK is far more beautiful and diverse than we may give it credit for. Spanning the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds is one of the most popular travel destinations in the UK – and for good reason.
With beautiful countryside, bustling market towns and chocolate-box cottages, there are countless lovely places to stay and visit in the Cotswolds. So if you’re dreaming of your next break, then it’s a smart choice.
But because there are so many gorgeous places to visit, it can be hard deciding which ones to add to your itinerary. To help you plan a trip to remember, here are seven of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds.
1. Bourton on the Water
Known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, Bourton-on-the-Water is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England, and it won’t take you long to see why. Located in Gloucestershire, right in the heart of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water boasts golden stone cottages, cosy tea rooms, picturesque flower gardens, and dozens of small bridges that arch over the pristine River Windrush.
Bourton-on-the-Water is especially known for its Model Village, a one-ninth scale replica of the heart of the village, that has astonishing attention to detail. Other popular attractions include the Cotswold Motoring and Toy Museum, where you can explore the history of 20th-century motoring, and the Cotswolds Brewing Company. Due to capacity limitation, it’s worth booking into attractions early. You can find more information on the Bourton-on-the-Water visitor website.
Bourton-on-the-Water is a joy to wander around – and it’s so photogenic you’ll probably go home with hundreds of photos! If you enjoy country walks, there are plenty of scenic hikes you can do from the village, too: have a look at some of these Bourton walks for ideas. For suggestions on where to stay, head over to Booking.com, Sykes Cottages, or Airbnb.
2. The Slaughters
The name might sound a little ominous, but the name ‘Slaughter’ comes from the Old English word ‘slothre’, which means ‘muddy place’ – but luckily, any wetlands or bogs around here have long since dried up. The Slaughters are two tiny twin villages, Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter, and these little Gloucestershire settlements are as serene as they are stunning. One of the streets in Lower Slaughter (Copsehill Road) has even been crowned the most romantic street in Britain.
In Lower Slaughter, you can visit the Old Mill where you can learn the history of bread making at the museum, see how the corn mill works, relax in the tearooms, and browse the gift and craft shop. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, you can treat yourself to homemade ice cream from the ice cream parlour, or enjoy a meal on the riverside cafe terrace, where you can admire the pretty River Eye as it flows by. Alternatively, you might want to visit the lovely village pub, The Slaughters.
Another must-visit attraction here is Lower Slaughter Manor, where you can wander through five acres of spectacular landscaped gardens, and enjoy a break sitting under magnificent redwood trees. There’s even a quintessentially English croquet lawn, and inside you can dine at the highly acclaimed Manor restaurant. The Slaughters are surrounded by peaceful, unspoilt countryside, so it’s also a great spot for a country walk – have a look at some of these hikes suggested by Komoot. To find accommodation in the area, check out Airbnb, Sykes Cottages, or Booking.com.
For somewhere a little livelier, head over to the small market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, just a short drive from Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. Stow-on-the-Wold is the highest of all the Cotswolds towns, so there are plenty of gorgeous views to be had while walking in the surrounding countryside, and the nearby Batsford Arboretum is also a lovely setting for a scenic stroll. However, the town itself offers visitors plenty to see and do.
If you love pottering around independent shops, then Stow-on-the-Wold is right up your street. There are dozens of antique shops, homewares stores, gift shops, clothes stores and bistros to browse, with one of the most popular shops being Cutter Brooks. This lifestyle shop is so jam-packed with independent fashion brands, handmade ornaments, gifts, homeware and textiles that it’s almost impossible to leave empty handed. If you love art, Fosse Gallery is well worth a visit too.
Foodies will also be in their element here, as Stow is home to several excellent gastropubs, cafes, tea rooms and restaurants – so whether you’re in the mood for fine dining, a cream tea or traditional pub grub, you’ll find something to tickle your fancy. To find out more about Stow-on-the-Wold, head over the town’s official website – and to check out accommodation in the area, you can browse either Booking.com, Sykes Cottages, or Airbnb.
On a sunny day, you can’t beat heading down to Burford, a stunning medieval town perched beside the River Windrush in Oxfordshire. One of the most popular destinations in the Cotswolds, Burford’s famous High Street is almost always bustling – and you can spend hours ambling along it, popping into the many shops, markets, tearooms and restaurants and browsing through treasures.
It’s always best to start from the very top of the High Street, as looking down the hill you’ll get a great view of just how many medieval buildings there are in this town. History pervades every inch of Burford: you can visit The Bull inn, where Lord Nelson and King Charles II dined, pop into England’s oldest pharmacy, which dates from 1734, and admire historic local artefacts at the Tolsey Museum.
If you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs, Burford is arguably the best place to shop in the Cotswolds. There are bookshops, delicatessens, antique shops, galleries, cheese shops, and the popular Burford Emporium, where you can browse unusual trinkets. You could probably spend the whole day at the famous Burford Garden Company, admiring plants and flowers, browsing vintage furniture and kitchen essentials, and enjoying some refreshments in the sleek café. To find places to stay in Burford, head over to Booking.com, Sykes Cottages, or Airbnb.
If you consider yourself a foodie, you should definitely pay a visit to Kingham, Oxfordshire. Voted ‘England’s Favourite Village’ in 2006, Kingham is just as charming as you’d expect, boasting rows of elegant stone cottages, open village greens, and a friendly, welcoming community. There are two highly-acclaimed pubs here: The Wild Rabbit and the Kingham Plough – both of which serve a mouthwatering array of culinary delights cooked by top chefs.
Here you can also visit the famous Daylesford Organic Farm, where you can fill containers with treats in the Zero Waste Pantry, browse unique collections in the homeware mezzanine and garden room, or enjoy healthy, delicious food in the café – from enormous raw salads, to bowls of hearty soup and organic cakes and sweet treats. There’s also a cookery school where you can learn how to rustle up gorgeous one-pot meals, make show-stopping canapes, and knock up perfect puddings and pastries.
If you’re planning to visit over summer, you might want to time your visit with the Big Feastival, a fun, food-focused family festival that’s held at Blur bassist Alex James’ local farm in August. Presented by Jamie Oliver, the festival is a celebration of music and food, featuring street-food stalls, rides, music, outdoor camping, and exceptional food from local producers and farmers. To check out places to stay, head over to Booking.com, Sykes Cottages, or Airbnb.
6. Castle Combe
Another contender for ‘prettiest village in England’ is Castle Combe in Wiltshire, a village so picturesque that it’s been featured in several films, including Stardust and Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse. Surrounded by woodland, and with winding streets, honey-coloured cottages with floral hanging baskets, and arched stone bridges, Castle Combe looks like your quintessential Cotswolds village – but there’s one big difference.
Just outside the village is the famous Castle Combe Race Circuit – so if you or your travel companion is into cars, bikes or racing, it’s absolutely worth a visit. There are lots of exciting opportunities to test out different vehicles, tackle the rally course, or drive your own car around the circuit – plus, depending on when you’re planning to visit, there are events and race weekends throughout the year.
If you’re not into racing, Castle Combe is worth visiting for its beauty and history alone. Be sure to visit the 13th Century St. Andrew’s Church and admire its faceless clock, which is said to be one of the oldest working clocks in the country. There’s a pub and tearoom to visit if you want refreshments, but if you feel like pushing the boat out, head over to the ivy-covered Manor House, where you can dine in the Michelin-starred restaurant The Bybrook. For ideas about where you can stay, you might want to check out Airbnb, Sykes Cottages, or Booking.com.
If you enjoy hiking and history, you might want to consider visiting Winchcombe, just a short drive away from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. With Jacobean mansions, historic churches carved with medieval gargoyles, and historic pubs, Winchcombe is a fascinating place to explore. Be sure to visit Hailes Abbey, a former Cisterian abbey and sacred pilgrimage site, which was founded in 1244. Here you can admire beautiful sculptures, stonework, and other ancient objects in the on-site museum.
Sudeley Castle is also well worth a visit. Once home to Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, Sudeley Castle has also played host to Elizabeth I and Charles I, and its grand banqueting halls and huge gardens can keep you occupied for hours. Winchcombe is also perfectly situated for hiking. Back in Saxon times, the town was an important meeting point of ancient trails, and today you can follow these same trails to the Neolithic tomb of Belas Knap.
There’s plenty in Winchcombe to keep foodies happy too: there are excellent delicatessens, independent coffee shops and cosy tearooms. Or if you’re in the mood for something a little more fancy, you can head to Restaurant 5 North Street, where you can enjoy Michelin star dining in a warm and cosy atmosphere. You can also visit the award-winning Goffs Brewery and Stanway Brewery. To check out places to stay, check out Booking.com, Sykes Cottages, or Airbnb.
There’s never been a better time to discover how beautiful this country is, so why not start planning your next trip to look forward to? After being cooped up for so long, the freedom of travel seems even more special, and with its gently rolling countryside, welcoming pubs and independent shops, the Cotswolds is a joy to explore.