The Cotswolds is a totally stunning area of England to visit! It’s an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that’s just shy of the Roman city of Bath and the likes of Cirencester and has that quintessential countryside British charm that makes it so gorgeous to explore – especially within the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds that are all over the region.
Now, any plan to visit the Cotswolds does come with a bit of well-needed planning. Unlike the larger connected cities in England, the Cotswolds has more limited public transport. This means it’s best explored by car or part of a tour; which means an itinerary of places to see in the Cotswolds is essential.
Over the years, we’ve visited the Cotswolds countless times… and loved it! So, to help you plan your trip, I wanted to share some of our firm favourites and top spots in the Cotswolds to visit.
Yes, some of them might not be technically towns in their traditional sense, but they’re all historic settlements, hamlets and dwellings that you can’t miss.
Have an amazing time exploring. It really is a beautiful area of England.
Arguably the most famous place in the Cotswolds to visit, Bibury is a small village that’s home to one of the Cotswolds’ most famous streets; Arlington Row.
You can easily spend an afternoon wandering around Bibury and it’s within easy reach of the historic town of Cirencester which is just on the border of the Cotswolds, too.
This makes it a perfect stopping point on a wider road trip whilst visiting all the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds to explore.
Once here, be sure to park up (there’s on-street parking on the main road) and take a wander to Arlington Row. Yes, it might be a small place but it’s totally charming and attracts visitors from all over the globe.
After strolling to Arlington Row, be sure to pop into the Swan Hotel for a bite to eat (or book a room to stay the night). The thing we love most about the Cotswolds is that it’s best explored in your own time – there’s no need to rush.
That being said, if you’re looking for a historic manor house stay, check into the nearby Barnsley House which was first built in the 1600s.
It’s such a gorgeous spot and perched right between Bibury and Cirencester.
Now, one tip; be sure to plan your route efficiently if you’re driving to all the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds. It’s quite easy to get a plan in place to see all these different towns and then realise you’ve been crisscrossing the Cotswolds and ended up wasting your precious time.
Have days focused on exploring the south of the Cotswolds, where you can include iconic cities like Bath, too. Then, have other days that prioritise westerly towns, where you can also include spots like Blenheim Palace into your plans.
This way, you’ll be able to see so much more of the Cotswolds.
Read more: Best places in the Cotswolds
Larger than Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water is easily one of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds that’s right in the heart of this special region.
Sometimes nicknamed the Venice of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is a place that’s filled with shallow river beds and tiny bridges that make it all so quaint to explore.
After you park up, head out on food and along these little bridges that cross the River Windrush. It’s such a stunning part of Bourton-on-the-Water and it flows directly through the town.
After taking a stroll around the independent shops and little streets, make sure to pop into one of the little tea rooms that line the street.
You’ll find quite a few around town, so I won’t give you a suggestion – it’s more about which one you spot and like the look of. Just make sure to go for their freshly-brewed tea with warm scones. Yum!
Oh, and don’t forget about the cute model village that has earned a name for itself within Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s totally kitsch.
Known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds, Burford is a medieval settlement that’s well worth exploring if you’re venturing west towards Oxford (that isn’t too far away at all).
Nestled within the streets of Burford are plenty of little shops, cafes and traditional English pubs. We loved the Mermaid Inn for a proper pub lunch. In the winter, they have their open fire roaring and it’s such a beautiful atmosphere.
As you wander around, make sure to spot some of the iconic Cotswolds cottages that this area is known for. Oh, and the 12th-century church (St. John the Baptist) which is also a must-see in Burford.
Oh, and be sure to pop into Huffkins for one of their tasty baked treats or an afternoon tea. Yum.
Read more: Best things to do in Oxford
4.) Castle Combe
Located in Wiltshire’s idyllic countryside, Castle Combe is a chocolate box village that, in many ways, is my favourite in all of the Cotswolds. Shhh, don’t tell the others!
Yes, it’s small (just like most places in the Cotswolds) but it’s just so picture-perfect. We love it.
It almost feels as though it’s untouched by time. Trust me, it kind of feels like you’ve gone back many centuries… minus the odd car or two!
When visiting Castlecombe, you will get to see the ancient honey stone cottages which are so well-preserved, standing out among all the village’s gorgeous main streets.
After walking around Castlecombe, pop into the Castle Inn for a drink and check into The Manor House for a stay in the village itself. It’s a stunning manor house from the 1300s, that’s right within Castlecombe.
Finally, don’t forget to head over to visit the nearby village of Lacock. Yes, I know this isn’t in the Cotswolds but you can’t miss it when you’re already in the area. It’s only about 20 minutes in the car and well worth taking a gander at this beautiful town.
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Steeped in history, Slow-on-the-Wold is one of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds to visit when driving between Burton-on-the-Water and Broadway. It’s right on the main road area and well worth making a stop for a few hours around lunch.
Actually, not just for lunch… for its history, too!
You see, the Saxon name of Slow-on-the-Wold means holy place on the hill and dates back hundreds of years. Once a thriving little market town where wool was traded, it’s now a picture-perfect village that’s lovely to see.
Now, someone once told me that the reason why Stow-on-the-Wold has narrow alleys and thoroughfares was because of its wool heritage.
Apparently, these narrow alleyways helped shepherds herd their sheep as they reached the market. Truthfully, I always thought it was due to a lack of planning!
Watever the case, when you visit Slow-on-the-Wold, you’ll get to explore and spot that iconic countryside architecture that the Cotswolds is so well-known for.
If you’d like to shop, there are also various shops in the area which you can explore and enjoy the small art galleries, St Edward’s Church, Lucy’s Tearoom, and the Cotswold Sweet Company for some natural liquorice root to eat.
Oh, and Make sure to visit The Kings Arms for dinner… their homemade pies are yummy.
Set on top of the rolling hills, Painswick is one of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds to visit on the way south from Gloucester.
Now, just like most of the towns in the Cotswolds, Painswick is pretty intimate and small. This means a good few hours and you’ve seen most spots. Which, in my opinion, is part of the charm of the Cotswolds, generally. You can hop around the area finding all the little gems you love most.
Once here, make sure to pop into the Painswick Rococo Garden which dates all the way back to the 1700s. Also, be sure to grab dinner at The Painswick Restaurant which has an incredible tasting menu.
Not only that, but a biennial arts festival is also held in Painswick to celebrate local artists which are well worth checking out if you’re around in June.
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7.) Chipping Campden
When you see Chipping Campden, you’ll realise what all the fuss is about, especially if you love little villages and quaint Cotswold-stone cottages. They’re gorgeous!
That being said, Chipping Campden can feel a little quieter and smaller compared to some of the other prettiest towns in the Cotswolds. This is why I’d only recommend popping over for an hour or two.
Once here, check out The Market Hall, which is open-walled, and is steeped in history. Also, nearby, you’ll find a few cosy galleries like Campden Gallery and Art Cotswold that are well worth taking a peek inside.
You can buy some lovely local art.
Not your thing? Then head over to the Old Silk Mill which currently serves as a cooperative and exhibition space for artists.
Oh, and grab an afternoon tea at The Bantam Tea Rooms. It’s lovely and their tea is so good.
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Broadway is right up there as one of my favourite and prettiest towns in the Cotswolds to see when you’re travelling around the area.
Way back, in the Middle Ages, the wool trade was a thriving part of Broadway’s economy. Like lots of towns in the Cotswolds. Though, nowadays, you won’t find any bleeding sheep wandering the roads here.
Once here, be sure to check out the Broadway Museum & Art Gallery and pop inside the Gordon Russell Design Museum.
If you’re after some typically unfussy British fish and chips, head to Russell’s Fish and Chips. Their beer-battered cod and chips are one of the best in all of the Cotswolds.
All wish lashings of vinegar, of course!
To work off lunch, take a stroll around the folly that is the Broadway Tower. It’s well worth taking a stroll up the rolling hills to get there – especially on a sunny day.
Afterwards, you can easily drive over to the nearby village of Bretforton. Although not within the official boundaries of the Cotswolds, it’s not too far from Broadway (around 10 minutes), so you can visit both places if you have the time.
One spot you have to visit in Bretforton is The Fleece Inn. It’s a hugely historic pub which is 15 centuries old containing historic interiors and the most charming rooms. It’s now run by the National Trust looks after the property and keeps its charm and heritage alive for us all to enjoy today.
Plus, they have an epic beer garden, especially as you can sit in the cosy horseboxes in the apple orchard. It’s lovely.
Read more: Best places to visit in the West of England
Winchcombe is another gem to visit in the Cotswolds that’s right on the fringes of the northern border.
Here, you’ll find plenty of antique shops and the Winchcombe Antiques Centre. There are several little rooms and a quaint tea room where you can easily spend a little time within.
Afterwards, and on the outskirts of the market town are Belas Knapp, Hailes Abbey, and Sudeley Castle. The latter is a stately home which you can visit, dating back to the 1400s.
Read more: Best places in the North of England
Perched on an ancient fort that once overlooked this area, Tetbury is one of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds that’s relatively large in comparison to some other gems.
If it’s museums you love, check out the intimate and small Tetbury Police Museum. Alternately, spot the Tetbury Market House.
We stayed for a few days in Tetbury and used it as our base to explore more of this area of the Cotswolds. We booked The Royal Oak Tetbury which we totally loved.
The rooms are cosy and the pub is so nice.
Afterwards, be sure to check out the Westonbirt, The National Arboretum. It’s a whopping tree garden that dates back to Victorian times.
We spent around 1 hour here and loved it.
Tetbury really is a gorgeous town in the Cotswolds.
Read more: What to see in Tetbury
11.) Upper and Lower Slaughters (The Slaughters)
Now, I know these two spots sound pretty ominous! Their names don’t exactly sell them as places to go… but hear me out!
The Slaughters are two very small places that you can easily visit as they are right next to Bourton-on-the-Water. Now, this will be like a 20-minute stop (unless you go for a longer stroll), so there’s no need to go planning your whole day around The Slaughters.
Don’t forget to pop into The Old Mill ice cream parlour for some creamy scoops and walk over the cute Ford Bridge that goes over the River Eye.
Finally, if you want to book a stay, check into The Slaughters Manor House. Built back in the 1600s, it’s a total gem and a stunning place to stay. Plus, their English Breakfast is top-notch!
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