A visit to the Cotswolds feels like travelling back in time – quaint villages with thatched cottages will capture your heart and countryside pubs will make you want to just move in straight away. After a road trip there earlier this month, I have compiled a list of the best Cotswolds villages you must visit!
The Cotswolds is wonderfully picturesque and this list could easily go on forever, but I have chosen my absolute favourites. You could easily spend two weeks or more visiting one beautiful village after another, but for a perfect few days in the region, these are my top recommendations. Here are the prettiest Cotswolds villages that you can’t miss:
South & Central Cotswolds
For our road trip, we actually began in Bristol since I was travelling from Cardiff, Christina from London and Alissa from Southampton. Since I lived in Bath for five years, I occasionally visited Bristol to visit friends and enjoy the excellent craft coffee scene. While Bristol is not within the Cotswolds, it does make an excellent start point for your journey, particularly since the airport is well served from many European destinations.
Stay at the amazing ‘The Old Bank’ apartment in St Phillips, Bristol – sleeps up to 4 people and is an incredible place to enjoy a night or two.
Possibly the most well-known of all the Cotswolds villages is the small village of Castle Combe (pronounced “Kooom”, not like ‘comb’) in Wiltshire. The village dates back to around the 12th century and the 5-star Manor House Hotel dates all the way back to the 17th century. Due to its ‘old world’ appearance, the village has been used as a filming location for TV series such as Downton Abbey and Agatha Christie’s Poirot and for movies such as War Horse and Stardust.
Walking through the small village does indeed feel like you’ve been whisked back to a time long ago, particularly if you manage to go when there aren’t too many tourists around. I recommend parking just before the entrance to the Manor House and wandering your way on foot from there. If you walk fast, you could easily do a loop of the village in less than five minutes, but you definitely won’t want to as you’ll be stopping to take many photos!
As you walk through the village – across the iconic bridge over the By Brook (river), past the cottages that line the main street (helpfully named ‘The Street’), past the Old Rectory Tearoom, St Andrews Church and The Castle Inn – you will understand exactly why Castle Combe has often been named the ‘prettiest village in England’ and why it definitely makes my list of the best Cotswolds villages.
While not technically in the Cotswolds proper, Lacock is a village not to be missed. If you are a fan of Harry Potter then you definitely must pay Lacock Abbey a visit on your Cotswolds road trip. We started our exploration of Lacock by walking through the village and settling ourselves comfortably at The George Inn for a few drinks. For those who enjoy real ales, this is a pub not to miss (also for the excellently named beers on tap, such as the Wadworth ‘Game of Stones’ Golden Ale) and if you’re there around lunch or dinner time then the meals looked wonderful.
After enjoying a quick refreshment at The George Inn, we returned to exploring the village. Don’t miss a visit to the Lacock Bakery (excellent sausage rolls and Bakewell tarts) and if you spot the ice cream van, get a cone of the ‘Lacock at War’ ice cream which uses a recipe from 1945.
After you have had your fill of baked goods, ice cream and exploring the picturesque village, head over to Lacock Abbey. Lacock itself, including the abbey, is entirely owned by the National Trust and the village and the abbey have both been used as filming locations for many TV series and films, including Pride and Prejudice, Cranford, Downton Abbey, The Other Boleyn Girl and – of course – Harry Potter.
The cloisters of Lacock Abbey were used in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (if you know your Harry Potter, then this is the scene where Harry leaves Professor Lockhart’s room after detention and then hears the basilisk) and some scenes from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were filmed inside the abbey.
Even though Lacock is *technically* not in the Cotswolds, you definitely can’t miss a visit to this pretty village if you’re travelling nearby!
One of the absolute best Cotswolds villages is the charming Bibury. I’m not entirely sure if it’s pronounced ‘BIB-bree’ or ‘BYE-bree’ since I’ve heard both variations, but – whichever way it’s pronounced – it is beautiful. We arrived in Bibury just before golden hour began so we were met with wonderful shooting conditions the entire time we were in the village.
Unfortunately, it seems that Bibury’s fame as a quaint English village has had its downsides too – signs on people’s front gates remind visitors ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING’ in English, Japanese and Mandarin. Please, if you do visit, remember that there are actual people who live in these villages! The quaint cottages have owners and residents – I would hope that everyone would respect their property and land and also their privacy.
We walked through the town and past the beautiful Swan Hotel (adorned with an impressive ivy facade!) and along the banks of the River Coln. Bibury was once described by English poet and novelist William Morris and the ‘the most beautiful village in England’ and you can definitely see why!
Arlington Row, a picturesque row of 14th-century cottages, is considered to possibly be one of the most photographed places in the Cotswolds and is owned by the National Trust. If you go in the evening just before sunset, hopefully you’ll experience (as we did) less people than during the day! Plus it makes for wonderful lighting conditions.
Cricklade, like Lacock, is technically not actually within the Cotswolds Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty (AONB) but it was a great place to base ourselves while visiting the other Cotswolds villages on this list. We stayed at the wonderful Old Bear Inn, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Free car parking right behind the pub and an excellent selection of beers, ciders and soft drinks for when we got back after a long day of adventuring to quaint English villages.
As with most small villages your dining options are limited but they were excellent nonetheless! We ate at the local Indian restaurant The Ancient Raj (crazy portion sizes!) for our first night and at the local Thai restaurant Jicsaw Thai (their banana sticky rice is to die for) our second night. We sadly ran out of time before we could dine at The Red Lion but we did fit in a swift pint there – they have an excellent selection of beers (they have their own microbrewery) and ciders and is highly recommended by my dad as well (a beer aficionado).
For coffee, head to the Cricklade Club for excellent espresso. They also have soy milk and drinks are available for drinking in (the interior is very cosy and would be perfect for getting some work done) or takeaway.
Cricklade itself is also very picturesque, so I highly recommend taking many more photos than we did (since we usually got back after dark).
Accommodation at the Old Bear Inn starts at £50pn for a single, £65pn for a double and £90pn for a triple room.
Most of the villages we visited were in the north of the Cotswolds, in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. While there are many beautiful villages in the region, these are the ‘cream of the crop’ for me. Plus, some of them just have great names too.
No, not the theatres. This Broadway is much less bright lights, singing and dancing and rather more Cotswold limestone buildings, inns dating back to the 17th-century and quaint independent shops.
We enjoyed an excellent lunch at the Crown and Trumpet – they offer light bites of sandwiches and paninis as well as larger meals including delicious looking pies. They also have an impressive selection of ciders, such as Black Rat cider and perry (pear cider), Pearson’s summer berries cider, Old Rosie cloudy cider, Lilley’s mango cider and Fanny Bramble’s cider with blackcurrant which were on draft when we visited.
You can also stop by the Broadway Deli, which has thousands of products for sale including a variety of vegan and gluten-free goods as well as a cafe that serves excellent coffee and homemade food. Further along in the village is the lovely Blandford Books, where we picked up a few novels for upcoming flights as well as a book on Cotswolds place names – handy for the rest of our trip!
Other wonderful shops in the village include the lovely Cotswolds Trading and the stylish Whatever The Weather and you can find some excellent coffee shops too, such as Hunters Tea Room and Leaf & Bean. You could easily spend a few days in this one village alone! It is sometimes called the ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’ and you can definitely see why.
Not far from Broadway is the small village of Snowshill. It has only around 160 inhabitants and is pleasant for a brief wander. You can find the village church in the centre, with an iconic red phone box and the local pub just nearby.
Snowshill is best known for Snowshill Lavender, a farm that boasts 35 acres of lavender fields and is a popular place to visit during the early summer months.
Chipping Campden is not a village, but rather a Cotswolds town. The small town is home to around 2,200 people and is known for its old High Street, dating back to the 14th to 17th-century. “Chipping” is from Old English cēping meaning “a market” or “a market-place” and you can see Chipping Campden’s market town history from the market hall that still stands in the High Street.
Stow-on-the-Wold is another small market town in the Cotswolds with a population of around 2,000. Dating back to the early 12th-century, this small town has a great history! Originally called Edwardstow after the town’s patron saint St. Edward, Stone Age and Bronze Age burial mounds have been found in the vicinity, showing that the existence of a settlement (whether or not called Stow) has in fact been there for much, much longer.
The popular Stow Fair has a history dating back to 1476, and still occurs both in May and October and is a huge event for the town and surroundings. It’s a lovely town for a stroll and a visit to a cafe or pub!
Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter are two small Cotswolds villages that you can’t miss. In my personal opinion, Lower Slaughter is the best of the two but they are both absolutely picturesque. While the names sound a little… brutal, the meaning behind it comes from the Old English ‘slough’ meaning ‘wet land’.
The River Eye runs through Upper Slaughter and you can walk down to the small ford (where the road goes through the river, but the river is not so deep as to make it not traversable) and on a hot day you can put sit on the bank and put your feet in the cool water and appreciate to the peacefulness of the village.
Lower Slaughter is also built on the banks of the River Eye and at the end of the village you can find a 19th-century water mill. Records exist dating Lower Slaughter back at least 1,000 years and the village is named in the Domesday Book as ‘Sclostre’.
Lower Slaughter is about two times the size of Upper Slaughter and has more in the way of amenities, including the Slaughters Country Inn (perfect for a drink or a bite to eat), the Old Mill Museum and the Riverside Tearoom.
The largest town in my list of best places in the Cotswolds is the lovely market town of Chipping Norton, located in Oxfordshire. The town dates back to the 12th-century and still retains some features from these times, such as the local church. While we sadly did not spend much time in Chipping Norton, there is definitely much to do! If possible, coincide your visit with the market that happens every Wednesday and you shouldn’t miss out on a visit to the bookshop and cafe Jaffé & Neale!
Adlestrop is the complete opposite of Chipping Norton in terms of size – it is the smallest village on this list. Prior names include ‘Tedestrop’ and ‘Edestrop’ and the village has a mere 120 residents. The village is most known for the poem of the same name by Edward Thomas, who wrote about a train journey that stops in Adlestrop. Jane Austen also visited Adlestrop House and is thought to have drawn inspiration from the village and surroundings for her novel Mansfield Park.
If you’re lucky you might even meet the local cat Buster, who is rather friendly and apparently goes to most of the church services and usually attends any funerals.
I did try to hold myself back when adding photos to this post… but I definitely struggled. These Cotswolds villages are so picturesque that you should definitely make sure you have well-charged cameras and spare SD cards!
While there are many I haven’t yet visited, I researched as much as I possibly could before we went and this is my list of the absolutely best Cotswolds villages that you can’t miss!
Have you visited the Cotswolds? Did you have any favourite villages?
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