England is one of our favourite countries. Not only because we are desperately in love with London. First and foremost, we love England because there are many friends of ours who live there. This is why we plan a trip to England at least once a year so as to catch up with all or some of them. Each time we travel to the country, we make sure we visit some place new too. During our most recent trip to England, we spent a long weekend exploring some of the best villages in the Cotswolds. To say that their charms took our breaths away would be an understatement.
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Where are the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds are a cluster of picture-perfect villages nestled in the sheer beauty of the Cotswolds rolling Hills. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1966, the Cotswolds cover an area that stretches from south of Stratford-upon-Avon to Bath.
Why visit the Cotswolds
A trip to the Cotswolds is the perfect way to get acquainted with the quintessential charm of the English countryside. Apart from the surrounding natural beauty, the Cotswolds villages themselves are a sight for sore eyes. Rows upon rows of honey-coloured cottages, made of a special type of limestone known as Cotswold stone, crystal clear streams and leafy walking paths compose a setting of unreal beauty one might think only exists in the pages of a storybook. The fact that the vast majority of these villages have remained unchanged for thousands of years only adds to their overall allure.
Yet the Cotswolds are not just a wonder to behold. The tiny green and golden hued villages offer their visitors the unique opportunity to mingle with smiling locals at centuries-old pubs and savour delicious cream teas at the cutest tea rooms. Moreover, there are not many must-see attractions in the villages. All the magic lies in strolling around the quaint streets, taking in the villages’ incredible beauty. To cut a long story, don’t plan a trip to SEE the Cotswolds. Plan a trip to LIVE the Cotswolds.
14 best villages in the Cotswolds
There are countless villages and towns in the Cotswolds. We’d love to have all the time in the world to explore each and every one of them. But we don’t. And we assume that you don’t either. However, fret not. As it turns out, spending a long weekend in the area is enough to enjoy the charms of the best villages in the Cotswolds. Even if weather conditions do their best to destroy your trip to the Cotswolds, like they did in our case. Yet we had a wonderful time there all the same. The villages look gorgeous no matter the weather and the rain was the best excuse for us to constantly seek shelter in the quaintest pubs and tea rooms.
Bibury is probably the most photographed village in the Cotswolds. Home to the iconic Arlington Row with its fairytale-like cottages, Bibury is often dubbed the most beautiful village in England. Alas! This is a blessing but also a curse for the tiny village which seems to be an essential stop for every tourist bus in the area. Arlington Row can become unbearably crowded with people coming from all directions to snap that precious selfie. However, if this happens while you are around, just be patient and the street will be quiet again in 10′ or so. That’s about how long the selfie-stick invasion lasts. Unlike the 10-minute visitors though, you should spend as much time in Bibury as possible. The best way to enjoy Bibury is to stroll around its quiet streets before heading to The Catherine Wheel, the village’s quaint pub, for a pint and a homemade meal.
2. Upper Slaughter
Surprisingly, Upper Slaughter is one of the least crowded villages in the Cotswolds. Yet it is among the prettiest ones too, if not THE prettiest. Time seems to have stopped in this gorgeous village whose name has nothing to do with killing animals as it comes from an Old English word that meant wet land or muddy place. And a wet place indeed it is. Built on both banks of the River Eye, Upper Slaughter is the best place to understand what a ford is. The latter is a shallow part of a stream or river that coincides with a road crossing. In Upper Slaughter, the ford runs through the heart of the village. There are quite a few tiny footbridges for pedestrians to cross the stream but if travelling by car, you either drive through the water or stay put!
3. Lower Slaughter
Upper Slaughter’s sister village is charming Lower Slaughter. Larger than Upper Slaughter, there are a couple of interesting things to see there apart from taking a dreamy walk along the River Eye. The splendid 19th century Old Mill is the village’s main attraction. Impressively enough, the flour mill was fully functional until 1958. Nowadays it is home to a small museum as well as a wonderful riverside café. Other places of interest in Lower Slaughter include the splendid 13th century Church of St. Mary the Virgin and The Slaughters Manor. Although the latter is now a luxury hotel, it offers the opportunity to get a glimpse of the splendour of 17th century manor houses that dot the English countryside.
By far the most amazing way to take in the beauty of the Slaughters though is by walking the riverside footpath that connects the two villages. This picturesque easy walk lasts about 30′ each way and is part of the Warden’s Way, a linear 20km walk that passes through some of the most beautiful villages in the Cotswolds. We didn’t have time to check it out ourselves on this trip but we are definitely walking this route sometime in the near future.
4. Castle Combe
Castle Combe is hands down one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. Its main street is lined with picture-perfect cottages and looks absolutely fabulous. Sadly, it was after sunset when we reached Castle Combe and we literally couldn’t see a thing as the whole village was pitch dark. On the bright side, since we could not enjoy a walk around the village under the circumstances, we stepped inside the exceptional time warp that is The White Hart pub. Apart from an utterly warm interior, this pub will forever be in our hearts for serving us the best tomato soup we could ever hope for on a chilly evening. On the brighter side, we will definitely plan yet another trip to Castle Combe at some point.
One of the largest villages in the Cotswolds happens to be among the prettiest ones as well. The River Windrush runs through the village and the five arched footbridges built over it have earned Bourton-on-the-Water its nickname as Venice of the Cotswolds. Green spaces along both sides of the river are the ideal setting for relaxing picnics under the English sun. Speaking of picnics and food in general, don’t forget to try freshly made delicacies from Bakery on the Water, a family-run bakery situated right at the heart of the village. As far as sightseeing goes, Bourton-on-the-Water is home to the Cotswold Motoring Museum and its fine collection of 20th century vintage cars.
Often referred to as The Jewel of the Cotswolds, Broadway is yet another beautiful ancient village that is worth a visit in its own right. However, the main reason why most people visit Broadway is because of its proximity to the ultimate highlight of Cotswolds sightseeing: the Broadway Tower. The latter is a 20m high tower built in the 18th century. Nowadays, Broadway Tower itself hosts many exhibitions, while it features a wonderful park and offers guided tours to a nuclear bunker that lies hidden below the park’s ground.
Burford is a typically British village with a fantastic High Street. The latter is lined with all sorts of shops housed in marvellous honey-coloured buildings. The only bad thing and what spoils some otherwise perfect photo opportunities is that many cars are constantly parked along the street. On the other hand, at Burford Hill nothing stands in the way of spectacular, unspoilt views to the most picturesque rows of cottages one could possibly wish for.
Kingham is a tiny yet utterly picturesque village in the Cotswolds. Walking around its quiet streets and getting lost in its maze of splendid gardens and picture-perfect little cottages is the best way to make the most of one’s time there. Kingham can also be the ideal base from where to explore the Cotswolds as it is one of the very few Cotswolds towns and villages which are connected to London, Oxford and other destinations by train. Last but not least, Kingham is home to our favourite hotel in the Cotswolds.
9. Chipping Norton
More of a town than a village, Chipping Norton is a vibrant market town with schools, supermarkets, chain stores, hotels and even a theatre. It is impressive for a town the size of Chipping Norton to boast its own theatre but the latter has been around since 1975 and is still going strong. No visit to Chipping Norton is complete without dropping by The Tea Set, a super cute tea room which serves the most scrumptious scones imaginable.
Stourton doesn’t usually make it to lists of must-see villages in the Cotswolds because it is super tiny. However, there is a very good reason to visit Stourton as it lies within close walking distance of the Cotswolds Distillery, one of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds.
The Cotswolds Distillery was founded in 2014 by a passionate for good whisky New Yorker who decided to leave the frenzy of corporate London behind and start a new life in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. The main products here are whisky and gin. The distillery is housed in traditional stone buildings surrounded by a natural landscape of outstanding beauty. Apart from the actual distillery facilities, there is also a warm café on-site as well as a shop where one can purchase all the spirits produced there. There are three distillery tours with tasting available on a daily basis (£15/person) and we just couldn’t miss the chance to join one of them.
It turns out that Jack, our tour guide, had an excellent sense of humor. Therefore, spending about 90′ roaming around the grounds of the distillery with him was great fun. First of all, Jack gave us a brief account of how the distillery came to be. Then he went on to tell us a few inside stories regarding the spirits produced at the Cotswolds Distillery. Our personal favourite was the one about how the distillery launched the production of gin. As it seems, whisky was supposed to be the flagship of the distillery. That said, when the distillery opened back in 2014, there had to be a wait of at least three years before the first batch of top quality whisky was ready to hit the market. So, people at the distillery found a way to keep themselves busy while waiting: they started making top quality gin as well!
During the tour, we visited working spaces such as the distillery itself and the warehouse where oak barrels are left to rest for years until their contents are ready to see the light of day and fill our glasses with joy. The tour concluded with an amazing tasting of the best spirits at a super cosy room we could literally spend hours in. Jack led us step by step to the secrets of the spirits while guiding us on how to prepare our taste buds for each different glass coming their way. At the end of the official tasting, we were welcome to taste any of the other drinks available as well. All designated drivers took home with them a bag of goodies to enjoy too. Visiting the Cotswolds Distillery was an overall amazing experience and one that should be part of every Cotswolds itinerary.
This charming little market town is built on a 250m high hill. It is the highest of all Cotswolds towns thus one of the coldest too. Stow-on-the-Wold is a lively hub where many roads coming from the surrounding villages meet.
Brailes actually comprises of two adjoining villages: Lower and Upper Brailes. Set amidst lush greenery, Brailes is the perfect place to relax and spend wonderful lazy afternoons at the village’s historic pubs. However, Brailes is the ideal destination for golf lovers as well. Feldon Valley is home to a superb golf course nestled in the stunning countryside of the Cotswolds. The golf course is suitable to all golfing abilities and rates are very reasonable indeed.
But there’s more to Feldon Valley rather than just golf as it features 25 smartly decorated rooms spread across five modern wooden lodges. The latter are connected to one another by a boardwalk that winds its way through the forest. If that’s not staying connected to nature, we don’t know what is.
Last but not least, there is an on-site casual restaurant which serves delicious dishes prepared with the best local ingredients. Add to that a very good wine list and you can expect a wonderful dining experience in the heart of the Cotswolds beautiful nature. At the end of the day, Feldon Valley is an excellent idea for a weekend gateway regardless of whether you choose to try out your golfing skills or not after all.
Standing on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley below, Painswick is one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. Apart from walking around the village’s quaint narrow alleys and gazing at its exquisite traditional architecture, St. Mary’s Church with its imposing spire is also worth a bit of your time when in Painswick. Last but certainly not least, it is worth to remember that Painswick is home to the only remaining Rococo Garden in the United Kingdom. The garden was constructed in the 18th century and is now fully restored. Lying in the outskirts of the village, the Painswick Rococo Garden is a sight for sore eyes especially in the spring.
We found Moreton-in Marsh to be the least attractive of all the places we visited in the Cotswolds. However, we decided to include it in our list of the best villages to visit in the Cotswolds because it enjoys an optimal location from where to explore the entire area. The lively market town is also easily accessible by train from London, Oxford and elsewhere.
How to get there and around
By far the best, the ultimate, the absolutely optimal way to get to and around the Cotswolds is by car. It is just a 2h-drive from London and less than an hour’s drive from either Bristol or Oxford to get to the Cotswolds. Once there, driving gives you complete freedom to spend as much or as little time you want at every village and to plan your itinerary according to your own needs and desires.
That said, if you neither feel comfortable to drive on the left nor do you have friends in the UK who would love to go on a road trip with you (Yes, Fotini, Nagia and Dimitris, we are looking at all of you), then it is possible to plan a fantastic trip to the Cotswolds by means of public transport as well. Check out this website for useful information regarding train lines to the Cotswolds as well as bus schedules.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
When in the Cotswolds, make sure you don’t miss the chance to stay at one of many traditional cottages now turned into superb B&Bs. There is no better feeling than spending the night at a quaint guesthouse surrounded by the gorgeous English countryside. During our short trip to the Cotswolds, we had the immense pleasure to spend one night at The Kingham Plough. The latter is one of the best places to stay in the Cotswolds and certainly among our favourite hotels worldwide.
It was late in the evening when we arrived, quite exhausted thus a bit grumpy, at The Kingham Plough. However, the hotel staff gave us the warmest of welcomes and suddenly we were cheerful again. The smiles on our faces widened even more when we stepped inside our room. This was definitely one of the warmest, cleanest and prettiest hotel rooms we had ever slept in. The room blended tradition and casual luxury in an irresistible way and even had small touches that stole our hearts. The jar of homemade cookies that was waiting for us was just one of them. Infamous for my sweet tooth, I knew I was in love instantly.
We had already booked a table to have dinner at The Kingham Plough as well. The restaurant boasts a beyond words cosy interior with an inescapably rustic character. It doesn’t feel like home. It feels better than home. We knew that The Kingham Plough is popular for its mouthwatering dishes so we were prepared for the best. Yet, reality exceeded our expectations. Everything we tried was divine: starters, mains, dessert and the house wine as well. Katerina remains unable to get over her rib eye steak to this day. She often mumbles its name calling it the best piece of meat she’s had in her entire life.
As it turns out, more pleasant surprises were in store for us the following morning. When we opened the door to get outside, we noticed that a small glass bottle of fresh milk had been waiting for us at the doorstep. This is exactly the kind of detail that makes a hotel stand out from the rest. When we finally stepped outside, the beauty that unfolded before our eyes left us breathless. We hadn’t paid much attention the previous night, as it was quite dark and we were really tired, but it seems that we had slept within the walls of a picture-perfect honey-coloured cottage. Actually, we suddenly felt that we were living inside a storybook. When we were planning our trip to the Cotswolds, our wish was to fully take in the magic of the English countryside. It seems that our wish had been granted there and then.
Breakfast at The Kingham Plough is a unique experience in its own right as well. Everything is freshly made and there is a wide selection of delicacies to choose from. We could go on and on about the fantastic time we had at this hotel. Instead, we strongly recommend you to visit yourselves and make your own memories at The Kingham Plough.
Best time to visit the Cotswolds
We visited the Cotswolds in early November. The weather was quite cold, which is fine, but annoyingly rainy, which sucks. That said and as explained above, we still managed to enjoy our trip to the Cotswolds immensely. Winter can be very cold in the Cotswolds. Even so, the villages are ideal for a short break on a sunny winter weekend. On the other hand, summer is a very pleasant time to explore the villages, especially because one can make the most of long days and sweet evenings. That said, summertime brings crowds to the Cotswolds, so that’s a thing to keep in mind too. Our guess is that spring is by far the best time to visit the Cotswolds. However, we need to plan a second trip to the Cotswolds during springtime so as to verify our statement. Who are we to rely on guesses, after all?
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Disclosure: We were guests at the Cotswolds Distillery, Feldon Valley (B&B only) and The Kingham Plough, yet all opinions are our own, as always.