The Cotswolds are one of the most beautiful places to visit in Britain. Covering around 800 square miles and five different counties, it’s an area that is known for its old-fashioned charm, gorgeous little villages and status as one of the best places to come on holiday in the UK.
Because the Cotwolds cover such a large area of the country, trying to decide which of its towns to visit can seem like an impossible task. Do you take a trip to the tourist hotspots and enjoy some of the finest food and sightseeing in the area? Or do you head off the beaten path and visit the more undiscovered towns and villages in the Cotswolds that are perfectly peaceful and encompass classic English charm?
To help guide your decision, we’ve rounded up 16 of the best towns to visit in the Cotswolds, featuring visitor favourites and some more unheard of options.
In the North of Oxfordshire lies Burford, known by many as the gateway to the Cotswolds. With plenty of traditional pubs and little independent shops, it’s a popular tourist destination that features some classic examples of 17th and 18th century English architecture and still maintains a historic charm to this day.
If you’re visiting the Cotswolds then you should definitely consider coming to Burford to sample the offerings from its cafes and tea rooms or taking home a charming antique from one of the town’s many stores.
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water comes at the top of most people’s lists of recommendations. Often called ‘The Venice of the Cotswolds’, the River Windrush flows through this gorgeous village and is covered by five, arched bridges that are incredibly popular photo spots.
There are plenty of different attractions in Bourton-on-the-Water suitable for all ages, from the Cotswold Motoring Museum to the miniature model village. Its popularity can mean that it gets very busy, especially in the summer months, but it’s still well worth a visit for the charming architecture, excellent food and range of things to see and do.
If you’re looking for Cotswolds villages that will take you away from the crowds, you should definitely visit Painswick. Many refer to it as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’ because it is such a beautiful place, with charming architecture, gorgeous surrounding countryside and a very peaceful atmosphere.
A highlight for history fans is the Painswick Rococo Garden, and keen walkers will find plenty of routes around the area including the Cotswolds Way National Trail. Many people think of the village as one of the most romantic places to visit in the Cotswolds, and once you’ve seen the beauty of Painswick, you’ll understand why. It’s also a great part of the area to stay with dogs, as the traffic is minimal and there are lots of open spaces for walks around the village.
One of the liveliest towns in the Cotswolds is Chipping Campden, found in Gloucestershire. If you’re looking for a change from all the sleepy, peaceful villages that this area is so well known for, this town offers plenty of locally organised events, tourist attractions like Hidcote Manor Gardens and lots of different accommodation options.
Chipping Campden is also one of the best towns to stay in the Cotswolds, as it provides an excellent base to go and visit other popular nearby villages like Moreton-in-Marsh and Broadway.
One of the most historic towns in the Cotswolds is Cirencester; a destination that dates back to Roman times. Often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’, a highlight of Cirencester is the cathedral-like Parish Church of St. John Baptist, located in the bustling market square and one of many fascinating historic buildings found around the town.
Visitors should come to Cirencester if they’re looking to see a more vibrant side of the Cotswolds than its classic, sleepy villages. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants lining the streets, a Roman amphitheatre to visit and regular farmers, craft and antique markets.
Broadway is one of the larger villages in the Cotswolds, found in the county of Worcestershire. It’s full of charming houses and shops built with signature golden Cotswolds stone, making it a very pretty part of the area that gets plenty of visitors throughout the year.
One of the main attractions in the village is Broadway Tower, a Saxon structure that overlooks the surrounding countryside and is not a good choice for anyone afraid of heights! Never fear however; there are lots of top-rated pubs, restaurants and cafes nearby that still make it a location that is well worth visiting.
Upper Slaughter is a similarly quiet part of the Cotswolds that is an ideal place to visit if you’re looking for a more laid-back trip. You can walk from Lower Slaughter to the village alongside the beautiful River Eyre and enjoy a picnic on the green or a walk admiring the pretty, stone houses.
There’s a 17th-century gabled Manor House that has been converted into a hotel in Upper Slaughter that does excellent food (and afternoon tea!), but there aren’t as many other attractions in the village as you’ll find in a lot of other places in the Cotswolds.
Whilst this location might not have the most encouraging name, it’s actually one of the most picturesque Cotswold villages. Lower Slaughter is only a few minute’s drive from the popular Bourton-on-the-Water which means that most tourists overlook it, but this is good news if you’re looking for a quieter experience of the area that is still full of quintessential Cotswolds charm.
Lower Slaughter is named after the Old English word for marsh, and so the village is surrounded by wetland. There are a couple of lovely cafes and a museum to pass the time, as well as lots of walks nearby that are great for visitors with dogs.
Castle Combe is referred to by many as ‘the prettiest village in England’. Whilst the castle that this picturesque Cotswold village is named after no longer exists, the 17th-century architecture has remained well-preserved and gives the whole area an idyllic, ‘chocolate-box’ feel that has many luxury holiday accommodation options.
Located in the county of Wiltshire, Castle Combe is an incredibly popular tourist hotspot in the summer months, but if you visit in the early spring you’ll have the quaint streets almost all to yourself.
Stow-on-the-Wold is one of the best towns in the Cotswolds if you’re looking for plenty of delicious places to eat. This historic market town is full of tea rooms, cafes and pubs that make it an ideal place to come for an afternoon or to stay for a weekend and sample all of the eateries found around the pretty little streets.
This town is also home to a brilliant array of gift shops and galleries, as well as classic examples of unique architecture, including Porch House and St Edward’s Church.
The village of Blockley was once famous for its silk production in the 18th and 19th centuries. Overlooking a hill and a Norman church in Gloucestershire, many of the historic mills in the village have now been converted into accommodation, and there are many classic golden stone Cotswold cottages around as well.
Blockley is one of the best towns in the Cotswolds if you want to enjoy some authentic peace and quiet without hordes of daytrippers, making it an ideal choice for holidaymakers looking to get away from it all.
Close by to Chipping Campden in Oxfordshire is the quiet, secluded village of Kingham. This location in the ‘Golden Triangle’ is one of the most beautiful Cotswold villages, with picturesque cottages lining the streets, an elegant Norman church and a surprisingly lucrative dining scene that includes a restaurant run by a Michelin starred chef.
Gloucestershire’s Stanton is a village that perfectly captures everything you first think of when you hear the word ‘Cotswolds’. The charming houses are all built out of signature golden stone, there are miles of gorgeous countryside surrounding the village and an authentic pub serves local food and drink all year round.
If you’re after a really authentic experience of the area then Stanton is the place to come, as the village lacks any real commercialisation and isn’t ever overrun by tourists.
One of the best Cotswolds villages to visit if you’re looking to get off the beaten path and discover a new side to the area is Chedworth. This tiny village is only really accessible by car or on foot, is home to only 700 inhabitants, and has a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere that is ideal if you need a break from the busier tourist traps.
A highlight of the village is the National Trust Chedworth Roman Villa, which is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the whole of Britain. Even if you’re not that much of a history fan, the intricate mosaics are stunning.
Tetbury is found on the southern side of the Cotswolds and is a very lively market town that is also full of history. As the second largest town in the Cotswolds and the home of HRH Prince Charles, it’s a location that gets a lot of visitors all year round, but for good reason.
Whether you’re looking for shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants or tourist attractions, Tetbury has got it all. Highlights include the Grade I-listed historic market hall, local markets and stalls, the gardens at Highgrove and the famous Goods Shed Arts Centre.
Finally, if you want to see one of the most photographed places in the Cotswolds, head to the village of Bibury in Gloucestershire. The famous Arlington Row of period houses is featured on the inside cover of the British passport, and attracts hundreds of tourists to snap a shot of the iconic line of houses every week.
Aside from the must-see street, Bibury is one of the nicest places to visit in the Cotswolds in the springtime, where you can enjoy afternoon tea in the William Morris Tea Room, visit the local trout farm and stroll alongside the River Colne.
When it comes to choosing the best towns in the Cotswolds, the list is endless. Some locations stand out for their food and shopping opportunities, others that feature iconic landmarks and historic sites, and some that are simply so beautiful that you need to visit just to take it all in.
Whichever towns in the Cotswolds you decide to visit, you’re sure to find classic architecture, stunning natural landscapes, friendly locals and plenty of things to see and do. No matter what time of the year it is, the area is known as one of the most stunning parts of the country for a good reason, and all of the towns and villages showcase something special.
If you’re planning a visit to one of the towns or villages in this popular part of England, check out our range of self-catering properties in the Cotswolds. If you’re looking to book a last-minute break, you can view our selection of cottages with last-minute availability here.