Before we get into the list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, let’s talk briefly about the place. When we think of the Cotswolds, we think of an area quintessentially English. If you want a taste of the best of what England offers, look no further than the Cotswolds. You will love the rolling hills, history, thatched cottages, and romantic views.
It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, combined with architectural marvels, from Castle Combe to Gloucester Cathedral. The Cotswolds span five counties – Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. Covering almost 800 square miles, the Cotswolds is one of the most beautiful places in England, if not the most, with plenty of places to visit to keep you occupied and coming back! We’ve visited the Cotswolds several times, and there is somewhere new to discover each time we visit. If someone were to visit England for the first time, the Cotswolds is the place we recommend for the best slice of English pie.
The Best Places to Visit in the Cotswolds
First, we have the prettiest Cotswold villages to visit, with some absolute Cotswold villages that are too classic to miss.
1 | Castle Combe
Castle Combe is possibly the most iconic of all the Cotswold villages to visit. Come in from the south via Ford, and you will drive over the iconic bridge and up through the village. Once you leave the village to the north, you might find some parking on the right, heading up the hill. Failing this, follow signposts for ‘Free Parking’ at the top of the hill. There isn’t much to Castle Combe besides a quintessential English village, but it’s worth visiting. You can get the classic photo from the bridge, if nothing else.
There are two pubs, of which The White Hart has some covered seating outside so you can watch all the Instagrammers walking down toward the bridge. Castle Combe is probably regarded as number 1 of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, but not for us. It’s worth a visit, and you can get your iconic Instagram shots, but there’s so much more to see in the Cotswolds than Castle Combe!
2 | Biddestone
Biddestone is underrated, but is it the perfect English country village? Charming honey-coloured stone-built cottages with gated, walled gardens situated around a village green with pubs, a 12th-century medieval Norman church, a water pump and a duck pond! What more could you possibly want in a village? It’s perhaps our favourite of all the Cotswold villages to visit. We stumbled upon Biddestone while en route to Castle Combe.
Located between Corsham and Castle Combe, Biddestone is a small, rural and picturesque village. Get off the beaten track and go for a little walk down The Butts to find the redwoods tree. Where The Butts meets Challows Lane, there’s a vast, rather imposing redwoods tree. The walk will also take you past the water pump and the church and give your legs a stretch!
3 | Chipping Campden
Situated on the northern edge of the Cotswolds, Chipping Campden is another of the idyllic Cotswold villages to visit you can’t miss. When you visit, take the time to mosey up and down the high street. You’ll see Market Hall – a structure built way back in 1627 that the National Trust now owns.
Talking of the National Trust, while you’re in Chipping Campden, make an effort to head north, up the hill to the National Trust’s Dover’s Hill Car Park. There are walks and a lush, open space with an insane view north, where you can sit, enjoy a picnic, absorb the scenery and soak up the peaceful surroundings. There’s also Hidcote not far away, which the National Trust also owns.
4 | Bourton-on-the-Water
Known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water straddles the River Windrush and is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England and another strikingly famous Cotswold village. Do you need any more reasons to visit? Ha!
Because Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, it gets super busy! We mean, next level busy on a summer’s day. So busy, we opted for an early morning visit. This had two benefits. There were no crowds, and we tasted the artisanal delights from Bakery on the Water.
If there is one bakery you need to visit in the Cotswolds, it’s Bakery on the Water! We recommend getting off the beaten track to find some of the best places. You might even find a cat that likes to climb on you! There are a few attractions in Bourton-on-the-Water, which include Birdland Park and Gardens, Cotswolds Motoring and Toy Museum, Dragonfly Maze and The Model Village, so plenty can keep you occupied if you want more than a wander.
5 | Stow-on-the-Wold
We’re almost at the end of our list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, and next up is Stow-on-the-Wold. Situated at the top of an 800-foot hill, Stow-on-the-Wold is a charming yet lively market town with plenty on offer, from cafes and independent retailers to cosy pubs like The Bell at Stow.
If you’re after an informal spot of lunch and the sun is shining, head to the Cotswold Garden Tearooms to sit in their little courtyard. Famed for its tree-framed doorway, a visit to St. Edward’s Church is a must. You can even enjoy a picnic in the peaceful surrounding of the church.
6 | Lacock
Lacock was on our list of places to visit in the Cotswolds for a long time, and we finally made it several visits after our first visit to the Cotswolds! Now, a visit to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the fantastic Lacock village. It’s so good it’s firmly planted on our list of favourite Cotswold villages to visit. Lacock’s long and rich history resonates with me (Joel) as a photographer. And that’s because an extraordinary thing happened in Lacock Abbey. Much like the Industrial Revolution in Ironbridge, Lacock was the Birthplace of photography in Britain.
In 1835, William Henry Fox Talbot captured the world’s first photographic negative at his home, Lacock Abbey. William shot a tiny picture of a window, but it was this picture that would go on to change the way we see the world. And for the first time, an image could be captured, fixed on paper, and reproduced several times. And guess what? You can photograph the same window he photographed all those years ago.
Besides the wonders of Lacock Abbey, there is a cute little Cotswold village to explore just around the corner, which is home to several filming locations, including Harry Potter’s parent’s house, bakeries, pubs and independent retail. There’s plenty to keep you occupied.
7 | Bibury
Last up on the Cotswold villages to visit is Bibury, which is another iconic Cotswold destination and one that’s become incredibly Instagram-famous. Bibury was once described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds’ and is one of the most well-known of all the Cotswold villages. There isn’t much to see in Bibury other than the highlight of the village, which is the historic Arlington Row cottages. They were built in the 14th century as a monastic wool store and later converted into a row of weavers’ cottages in the 17th century.
Arlington Row is owned and operated by the National Trust, and if you fancy staying, you can hire Number 9 Arlington Row. Beyond Arlington Row is our favourite hill based purely on its name – Awkward Hill. And I (Joel) know Stacey loves nothing more than being dragged up a hill. Much like Castle Combe, Bibury is a beautiful Cotswold village worth visiting, but it’s a bit of a one-trick pony that won’t capture your imagination for long.
8 | Corsham
We had only ever heard of Corsham when referred to as MOD Corsham and almost drove past it on our way to Castle Combe. Seeing the signpost while We were approaching some traffic lights, we decided to head in. We don’t know why it’s never been on our radar, but it’s underestimated. What a gorgeous little town it is, even in the wet! Upon arrival, we were immediately met by a random peacock walking about the streets. We guess it belongs to Corsham Court, which was a stone’s throw away. But the locals didn’t seem perplexed by it…it must be a regular occurrence!
Corsham is full of independent retail and beautiful buildings, typical of any Cotswold town with the iconic honey-coloured limestone. We walked from St Bartholomew’s Church, into the field and down the tree-lined path owned by Corsham Court. There probably isn’t a time of year that offers a prettier view of this path.
9 | Stroud
Stroud has plenty of things to see and do to keep you occupied for a few hours. Well known for its industrial heritage, you may even spot a few former textile mills across the valley. Stroud is now brimming with independent cafes and shops and is home to one of the best farmers’ markets in the country. Find more about the farmers’ market HERE. It was full of local produce with everything to suit any need, from meat lovers to vegans and everything in between.
While in Stroud, there are two other must places to visit. The food court at the Five Valleys Shopping Centre and Made In Stroud. The shopping centre has an excellent food court. It’s full of independent street food sellers, and Made In Stroud is stocked with all sorts of local things, from beautiful gifts to artwork, jewellery and beer. We bought some beer to take home, of course.
The weather was shocking when we visited Stroud, but that didn’t dampen the experience. If you’re looking for free parking, there’s a car park just out of the town next to Rodborough Community Hall. We do not recommend parking here if you don’t like walking up hills. It’s a steep walk back from the town and goes on forever! However, it does offer you the opportunity to take a more scenic walk into the town via a canal.
10 | Nailsworth
We’re halfway through the list of best places to visit in the Cotswolds, and in at number 5 is Nailsworth. A charming town nestled at the bottom of a wooded valley, Nailsworth is a cute town with plenty of character. With a similar heritage to Stroud, Nailsworth is now renowned for its selection of award-winning restaurants, pubs, cafés, galleries and independent retail. There’s a little place called Domestic Science. It’s tucked down a little alley, which we recommend if you like vintage interiors and curios.
Much like Corsham and Biddestone, Nailsworth was another place that we just happened to pass through to get elsewhere. When we initially passed through, it was dark, but it looked interesting enough, much like the road which leads up the hill out of town towards Rodborough Common! It’s full of twists and turns and offers dramatic views over the town, so consider a drive up to appreciate those views before heading to Stroud.
11 | Bradford-on-Avon
Bradford-on-Avon is one of our favourite towns in the Cotswolds, if not our favourite… it’s hard to decide! We feel it’s in the shadow of Bath a little, unfortunately. If you are visiting Bath, you should try to visit Bradford-on-Avon (it’s only 20 minutes away). It shares the same iconic limestone you find all over the Cotswolds, is steeped in history, and is much quieter than Bath.
It’s not massive, but there is a lovely walk along the canal if you fancy it, but you should plan at least a couple of hours here, if not a little more. You’ll find places like the iconic The Bridge Tea Rooms, which serve the best traditional afternoon tea, beautiful canals, medieval monastic barns and incredible views from the hills. You can hire some canoes from The Lock Inn if you fancy something more adventurous.
If you want free parking, there’s a place on the northern side of the valley, which you will find on the map at the bottom of the page. It’s quite a steep hill to get up and down, but it’s well worth it. We suggest getting lost on the paths and alleyways as you head down. You will find all sorts of gorgeous little cottages and terraces which overlook the town. If you like camping, we stayed at a campsite not far from Bradford-on-Avon called The Blackberries Camping Park. Please read about our trip HERE.
12 | Bath
You can’t visit the Cotswolds and not visit Bath. It has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the UK. There are oodles of things to do; whether you’re a history buff, foodie, wanderer or have an eye for architecture, there is something in Bath to meet your needs. One of our favourite things to do anywhere is to wander the streets.
You get to see the things you don’t know when you hit the mainstream spots, and Bath is large enough to offer tons and tons of streets to wander. But for some hotspots, I’d recommend the Roman Baths and Royal Crescent and head out to visit the National Trust site, Priory Park, which overlooks the city. It’s a beautiful spot that offers unrivalled views over Bath.
13 | Cirencester
We’re almost at the end of our list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, and next up is Cirencester. Situated on the eastern border of the Cotswolds, Cirencester claims to be the capital of the Cotswolds. It’s larger than many of the towns around the Cotswolds but still maintains charm and character.
If you’re after a bit of shopping, Cirencester has a rich shopping scene with a delightful mix of independently owned shops and national chains. We recommend you visit when there is a market on too. There’s the famous Charter Market, held every Monday and Frida,y and the Farmers’ Market, held on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, and there are also speciality markets, such as the Christmas Market. You are likely to find something happening most weekends. For more information, visit cirencester.gov.uk/markets.
For more information on Cirencester, including hotels and accommodation, attractions, shopping and restaurants, visit cirencester.co.uk/
14 | Whichford
Here’s a little bonus on our list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, which comes in the form of Whichford. Wichford is a tiny Cotswold village home to a pottery place, a church and a pub, the Norman Knight. I (Joel) caught up with a couple of friends at the Norman Knight glamping pods after I’d visited Waddesdon Manor on the way from where I was working at RAF Halton.
You can stay in one of the pods for about £85 per night, located around the back of the pub, and while you’re there, you should head in for a pint and some grub! Check out the Norman Knight website for more info.
Waddesdon Manor is not in the Cotswolds, but I’ve mentioned it, so I might as well tell you a little about it. It’s one incredible place, owned by the National Trust and managed by the Rothschild Foundation, and if you haven’t been, you need to visit! In 2019 it was one of the National Trust’s most visited properties, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s about an hour from Whichford, London bound. Back to Whichford – this trip gave me a taste of what the Cotswolds had to offer. I passed through Stow-on-the-Wold on my way home and just had to visit, along with all the other places on this list!
Where to Stay in the Cotswolds
We have a few great recommendations if you’re looking for places to stay in the Cotswolds. They are excellent in their own way and among the best places to stay in the Cotswolds for their character, locations and hosts.
The Hide Artist Retreat
Located on the edge of Minchinhampton Common, The Hide Artist Retreat is ideally located to visit Nailsworth, Stroud, Cirencester and the central area of the Cotswolds. We had a wonderful stay at the Hide Artist Retreat, made even better by speaking to the host. There are also a couple of dogs who might want your attention too!
The space you have in the house is beautiful. There’s an ample living space with a wood-burning stove and a little table where you can have breakfast overlooking the garden.
There’s a cosy pub just a few minutes walk, and you may even spot a Highland cow on the common if it’s the right time of year. We recommend you book directly for the best price. For more info and to book, click HERE.
We stayed at Ivy Cottage as a group. The cottage comfortably accommodates four people and is also a dog-friendly place to stay in the Cotswolds. Ivy Cottage is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) buildings in the Cotswold village of Littleton Drew and was once a Post Office. Ivy Cottage was one of our favourite places to stay…ever! It is a beautiful cottage with plenty of character, and the owners also have pet pigs! We were fortunate enough to spend a little time with them, which was a real treat.
Ivy Cottage is ideally located to explore the Cotswold village of Castle Combe, which is just a few minutes’ drive south. For more info on this romantic cottage and to book, click HERE.
On a Narrowboat
The Cotswolds is a great place to hire a canal boat, with the Kennet and Avon canal running straight through Bradford-on-Avon and Bath, which both feature on this list. We hired a narrowboat in the Cotswolds for a weekend and had a fabulous time. It’s an experience you must try!
That concludes our list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, along with the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. Where’s on your list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds? Let us know in the comments below!
The best places to visit in the Cotswolds
- Castle Combe
- Chipping Campden
- 12 | Bath
- 13 | Cirencester
- 14 | Whichford
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