The Cotswolds boast some of the most beloved villages in England, capturing the hearts and imaginations of individuals across the globe. When thinking about the Cotswolds, images of tiny thatched-roof cottages and golden-hued buildings always spring to mind. With these buildings comes 787 square miles of rolling hills that conceal the most beautiful villages in England. With twee pubs, rustic hotels, swans, honesty boxes and ancient history, the villages mentioned in this guide are the best Cotswold villages. This article also has all the essential information needed to help you navigate and plan your ideal day trip to the Cotswolds.
Castle Combe is undoubtedly one of the best Cotswold villages because it is so beautiful. If there’s one thing you should know, it’s that visiting Castle Combe is like stepping back in time or into a fairy-tale story. Situated in the breath-taking countryside of Wiltshire, the Castle Combe village has a magnificent gothic cathedral, emerald ivory making its way up the building walls, and a quiet stream flowing under a quaint bridge. There are also barely any cars. It’s as if nothing has changed around here for centuries, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast.
It is believed that Celts initially settled in the area and that the village owes its name to a Norman Bailey castle to the north. While this castle no longer exists, there is a 14th-century market cross erected where the three principal streets of the lower village converge. During the 15th-century, weekly markets were held and prospered under Millicent, the wife of Sir Stephen Le Scrope and then under Sir John Fastolf, a Norfolk knight. This is the same knight that inspired William Shakespeare’s Falstaff. He also promoted the woollen industry. As a result, Castle Combe became the centre of a thriving wool trade!
For a small village, Castle Combe has some wonderful places to eat. The Old Rectory Pop-up Tearoom has a delightful selection of homemade cakes, savoury nibbles, sandwiches, and afternoon tea served on china. Equally fantastic and appropriately named is The Old Stables, where a cup of hot tea can be enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. At the marketplace, there are two pubs: The Castle Inn and The White Hart. The Castle Inn has an outdoor terrace, private dining spaces and 12 bedrooms. However, if you’re looking for a luxury hotel in the Cotswolds, then head to the five-star Manor House as it has a Michelin-starred restaurant, The Bybrook, and an 18-hole golf course.
Second, on my list of the best Cotswold villages is Lower Slaughter. Over a thousand years ago, Lower Slaughter was built on the banks of the River Eye, a slow-moving stream that connects Lower with Upper Slaughter. Yes, this might sound like the last place in the world where you’d find the most elegant and picturesque village in England. However, the towns name isn’t as sinister as it may seem. It derives from the Old English ‘slough’, meaning ‘wet land’.
In the village, you’ll discover a stunning 13th-century Anglican parish church dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. There’s also Lower Slaughter mill, an incredible 19th century Water Mill that includes an undershot waterwheel and a chimney for additional steam power. The sound of melodious birds chirping adds to the serenity of the water, making this quaint village the perfect location for a day trip to the Cotswolds!
Lower slaughter’s country inn, officially known as The Slaughters Country Inn, is a cosy pub made for guests to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. There’s excellent food made from the finest Cotswold produce, comfortable furnishings, superb local ales and afternoon tea, should you feel like participating in an ancient British tradition. In addition, there are 31 bedrooms, and each is designed to fit harmoniously with the house’s oldest architecture. A five-minute walk away is the equally charming The Slaughters Manor House. Not only does it look like a building plucked out of a Jane Austen novel, but it also has a lovely restaurant and a slew of bedrooms that are full of character.
The Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter walk is under twenty minutes and well worth the effort as you’ll pass rolling hills, grazing wildlife and jaw-dropping architecture that make rural England so famous. While Upper Slaughter is connected to Lower Slaughter, the two villages have an entirely different frequency. The latter is situated on a long, flat terrain.
In contrast, Upper Slaughter commands higher ground with parts of the village, including the church, towering over acres of tiny, thatched cottages. The distance from the water also changes the atmosphere completely. In Lower Slaughter, everything was calm and tranquil, but Upper Slaughter is full of energy; from two pheasants mating to the cherry blossom trees budding early, there’s life and activity all around. For this reason, Upper Slaughter is the third choice on my list of the best Cotswold villages.
The history of Upper Slaughter is unusual but uplifting as it’s the only village in England not to lose a single man in World War One or World War Two. The 17th-century style, Eyford Manor House, with its Baroque details and classic Cotswolds stone, adds to the idyllic nature and charm of the village. So it’s not surprising that the poet John Milton was inspired by its grounds to write his legendary Paradise Lost. In Upper Slaughter, the Lords of the Manor Hotel is the most praised luxury hotel in the Cotswolds, featuring a 3 AA Rosette restaurant.
Chipping Campden is slightly different to the other places suggested in this guide to the best Cotswold villages. This is because it’s much larger and populated by more people. Historically, an old wool merchant’s town that still retains its elegant terraced High Street. Dating from the 14th-century, the towns’ place name, like many Medieval settlements, reveals the purpose behind establishing the area. ‘Chipping’ derives from the Old English cēping, meaning ‘a market; a marketplace’. Wonderfully, this tradition evades time as locals repeatedly set up camp each day, selling local produce, including animal skin rugs.
Proceeding down the High Street, quirky shops, old inns, hotels and restaurants are all housed in the characteristic honey-coloured limestone buildings. The town’s age is evoked by the weathered stones, while the grand early perpendicular church of St. James pays homage to the original wool merchant, William Grevel. A plaque describes him as “the flower of the wool merchants of all England”.
There are many historic buildings to feast your eyes on in Bibury, from Bibury Court to the distinct Arlington Mill. However, Bibury’s claim to fame and the reason it earned its stripes as the most beautiful village in England is the picturesque Arlington Row cottages. Think Poldark meets Lark Rise to Candleford, and you’ll just about imagine its quirkiness and quintessentially English vibe! Originally built in 1380 as a monastic wool store, these buildings were later converted into a row of cottages for weavers in the 17th century. They are now in the care of the National Trust. But if you’d like to stay in one, number 9 has been converted into a guesthouse with two bedrooms. You can check the house’s availability here.
These cottages overlook a water meadow and the Arlington Row River. It is easy to imagine an elderly labourer of the 17th-century sitting on a bench here, contemplating life while smoking a tobacco pipe. It has the appearance of having been left behind in another century. However, due to its National Trust status, Bibury sees more tourists than any other Cotswold village, and there are many people, cars, and busses coming through.
During Roman times, Cirencester was the second largest town in Britain. Today, it is referred to as the Capital of the Cotswolds with quaint streets of golden stone and plenty of green spaces. It’s incredible to think that the town is as popular with visitors today as it was with the Romans. However, for a long time, Cirencester has been overlooked in favour of its neighbour, Cheltenham. As a result, the town still feels like a hidden gem with traditional charm! So make sure to spend some time walking around the side alleys as you’ll discover some stunning Cotswold stone cottages.
There are many things to do in Cirencester, especially for history buffs which is why I think it’s one of the best Cotswold villages. Its Roman heritage is well preserved, and any visitors who want to know more about this should head to the Corinium Museum, which has a collection of finds from the Roman town. The Cirencester Amphitheatre is also worth visiting as it’s the remains of one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in Britain. A short drive away is the Chedworth Roman Villa, one of the finest and grandest Roman villas in Britain. The modern conservation building has some of the most beautiful mosaic floors.
If Roman history isn’t for you, make sure to visit the Church of St John the Baptist, which is one of the biggest parish churches in England. The Abbey Grounds and Cirencester Park are nearby and lovely areas for a morning walk. Rodmarton Manor is the place for architectural beauty, and Cerney House Gardens are wonderful in springtime.
Sheepscombe is about 6.5 miles from the city of Gloucester and 1.5 miles east of Painswick village. The village dates to around 1260 to when it was called “Sebbescumbe”. It’s believed the name comes from the name of local settlers, Ebba or Sebba, and ‘Combe’ means valley. From the 17th century, Sheepscombe was predominantly involved in cloth making like most towns in the Cotswolds. However, the mill closed in 1839.
Today, visitors can see the village church, named St John the Apostle, built in 1820 out of limestone ashlar and stone slate for the roof. English Heritage has since listed the building as Grade II for its historical importance and architectural beauty. Also in the village are many houses dating from the 17th-century. The Butcher’s Arms is a traditional free house serving real ales and home-cooked foods.
Only a short drive from Sheepscombe and Cirencester is Painswick. The reason it’s one of the best Cotswold villages is that it’s got an excellent balance between old-school charm and modern comforts. It is a historic wool town built in the traditional Cotswold stone from the local quarry. As a result, its narrow streets hold some of the oldest buildings in England. For example, on New Street, you’ll find Beacon House, which has a magnificent Georgian facade and the Falcon Inn.
This hotel has the oldest bowling green in England and is a wonderful luxury hotel. For any luxury travel enthusiasts, you’ll be delighted with their elegant bedrooms – which look fit for royalty – and their award-winning wines. Make sure to visit the Norman Church of Saint Mary, built in an exquisite perpendicular style. The churchyard contains 99 yew trees!
Exploring each Cotswold village is a unique experience, and this guide to the best Cotswold villages will help you prepare for any upcoming trip. If you are looking for more quaint, picturesque villages, check out my Portmeirion Day Trip Guide, my guide to the best off the beaten track locations in England or Lacock: A Quintessentially English Village.
If the photos in this guide to the best Cotswold villages inspired you, make sure to head to the subscribe box at the top of the page to grab your FREE How to Take Professional Travel Photos Guide!
I’d love to know if you’ve been to any of these Cotswold villages, or are you planning a day trip to the Cotswolds?
Let me know in the comments below!
Andrea Capone says
The villages are absolutely charming! I have never been to England but it is on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing so much information about what they have to offer.
MARK CRONE says
Gorgeous post and pictures of the Cotswolds! I haven’t been there in many years but you have re-motivated me to get back soon! Thanks for sharing!
Mark / Mark’s Travel Journal
This is a beautiful post and your photos are amazing. I just hope I get to see a couple of this cute villages sometime. Lovely!
Such a charming place…would love to visit!
Under Flowery Sky says
So beautiful. One more reason to visit England. Pinned..
Roger Willis says
Oh how I wish I could hop on a plane and come there! These villages remind me somewhat of the little villages I used to visit when the fall of Communism happened in the late 80’s. When I came back to Germany in 1991, I made a vow to visit as many places in the former Eastern side of Germany, and these take me back!
Wow! What a wonderful story and I’m so glad that this article and these photos remind you of something wonderful! I hope you get to visit soon.
What a beautiful place! I may have to visit here in the Summer
Sarupa Shah says
Love the Cotswold. Have spent so much time in the area and yet there’s so much more to explore. I love the rolling hills. 🙂
Yeah Lifestyle says
Such beautiful villages these are and I have yet to visit either of them. Hoping to break that this year when we head to Cotswolds during the Easter Holidays
Sarah | Boo Roo and Tigger Too says
The Cotswolds villages are so beautiful, loving the photos you’ve included of each location.
I love places like these, they have magic about them. Really good for inspiration for writing.
Rhian Westbury says
I’ve never been to any of these villages, but they all look super stunning. I want to explore more around the UK so these are going on my list x
They are stunning. There are so many hidden gems across the UK, it would take years of wonderful exploring!
MELANIE EDJOURIAN says
These all sound like lovely places to visit and look so pretty in your pictures. I’ve not been anywhere that picturesque for a while. It would be nice to visit one of these for a few days over the summer with the kids..
It is the perfect place for a summer day out with children. I hope you have a wonderful time!
Kara Guppy says
I really want to explore more of the Cotswolds. Our favourite village is Bourton on the water, it is so pretty
They look so beautiful, I would just love to out walking around these areas. I might look at going to one of these for our next wedding anniversary for a long weekend, nice and quiet.
What a wonderful idea. I hope your wedding anniversary goes well. I would highly recommend going to Castle Combe, it is the epitome of the Cotswolds!
I’ve never visited the Cotswold’s but wow it is so picturesque, so I will definitely have to add it onto my UK places to visit list.
Each of those villages looks so picturesque. I’d enjoy visiting each of them, I feel like I can literally feel the history and stories just looking at the pictures.
That feeling of history and stories is even stronger when you’re actually there. These villages are so thought-provoking!
I didn’t know much about this area, but now I want to visit! It’s so beautiful 🙂
Love the article, it’s very original not the mention the photos are so amazing, thanks for sharing 🙂
Oh wow! The Cotswolds just looks like an incredible and beautiful place. I think I went there when I was younger, but I don’t remember where we stayed – I think I’m going to have a plan for a trip there soon though!
You’ll have to let me know how your trip goes!
Your photographs are always beautiful – I would love to wander around these villages!
Thank you so much! These villages are honestly worth visiting!
Nic | Nic's Adventures & Bakes says
Thanks for sharing, I have not explored these villiages before, they look lovely 🙂
Nic | Nic’s Adventures & Bakes
Ooh wow! These villages are so charming. I would love to explore them one day. Thanks for sharing.
Gorgeous pictures lovely! I’d love to visit the Cotswolds again. I went years ago when I was a baby and would love to see it properly. Such helpful tips, will have to add this to my list for a staycation.
Tash @boundforsomewhere says
Oh my gosh, how Bristish can these places get! <3 Stunning, and exactly what I would want to see if I was visiting from Australi. <3
Karen Langridge says
What gorgeous photos, I think I need to visit these Cotswolds villages and take in their beauty first hand!
Lyanna Soria says
I absolutely love all your photos! It looks like it came out of a fantasy. I would definitely enjoy going to that village someday. Thanks for the information about this place.
Thank you so much. I hope you get to visit these villages soon!
Emily Zielinski says
Oh wow, I had no idea it was such a beautiful place. Im originally from the UK but have never visited here. It will definitely be on my list of places to go to next time I’m back.
The UK is full of hidden gems. I could honestly spend my entire life finding them and I would be so happy. I hope you get to visit them soon and they live up to your expectations.
Your pictures are absolutely stunning!! Really enjoyed reading your post!
Thank you so much for your kind words! x
I adore the Cotswolds. One of my favourite family days out.
Bourton on the water was one of the nicest summer days out we had last year.
I’ve visited most on your list but there’s a few I haven’t. I’ll be sure to check them out next time x
I adore the Cotswolds too. I haven’t been to Bourton on the water yet but I’m hoping to visit soon. I hope you enjoy these villages. x
I had never heard of these. The photos are beautiful and the history is really interesting. I will have to add this to our list.
I hope you get to visit soon!
The Cotswolds looks like it has the most picturesque pretty villages ever! I’ve never been before, but it looks like such a charming and relaxing part of the UK. It looks like there is so much to explore whilst soaking up the beautiful surroundings. Thank you for sharing, I’d love to visit one day! <3 xx
Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com
There is so much to explore. I managed to see 5 villages in one day but there is still so much that I haven’t seen. These villages are stunning, and because they aren’t allowed to change the exterior of the buildings, they make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. x
Wow, it’s been many years since I visited the Cotswolds. It is just one of those magical corners of the UK and you’ve certainly brought it alive … and given me many good reasons to return! Thank you.
Bill Fonda says
I recently saw a TV show about the Cotswolds. It looks amazing!
It really is amazing!
How quaint and charming are these villages?! I have always wanted to visit the Cotswolds but I know it is going to be one long drive from Yorkshire! One day I will visit! Love your photos too, they really capture the beautifulness of the villages.
Thanks for sharing and giving me some inspiration. Subscribed!
Thank you so much. I know your feeling, I live in Wales so it has taken me over 5 years to get here but it is totally worth it. I hope you get to go soon!
Britt K says
Oh wow, thank you for sharing these. I’ve never been to this area but the pictures make all 5 of these villages look both incredibly relaxing and totally magical in their own way. Looking at your pictures and reading your descriptions, I can literally picture myself there (which is the closest to travelling we have right now, so I love it)
Thank you so much for your kind words. All 5 of these villages are magical and I felt like I was transported back in time. They honestly haven’t changed since they were created.
Ah this is brilliant post. I really want to visit Cotswolds. Just pinned for future plans. Thanks for sharing.
Wayne Moran says
Another great place that I need to put on the list. Oh so great my friend.
I hope you get to go soon!
Very interesting post. I had never heard of a Cotswold before. I am thinking about starting to specialize in things around Texas that people don’t know about. Everyone needs a niche. Thanks.
Those are some amazing photos 🙂
These places are s p beautiful! We’re always talking about a staycation and driving somewhere beautiful and just wondering the village. Definitely some inspiration here!
Thank you so much for your kind words! I hope you get to visit here soon!
Alison Wolf says
Lovely pictures of the cotswolds. Would love to visit sometime
I hope you get to go there soon 🙂