Just 2 hours from London, you can find yourself in an oasis of quintessentially English villages. Upon beholding some of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, you may think you’ve stepped back in time! These lovely villages are nestled amongst rolling green hills scattered with sheep, and each has its own unique personality.
With so many amazing choices, choosing THE PRETTIEST Cotswold villages can be difficult. In order to help you plan your visit, however, we have tried to do just that!
We visited a LOT of Cotswolds villages on our short break (then went back again this summer because we loved them so much!). This list comprises our personal favourites, as well as those that we didn’t find as impressive. If you’re travelling elsewhere in England then queue up our guide to the prettiest English villages too for even more inspiration!
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Map of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds (and the not-so-pretty villages)!
Here is a map of all the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds listed in this guide. I love colour-coding maps so you’ll find all the most picturesque villages in purple, and the not-so-pretty villages (that you can skip) in yellow!
You can click on the image below, or here for an interactive version of this Cotswolds villages map.
Prettiest Villages in the Cotswolds
There’s plenty of things to see and do in the Cotswolds so it’s worth dedicating a few days to really get a feel for the area. However, being conveniently located only a couple of hours from London, it can also make a wonderful day trip if you’re short on time or a great stop as part of a bigger UK tour. I’ve visited both for a long weekend and on a day trip from London, both during the summer and winter! I can conclude that there’s never a bad time to visit the Cotswolds!!
From exploring its postcard-perfect English villages to countryside hikes, traditional pubs, Roman ruins, wildlife parks, castles, palaces, museums and even a trout farm… you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.
Our guide to the most beautiful Cotswold villages is listed by the order we visited them during our long weekend so you can also use it as a Cotswolds itinerary! We stayed at a lovely little Bnb in Stroud which was a perfect central location. Check here for current availability and prices on a range of properties in Stroud.
If you have more time, you can also explore the many things to do in Bath, wander the beautiful city of Oxford or visit Shakespeare’s England in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The historic town of Burford is often referred to as the gateway to the Cotswolds, and it was indeed the first village on our Cotswolds road trip. As you reach the crest of the hill entering Burford, you are rewarded with picturesque views of the village against a backdrop of idyllic countryside.
Set on the River Windrush, this pretty Cotswolds village is steeped in history. There are several medieval churches, with St John the Baptist dating back to 1175. It is also home to the oldest pharmacy in the UK, Reavley’s Pharmacy, which has been open since 1734 and remains a family-owned business.
The high street in Burford provides the perfect place to wander and shop. The street is lined with charming local shops, many specialising in antiques, as well as cafes and historic pubs. Meander off the main road and you’ll find plenty of pretty houses tucked away down the lanes.
Arlington Row in Bibury is one of the most photographed rows of cottages in the UK. It’s stone cottages align the River Coln, dating back to 1380. These buildings were originally constructed as a monastic wool store, but were later converted to weavers cottages in the 17th century and are still occupied today.
Within the heart of Bibury is a boggy water meadow known as Rack Isle. This important habitat is home to water voles, kingfishers, grass snakes and dragonflies, as well as many plant species. The name “Rack Isle” comes from its original use. It was where the wool was hung to dry after being washed in Arlington Row.
It’s easy to see why celebrated artist William Morris once described Bibury as ‘the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds’. Even the UK government must consider this the prettiest village in the Cotswolds as they’ve printed an image of it within all UK passports!
If you fancy doing something a bit different and fishing for your own dinner, then it’s worth a visit to Bibury trout farm, one of Britain’s oldest trout farms!
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Cirencester – The Capital of the Cotswolds!
Cirencester has been considered a market town for over 1000 years, being first recorded as a market town in the Doomsday Book of 1086. This tradition has continued to present day with a market every Monday and Friday.
The capital of the Cotswolds, as it is commonly known, is home to numerous historical buildings. For me, what makes Cirencester one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds is its pastel-coloured shopfronts elegantly arching along the market square to Parish Church of St. John Baptist. As we visited the Cotswolds in December, this scene was made even more enchanting with the addition of festive lights.
Painswick (THE Prettiest Cotswold Village!)
In my opinion, Painswick is deserving of the top prize in the “prettiest villages in the Cotswolds” contest. It is everything you might imagine a quaint, British village to be.
Set upon a hill, Painswick boasts spectacular views over the valley. Its Cotswold stone houses line a labyrinth of streets and alleyways that allow you to get blissfully lost in time. Around each turn, you’ll be rewarded with yet more stunning views and idyllic homes. Many of the buildings have plaques on them to identify their original use, as well as information boards around the town detailing much of its extensive history.
The village is well known for its 99 yew trees within the Painswick Church gardens. Legend told that the hundredth yew tree planted would be destroyed by the devil. However, in 2000, each parish in Gloucester received a yew tree to commemorate the turn of the millennium. And thus, the 100th yew tree was planted within the church gardens! Contrary to legend, the tree is thriving!
The Rococo gardens, dating back to 1748, are famed in the area. A quirky display of 18th-century garden design, it’s worth a visit if you enjoy visiting gardens.
Painswick is also home to the oldest building that houses a Post Office in England. This building, dating back to the late 15th century, is the only half-timbered property in Painswick.
Additionally, while the Golden Heart pub no longer exists, you will find its sign still remains on Tibbiwell Lane as part of a protected Grade II listed building. Once home to 17 inns and alehouses, it is still renowned for its excellent restaurants.
Snowshill is certainly one of the prettiest of the Cotswold villages. This small, picturesque village is postcard-perfect. The small town is most famed for its appearance in the Bridget Jones’ Diary movie as the home of Bridget’s parents. During the time of filming, the entire village was covered in fake snow and Christmas decorations in the middle of summer!
The only real “attraction” in Snowshill is Snowshill Manor. Bought in the early 20th century by Charles Wade, it is now maintained by the National Trust and is home to numerous eclectic treasures that Wade collected throughout his lifetime.
Only 7 minutes by car from Broadway, it is well worth taking a small detour to see what may be the cutest village in the Cotswolds. For those who are keen walkers, it’s also part of one of the best hikes in the Cotswolds.
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The picturesque Broadway feels like the perfect vacation destination and home base for exploring the countless beautiful villages in the Cotswolds. At one end of the high street, you’ll find a pristine village green. At the other end, the shops give way to honey-hued homes, many of which date back to the 16th century. In the middle, you’ll find a high street lined with an abundance of boutique shops, independent cafes, and restaurants.
The history of the village extends to the hotels as well, with the Lygon Arms enshrouded in history. With a history going as far back as the 14th century, the Lygon Arms has hosted many famous guests. These include historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I, and more recently, Prince Philip and Elizabeth Taylor.
Just outside Broadway village, set atop a hill overlooking Broadway itself, you will find Broadway Tower. The tower is a British folly, designed purely for pleasure and is a perfect spot to have a picnic in summer months. If you visit during the summer months, you can also find one of the best lavender fields in England just south of Broadway.
The quaint village of Chipping Campden has a unique charm about it. The word “Chipping” is derived from the old English word “cēping” meaning market or market-place. And as the name suggests, Chipping Campden is a market town.
It’s terraced high street is built from signature Cotswold stone. The architecture appears almost untouched by the centuries. The only thing ruining the illusion of being lost in time are the parked cars that align the streets.
However, while this made photography more challenging, it didn’t detract from the village’s charm and is definitely still one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.
One thing you must do while visiting the Cotswolds is to have a cream tea. For those of you who are wondering what a cream tea is (like Adam, who I had to explain this to when we started dating!), it is not a tea with cream, but rather a scone with clotted cream and jam, accompanied by a pot of tea.
With this in mind, we stopped into the Bantam Tea Rooms for an afternoon cream tea. While the coffee was great (don’t worry, as a Brit I did have tea with my cream tea!!), the scones were just good enough. It did offer a roaring fire as well, which is a great addition to the mood and experience on a cold winter day. And allowed us to get into The Great Scone Debate – the age-old question of whether the cream or jam goes on first (cream first for me)!
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We passed through Broad Campden on the way to Blockley and couldn’t resist pulling over for some photos. The thatched cottages and small pub etched Broad Campden firmly onto our list of prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.
If nothing else, it’s well worth a drive through to admire its beauty.
By the time we arrived in Blockley, it was already dark. One of the drawbacks of travelling in December is the short days! However, this did mean that the Christmas tree on top of the church was sparkling in all its glory!
With its golden stone houses and silk and wool mills, this sleepy village has a different charm to some of the other villages in the Cotswolds.
Stow-on-the-Wold is built up around the central market square, where markets have taken place since 1107. From the square, you’ll find narrow, high walled alleyways. These were designed this way to aid in herding sheep into the market. At the height of the wool industry, as many as 20,000 sheep were sold at a time during the annual fairs held here.
This pretty Cotswold village is best explored by foot. You’ll find many shops, cafes and restaurants. The buildings aligning the square are built with the same beautiful golden limestone as seen all over the Cotswolds.
Make sure to stop by St Edwards church. The gardens provide a peaceful area for a short walk, but the highlight is a door framed by yew trees! These trees almost suggest that the unassuming door may actually lead to an enchanted kingdom.
In the market square, you will also find the original stocks, a form of medieval public punishment.
Bourton-on-the-Water – The Most Popular Cotswolds Village
Perhaps the most popular Cotswold village is Bourton-on-the-Water. However, it’s easy to understand why. This pretty village is built around the River Windrush with 5 footbridges crossing the river and has an idyllic feel about it.
Don’t be fooled by the image above… expect this riverside village to be busy! Even when we visited in winter, there were still large groups of tourists. I visited again in the summer this year after lockdown restrictions were eased, and it was still busy but with a few breaks in people to get a photo! Due to its characteristic charm, excellent location, and numerous accommodation options, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most popular places to stay in the Cotswolds.
It’s well worth taking a short stroll along the river. You’ll find plenty of tearooms, pubs and local shops. If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in the Cotswolds with kids then check out the Bourton-on-the-Water model village. This one-ninth replica took 5 years to build from Cotswolds stone and opened in 1937. It is the only Grade II listed model village in the UK!
Lower Slaughter – Most Picturesque Village in the Cotswolds
Don’t be put off by its ominous name… Of the many vying for the title of the prettiest village in the Cotswolds, Lower Slaughter may just be THE prettiest. It is easily the most picturesque with its honey-hued homes reflecting in the little stream traversing the village.
And, as for the name, it is derived from the Old English word ‘slough’ or ‘slothre’, meaning ‘wet land’ or ‘muddy place’.
This tranquil little postcard-perfect town straddles the banks of the gently flowing River Eye and is less frequently visited than many of the other villages. If you’re looking for a peaceful, luxury getaway then you should consider staying at The Slaughters Manor House.
At the west end of the village, you will find the only real ‘attraction’, a 19th-century watermill. The mill makes for the most perfect photo opportunity with its contrasting red bricks, tucked away next to cute golden cottages. I’d recommend popping into the Old Mill gift shop and its Riverside Cafe, they do a great cream tea (and coffee!) there.
A scenic walking path leads from Lower Slaughter to the even lesser-visited Upper Slaughter. These two villages have had no building work carried out since 1906 and therefore remain entirely unchanged for over a century!
This picturesque village, hidden away in the English countryside, provides the perfect escape if you want to experience one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds without the crowds. Set in the heart of the village is the Grade II listed 12th-century St Peter’s church.
The village’s idyllic setting also makes it perfect for taking a country walk.
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Tucked away in Wiltshire in the southern Cotswolds, Castle Combe has been described not only as the prettiest village in the Cotswolds, but as the prettiest village in all of England. And it’s not hard to see why.
This fairytale village is divided into two parts; the narrow valley of the By Brook and Upper Castle Combe on higher ground to the east. Time truly has stood still for this tiny village, with no new houses having been built since the 1600s, no street lights, and no TV aerials.
Its high street and meandering side streets contain plenty of shops and tea rooms. But for me, the best thing to do is walk around and photograph this adorable village.
For the perfect photo opportunity, wander down to the bridge at the southern end of the village. Here you will find the most striking image, combining traditional weavers’ cottages, the Bybrook River flowing beneath the bridge, and the entire scene encompassed by the British countryside.
While technically just outside the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Lacock still absolutely deserves a place on the list of most beautiful Cotswold villages. I wandered around in absolute awe of this incredible little village that seems to transport you back in time.
Dating back to the 13th century with roots as a wool village, Lacock has remained been well preserved and changed little over the centuries. Today, the entire village is owned and maintained by the National Trust.
The medieval village has been used as a film location for several productions over the years. It has provided an authentic backdrop for favourites including Downton Abbey and Harry Potter. Lacock Abbey’s recent appearance in Harry Potter has also contributed to a rise in visitors to this little village. Situated in the heart of the village, Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 and is one of few remaining intact abbeys in England.
As you wander through the village admiring the pretty building, you’ll likely discover baskets of fresh produce, baked goods and plants on people’s doorsteps. These are sold with an honesty policy – take what you want and leave the money. Please help keep this tradition alive and don’t abuse this trust and kindness!
If you’re looking for gifts or souvenirs, stop by Quintessentially English. It’s run by a lovely couple and they have a variety of handmade, organic products. They also make their own gin onsite, which I’d highly recommend trying! Additionally, they have accommodation, Snoozums at No. 11, which I can’t recommend first hand but has excellent reviews.
Set upon the banks of the River Avon is the historical market town of Bradford-on-Avon. Like many Cotswold villages, the textiles industry largely shaped the development of Bradford. Many of the buildings along the river are former wool mills and the majority of the houses on the hill were once weavers cottages.
The Town Bridge sits at the heart of the town. This Grade I listed bridge dates back to the 13th century and was originally a packhorse bridge. The bridge was widened in the 17th century by adding another bridge next to it. The join can apparently still be seen underneath the bridge!
Today, you will find a number of independent shops, cafes, restaurants and museums, as well as beautiful countryside and river walks. Take time to explore the wonderful narrow streets on foot and when you need a rest, pop into one of the many cafes for an afternoon tea!
Nestled amongst rolling countryside, Freshford village is one of the southernmost Cotswold villages. It is located about six miles south-east of Bath and three miles west of Bradford on Avon.
Typical Cotswold homes built from honey hued local stone align the narrow streets. This charming village is small and has little in the way of attractions. However, it provides a great starting point for some walks through the countryside and along the river.
After a long walk, have a rest and bite to eat at the gorgeous 16th century pub, The Inn Freshford.
Although Bath is a city rather than village or town, it is still incredibly pretty and therefore I’m sneaking it on to the end of this list! It is most well known for it’s Roman-built baths and is in fact also named after these.
You’ll find plenty of things to do in Bath, from visiting the ancient Roman baths to taking a soak in the mineral rich thermal waters at Thermae Bath Spa. Bath is also home to more museums in a square mile than any other English city. And being located only 1.5 hours from London by train, it’s no surprise that it’s the second most popular tourist city after London.
However, it’s the architecture that has earned Bath a sneaky spot on this prettiest Cotswolds villages list. And it’s this same architecture that is one of the key reasons Bath is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site – the only entire city in Britain to receive this title.
Golden coloured Georgian buildings are nestled into the valley, surrounded by lush green hills. Looking over the city from one of its many higher viewpoints allows you to appreciate how harmoniously these buildings, made from local stone, fit into their surrounds.
Not-so-pretty Villages in the Cotswolds
While I’ve covered what I consider to be the prettiest Cotswold villages, I thought it was also potentially useful to include those I found less appealing. I want to preface this part to say that I still found some charm in each of these villages. However, for one reason or another, they didn’t grab me the same way as the villages above did.
While I didn’t find this to be the prettiest of villages in the Cotswolds, it is a hub for those visiting the Cotswolds for the many renown walking trails. From Fairford, there are many picturesque walks, including a jaunt along the River Coln, one by the Old Mill, and many around the numerous lakes in the Eastern Cotswold Water Park.
There are also some individual buildings that are very pretty, including St Mary’s Church with its medieval stained glass windows, as well as The Chanting House. However, these factors alone didn’t seem enough to consider the village one of the prettiest in the Cotswolds when there are so many other contenders!
I place Sapperton on this side of the list tentatively, as it was already dark by the time we reached this Cotswold village. Even so, there didn’t appear to be much of interest to make it worth going back during the day (despite it being close to where we were staying).
If you have a particular interest in architecture or design, then it may be worth adding this village to your list as it is strongly associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.
Mickleton is the northernmost village in the Cotswolds. If visiting from Stratford-upon-Avon, it would potentially act as your gateway to the Cotswolds. You will find some beautiful black and white buildings with thatched roofs. However, the overall town just wasn’t quite pretty enough!
We decided to drive through Kingham on our way out of the Cotswolds. This tiny village is very quaint and has a few pretty buildings, but just didn’t have enough to make it onto the list!
Despite its small size, Kingham has a train station about 1 mile outside of the main village with a service to London! It is, therefore, a good place to start or end a short break in the Cotswolds if travelling by public transport.
Churchill was an unplanned stop on our way to Kingham. It had a certain charm to it with its small main road leading to the church of All Saints. While not quite deserving of a place on the prettiest villages in the Cotswold list, it was a pleasant surprise!
Day trip to the Cotswolds
If you don’t have your own transportation and don’t fancy navigating public transport to the Cotswolds (I don’t blame you – I’m not sure I’d want to either), then an organised day trip can be a great way to explore.
Most day trips to the Cotswolds start in London, however, there are a couple of options that start in Oxford or Stratford-upon-Avon. Below is a list of some of the highest-rated day trips to the Cotswolds.
- Full-Day Tour of the Cotswolds from London: 9 hour day trip stopping at Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bibury and Burford.
- Full-Day Cotswolds Tour with Lunch from London: 11 hour trip visiting four of the Cotswolds loveliest villages – Burford, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Stow-on-the-Wold. Lunch is included at the Swan Hotel in the heart of the Cotswolds.
- Oxford and Cotswolds Villages Day Trip from London: 10 hour day trip spending the morning in Oxford before visiting Burford and Bibury.
- Oxford, Stratford, and Cotswolds from London: 11 hour day trip stopping for two hours in Stratford before continuing through the Cotswolds to Oxford.
- Cotswolds Tour from Stratford-upon-Avon and Moreton-in-Marsh: 7-8 hours exploring seven different locations and villages in the Cotswolds.
- Cotswold Explorer Full-Day Tour from Oxford: 7-8.5 hour day trip taking in approximately 10 of the Cotswolds most beautiful villages.
Where to Stay in the Cotswolds
You will find a huge range of accommodation options all over the Cotswolds. Although you really can’t go too wrong when it comes to choosing a location to stay in, we chose to stay in Stroud as it provided a nice central location from which to explore both the northern and southern parts of the Cotswolds. However, if you have only a weekend in the Cotswolds you may prefer to choose to visit either the north or south to minimise your drive time and maximise the time you can spend in each village.
Wherever you decide to stay in the Cotswolds, we highly recommend staying in a cosy bnb or local inn for a real English countryside experience. To me, a visit to the countryside is synonymous with this type of accommodation and some of my fondest childhood memories are from these local getaways!
Below are a few of our favourite accommodation options in ideal locations. However, it is always worth checking current rates and availability on other accommodation options in the Cotswolds to suit your needs. Click here for more options and prices.
Near Bourton on the Water
Bourton on the Water makes an excellent place from which to explore the many beautiful places in the northern region of the Cotswolds. The downside is that you are further away from the southern villages such as Castle Combe (1 hour/40 miles) and Bradford on Avon (1 hour 15 minutes/50 miles).
Staying near Stroud provides a great central base to explore many of the Cotswolds Villages. Stroud is equidistant from Castle Combe in the south and Bourton-on-the-Water, both of which are around 40 minutes (25 miles) from Stroud.
Near Castle Combe
As perhaps the most historic village in the Cotswolds, Castle Combe is a charming place to stay. From here you’ll be able to easily explore nearby Lacock, Bradford on Avon, Freshford and Bath. However, you’ll have a longer drive to Bourton-on-the-Water (1 hour/40 miles) and other northern Cotswolds villages.
Final thoughts on the Prettiest Villages in the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty encompasses six counties (Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Somerset) and is home to some of the most historic and unspoiled villages in the UK. It is easily one of the most beautiful places in England.
Whether you’re looking to go for a walk in the beautiful British countryside, enjoy an afternoon cream tea in a cosy tearoom, try some traditional fare in a local pub, or shop for souvenirs in an independent shop; the Cotwolds has it all. And if nothing else, just enjoy a stroll through these picturesque Cotswold villages! To help further plan your trip, check out this great weekend Cotswolds itinerary.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide the to prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. Please let us know if you think there’s any we’ve missed off the list!
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