The Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in southwest England, spanning five English counties. This is an ancient landscape shaped by centuries of farming, and the rise and fall of great empires.
The first evidence of human habitation in the Cotswolds is around 6000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. This was followed by Iron Age tribes, the Roman invasion in 43AD, and a Norman conquest in the early 1000s. By the Medieval period, sheep and wool were the lifeblood of England. The Cotswolds flourished, giving rise to many of the prettiest Cotswolds villages and towns today.
The region is renowned for the unique honeyed hue of the local stone, which adds a radiant warmth to the charming Cotswolds villages. The wealth of the wool trade funded lovely churches and romantic winding lanes, embodying quintessential England. From chocolate box villages to hidden gems nestled in beautiful countryside, there is nowhere quite like the Cotswolds.
There are many stunning villages to choose from across the rolling Cotswolds countryside. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourite Cotswolds villages to help you make the most of your time here.
Broadway is a village nestled in the northwest stretch of the Cotswolds. The village is best known for the folly on the nearby hill – Broadway Tower is officially the highest point in the Cotswolds. Take notice of one of the prettiest Cotswolds villages as you pass it by on your way to the iconic Broadway Tower.
The history of Broadway remains unclear. Archaeological evidence in the area suggests humans inhabited the site by the Stone Age (approximately 8-10,000 BC until 4000 BC). There was certainly a community developing following the invasion of England by the Romans in 43 AD. This inhabitation continued until the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, also from continental Europe. Broadway is recognised in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Today, Broadway is a charming Cotswold village with a population of around 2,500. Visitors to this village, glowing with the honeyed warmth of Cotswold stone, can enjoy a visit to beautifully curated museums, a historic hotel and, of course, the lighthouse of the Cotswolds, Broadway Tower.
The Gordon Russell Design Museum celebrates the life and designs of one of Britain’s most influential 20th century designers. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and, later, the Modernist movement, Russell moved to Broadway as a child in 1904. It was here that he established a design business that continues to influence designers today.
One street over, the Lygon Arms is a historic hotel in the heart of Broadway, dating back over 650 years. While the hotel has changed hands many times throughout its history, in the early 1900s, it was owned by Russell’s father. The hotel continues to benefit from many fine examples of Russell’s furniture. There is even a suite dedicated to the entrepreneur. The hotel can also boast both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell as previous visitors. Fortunately, these guests did not stay together, as they were famous opponents on opposite sides of the English Civil War in the mid-1600s!
Top up on your culture with a visit to Broadway Museum & Art Gallery in partnership with the Ashmolean. Housed within a 17th-century coaching inn, the museum showcases the history of Broadway and the surrounding area.
Wrap up your Broadway adventure with a stop at Broadway Tower, the brainchild of famed 18th-century landscape designer Capability Brown. This folly is officially the highest point in the Cotswolds. The panoramic view across an incredible 16 counties from the top is worth the climb up the winding staircase.
Only 2 miles/3 km from the sweeping beauty of Burford, the village of Swinbrook, classed with the hamlet of Widford, has a population of under 150 people. The small size of the population and village lends a fantastic sense of tranquillity to the area. The high quality of the buildings more than makes up for the small quantity.
Swinbrook is perhaps best known for St Mary’s Church, a 12th-century church on the western edge of the village. St Mary’s is home to the Fettiplace monuments, six effigies in honour of the family who were lords of the area in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Less than 1 mile/1.5km west of Swinbrook lies the church of St Oswald. With a history of worship on the site dating back over a millennium, St Oswald’s is predominantly 13th century. There are traces of an earlier Anglo-Saxon structure too. The church is usually open during daylight hours and continues to host an Evening Prayer once a month. Entering St Oswald’s is a fascinating step back in time, with old wall decoration still visible.
Swinbrook boasts one more historical tidbit; in the early 20th century, the Mitford family moved into Swinbrook Manor. The house is a charming 16th-century manor, with alterations 200 and 400 years later. The Mitford family gained notoriety in the 20th century through the family’s six daughters, described by one contemporary journalist as “Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the Unobtrusive Poultry Connoisseur”.
Whatever you choose to explore in Swinbrook, take the time to stroll through the village. Focused around a small figure-of-eight of streets, Swinbrook is composed of golden stone houses that embody the best of a quintessential Cotswold village.
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Relatively unchanged for three centuries, Stanton is a small village that boasts quaint cottages of golden Cotswold stone, many of which are thatched. There is archaeological evidence of Iron Age (800 BC – 43 AD) and Roman habitation. The 1086 Domesday Book records Stanton within the land of a nearby abbey.
In the early 1900s, much of the village, including a pretty 17th century Jacobean manor, was bought by Sir Philip Sidney Stott. An architect specialising in cotton mills, Stott spend much of the early 20th century putting his fortune towards restoring Stanton. His financial support preserved this beautiful village.
Today, Stanton is a charming village away from the tourist bustle of the Cotswolds. The Cotswold Way, a 102 mile/164 km national trail, passes through Stanton, making it the perfect stop on many Cotswolds adventures. Are you interested in walking the Cotswold Way? We run a self guided trip along this national trail.
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With a population well under 200 residents, Snowshill is the smallest Cotswolds village on our list, but don’t let that put you off. Centred around St Barnabus church, Snowshill is a picturesque village in the typical honeyed stone of this region. You might also recognise the village as a filming location for the heartwarming 2001 romantic film ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’.
The village is best known for Snowshill Manor, a National Trust property that was home to the eccentric Charles Wade. The house predominantly dates to the 16th century. However, there is evidence of occupation on this site from at least the 800s AD. Wade bought the house in 1919 and restored it to showcase his collection of thousands of curiosities from around the world.
Just outside the village lies Cotswold Lavender. Started in 1999, this farm now covers around 70 acres – more than 50 American football fields. Just 2 miles/3 km east of Stanton (above), combine the two for an idyllic taste of the beauty of the Cotswolds. We visit Cotswolds Lavender on some of our Highlights of the Cotswolds walking holidays.
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Tucked into a beautiful sandwich between the charming village of Bourton-on-the-Water and the ancient Sudeley Castle lies Guiting Power. With a population of around 300 people, Guiting Power is a delightful example of small Cotswolds villages. Honey-hued Cotswold stone sits in neat blocks to form pretty lanes. Archaeology shows Iron Age and Roman activity in the area. Historical records confirm that the site formed part of the estate of Edward the Confessor, king of England, from 1042-66.
The village’s unusual name is relatively unknown, but ‘guiting’ is believed to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word for rushing, getinge. This might be due to the Windrush River, which meanders past the village to the north. ‘Power’ likely came from Le Poher, the name of the landowners from the local manor.
It is not unusual to see Lower Slaughter on a list of the Cotswolds’ prettiest villages; we’re not about to disagree. The name may sound gruesome, but ‘slaughter’ stems from the Old English word for a wetland. With a history dating back at least a millennium to the rise of the wool trade in medieval England, the village and mill appear in the 1086 Domesday Book.
The mill in Lower Slaughter has a long history, and it was working independently by the 1700s. Today’s mill is a more recent 19th-century addition, producing flour well into the 1950s. The mill opened to the public at the end of the 1900s and now houses a cafe, shop, museum, and a charming restored water wheel.
Less than 1 km/0.6 miles west of Lower Slaughter lies the tiny village of Upper Slaughter. The site of a motte-and-bailey castle by the 13th century, the village today is home to Eyford House, said to be where John Milton wrote his epic, Paradise Lost, in the 1600s. Lower Slaughter is the prettier of the two villages. However, head to Upper Slaughter for a slice of the Cotswold idyll without the crowds.
The origins of Bourton-on-the-Water lie in Salmonsbury Camp, a Neolithic enclosure to the east of the current village. The camp likely evolved into a market town, as suggested by the non-defensive location of the site. In the late 1800s, archaeologists found over 140 Iron Age currency bars at the camp. This significant hoard furthers the idea that this site was predominately for trade. The arrival of the Romans in Britain in 43AD saw the settlement shift west to the current location of Bourton-on-the-Water.
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The wealth of the Cotswolds came from the wool trade, and Bourton-on-the-Water was no exception. In the early 1500s, the River Windrush was channelled through the village for the mills. This work created the iconic river view associated with today’s village, the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. The bridges crossing the river date between the 1650s and early 1900s, and add to the pretty charm of this village.
Visitors to this picturesque village can look forward to the Cotswold Motoring Museum, home of the British children’s classic, Brum. There is also a model village of Bourton-on-the-Water within the village, which is well worth a visit. Every August, locals take to the river for a chaotic yet historic game of Medival football that is not to be missed. However you spend your time in Bourton-on-the-Water, you can be sure of a treat for all the senses. This is a location to immerse yourself in golden Cotswolds bliss.
The village of Bibury is best known as the location of Arlington Row, holding claim as the prettiest street in the Cotswolds. The charming street has its roots in the late 1300s when the buildings were erected as a wool store. Converted into weavers’ cottages 300 years later, the National Trust manage the location today. It is not difficult to see why this quaint row of houses is so popular, but don’t miss the rest of the village of Bibury.
Victorian designer William Morris described Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England”. The village has a long history from at least the Norman Conquest of 1066. Located just outside Cirencester – the ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’ – Bibury makes a romantic stop on any Cotswolds adventure. Look out for Belted Galloway grazing on the land at the centre of the village during the summer months to complete the idyllic scene.
Castle Combe, nestled in the southeast of the Cotswolds, is one of the most iconic Cotswolds villages. A village of two halves, the side of the village down the hill is a charming time capsule. Seemingly unchanged since the wealth of the medieval wool trade built the houses, a stroll through the village is akin to stepping back in time.
At the heart of Castle Combe lies St Andrew’s Church. Built in the 1200s, this romantic church houses one of the oldest working clocks in England. Walking through the village, take a moment to enjoy the market cross. Dating to the 14th century, this golden stone structure harks back to when Castle Combe had the right to hold a weekly market. Castle Combe is a wonderful location for a stroll amidst quintessential Cotswolds beauty.