Picture-perfect villages, chocolate-box houses, and a pastoral landscape dissected by dry stone walls, ancient churches, and the occasional herd of sheep: the Cotswolds is the quintessential English countryside. Peppered with market towns and quaint villages, there’s lots to love about this region. If you’re planning a trip to the Cotswolds, here are the best places to visit during your stay.
One of the most famous locations in the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is genuinely idyllic. Its old, golden sandstone homes are set beside the River Windrush, and the town has a real variety of activities for visitors. Whether it’s scones with jam and cream in the tea rooms or a pint of English ale in the pubs, there’s plenty to please hungry travelers here.
Families will love the Model Village, where a Bourton-in-miniature is open year-round, and the Dragonfly hedge maze is a beautiful place to get lost with the kids. Birdland Park and Gardens has flamingos, penguins, parrots, and owls, and the Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection has a vast collection of rare 20th-century cars and nostalgic toys.
Thanks to its position on a vital ridgeway between London and Worcester, Broadway became a bustling village during the 1600s as stagecoaches would stop here overnight on their travels. Today, thousands of tourists stay here overnight to see its pretty Cotswold stone houses, browse its antique shops or attend the races at Cheltenham.
Rub shoulders with historical figures at the Lygon Arms Hotel, a former manor house that hosted the likes of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, and hike up to Broadway Tower for a view. The castle-like tower is the second-highest point in the region, offering glorious views over the surrounding countryside and even out to the Welsh mountains, and was designed by famous landscape gardener Capability Brown.
Charming Bibury attracts snap-happy visitors from all over the world to take pictures of one thing: Arlington Row. Now owned by the National Trust, this row of terraced cottages is one of the most photographed spots in all of the Cotswolds, as the honey-hued stone and gabled facades set against the rustic backdrop make for a beautiful scene. The homes were initially built in the 1300s as a wool store, but were later converted into weavers’ cottages and are still lived in by locals today.
Beyond these private homes (be respectful with your camera if you do decide to visit), there’s the historic St Mary’s Church where you can see a Saxon gravestone, Norman doorway, and medieval window. Plus, Bibury Trout Farm offers the chance to catch your dinner and cook it.
This market town on the edge of the Cotswolds, near Oxford, is a little-visited highlight. Its center is all honey-colored houses and shops, with excellent old pubs and hotels set inside ancient coaching inns, and surrounding the town is a host of brilliant attractions. For "Downton Abbey" fans, Cogges Manor Farm will feel familiar—it was used as Mr. Mason's small-holding during seasons four and five, and Keira Knightley visited to film "Colette" here, too.
The Witney Blanket Hall is a fascinating museum to the town’s major trade—hand-woven blankets—and the 15th-century ruins of Minster Lovell Hall are a pleasant 2.5-mile walk away, along the River Windrush.
Another famous "Downton Abbey" filming location, there's a lot more to Bampton than the church and village green that featured in Julian Fellows' period drama. This gorgeous little village, also known rather quaintly as Bampton-in-the-Bush, has beautiful, historic architecture, some great traditional pubs, and the brilliant West Oxfordshire Arts gallery where you can see and buy works from local creatives. Don't miss afternoon tea at The Cake Element Bakery.
If the aforementioned show is your focus, though, head to Bampton Library where there’s an exhibition on the filming that took place here, and nearby you’ll spot Lady Grantham’s home and the church where Mary and Matthew were married. There are often volunteers inside who appeared as extras in the show.
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens
Perfect for a family day out, the Cotswold Wildlife Park offers 160-acres of land to explore. Roaming its pastures and enclosures are big mammals and brilliant birds, from giraffes, lions, and rhino to colorful parrots, flamingos, and penguins.
The highlight for kids will be a stroll through the Madagascan Walkthrough, where cheeky ring-tailed lemurs hop about the trees and rope swings freely as you walk among them. Don’t miss their feeding time at midday, or the penguin feeding displays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
A majestic Georgian town, Woodstock is a hub for many visitors to the Cotswolds. Here you’ll find the splendid, historic St Mary Magdalene Church, with its intriguing zig-zag patterned doorway and a musical clock that chimes four times a day (9 a.m., 1 p,m., 5 p.m., and 9 p.m.). Local history can be learned at the Oxfordshire Museum, and compelling tales from the wars are told in the Soldiers of Oxfordshire exhibit.
But the ultimate highlight in Woodstock is Blenheim Palace—the spectacular stately home of the Duke of Marlborough. Get a feel for how the English upper classes once lived inside the palace’s exquisite rooms, then spend an afternoon strolling the verdant grounds.
This self-proclaimed “hidden gem of the Cotswolds” is a genuine delight. Its manicured gardens and the impressive castle make a beautiful setting, but moreover, its history is fascinating. The castle was home to Henry VIII’s last surviving wife, Queen Katherine Parr, and Henry himself, as well as Queen Elizabeth I, Richard III, and Anne Boleyn have all owned, lived in, or stayed at the castle.
Today, it’s the home of Lady Ashcombe and her children, who are restoring the castle and its grounds to their former glory. Its architecture is a classic example of Tudor building, and inside there are fascinating exhibitions, royal paintings, and exquisite antiques. Queen Katherine Parr is now buried in St. Mary’s Church on the grounds of the castle—the only English queen to be buried on private property.
Considered the capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester was the second-largest city (after London) during Roman times. That means there’s some fascinating history to behold, including the remains of an old Roman amphitheater that once held 8,000 spectators at a time. Today, the town is a thriving little market town with plenty of independent boutiques and restaurants to keep you busy for days.
Get Roman history lessons at the Corinium Museum, visit a craft center and gallery set inside a Victorian brewery at New Brewery Arts, and don’t miss visiting the imposing, Gothic-style Parish Church of St. John Baptist. For walkers, there are 3,000 acres of green space to enjoy at Cirencester Park.
If food is on your agenda, Kingham is the place to go. This tiny, picturesque village doesn’t look like much to write home about on the surface, but spend some time in the local pubs and shops and you’ll come home a convert. The Kingham Plough is the best spot for dinner, with legendary local producers on the menu and carefully crafted dishes. There are rooms for overnight if you opt to base yourselves here, too—it’s the ultimate retreat after a day of walking in the gorgeous countryside nearby.
But the highlight around Kingham is Daylesford Organic Farm, just 1.5 miles north of the Plough. Here you’ll find absolutely sensational produce for sale, from ciders to cheese to freshly-baked breads—all made locally. They even have their own skincare range, so come with your credit card and be prepared to stock up on souvenirs.