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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 28 May, 2023
Expert travel writer: Annabelle Thorpe

If you’re looking to visit a classic, picture-perfect English village, there’s nowhere better than the Cotswolds. The lush hills are dotted with small towns and villages, famous for their immaculately-kept medieval high streets, lined with half-timbered houses and cottages built with traditional, honey-coloured Cotswold stone.

Many of the villages date back as far as the 12th century, when the region was famous throughout Europe for its wool and cotton production. The area flourished, and over the following centuries many merchants built elegant houses, some of which still exist today.

Many of the villages have small museums, but really the best way to enjoy them is to simply potter, dipping into historic pubs and chintzy tea-rooms along the way.

Recommendations

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Bourton-on-the-Water

Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

Village scene by the water with lovely stone cottages on the banks

Straddling the river Windrush, Bourton is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England. Tea and cake by the riverside are a must-do, as is pottering around the elegant boutiques and souvenir shops. Don’t miss the Model Village, built to one-ninth size of the actual Bourton (it even has a model village within the model village).

Best for ages 18+

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Broadway

Worcestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

Exterior of tourist shops on a sunny day.

Often referred to as the ‘jewel of the Cotswolds’, Broadway’s wide main street is chocolate-box pretty, with elegant, honey-hued cottages housing designer boutiques, cafes and bars.

Best for ages 18+

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Burford

Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A steep street down a hill with pretty shops n left side. woman is walking down it

Eye-catching half-timbered houses and medieval homes step down Burford’s sloping high street, that tapers into a medieval bridge over the River Windrush. A great base for walking, Burford is also home to England’s oldest chemist (dating back to 1734). Dip into the 16th century Tolsey building, one a meeting place for local merchants and now home to the Burford Museum, giving an insight into the town’s colourful past.

Best for ages 18+

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Castle Combe

Wiltshire, United Kingdom (UK)

A round street, with quintessentially British houses.

One of England’s prettiest villages, Castle Combe is a perfectly-preserved slice of medieval life, with a pub that has been open for more than 500 years. The Market Cross and St Andrews’s Church date back to the 13th century; on the exterior of the church, the faceless clock is one of the oldest working clocks in the country.

Best for ages 18+

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Chipping Campden

Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

The centre of the village with the old town hall market and some shops

A bustling market town steeped in history, with well-preserved medieval houses, dating back to when it was a prosperous wool town. Ancient houses stand cheek-by-jowl on the long, curving High Street, now sleek hotels, restaurants and shops. At the heart stands the Market Place, dating back to 1627, still home to stallholders today.

Best for ages 18+

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Stow-on-the-Wold

Gloucestershire, United Kingdom (UK)

Central village square with golden stone buildings all around

Once famous for its huge annual fairs, where 20,000 sheep would be sold at one time, the huge market square at Stow is now flanked by shops and cafes. Antique-hunters will find plenty of shops to browse in, and a number of walking trails fan out from the town.

Best for ages 18+

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Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The Cotswolds can roughly be split into north and south areas, with the northern half being home to most of the best-known villages – Chipping Campden, Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway and Stow-on-the-Wold, while Castle Combe lies in the south, near Bath.  The proximity of the northern villages to each other means it’s possible to explore several in one day, although it can take time to find parking spaces.

Driving is by far the easiest way to get between the villages, although most are connected by buses (which can be infrequent). There are also guided tours, that take in several villages in one day.

When to do it

The Cotswolds villages are one of the biggest draws in England, and villages like Bourton-on-the-Water and Broadway will be busy on a sunny weekend at any time of year.

If possible, the summer months are best avoided as the roads get clogged and villages crowded. If you do come in July or August, plan to see one village in the morning and one in the afternoon as a maximum, to allow time for traffic and to find parking.

Autumn is particularly beautiful, as the countryside between the villages blazes with colour and high streets are carpeted with leaves. Winter can also be an excellent time to visit, with cosy pubs, roaring fires and independent shops for a spot of Christmas shopping.

Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, United Kingdom (UK)

Silhouettes of cottages on a misty day. Winters morning in the Cotswold village of Ebrington, Gloucestershire

One of England’s most beautiful regions – a patchwork landscape of idyllic countryside, postcard-perfect villages and cosy historic boutique hotels.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Warwickshire, United Kingdom (UK)

An overview of a public park with a large open grass area with people seated down.

Picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon combines theatre, museums and architecture to give a unique insight into Shakespeare’s life.

Oxford

Oxfordshire, United Kingdom (UK)

External view of the beautiful round building, in golden stone, with domed roof

One of Britain’s most beautiful and historic cities, graced by heartstopping architecture and home to the world’s second-oldest university.