The Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (‘AONB’, defined as land in the UK designated for protection due to its special character and appearance) to the south-west of England. The area is truly stunning, with acres of gently rolling, luscious green hills littered with honey-coloured stone settlements. As such, there are plenty of towns and villages for visitors to explore in the Cotswolds – and so, where should you start?
I have compiled a list of the five places that I think you MUST visit if you find yourself in this wonderful little corner of the world. This list is entirely subjective, of course, and so let me know in the comments below if you have visited the Cotswolds before and if you would have proposed any other locations!
Stow-on-the-Wold is a lovely town peppered with shops, pubs and – most importantly – tea rooms. It is worth visiting this area of the Cotswolds purely to wolf down fruit scones with lashings of clotted cream and jam at Lucy’s Tearoom. We even drove past Stow local Victoria Beckham when we were in Stow-on-the-Wold. What could be more quintessentially British than bumping into a Beckham?
Bourton-on-the-Water is located around the River Windrush and, as such, has coined the nickname the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. Like Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton is great for lunch options, with plenty of cafes, bakeries and ice cream parlours. My main take-away from Bourton was that the air was pungent with the smell of vinegar from the fish and chip shops lining the high street. I love that smell! This is a great part of the Cotswolds for children, as Bourton has a wildlife park called Birdland, which is home to over 500 birds.
Painswick is a very pretty village to the west of the Cotswolds. It is slightly further afield than the majority of locations in the area and, as a result of this, the village doesn’t feel like it is bursting at the seams with tourists in the way that some of the other locations on this list do. The views over the countryside are simply magical from the terrace bar at The Painswick hotel. We had a Sunday Roast at the hotel’s restaurant and it had to be one of the best value meals I have ever had. The parmesan, spinach and haddock soufflé starter was exceptional.
2) Castle Combe
You’ve probably seen Castle Combe before – it’s a popular location for many TV and film productions, with the village recently being used for Steven Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’. With a rustic aesthetic and no obvious signs of modern-day life, like TV aerials or masts, walking through Castle Combe feels like something out of a fairy-tale: everywhere is picture-perfect and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to take a dozen photos from every single angle.
Castle Combe is often referred to as ‘England’s prettiest village’ but, for me, Bibury is better. In my opinion, Bibury perfectly encapsulates the charm of the Cotswolds, with its plethora of limestone buildings and beautiful countryside. Arlington Row (the middle photograph as pictured in my gallery below) was built in the 14th century as a wool store, before being converted into a row of weaver’ cottages in the 17th century and it is incredibly picturesque. Like Castle Combe, Bibury is a cinematic hotspot and has been used for a number of classic films, such as Bridget Jones’ Diary. Bibury even has one of Britain’s oldest ‘Trout Farms’, spawning up to 6 million trout every year.
An afterthought: Stow and Bourton undoubtedly have a lot more things to do and places to eat than Bibury and so, from reviewing this list, it occurred to me that my favourite locations in the Cotswolds are based entirely on the aesthetics of the place. I guess that, as an AONB, it is only natural that I preferred the smaller, prettier village locations.
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING THE COTSWOLDS:
- The towns and villages get incredibly busy during the middle of the day and so, if you want to have the town or village more to yourself, then you should visit either early in the morning or after 6PM.
- There are a number of free parking spots throughout the Cotswolds but these get snapped up pretty quickly. The majority of paid parking spaces in the Cotswolds use the Paybyphone App and so I would recommend downloading this App in advance of your trip so that you can seamlessly pay for your parking – and avoid having to look for spare change!
- Continuing on the subject of parking, the majority of paid parking spaces are free after 3PM and so arriving later in the day will not only mean that there is fewer people around, but that you can avoid paying parking charges too. A winning combination!
- It takes about an hour to drive from the Cotswolds to the historic city of Bath. Read about a day trip to Bath here.