Head off to the Cotswolds for a sample of some of England’s finest villages and countryside scenery. This cosy corner of the country is a must-see anyone that likes being outdoors in nature. After spending time exploring this idyllic destination, we’ve assembled a list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds. It features some excellent villages, both popular and lesser-known, spectacular country walks and some cool attractions to check out. Get inspired by our list and let us know if you have any questions!
Idyllic Cotswolds villages
Upper and Lower Slaughter
Out of all the villages we visited during our time in the Cotswolds, Upper and Lower Slaughter were some of our favourites. Slightly away from the tourist trail, life in this area of the countryside is quiet, quaint and you’ll love the scenery as you wander around town on foot. Lower Slaughter has an old church at its centre, a winding stream with a paddle windmill and some beautiful bungalows. It’s everything you’d expect from a visit to the Cotswolds!
Take a walking path through a farmer’s field for 20 minutes and you’ll then arrive in Upper Slaughter, which is more of the same idyllic scenery, small houses and nature lit up with blooming flowers. Many acclaimed writers have used ‘the Slaughters’ as a base to write their novels and we can see exactly why. The peace and serenity you’ll find here is second-to-none.
Bourton-on-the-water is one of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds in terms of popularity. However, that also makes it the most touristic. Crowds of people from all over the world visit every year, for a taste of that enchanting village scenery and tea-room charm associated with the Cotswolds. A gentle stream flows through the village with greenery either side and a large water wheel is the centre piece of the show. Relax on a park bench or have a picnic on the grass in this picturesque area of Bourton.
Set back from the river, you have a long street of cafes, boutique gift shops and residential streets of quaint cottages. Getting lost on the backstreets and into the surrounding countryside is our favourite part of any visit to Bourton-on-the-water and we recommend diverging from the main tourist trail.
Chipping Campden is the village that marks the start of the epic 104-mile Cotswolds Way walk to Bath. It’s a fitting starting point for any trip to the Cotswolds, being a typical village of boutique shops, cosy pub restaurants, with the feel of a sleepy town. Sit down on a bench in the main square, go for a long walk up and down the main street and marvel at the ivy-covered buildings or enjoy a nice meal. The dining options here are particularly excellent! Be sure to combine your visit to Chipping Campden with a mini-hike by Dover’s Hill, located just outside of town.
Best coupled with a visit to the nearby Broadway Tower, the upscale town of Broadway is a vibrant collection of restaurants, pubs, shops and local living. As a popular stop on any Cotswolds Way route, you’ll find tourists alongside locals enjoying their time in the town. Go for a nice walk along the main street, enjoy lunch or afternoon tea in a trendy brunch spot and browse out the shops. We recommend basing yourself in town and then hiking to the tower and back, which should take around 1hr 20mins at a leisurely pace.
Castle Combe is a charming village in the south of the Cotswolds. Quiet and off the tourist trail, the town sits on a hill and has a long, winding road that passes through it. Small country bungalows sit either side, covered in ivy, flowers and bushes. It’s the perfect combination of white and grey stone walls with greenery to create a stunning place to visit. At the base of town, you then have some nice gift shops and a church to browse, a bridge with a flowing stream and a path out into the countryside. Its enchanting surroundings and secluded, non-touristic location make Castle Combe a must-see!
Situated just along the road from Bourton-on-the-Water, Naunton is a much smaller and quieter town than its neighbour, and a great representation of quaint country life in the Cotswolds. Pop into town for a wander around the main street, perusing the beautiful ivy-covered buildings. Take a side street to the riverside and you then have a lovely nature path showing you a greener side of town. Naunton is peaceful, great to look at and is one of the most adorable places visit in the Cotswolds for a couple of hours. Stop for lunch in the outdoor garden of The Black Horse Inn to sample the local’s favourites.
Known as the living and breathing heart of the Cotswolds and a connecting point for many of the towns and villages, Stow-on-the-Wold is a destination that should be included on any itinerary. Its façade is that of any traditional British village and it’s slightly larger in size than many of the surrounding villages, featuring amenities such as supermarkets, clothes shops, bakeries and beauty services.
Explore the streets on foot, book afternoon tea in one of the many cafes and experience traditional English food in a pub restaurant. You may also be interested in a spot of shopping in one of its art or antiques galleries. Stow has one of the best collections of cafes and restaurants all in one area. It’s also a good, central place to stay.
The best countryside walks & views
The Cotswolds Way walk – View maP Route
The Cotswolds Way is arguably the most famous walking route in the region. At now 50 years old, the route was designed to include some of the most beautiful areas of the Cotswolds on a 103-mile walk from Chipping Campden in the north, all the way to the historic town of Bath. It cross countryside paths, weaves through quaint villages and gives you an excellent view of the countryside. To complete the walking route in full takes around 10 days at a brisk pace, however you can also do shorter versions of the route, or even a tiny section. The Cotswolds Way is a great walking route for first time visitors and we personally recommend completing the start of the trail, from Chipping Campden to Broadway.
Broadway Tower – View on map
If there’s one walk you complete when you’re in the Cotswolds, make it the Broadway Tower loop. Park your car at Broadway Tower car park and proceed to climb to the top of Broadway Hill. Here you’ll find the majestic 65-foot high Broadway Tower. It overlooks rolling hills of beautiful countryside and you can see the town of Broadway in the distance.
Ascend to the top of the tower for panoramic views from the watchtower and then take the 30-minute walk downhill towards town. You’ll pass through farmers fields, hop over gates and experience lush green countryside on your way down. Be warned though, the ascent back to the top of the hill is a lot more difficult than the walk down! Broadway Tower is one of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds, simply for the amazing views.
Leckhampton Hill – View on map
On a winding country road leading into Cheltenham, you have the picturesque Leckhampton Hill, providing views of Cheltenham city and the surrounding countryside. This public park and walking route are a great way to see the surrounding area and get a good workout at the same time. A key attraction here is the Devil’s Chimney rock stack.
Dover’s Hill – View on map
Dover’s Hill is somewhat of a lesser visited viewpoint and hidden gem on our list. Located a short drive up the hill from the town of Chipping Campden, this hiker’s paradise is a steep hill that overlooks the forest and countryside below. Sit on one of the benches and admire the view or park up your car and hike cross country to the local village and back. You’ll need sturdy walking boots as it’s all cross country grasslands with very little pathways.
Slad Valley – View on map
The Slad Valley is local’s favourite of a walking and hiking spot in the Cotswolds. Villagers treasure it and many visitors aren’t even aware of it. Hidden between the towns of Stroud and Painswick, this lush green valley is covered by a light layer of fog early on a morning, which fades to uncover streams of rolling country hills and lots of forest clusters. Hike a section, or the full length of the valley and see its beauty for yourself.
Cleeve Hill – View on map
Climb to the top of Cleeve Hill to see for miles from one of the highest peaks in the area. Relax on a bench admiring the view or hike the surrounding hills. The vantage point of Cheltenham city in the distance is one of the best in the area!
The Five Valleys Walk – View on map
Not one viewpoint but many stopping points, hill-views and idyllic country scenery, The Five Valleys Walk is a popular sponsored walk route that stretches for 21 miles. Taken from the official Cotswolds tourism website, “The route takes in each of Stroud’s beautiful five valleys – Painswick, Slad, Toadsmoor, Chalford and Nailsworth, and is split into nine sections, so you can do as much or as little as you like.” Experience it for yourself and complete the challenge!
The best Cotwolds attractions
Cotswolds Wildlife Park
We were pleasantly surprised at how much we loved the Cotswolds Wildlife Park. Set over 160 acres of land, this outdoor zoo has over 260 species of animals and beautifully maintained gardens and pathways. It felt like walking through a tropical theme park! Plan your visit around each area of the wildlife park to discover tropical birds, monkeys, small mammals and insects. You then have larger wild animals such as lions, camels, zebras and Okapis. The highlight however, is the majestic herd of Rhinos that roams the centre of the park, with a country manor house as their backdrop. Visit the park’s website here for more information and tickets.
Discover Hidcote Country Manor House & Gardens
Huge country manors are a common thing in the Cotswolds; many of them built centuries ago by British royalty that wanted to escape the cities for the charming Cotswolds countryside. Many of these you can now visit today for a wander around their perfectly maintained gardens and grounds. Hidcote Manor Garden has one of the most impressive manor gardens and is well worth checking out. Tickets are inexpensive and you can book online with the National Trust.
Visit the Cotswold Falconry
Are you a lover of birds? Even if you aren’t, anyone will be entertained at the Cotswolds Falconry. With a collection of 130 birds over 60 different species, this fun but educational attraction will teach you a wealth of things about bird’s native to the Cotswolds. Have a look at the aviaries and then take a seat for the live flying displays. It’s one of the unique places to visit in the Cotswolds and we thoroughly enjoyed it! Find out more information and ticket prices on their official website.
Go on a Cotswolds Brewery or Distillery tour
Country pubs is something that the Cotswolds does exceedingly well. No matter the month of the year, you can walk into a pub, order a local beer and feel welcome. Experience what goes into making some of the Cotswolds best beers with an interactive brewery and beer tasting session. It’s a fun way to learn about the local crafts and you can figure out your favourite drink for later on in the evening. We recommend this brewery tour, which is based in Bourton-on-the-Water. An alternative to the brewery tour is a visit to the Cotswolds Distillery, which is currently rated the #2 attraction on Tripadvisor in the entire region!
Have a fun day out at Cotswold Water Park
A somewhat contrasting activity to the clam and blissful nature of the Cotswolds, the Cotswolds Water Park is the place to go for some action-packed lake activities. Golf, fishing, horse riding, shooting, archery and ziplining are just some of the things you can do in this large nature park. It’s not all fast paced though. Long walks by the river, relaxing bike rides and picnics are all good options for those that like to take Cotswolds’ life at a slower pace. The scenery and wildlife make it one of the nicest places to visit in the Cotswolds for anyone!
Go for afternoon tea at The Slaughters Manor House
Afternoon tea is splendidly British and there’s arguably no better place to experience it than the quaint country tearooms of the Cotswolds. You’ll find perfectly suited tearooms in all of its towns and villages, however if you want something on a grand scale that you’ll really remember, visit the 4-star Slaughters Manor House hotel and stop by their garden tearoom. The setting for this country manor house is best enjoyed when the sun is shining, so you can then explore the gardens after tea. Be sure to book in advance as spaces fill up fast!
Check out the Jet Age Museum
Stop by the top-rated Jet Age Museum for an insight into the world of early aviation and the original fighter planes of the Second World War. The hangar-style museum has full-size replicas of classic aircraft such as the Spitfire and you can enter cockpits to see what some of these aircraft are like inside. An educational and interactive thing to do when you’re visiting either Cheltenham or Glouster- the Jet Age museum is located right between the two cities.
Visit the Royal Gardens at Highgrove
It may sound like an attraction picked straight from a fairy-tale, however the Royal Gardens at Highgrove are in fact a real place, and they’re well worth checking out! As part of The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall’s private residence, the garden area of their estate is open to visitors that want to explore their enchanting surroundings. The meadows, lawns and hedges are uniquely themed to create some of the best gardens you’ve ever seen. Visit their website for more information and to book tickets.
Explore Berkeley Castle or Sudeley Castle
A trip to the English countryside wouldn’t be complete without exploring a traditional castle. The Cotswolds doesn’t disappoint with its collection of turreted fortresses either! Stop by either Berkeley Castle or Sudeley Castle (or both!) to take a step back in history. These medieval buildings have beautifully maintained gardens to uncover, as well as frequent events, exhibitions and tours of the old rooms and hallways. Research the location and appeal of the castle that you most like the sound of and plan a visit. Find out more information about Berkeley Castle on their website here, or Sudeley Castle here.
The above is our personal list of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds and the must-sees for any trip to the region. Plan your days carefully so you don’t miss anything and do your own research to see which villages, attractions and walks you’ll like the best. 😊 Feel free to ask us any questions you may have and recommend your own favourite places to visit!