Guide to the Cotswolds: Best Places to See & Where to Stay
Combine the beauty of an epic movie, the intricate detail of a fantasy novel, and the historical significance of an ancient civilization and you've got the Cotswolds. The stunning landscape and rolling hills are filled with farm animals, ancient stone buildings, and lively pubs and restaurants. You might just want to retire here for the rest of your life! I have your ultimate guide to the Cotswolds. With the prettiest villages to explore, quaintest hamlets, and the best places to see as well as where to stay.
The Cotswolds were once a thriving place for the wool industry, now they seem stuck in time with honey-colored stone structures that line the streets, pretty rivers running through, and tiny alleyways full of history. Luckily for us, we can easily peruse these adorable towns and luxuriate in their laid back lifestyle.
I think the Cotswolds make for the perfect holiday: you have interesting history paired with beautiful scenery in a storybook setting. I've found 10 of the best Cotswolds villages that make the perfect place to relax and explore. So, grab a cuppa and steep yourself in quintessential English charm!
How Long to Stay in the Cotswolds
Located in Gloucestershire, you can easily hop over to the Cotswolds from London or as you make your way on your Southern England road trip, like I did. You can spend a weekend in the Cotswolds and get a good dose of the time warped villages.
Depending on how long you stay in each village is up to you but a few days is usually enough time. There are many to see but I've chosen some of the most pristine to ensure you get the most out of your stay.
There is ample opportunity to enjoy the countryside, take a hike, or just enjoy a bite to eat at a pub. England offers freedom to walk nearly everywhere, and you'll see “kissing gates” that direct you on the public footpaths. If you're feeling adventurous take a gander on one and see where it leads you.
Where to Stay in the Cotswolds
I had the best stay of my entire life in the Cotswolds. I have always been a fan of the movie Pride and Prejudice, and Cowley Manor's lush landscape paired with the beautiful manor (that looks very similar to Mr. Darcy's) made me feel like I was on a movie set.
But when I learned about the history of Cowley Manor, A Curious Group of Hotels I felt even more like I was in a real life fairy tale.
The Manor is an Italianate building re-designed in 1850 and incorporates the stones of the first house. Upon entering the manor you'll be taken aback by the lush green hills that await you as you enter the iron gates. On your right, white fluffy trees seem to wave in the breeze as a beautiful brook rumbles down on your left.
The Manor itself is lovely and artfully decorated: you'll find funky art and bold, colorful accent chairs. There are multiple rooms downstairs including a dining room, pool room, bar, and various lounge areas to soak in the gorgeous estate. We were greeted with ginger tea and made our way up to our room.
I wanted to move into our spacious bedroom. A towering four poster bed fitted with white linens and a soft mattress made me want to hop in right away. The large windows' natural light poured into the room and, yet there are blackout shades so you can keep it dark for late mornings.
There's a sitting area with a huge flat-screen TV, DVD player, and even hook ups for your laptop so you can watch a movie. They even offer movies you can rent. Included are Bose Bluetooth speakers so you feel like you're in a movie theater.
Walking outside, you have a large terrace where you can enjoy the splendid grounds and drink tea or take in the stars at night.
The bathroom is absolutely stunning. I actually woke early one day to indulge in the hot rainwater shower, fluffy robe, and natural light that streams in from the large windows- the perfect place to get ready. There are his and hers sinks, full-size bath products, and a separate tub.
Our room had a small nook where you could tuck away with a book.
I particularly loved the evening turn-down service that included a plate of brownies with tomorrow's weather forecast. These small details really made the property so wonderful.
Breakfast is served in the wood paneled dining room with simple white table cloths. I loved the intricate carving details in the doors and the rounded lights.
There is a buffet with fruit, breads, oatmeal, juices, and quiches that you can easily fill up on. You can also order off the menu for hot breakfast such as avocado toast, omelettes, or French toast. Breakfast was delicious and there were many options no matter what you're in the mood for.
Dinner is served in the same room with a candlelight glow and the fireplace blazing. It's the perfect romantic setting. The food is scrumptious- delicate fish topped with caviar, savory duck breast, tender beef, and seasonal vegetables. Make sure to make a reservation in advance as they can get busy.
Afternoon tea is one of the best experiences in England, but set to the back drop of Cowley Manor‘s graceful rolling hills and meticulously clipped gardens takes it to the next level. But what's even more exciting is the Manor's unique history. Lewis Carroll visited Cowley Manor regularly and often wrote while he was here. He sometimes watched as a young girl, by the name of Alice, with long blonde hair, played in the gardens. It's said that he wrote “Alice in Wonderland” during his time at the Manor. How incredibly special is that?!
You can choose to have your tea outdoors or indoors. On a day like we had, we opted to sit outdoors and enjoy the splendor of the day. We could hear a horse gallop nearby, birds chirping, and lambs bleating in the distance. Meanwhile, we sipped hot tea and indulged in sandwiches and lavish deserts.
I could have spent all day sampling the unique flavors from the scrumptious tea… but I was late. For a very important date. (Sorry, I had to.) I was going to Cowley's C-Side spa for a massage.
The sleek spa is beautiful and functional: an outdoor and indoor pool (both heated), sauna, steam room, gym, changing rooms, and treatment rooms. So, everything your heart could desire. I opted for a full body massage and Michael chose a stretch and align massage. Both were about an hour and left us feeling rejuvenated. After, we dipped in the pool.
Walking the grounds was an adventure on it's own. With 55 acres there's so much to explore in the woods, meadows, and parkland. There's a tiny 13th century church (St. Mary's), a large lake, and sublime Victorian Water Gardens. They even give you a pair of wellies if you're so inclined to frolic in the water. The natural landscape surroundings interplay poetically with the grand, statuesque facade of the Manor. The interior is cozy, family-friendly, and cheerful.
The lake in front of the manor makes for the perfect photo spot.
While the Manor is beautiful and well-thought out, what I loved in particular was that it doesn't feel stuffy. The food is delicious, the staff kind and helpful, the rooms are comfortable and functional, and the grounds themselves are stunning. It's the perfect combination for a place to stay anywhere, in particular, the Cotswolds.
It's a fact: Cowley Manor is the best place to stay in the Cotswolds. You could easily just stay here and explore Cowley Manor your entire trip! I hope this review of Cowley Manor helps you plan your trip. Now, let's get to the best places to explore in the Cotswolds.
Best Places to Visit in the Cotswolds
With so much to see and so many tiny towns, a car is the best way to get around. The roads are narrow and you will be driving on the left, but it's worth it to get a glimpse of these small and historic villages. Many of the towns offer small information centers where you can pick up a map and take a short walking tour to learn about the historical buildings in the area. Usually, you'll pay about a £1 for the informative map.
I've rounded up the best places to see in the Cotswolds so you can make the most of your time in Southern England.
This enchanting village offers a great mix of interesting wool history and plenty of pretty sights to explore. Chipping Campden is definitely one of the best places to see in the Cotswolds. The hills surrounding Campden are ideal for sheep, which is why so much wool history surrounds the village. Chipping Campden was a major center for wool trade and made the town and surrounding areas wealthy. You can still see the remains of the wealthy wool merchants, evident in the Grevel House and St. James Church.
This small market town in Gloucestershire has such elegant terraced streets you will want to spend hours strolling.
I was enamored with the thatched roof houses that lined the road on the way to Chipping Campden's “High Street.”
When we arrived in pretty Bibury we saw an older gentleman creating a new stone fence by hand. Curious, we asked him about how he learned to create the fence. He told us that he worked on fences for much of his life, learning the technique and mastering the skill to expertly, and beautifully lay the stones so that they last for centuries. You'll see the stone fences dotted across the English countryside, many hundreds of years old with vegetation growing out of them.
Bibury was one of my favorite spots with the old wool houses that lined the street on famous Arlington Row. A calm brook running along nearby makes for a perfectly peaceful atmosphere.
Make sure to head up the stream to the trout farm for scenic views and a bite to eat.
One of the prettiest places in the Cotswolds, Bourton-On-The-Water is the perfect place to wander. This laid-back town is self proclaimed as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” because of the river running through town. The town is perched along the River Windrush and known for its low bridges and golden stone houses. There's also the Cotswolds Motoring museum here which contains vintage cars and toys.
Lower Slaughter is part of the “Slaughters” comprised of Upper and Lower, though the name sounds odd, it refers to slough, meaning “muddy place” because of the river nearby. When in Lower Slaughter make sure to check out St. Mary's Church, the Old Mill (now home to a museum), and Lower Slaughter Manor.
The postcard perfect cottages of Upper Slaughter will make you jump right out of your car, like I did, to snap a picture. The warm stone houses reflecting in the stream were too picturesque not to stop for a further look.
While there aren't as many things to see as in Lower Slaughter, I think it's worth your time to peruse this village and take in its serene charm.
Though a tiny village, Stow-On-The-Wold certainly packs a punch with history, hidden beauty, and great eateries. The centuries old hilltop market square is surrounded by pale stone houses, shops, and B&Bs. This was one of my favorite places we stopped for history, mystery, and food.
Start your walk at the Market Cross in the center of town, and make sure to find the “leaning” building. Take in the lovely St. Edward's Church and make sure to stop by the “Tolkein” Door- the door said to inspire Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Pictured below. The trees and door were said to inspire JRR Tolkien's “door to Moria.”
Much of Stow is built on a large Iron Age fort and there are still remains such as Neolithic flint arrow heads.
While you're in town, grab a sandwich at Cotswolds Baguettes for a variety of sandwich and salad options. Then grab some fudge (you'll see fudge shops everywhere in the Cotswolds) at Roly's Fudge Pantry.
A bit less touristic than some of the other Cotswolds towns, Naunton has pristine views of the English countryside. As you stroll, you won't be too far away from grazing sheep and lambs. The River Windrush running through town makes for a beautiful setting.
Check out the Black Horse Inn for the perfect cozy pub.
As the largest town in the Cotswolds you'll find ample things to do and see. The Romans made their mark here and you'll find a beautiful Roman amphitheater.
If you're after a typical Cotswold village fitted with limestone cottages and pretty lined shrubbery then head to Castle Combe. This lovely hamlet lies on the Southern end of the Cotswolds and features a picturesque Tower Bridge.
Lying on the Southern edge of the Cotswolds is the historic spa town of Bath. Make sure to leave ample time here to explore the beautiful Roman Baths, take an enlightening walking tour (it's free!) of Bath's rich history, and go for a traditional soak in the thermal waters.
Once a Roman respite, Bath is now a bustling city and very different from the other small hamlets of the Cotswolds. You'll find hundreds of shops, grand Georgian architecture, and plenty of things to see and do. You could easily spend a few days in Bath. Many people make the trek here from London and then head to Stonehenge as well.
Shakespeare's historic home is a must visit when heading to the Cotswolds. Although this isn't technically in the region of the Cotswolds, I'm including it here because it's just such a delightful town and not too far away. Take a walking tour to learn more about The Bard, see the beautiful black and white half-timbered homes, and visit the famous places that made the man who created works that stand the test of time. There are also three theaters where you can catch a show, including the Royal Shakespeare Company which has daily shows of all Shakespeare's greatest hits.
The best part about the Cotswolds? You can't go wrong. There are many beautiful villages and lovely countrysides. I've picked ten towns I think you will love in the Cotswolds but there are so many places that will make you feel like you're in a storybook setting. Meander to any and you'll have a great experience.
How to Get to the Cotswolds
A car is truly the best option when it comes to touring the Cotswolds. The roads are a bit tight but it's the easiest way to see all the small towns and hilltop villages. The drive from London is about 2 hours (without traffic). You can also take the train. The closest stations are Moreton-in-Marsh, Cheltenham, or you can also head to Stratford-Upon-Avon and take the bus from here.
When driving: just watch for the pheasants when crossing the road!
What to Eat in the Cotswolds
Gone are the days of bad British cuisine. The Cotswolds is an agricultural area and the food is really top notch. There are delicious cheeses, fresh fish, local produce, and famous Cotswold lamb. There are restaurants where you can get your fill, or you can try the local farmers' markets in the area.
You can also take a wine or spirits tour of the wineries and distilleries in the area.
One of my favorite activities in the area was heading to Wilkin's farm for traditional hard cider. Hidden along a small road in an old barn you'll find Wilkins himself making the cider along with his trusty dog. When we arrived, our first glass was free and only 50 cents for every cup after. We also bought delicious cheddar as a souvenir to take home.
These sleepy, beautiful villages make for the perfect vacation. Relax, explore, and enjoy a splendid trip to the Cotswolds.
If you'd like a full guide on Southern England check out this itinerary.