What are Cotswold Villages?
The Cotswolds, according to Google, “…is a rural area of South Central England covering parts of 6 counties, notably Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. Its rolling hills and grassland harbor thatched medieval villages, churches and stately homes built of distinctive local yellow limestone.” Vacaay.com
The Cotswolds cover an expansive area of almost 800 square miles. You could spend days exploring delightful Cotswold villages with their charming markets and golden hued country homes.
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When Should You Visit these Pretty Villages in the Cotswolds?
Visiting some of the prettiest Cotswold villages was added to my Bucket List within the past year when I began seeing fellow travel bloggers post their favorite Cotswold villages to visit.
Have you ever looked at pictures on a website and thought, “AAGHGGH, I want to see those places!”? That’s exactly what I thought.
Honestly, I really didn’t think that I would be visiting anytime soon, but that all changed with Covid. It was a happy accident after a disappointing travel mishap.
Exploring the Cotswolds is what do you do when:
- your daughter contracts Covid on vacation
- you are DENIED boarding for your cruise to Norway (leaving from Southampton, England)
- you need to find a place to stay in the United Kingdom until you are allowed to fly home
You scramble to plan the ultimate week long or weekend itinerary for the Cotswolds in a hurry and search out the best villages in the Cotswolds to visit.
Hopefully when YOU get the chance to visit Cotswold Villages in the England, you will have a little more time to plan. This post should give you some great ideas, especially if you area a photographer at heart and LOVE to take pictures as you explore.
The next question will be, which of the Cotswold Villages is the best?
But First, What Does “Cotswolds” Even Mean?
If you break down Cotswolds into two words, you discover that “Cots” means sheep enclosures and “Wolds” are gentle or rolling hills. “Cotswolds” then are gently rolling hills dotted with lots of sheep.
You may also find that “Cotswold” means a breed of sheep with long wool that originates in the Cotswold Hills.
The Honey-Hued Buildings of the Cotswolds are Everywhere
The Cotswold villages are small English towns that are famous for the honey-hued limestone buildings that add charm and continuity.
These honey-hued limestones has been quarried in the area for hundreds of years.
The predominantly rural landscape of the Cotswolds contains stone-built villages, towns, gardens, and stately homes featuring the local stone.
How Do You Explore the Cotswolds?
During our recent visit to the Cotswolds, Chris and I noted that there were not a lot of transportation opportunities for getting to the Cotswolds and then between the villages. It was recommended that we rent a car.
Renting a car for you may mean:
- driving on the left side of the road
- driving a manual car
- driving along single track roads (one lane roads that are meant for two lanes of traffic!)
If you are up for that, then you will be fine. But there are certainly tips Americans (and others) should know about driving in the United Kingdom that will come in handy:
- Be informed and safe
- Be alert, especially on single track roads
- Be ready to back up if necessary
- Be brave
- Be mindful of local laws, speed limits, and road signage
Driving in the Picturesque Cotswold Villages
Many of the roads in rural areas are only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. They are specified as “single track” roads. This is especially true when traveling to the prettiest Cotswold villages that dot the landscape.
What it means is that traffic goes in both directions on the road (local folks often drive 60 mph without blinking an eye). And many of these roads are lined with tall hedgerows on either side. Add in some blind corners and hilly sections and you will need to be on full alert.
Pay attention to oncoming traffic!!!
To allow two vehicles to safely pass each other, there are clearly (and maybe not always clearly) marked passing places. If you see an oncoming car and a passing place, my advice is to pull over.
You may find yourself hugging the left side of the road to allow a car to pass and hoping that the branches from the hedgerows aren’t damaging the paint of your car!
There is no law that specifies who has the right of way in the middle of a small village or on a single track road (except you should give way to vehicles driving uphill when possible). However, if you are driving a small car and encounter a lorry (similar to a semi but narrower for obvious reasons), bus, or work vehicle, chances are they will take the right of way. After all, they are bigger.
1. Fairford, Gloucestershire—The Best Cotswold Village to Use as a “Home Base” During Your Stay
Chris and I only had an afternoon to plan our stay in the Cotswolds. We landed on a lovely cottage in Fairford that proved to be a central location for us as we explored. Plus, it was a simply delightful place to stay.
If you are looking for the best Cotswolds Village to stay in while visiting England, the quiet charm and storybook setting of Fairford should satisfy your needs. Fairford is a small town in Gloucestershire, England.
The town of Fairford began long ago as a river-crossing settlement on the River Coln and an important “coaching” town or stop-over point for people traveling by horse or coach from London to Gloucester.
You can find the cutest little cottages in Fairford and then set out to enjoy day trips to the prettiest Cotswold villages that you can imagine in the surrounding area.
Things to See and Do in Fairford
Visit St. Mary’s Church – Fairford is famous for its parish church which is a ‘wool church’ (a church financed by donations from rich area wool trade merchants and farmers). St. Mary’s uniquely complete set of 28 stained glass windows illustrate the stories of the Bible.
Shop at a Traditional Market – The market is held every Wednesday.
Experience the Royal International Air Tattoo – Thousands of visitors descend upon the village every July for the biggest military air show in the world.
Enjoy the Fairford Festival – A weekend full of live music, art and photography exhibits, a parade, games, a dog show, cooking and baking competitions, the popular 3K and 10K Family Fun Run, and the traditional Fairford Festival of Fiction.
Enjoy Public Footpaths – You may be surprised to find that the footpaths go through a field filled with cows! The cows aren’t likely to pay you any mind. And you might just see the cutest little miniature pony along the way.
Enjoy a Delicious Meal – Sometimes you have to look beyond a front door to find a quaint lunch spot with a patio tucked behind buildings. You’ll find such a place at 7a Coffee Shop in Fairford.
The Cotswolds were a perfect first residence for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they were first married and lived in a home on the Great Tew Estate just outside the town of Chipping Norton.
Discover the reasons why the Cotswolds have the distinction of being Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
2. Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire
Bourton-on-the-Water, sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Cotswolds, features charming limestone cottages, historic businesses and five stone bridges that span the River Windrush.
This village is extremely popular, but if you arrive in Bourton-on-the-Water in the late afternoon, the crowds begin to diminish and local residents greet each other along the river path.
A few things to do while visiting Bourton-on-the-Water
- Explore the Model Village: Discover Bourton-on-the-Water in miniature at the Model Village. It is an exact replica of the town at one-ninth scale
- Tour the Cotswold Motoring Museum
- Visit the Cotswold Perfumery – If you have the time, take the perfume-making course to learn how to create and blend your own fragrance
- Walk along the River Windrush
- Enjoy Local Walks from one of the Cotswold villages to another
- Visit St. Lawrence Church
3. Broadway, Worcestershire
Broadway is characterized by a wide main street lined with charming cafes, boutiques, antique shops, hotels and restaurants.
You should also visit the Broadway Tower that sits above the town. The tower is considered to be a “folly”, an ornamental building with no real, practical purpose.
Enjoy your visit to the tower with a walk along a “Circular Route”, tour the tower, and stop for a bit of lunch at the small cafe close to the tower. If you are really adventurous, hike from Broadway up to the Broadway Tower. It should take less than a couple of hours for the 4-mile round trip hike.
4. Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
“Chipping”, an Old English term that means market or market place, defines the distinctive nature of Chipping Campden. The village was a wool trading center in the Middle Ages. Market Hall, built in 1627, is one of the oldest buildings in Campden still in use today. The hall was built to provide shelter for merchants and farmers selling their wares.
Markets in Chipping Campden are held on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of each month from March to December between 10:00 am and 5:00pm. You’ll find gifts, cakes, clothes and other many hand-made crafts and goods for sale.
If you are visiting Chipping Campden in December, plan your trip around the annual Christmas Market and tree lighting event during the first week of December.
Chipping Campden is the beginning of the Cotswold Way hiking trail (see below).
5. Cirencester, Gloucestershire
Cirencester, also a market town, is approximately 80 miles west of London and lies on the River Churn. Markets are held every Monday and Friday from 9 am to 3 pm.
Cirencester is the largest town of the Cotswold villages, England and is also the Capital of the Cotswolds.
Besides the market and shopping, what can you do in Cirencester?
- Visit the Corinium Museum
- Explore the Brewery Arts Centre
- Stroll through Cirencester Park or watch a Polo match
- Visit the massive earthwork remains of a Roman Amphitheatre
- Explore the Great Witcombe Roman Villa ruins a short distance from Cirencester
6. Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire
The naming of Lower Slaughter (there is also an Upper Slaughter) hearkens back to its Old English meaning for a wet land: ‘slough’ or ‘slothre’. Despite its tragic-sounding name, Lower Slaughter is one of the picture-perfect Cotswold villages.
Tourists flock to Lower Slaughter and all of the surrounding villages because they are utterly charming villages in the Cotswolds. The tree-lined roads in Lower Slaughter run along the beautiful River Eye.
I am sure it is tiresome having tourists infringe on your village daily to disrupt its peace and quiet. Chris and I spotted one postcard-perfect cottage with a sign prominently displayed on the front of the home, “Please do not take pictures of this home.”
Be a gracious tourist!
- Visit the Old Mill Museum, cafe and gift shop
- Walk to Upper Slaughter just one mile away
- Visit St. Mary’s church
- Cross the river on stone footbridges
- Walk along Copsehill Road and admire the view—once voted “the most romantic street in Britain”.
- Stay at Manor House, a converted luxurious hotel today
7. Snowshill, Gloucestershire
Snowshill is my favorite of the famous Cotswold Villages. Why? You can walk down quiet roads and see one charming cottage after another while enjoying this tucked-away village that does not see quite so many tourists.
It is a quiet “hamlet” that is perfect for wandering and taking pictures and totally worth a visit. You’ll find it on a hill above Broadway (and not too far from the Broadway Tower).
Things to do in Snowshill:
- Take pictures and wander around in awe of this quiet little hamlet
- Visit Snowshill Manor
- Explore the Manor Gardens
- Discover the Snowshill Lavender Fields (best from June to August)
- Visit Saint Barnabas Church
- Eat at Snowshill Arms
- If you are a fan of Bridget Jone’s Diary, see if you can spot the filming location
- Enjoy one of the walks along the Cotswold Way
Hiking Along the Cotswold Way
Fancy a bit of a hike through the charming countryside next to adorable Cotswold Villages you need to visit along the way? Walk along the Cotswold Way National Trail, one of the most famous and picturesque walks in England.
Start at Chipping Camden and follow the Cotswold Edge to make your way along the trail 102 miles to the steps of Bath Abbey. (You can walk the trail in either direction with plenty of off-shoots and shorter walks for small excursions).
Enjoy the wide open views of the Severn Valley as you pass through woods, walk through open pasture skirted by dry stone walls, and view the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds.
Taking Pictures of the Utterly Charming Cotswold Villages
Whatever your skill level with a camera, be prepared for some amazing photos in the Cotswold villages.
Canon Powershot G1 – This camera is great if you leave the camera in AUTO mode and work well with a point and shoot. It does give you the option to switch to MANUAL mode of you choose.
Canon T8i – If you are just learning photography skills and want to switch back and forth between Auto, Aperture Priority, or Manual Mode, this makes a great entry level DSLR.
Canon 6d Mark II – A great camera for advanced photographers who are comfortable with shooting in Manual Mode. You’ll get some outstanding shots with this DSLR.
Smart Phone – Cameras on your phone nowadays are amazing. If this is your picture-taking device, you will surely capture some amazing images. I usually “tourist” with my DSLR around my neck and my Smart Phone in hand! And yes, I probably don’t “blend in” that well.
You may even wish to arrive early in the morning for the best tourist-free photos. Whatever you choose as your camera as you explore the Cotswold villages, you will want to have the battery charged and ready to go for the day!
Check out these posts for tips to enhance your photography:
- 15 Popular Photography Gadgets
- Tips to Take Better Photos (And Look Good in Them too!)
- My Favorite Photography Things
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Final Thoughts on 7 of the Best Instagram Pretty Villages in the Cotswolds
Yes, I ended that heading with an exclamation point!!!
If you ever have the chance to plan a trip to England with stops in some of the prettiest villages in the Cotswold, DO! The villages are simply delightful.
Staying in an historic limestone cottage should also be on your bucket list. Check out available cottages on Booking.com
The Cotswold villages are a day trip away from London and a perfect way to spend a leisurely day exploring.