There is something magical about the Cotswolds. Maybe it is the rolling hills, or perhaps the fairy-tale villages. One thing is for sure though, when you visit the Cotswolds you are guaranteed to be transported back in time. Most “Must See Places in the Cotswolds” or similar articles always focus on the same main attractions: Bourton on the Water, Burford and Bibury. There is good reason for this: they are beautiful villages! However, they are also overrun with tourists and extortionately overpriced. Although “My Top 10 Places to Visit to in North Cotswolds” do feature them as well, I also wanted to bring you the little gems that surround these villages, that get significantly less visitors and where you will be able to sample a real taste of Cotswold life.
A lot of the Cotswolds’ villages date back to the 17th century, which means the roads are narrow and the infrastructure isn’t designed to cope with copious amounts of cars. If you can, I would highly recommend exploring the Cotswolds on foot or by bike. You will be able to take in so much more and access places that are simply not visible from a vehicle.
Before we get stuck in to the must-see places in the North Cotswolds though, here is a little bit of history about the place.
It is not known exactly where the name Cotswolds derived from and there are different schools of thought. Because it makes the most sense to me, I’m going with the fact that “Cots” meant sheep pens and “Wolds” meant high land. Since the Cotswolds was built off the back of the sheep wool industry and it is very hilly (in a rolling hill sense) I think it is very believable.
During the middle ages the Cotswolds were one of the most important sources of wool in Europe making the merchants incredibly rich. Riches, that were then spent on lavish houses and churches that still remain to this day. I share these woolly facts as they will become relevant as I discuss some of the villages that have made it into my top 10 places for you to visit in North Cotswolds.
The most noticeable feature of the Cotswolds is without a doubt the cute cream coloured buildings. The Cotswolds are rich in Limestone and therefore it was not only the cheapest but also the most natural resource to use for building. Cotswold stone is still being extracted for repairs and to make new buildings that are in keeping with those from the 17th century and beyond.
Listed Building Galore
Due to the history associated with them many of the old Cotswolds houses and cottages are “Listed Buildings” and therefore protected. In fact, the Cotswolds has the largest number of Listed buildings in the UK. So if stately homes, manor houses and period buildings are your thing, you won’t be disappointed!
The colour of these “chocolate box” villages varies by region depending on where the limestone was mined from. In the north they tend to be “honey-golden brown” whilst in the south they tend to be creamier in colour.
Due to the connection between affluence and the cream coloured homes of the Cotswolds, the white stone mined in the area became a popular choice for other upmarket buildings, such as the Universities of Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Eton College and even Windsor Castle.
The Cotswolds is now designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), surpassed only in size by the Lake District. It is made up of 80% farmland and has the largest conservation area of anywhere in the UK. It is truly a glorious part of the British Countryside that deserves to be visited, but don’t rush it. Take your time, make the most of the myriad of footpaths and explore the tiny hamlets best accessed on foot or bike.
Here are my Top 10 Places to visit in North Cotswolds. For the purpose of this article I am classing anything north of Cirencester as North Cotswolds.
Broadway is in my mind one of the most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds. It is not a hidden gem since many refer it to it as the “Jewel of the Cotswolds” but even so, it is worth a visit. The name Broadway derives from the fact that it has a wide high street which is lined with horse chestnut trees and has a mixture of period houses and honey coloured Cotswold stone cottages.
What I love about the high streets around the Cotswolds is the pride that all the local businesses take in the upkeep of their frontages with brilliant flower displays that really help bring these towns to life, and which also make for great photos! Broadway is no exception. It isn’t just the shops though; the house owners also go above and beyond to make their little patch that extra special.
You can read more about “How to spend a day in Broadway” on my Broadway specific post, however, if there is one thing you shouldn’t miss it is Broadway Tower. Rather than going up and down the same path I highly recommend making it a circular route which I describe in detail in the article “Broadway Tower Circular Route”. It is a steep hill but it is short, and the views are fantastic. There is even a café and facilities so you can refuel and get comfortable before you head back down!
If you really can’t face the hike you can always drive there, but make sure you explore more than just the immediate Tower as the views of the Tower from the North are spectacular and always free of people! Broadway Tower is also great at sunset and you will often get a nice pink hue to compliment this 18th century monument.
Beacons Hill, where Broadway Tower sits, also has a herd of resident red deer which sometimes like to position themselves perfectly for a photoshoot!
2. Chipping Campden
A visit to Chipping Campden is a step back in time. There is no question about it, Chipping Campden is as charming as they come. It is also steeped in history with the now protected honey coloured terraced high street dating back from the 14th to the 17th century. During the middle ages Chipping Campden was at the centre of the British wool industry, with remnants from this era still standing today. In fact, considering its relatively small size, Chipping Campden boasts 256 historically Listed buildings and is the town with the 2nd highest density in the country!
One of the most iconic buildings, without a doubt, is the Grade I Listed Market Hall which dates back to 1627. Built as a shelter for tradesmen and farmers selling their wares, this impressive building now stands in the centre of town and is at the start of the 102-mile Cotswold Way route. Having run this route in 2020 I’d highly recommend it to everyone, whether you do it in 5 days like me, or at a more leisurely pace. Exploring the Cotswolds on foot is by far the most enjoyable way.
You can read all about Chipping Campden’s history and buildings in my post “How to spend a day in Chipping Campden”. If you only have time for one thing though, I recommend Hidcote Manor Gardens.
Although not strictly in Chipping Campden, it is only a short drive away, or even a pleasant 5 km walk each way. The garden is a maze of narrow paved pathways that lead you to secret gardens, magnificent vistas and plants that burst with colour. Although gardens feature a lot on my Cotswolds posts (because we have lots of wonderful gardens), truth is, they aren’t really my thing. I’d much rather be out biking, running or hiking, but Hidcote Manor Gardens was special somehow. There is a sense of adventure as you walk through the grounds; a surprise round every corner. It has the right mix of manicured and wild which means it blends seamlessly into the countryside. I highly recommend it. In fact, bring a picnic!
Whether you visit Blockley because of its Father Brown links, or because it looks different to the rest of the chocolate box Cotswold villages, one thing is certain, you will be forever charmed. Hidden in the valley, unless you are purposefully exploring the Cotswolds, you won’t just stumble across Blockley which is one of the things I love most about it. It remains a gem that hasn’t been overrun by touristy shops and cafes!
Blockley blossomed in the 19th century. As wool started to decline Blockley turned its hand to silk with 6 mills taking advantage of the fast-flowing brook to bring prosperity to the village. Although the mills have long closed and been converted in to houses, the stream still cuts through the valley floor adding an extra layer of charm.
St Peter and St Paul’s Church
If you are a fan of the Father Brown TV series then you won’t want to miss St Peter and St Paul’s Church. Beautiful in its own right, this Norman church featured regularly on the TV program.
Stow-on-the-Wold, or Stow as I will refer to it from now on, is a lovely market town which has recently become incredibly popular with Instagrammers due to the famous Doors of Durin! There is a great reel on Instagram that I highly recommend you watch!
But Stow has been enchanting visitors long before “Lord of the Ring” fans discovered the now famous door! Stow has a rich history thanks to its strategical position as the highest town in the Cotswolds. First as an Iron Fort and then the location of the final battle in the English Civil War. One thing is for sure, history buffs will relish in the tales of old!
Stow has a more sheepish history too. In fact, as the very large market square suggests, Stow-on-the-Wold was once a very important market town holding a large annual sheep sale. It is assumed that up to 20,000 sheep would be sold at any one time. The square is now lined with picturesque Cotswold town houses and shops, with the cross at one end and the stocks at the other.
You can read all about where to eat and what to do in my blog post dedicate to Stow on the Wold, however if there is one thing you should do is visit St Edwards Church.
St Edwards Church
Whether you are a Lord of the Rings fan or not, you are guaranteed to be enchanted by the beautiful door of St Edwards Church. Locked between two trees it feels as if you are in some fairy-tale movie set. In fact, rumour has it that J.R.R. Tolkien got his inspiration from this door for the Doors of Durin in Lord of the Rings. This isn’t the only part of the Cotswolds that inspired Tolkien though. It is believed that the Bell Inn in Moreton-in-the-Marsh was the inspiration behind the “Prancing Pony” pub whilst the Four Shires stone, on the outskirts of Moreton, is thought to have inspired the Three Farthings Stone in Tolkien’s novel!
Stanton is quite possibly my favourite Cotswolds Village. It really is postcard perfect, and the best thing about it is that very few people know it exists! The village itself doesn’t have much in the form of amenities, but I wouldn’t let that put you off. It sits at the base of Shenberrow Hill from where you can see up to 16 different counties on a clear day. In really good weather you can even see as far the Brecon Beacons!
The village itself is also picture perfect, with Cotswold cottages that look as though they have been directly plucked from a fairy-tale book. There is a free car park in the village. The village is so small that everything is easily accessible by foot. I would highly recommend exploring the footpaths before settling down for a refreshing drink and a hearty meal at the Mount Inn which offers exceptional views over the valley.
But if there is one thing I recommend above all else is to explore Stanton and the surrounding hills on horseback. There is a yard in Stanton that caters for all abilities. If you have never sat on a horse before you will be guided up at a sedate pace so that you can take in all the views. If you know what you are doing, then enjoy a blast up the gallops before turning around to admire the vistas! Without a doubt the number 1 best way to explore the Cotswolds is on one of Jill Carenza’s trusty steeds!
If you type in Cotswolds in Google and go to images I guarantee the first photos that come up will be of the Arlington Row in Bibury and the canals of Bourton-on-the-Water, so not exactly a hidden gem. However, I just could not leave it out. After all, it is popular for a reason! Many consider it one of the prettiest towns in the UK and due to the Windrush river that flows through it’s centre it is often referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds”.
If you want to experience Bourton-on-the-Water I highly recommend avoiding the summer and weekends! In fact, using Bourton as your base is one of the best ways to experience its charm. Enjoy a morning stroll before the day trippers arrive, and make the most of the setting sun in the evening once everyone has gone home.
If you decide to stay in town there is plenty to do with a great variety of historic pubs, restaurants and eclectic shops. In addition, there is a model village, some fantastic country walks and even an exotic bird park! You can read more about it in this Bourton-on-the-Water guide.
If you like history then there is one thing I would definitely recommend you do, and that is one of Edward’s Ghost Tours. Don’t go expecting to be scared or have some form of other worldly experience, we certainly saw no ghosts. But we did learn a lot about the local history, including some great facts that will come in handy on a pub quiz one day (like where the saying Tom, Dick and Harry came from!). Edward was a great character and we thoroughly enjoyed our 2 hours of wandering around Bourton on a sunny Friday evening.
7. The Slaughters
Not far from Bourton-on-the-Water and easily accessible on foot (recommended since parking is at a premium) are the two villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter. There is nothing sinister about the name, it actually derives from the old word for mud! And that is one thing I can testify too, if taking a walk around here in winter bring wellies!
The Slaughters are incredibly picturesque, in fact, Lower Slaughter was recently voted the most romantic village in England as well as the prettiest village in the UK! Although I’m sure that depending on the publication many villages have won those accolades there is no denying it’s beauty.
Upper Slaughter is less well known than its sister, Lower Slaughter, however, in my opinion, it is nicer. It has a meandering stream running through the village and is a photographer’s paradise as the ford offers a perfect foreground. It is particularly nice in Autumn when all the trees turn fiery orange!
Lower Slaughter is best known for its 15th century mill, which is now a café, shop and museum. More importantly though, it sells delicious ice cream! Lower Slaughter has a few more amenities such as Slaughters Inn, which serves delicious food.
Whether you walk here from Bourton-on-the-Water, or decide to stay here for a bit more solitude, they are two villages I definitely wouldn’t miss out!
This tiny little village has little in terms of tourist attractions, yet it is one of the most picturesque villages I have come across. I discovered Snowshill whilst out walking from Stanton, and have since had to return a number of times just to admire the village and church during golden hour. Snowshill somehow transports me back in time. I can’t help but feel as though I am in some form of movie set as I walk down the lane towards the beautiful St Barnabas Church, surrounded with the Cotswold stone wall, a red phone box sitting proudly by the main gate.
If like me you reach Snowshill on foot then the Snowshill Arms is a great place to quench your thirst. I haven’t eaten there yet but I hear the food is good too. The main tourist attraction of Snowshill is the National Trust’s Snowshill Manor and Gardens. The Manor belonged to the eccentric Charles Wade who used Snowshill Manor to create a stage for his life possessions. Walking through the Manor is like going on a treasure hunt. Just beware, you might find a ghost or two too!
The main attraction in my opinion though, which is just outside the village, is the Cotswold Lavender Farm. As well as using their 90 acres of Lavender to make essential oils, soaps and other lavender products, they are also open to the public . Whether you want to set up your own Instagram shoot, or simply take a stroll through the 140 miles of Lavender rows whilst listening to the buzzing of bees, I guarantee you will love it.
I haven’t spent very much time in Winchcombe but it has always held a special place in my heart as the perfect refuelling stop during our Cotswold Way challenge. As we walked up the timbered high street, half a marathon of running under our belts, we stumbled across North Bakery and their most amazing Shortbread Millionaire. We sat in the shade of the church and enjoyed our indulgent treat. With sugar pumping through our veins how could we not fall in love with this charming market town.
The history of Winchcombe dates back to the Neolithic period when people settled in the nearby hills leaving behind the long barrow burial chambers of Belas Knap. It’s the best preserved long barrow in the UK and definitely worth the walk up the (somewhat steep) hill! In fact, there are so many beautiful walks to do from Winchcombe that you won’t be short for places to explore.
Winchcombe strikes me as a great place from which base yourself from which to go exploring with plenty to do nearby. You can read all about Winchcombe in my Winchcombe Guide!
If you don’t have long though, then I recommend a visit to Sudeley Castle, with its beautiful gardens and full event calendar. They recently had a herd of (wood) elephants in the grounds and often host open air cinema viewings, animal encounters, and Tudor Saturdays, all of which make the perfect destination if you are travelling with kids.
You don’t need to be joined by little ones though to enjoy the only privately owned castle in the UK to have a queen buried in it’s grounds! With 10 gardens to explore and a rich history dating back over 1,000 years there will be plenty to keep you entertained!
10. Guiting Power
Guiting Power first came to my attention as I was walking the Diamond Way. I had just spent my first ever night wild camping and had woken up at the crack of dawn. It was a beautiful summer’s day and it seemed I was not alone in making the most of the early morning to get out and explore the Cotswolds. I arrived in the village after around 5 hours of walking to find a gathering of cyclists, all huddled around the Old Post Office Café. They were serving the most delicious cakes and I simply couldn’t resist indulging in one. Highly recommend it!
Guiting Power also has a wonderful pub, The Hollow Bottom, which serves great food and which also has a great selection of cakes!
Aside from these two eateries though, there isn’t much more to Guiting Power other than pure charm. To me it epitomises what the Cotswolds looks like in my mind. Villages that appear to have been carved directly out of the ground, every building in complete harmony with it’s surroundings.
If you are looking for something to do in the area, and especially if you are visiting with little ones, then I highly recommend the Cotswold Farm Park, Adam Henson’s farm. If you don’t know who Adam Henson is, then I suggest you watch an episode of BBC’s Countryfile where he presents a section on farming and conservation every Sunday.
The farm is home to a number of rare breeds and offers ample opportunities to interact with the animals and learn about farming. I haven’t been with little ones so didn’t pay much attention to the kids’ activities, however, I have heard that they have a lot to keep young ones entertained, including a farm safari, an adventure playground and even a maze!
Bonus must visit places in North Cotswolds
As the two most visited town in the Cotswolds I didn’t really want to include them in my list of hidden gems. At the same time though, I didn’t feel it would be right to write an article about the top 10 places to visit in North Cotswolds and not include Bibury and Burford. I do have an individual guide for each of those towns which I recommend you read if you are interested in visiting them.
If you are just looking for some quick facts however then here is all you need to know!
You have most likely have seen a photo of those houses before. They are synonymous not only with the Cotswolds but also with the UK. In fact, you might not know this, but they actually feature in the British Passport! Don’t believe me? Open your passport and see!
The famous Arlington Row of cottages was originally built in 1380 as a monastic wool store before then being converted into weavers’ cottages in the 17th century. They are the most photographed cottages in the UK! It also featured in the romcom “Stardust”, adding yet another Cotswold location to the long list of filming sets in the Cotswolds.
Aside from taking photos of Arlington Row the other two main attractions in Bibury are the Trout Farm and the Saxon Church.
Visiting Bibury comes with a warning. It will be busy! If you want to enjoy it in relative peace without a twirling Instagrammer taking up every possible shot and without the risk of selfie stick induced eye removal, I recommend you get there early or late!
Burford’s sloped high street is another famous landmark of the Cotswolds and a regular feature in most Cotswold related photographs. Both sides of the street is flanked by a long row of historical shops and houses leading down to the medieval bridge crossing the Windrush River. It also boasts an impressive church and the oldest pharmacy in England!
Burford is popular for it’s shopping, especially for those looking to buy or peruse antiques. It also has a wide array of restaurants and coffee shops. Huffkins comes highly recommended by friends who live in Burford.
Close to Burford you will also find the Cotswolds Safari Park, a very well run spacious park where you will be able to see everything from rhinos to zebras, wolves, monkeys and everything in between. The highlight though is always the giraffes as you get to stand up high where they will often wander over to say hello!
Best place to base yourself to explore North Cotswolds
Moreton in Marsh
As you will know from my “How to visit the Cotswolds by train” I live in Moreton and therefore I can hardly leave it out. Moreton has played a significant strategical role for centuries and as such enjoys a number of eateries and inns dating back to the 1700s. It has a lively market every Tuesday morning and is the perfect place from where to base yourself to explore everything the North Cotswolds has to offer.
All the towns and villages I mention in my top 10 are easily accessible from Moreton in Marsh. Furthermore, you have plenty of choices for places to stay as well as places to eat! In addition, the great thing about Moreton is that it isn’t as expensive as the likes of Bourton-on-the-Water or Burford which exist solely to cater for tourists these days.
A couple of little villages that are worth visiting from Moreton, but that aren’t quite big enough to make it into my top 10, are Chastleton, Batsford, Evenlode and Bourton on the Hill. Even better they are all accessible by bike or on foot. OK, on foot will depend how far you like to walk! Batsford and Bourton on the Hill are part of an easy 6 km loop and Evenlode 10 km. If walking to Chastleton then I’d recommend a stop off half way at the Greedy Goose pub as there and back is 20 km of beautiful rolling countryside (although it does pass through Evenlode so you can tick them both off!).
*At the time of writing this the Greedy Goose was closed for refurbishment so please do check it has re-opened before setting off there on foot!
So why take the time to hike/bike to these three little villages?
Considering Batsford’s population is less than 100, this tiny little hamlet packs a punch! On your stroll to Batsford you can expect to see a herd of deer grazing in front of the impressive Batsford House, a neo-Tudor mansion. Walk a little further and you will be able to marvel at the Batsford Stud foals chasing butterflies as their mothers’ graze greedily on the lush green grass. In autumn the road to Batsford village turns into an auburn tunnel as the tree lined lane comes alive in all shades of fiery red and orange. Even a little stroll through the village will leave you enchanted, like stepping straight out of a fairytale.
Bourton on the Hill
I find Bourton on the Hill incredibly charming. You are guaranteed to drive past it, but it’s likely you won’t get a chance to take it in since you will be too focused on the narrow lane. Instead, I recommend extending the Batsford loop to walk up the hill to the Horse and Groom pub where you will always be able to guarantee a warm welcome.
The grounds of the St Lawrence’s Church are a great spot from which to capture this lovely village.
There is something so special about Evenload. It really is postcard perfect with its spring blossoms, red phone box and wisteria covered honey brown thatched roof cottages. Whether you bike or walk here I am sure you will be charmed. If you have decided to walk to Chastleton then you will pass Evenlode following the Diamond Way. This path will take you through the most picturesque parts of the village before you start crossing farmland. You will eventually be presented with my dream home with its own little brook and helipad!
Consisting of not much more than a couple of houses it is the English Heritage property that steals the show in Chastleton: Chastleton House. Built in the 1600s this Jacobean house is a real treat. I have never been inside as it isn’t really my thing, but I do love walking up towards it or on one of the many paths that will lead you past it. One of my favourite routes involves following the Diamond Way there before then walking on toward the Greedy Goose pub where I always enjoy a nice drink and a bite to eat.
Are you ready to visit?
As you can see the Cotswold has so much to offer, and I haven’t even started talking about South Cotswolds! Most people only come for a weekend, but that really isn’t anywhere near long enough to do this beautiful area justice.
So please, if you are visiting, come for a week, bring your walking shoes, and really take the time to celebrate the beautiful countryside! If you are travelling to the area and want any advice then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Have a wonderful time exploring the place I call home.