Imagine tiny villages of honey-colored limestone cottages, cobblestone streets, and ivy-covered manor houses from the middle ages. A countryside of green rolling hills dotted with sheep, yellow flower fields, ancient churches, and historic pubs. These are the Cotswold Villages: a magical place out of old literature, a fairytale, or a Thomas Kincade painting. Read on to learn what are the best places to visit and stay in the Cotswolds on a 3 day itinerary.
I’d never heard of this idyllic English countryside area until a couple years ago and decided if I every visited England, it had to be a part of my itinerary. FINALLY, after traveling to 30+ countries, I decided I should visit England. Not surprisingly, I fell in love with England, especially the little countryside Cotswold Villages. I’m a sucker for fairytale-like places. And if ever there was a concentrated cluster of fairytale villages, the Cotswolds are it.
I heavily researched the vast majority of villages in the Cotswolds, looking at pictures, analyzing Google maps, reading people’s blogs, and scouring hotel reviews. I narrowed it down to what I believe are the best Cotswold Villages to visit and which are the best places to stay in the Cotswolds with a 3 day itinerary. I could spend 3 weeks in the Cotswolds – heck, I could move there. But 3 days in the Cotswolds is a perfect introduction.
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- 1 Where are the Cotswolds?
- 2 Getting to the Cotswolds
- 3 Best Cotswold Villages to Stay or Visit
- 3.1 Burford
- 3.2 Stow-on-the-Wold
- 3.3 Chipping Camden
- 3.4 Broadway
- 3.5 Snowshill
- 3.6 The Slaughters
- 3.7 Bourton-on-the-Water
- 3.8 Bibury
- 3.9 Painswick
- 3.10 Cirencester
- 3.11 Castle Combe
- 4 Stops Along a Cotswolds Road Trip Itinerary
Where are the Cotswolds?
The Cotswolds have been designated an Area of Outstanding National Beauty since 1966 and their 787 square miles are the second largest protected area in England covering numerous counties (thanks Wikipedia). The history of this region goes way back, and in the Middle Ages the wool trade industry here was quite prosperous. The naturally abundant limestone rock is what characterizes the uniform look of all the quaint homes, churches, and manors throughout the Cotswolds.
The Cotswolds are just around a two hour drive from London. For someone used to a daily commute, the drive to the Cotswolds is nothing! The drive is fairly straight forward – that is, if you can get past sitting on the right, shifting on your left, and driving on the left. Roads are narrow, with negligible shoulders, people drive fast, and single lanes sneak up on you at the last second.
Here is a map of our route from London Heathrow, through the Cotswolds from north to south, to Bath, Stonehenge, and to the Gatwick Airport, where we departed for Inverness, Scotland. The entire loop is only around 6-7 hours drive time, so there is enough time for an itinerary of 3 days in the Cotswolds.
Getting to the Cotswolds
Transportation to and around the Cotswolds is somewhat limited. There are trains to a few villages and buses between others. If you don’t want to rent a car and drive, you can take advantage of the Discoverer One Day Pass for £10.50. Click HERE for more detailed information about public transportation options.
Yes, you can take an organized day tour to the Cotswolds. But don’t expect to cover many villages in one day.
To practically be able to explore all the best Cotswold villages on your itinerary and make the most of your time, the freedom of a car is invaluable! Renting a car is a heck of a lot cheaper than a day tour. I use Rentalcars.com because they are partnered with Booking.com, whom I love. The website is well laid out and easy to use. Plus, I’m an affiliate, so there’s that. Click the banner below to start renting your car for your self driven road trip of the Cotswold Villages!
Best Cotswold Villages to Stay or Visit
There are SO many great Cotswold Villages. Depending on how much time you have, there are dozens upon dozens of beautiful villages with reasons to visit each. It’s hard enough to narrow it down to where you’ll visit, let alone where you’ll stay.
With limited time, however, you have to narrow it down to the best Cotswold villages to visit, in our case, over 3 days. Personally, I believe it makes sense that the best Cotswold Villages to stay at are the most beautiful, postcard-worthy ones. We only had two nights and 3 days in the Cotswolds, but if you could get 3 nights in the Cotswolds, that would be optimal.
I will list the best Cotswold Villages to visit in order of our travel route for simplicity.
This is the first classic Cotswold village you arrive to if you are driving through the Cotswolds in the same direction (north to south) as we did, after passing Oxford. With one main bustling street and tons of adorable shops, this is a perfect Cotswold village for visiting for an hour or two, and maybe grabbing lunch.
There is also a beautiful church and cemetery.
The homes are absolutely stunning.
I would’ve considered staying in Burford overnight. It is super cute with plenty to see. But Stow-on-the-Wold was closer to other villages I wanted to visit that first day, like the Slaughters and Broadway, so it was a better base for us.
This is the village we chose to stay for the first night in the Cotswolds. Stow-on-the-Wold is a fantastic location close to many other villages such as Burford, Broadway, Bourton-on-the-Water, and Upper and Lower Slaughter (great names, right?). It’s also in the norther part of the Cotswolds, so it was very convenient to explore the northern villages from here, then explore the southern region on our second day while staying in Castle Combe.
Traffic in Stow-on-the-Wold can be pretty bad. The one road through town is pretty hectic, so leaving and coming from your hotel can be a bit time consuming. But the village is quite small and there is a good sized free parking lot right in the middle. Stow-in-the-Wold is a great place to stay because there are plenty of little shops and restaurants.
Where to Stay in Stow-on-the-Wold
We chose to stay here and absolutely LOVED it. The history nerd in me was swooning. The second I read that elements of the hotel date back to 947 AD and it’s considered Britain’s oldest inn, I was sold! The decor and unique quirky rooms are totally my style and the bar and restaurant is open to anyone.
Looking for something a little more luxurious with fewer squeaky floor boards from the middle ages? Crestow House is an English Countryside Manor House that doesn’t break the bank and the reviews are stellar!
Similar to the others, this hotel oozes historic English charm. It is right in town too.
Don’t forget about the awesome and unique opportunities presented by renting someone’s home or cottage. If you’re new to AirBnb, you can get up to $55 towards your first booking just by signing up to create an account HERE.
A beautiful village with a lovely High Street through town, Chipping Camden is a little bigger than some of the other villages. This would definitely be a great town to stay in and I’d put it at the top of my list of Cotswold Villages to stay for a future visit. Although I didn’t take any pictures of the village, trust me that it is stunning and there are plenty of places to stay.
Where to Stay in Chipping Camden
I didn’t stay in Chipping Camden, so I don’t have personal experience on my side. But if I were going to book a stay there today, I’d book these without hesitation!
If you want to stay in Snow White’s cottage, look no farther. Seriously the cutest cottages ever!
Broadway is another cute town, just about 20 minutes past Stow-on-the-Wold. Although I didn’t find the town as quaint and beautiful as others, it’s worth a visit. One of the most popular sites to visit is the Broadway Tower just a few minutes drive out of town.
Quiet, quaint, and unspoiled, Snowshill has beautiful views and is a lovely tiny village to drive through and make a pit stop. I didn’t get any pictures but wish I had.
These two tiny villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter are not as gruesome as they sound. The name actually comes from an old English term, “slough,” to describe wetlands, as they are built on the banks of a river – allegedly. Both villages are tiny and just a few miles from Stow-on-the-Wold. Because the roads are so narrow, you won’t see tour buses here and they are very quiet with only a couple hundred residents.
If getting away from tour buses and crowds is your goal, the Slaughters would be a perfect choice. There are some of the most incredible manors here. Definitely take some time to at least drive through these absolutely magical villages.
Where to Stay in the Slaughters
I didn’t stay in this lovely water-featuring village, but it would be on my list for a second visit. Sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Cotswolds, the river running through the village is quite lovely. Bourton-on-the-water is a bit larger than the others, which is probably what turned me off from staying there on a first visit, but in turn, that provides access to more amenities, restaurants, gas, etc.
Where to Stay in Bourton-on-the-Water
If I were going to stay in this adorable little town, I’d undoubtedly pick somewhere right along the river, or as close to it as possible. These hotels are closest, top rated, and adorable.
This totally adorable boutique style hotel is well priced and has excellent reviews (especially for location) with their own restaurant and outdoor dining.
Quaint style with its own bar and restaurant.
If you want the privacy of your own 3 bedroom home, this one is adorable and perfectly located according to the reviews.
In conclusion about Bourton-on-the-Water, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here on a second visit to get to know the village better. We only spent about an hour in the late afternoon walking up this lovely path along the river and saw so many cute businesses we wished were open.
One of the most famous (and subsequently touristy) villages in the Cotswolds is Bibury. Its picturesque lane is a quintessential Cotswold scene with swans swimming in the nearby creek. You can’t miss it as you’re driving by because there are dozens of cars and tour buses parked along the main road.
I personally probably wouldn’t stay in Bibury just because there was very little to do there aside from walk down the lovely street. But it wouldn’t be a bad spot to base yourself for convenience. The Swan Hotel is definitely the place to stay if you do.
Regrettably we didn’t make it to Painswick as it was a bit out of the way. But honestly it looks stunning, and perhaps being out of the way works in its favor. It appears beautiful from the photos I’ve seen and I would make an effort to visit next time for sure. I figured I’d list Painswick as one of the best Cotswold Villages to visit as I think it probably is. It’s unfortunate for me to have missed it.
If you like bigger towns and more shopping/dining options, Cirencester is your place. It has a much larger population than some of the other small villages and there are regular streets and traffic unlike some others Cotswold Villages. Not particularly what I was looking for on my visit to the Cotswolds, but this capital of the Cotswolds is actually totally beautiful and quaint if you find the right streets and alleys.
Hands down, my favorite village in the Cotswolds, and probably many other people’s too, Castle Combe is what dreams are made of. I mean, LOOK AT IT!
Castle Combe is definitely what I believe to be the best village to stay in the Cotswolds. Yes, you could stop and see it along your drive in about 15 minutes. It’s tiny! But to stay there, to walk the street in the early morning and in the evening, it’s just priceless. Also, it’s nice to sit for lunch and people watch. We watched a man come home from walking his three dogs and go into his perfect little cottage along the main street. It was as if someone actually lived at Disneyland – doesn’t seem possible to have a home that magical.
Not to mention, Castle Combe also has one of the greatest manor houses EVER. I can’t recommend an overnight stay in Castle Combe highly enough.
Where to Stay in Castle Combe
This is a no-brainer. The Manor House is amazing! Be prepared for a lot of pictures of this fairy tale manor house.
The grounds are expansive and perfectly manicured.
Then you pull up and see the stunning main house.
Inside, you can wander the different sitting rooms, bar, restaurant, etc. It’s all old world elegance. Many of the rooms are located here in the main house, others are located along this fabulous little street just near the Manor House, which is where we stayed. If you follow the magical path, it leads right to the center of town.
Understandably, the Manor House is not in everyone’s budget, or maybe you simply want to save money. The Castle Inn is lovely and right smack in the middle of the village. It has wonderful reviews and a restaurant perfect for sitting outside.
If you want your own private cottage and more privacy, this place has amazing reviews and is just a 5 minute trot up the road from the main part of town.
There is a place that is highly recommended to have high tea in Castle Combe. I missed it because it was closed, but definitely try to make it to The Old Rectory Tea Room. The desserts look amazing. Eat an extra cake for me, please!
If you want a Michelin star fine dining experience during your Cotswolds visit, make a reservation at the Manor House’s restaurant, The Bybrook. We had an amazing time and it was a culinary experience for the books!
Stops Along a Cotswolds Road Trip Itinerary
At the very beginning of your trip, if you have extra time, a stop in Oxford would be awesome. I’m telling you this not because I experienced it, but because I know it is a popular place to visit and have always heard wonderful things about Oxford. The University of Oxford would be a site to behold in and of itself.
Not technically the Cotswolds, Bath is a stunning city worthy of a stay all on its own at the end (or beginning) of your Cotswold journey. We hurried here from Castle Combe on the way back to the airport to visit the Roman Baths when they opened. I found the city stunning and fairly easy to navigate.
Do I actually recommend visiting Stonehenge?? I feel like I’m supposed to because it’s such a well known historical site. I mean, of course Stonehenge is a historically cool place and the marvel of it is intriguing, but it looks exactly like it does in the pictures. Worse, in fact. It’s a few tall standing rocks in a circle in an unimpressive giant field. We certainly were not going to pay for it. Instead, we found a gravel road that runs right behind the tourist site and parked for a few minutes. We came, we saw. Time to go. And maybe a guided tour would’ve changed my mind and I would’ve been blown away. But I’m thinking not.
That officially wraps up where to visit and stay in the Cotswold villages for a 3 day itinerary. I hope you can use this to plan a holiday to the Cotswolds and enjoy the magic like I did. I’m sure you’ll discover your own gems and experiences as well, which I’d love to hear about in the comments. Tell me which Cotswold Villages you enjoyed visiting the best!
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