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Best towns in the Cotswolds to visit

Posted: Thu, 2nd Mar 2023

Visiting the Cotswolds is a bucket list staycation with its honey-coloured stone cottages, sweeping countryside views and perfect Instagrammable locations, but it can be hard to narrow down where to visit. We’ve already taken you to our favourite villages, so we thought we’d showcase the best towns in the Cotswolds to visit too! With streets lined with quirky shops, historic churches, great spots for a pub lunch and museums full of interesting artefacts, you’re spoilt for choice.

Burford

Known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds, Burford is a great pick for starting your tour. The high street is appropriately named The Hill and you begin the climb from Burford Church by the River Windrush. It is worth popping in to see the stained-glass windows and medieval wall paintings. On your way towards the town centre you’ll pass tearooms, country pubs and antique shops that you could spend a whole day getting lost in. Take your time exploring the town as you wander past the Cotswold stone cottages and Georgian townhouses. Learn more about the history of this market town at the Tolsey Museum which is in the former black and white toll house where wool merchants used to meet. When you’ve left the high street, head a bit out of town to Burford Garden Centre. There is 15 acres of plants, books, art, tools, furniture, food, the list could go on! After picking your new favourite houseplant relax in the café with some cake.

Charlbury

This unspoilt Cotswold town has a fantastic sense of community with many festivals and events making it a buzzing location. Set on the side of the Evenlode Valley with the river running alongside, it is a sought-after town for weekends or longer breaks. Built from Cotswold stone, the town’s houses are full of character and there are some well-regarded pubs for evening meals. The biggest draw of Charlbury are its festivals with street fairs in summer, beer festivals and the Wilderness Festival held in nearby Cornbury Park. Circular walks are easily followed from the town with the Ditchley Park estate not too far away and there are fabulous cycling opportunities along the quiet country lanes.

Chipping Campden

At the centre of this honey-coloured stone town is the 400-year-old Market Hall where you can see how the paved floor has been worn away by all the traders passing through over the years. Standing here you look out to the traditional stone and black and white timber-clad buildings which make you feel as though you have travelled back in time. You are surrounded by teashops, artisan food stores and boutique shops. Chipping Campden is recognised as the centre for the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Cotswolds and it is worth visiting the Court Barn Museum to learn more. The Cotswold Way begins here and you can walk a section of it to visit Dover’s Hill where the Olimpick Games are held, a wonderfully weird combination of events including shin kicking and putting the shot. Feeling the burn of the hill climb you are rewarded with spectacular views across the town and beyond.

Chipping Norton

The bustling market town of Chipping Norton has a fantastic reputation amongst tourists. There is so much to see and do and it is in a great location for exploring other Cotswold hot spots. Locally known as ‘Chippy’ it still holds a regular market and is alive with shoppers and sellers. Just outside the town is Bliss Mill (which is now luxury flats), a historic tweed mill which dominates the landscape showing the history of this town. Nowadays Chipping Norton is a thriving hub with an inspiring theatre famous for its pantomimes and many options for eating out. It is a delight to walk the streets, stepping in and out of independent shops looking for hidden antique treasures.

cirencester

Cirencester

With a rich history, Cirencester was once the second largest town in the country and is known as the Capital of the Cotswolds. You can explore its history by visiting the Roman amphitheatre or the Corinium Museum which tells the town’s story. Wandering the streets you’ll pass the market square overlooked by the church of St. John Baptist which you can visit. There are regular markets and independent shops are scattered amongst galleries and award-winning restaurants. Cirencester is a must for history buffs and is a bustling town worth exploring for the Cotswold architecture and regular markets.

Malmesbury

Once home to the first King of England, Malmesbury is steeped in history, some of it being rather unexpected. The 12th century abbey is the main landmark in the town and is where a monk jumped off the roof with makeshift wings attached to his hands and feet. His flight attempt took him over 200 metres and he did live to tell the tale! In the abbey grounds you will however find the grave of a young woman who was the first person in Britain to be killed by a tiger, not what you would expect in a traditional Cotswold town. Surrounded by the River Avon, Malmesbury is a great base in the southern Cotswolds with farmers’ markets, quiet gardens and medieval streets.

Moreton-in-Marsh

Walking through Moreton-in-Marsh you can easily miss some of the more interesting buildings. The Bell Inn is said to have inspired the Prancing Pony in the Lord of the Rings, and just outside the town, the Four Shire Stone, marking the divide between Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, was the basis for the Three Farthing Stone. Just opposite, The Redesdale Hall in the centre of the town where antique and craft fairs are now held, is the rare Curfew Tower with a clock and bell which was rung daily until 1860. Within these historic surroundings regular markets are held, which are the largest open-air street markets in the Cotswolds. Moreton-in-Marsh is a well-located option for the host of attractions which are nearby. Within walking distance are Sezincote House, Batsford Arboretum and Bourton House Garden.

Painswick Rococo Garden

Painswick

St Mary’s Church in Painswick is well-known for its legendary yew trees, 99 stand in the churchyard and folklore tells that the devil himself would surface to pull out the 100th tree when planted. Just behind the church you can also see the old village stocks along one of the many quaint pale stone cottage-lined streets in this town. Just outside the centre lies Painswick Rococo Garden, the only surviving example of this style in the UK. It is a wonderfully planted garden which blooms with snowdrops at the start of the year and really can’t be missed during your Cotswold stay. This is one of the most picturesque towns in the area and it is surrounded by glorious countryside. Enjoy a walk up to the Iron Age hill fort at Painswick Beacon to take it all in.

Stow-on-the-Wold

At the centre of Stow-on-the-Wold you are surrounded by impressive Cotswold stone buildings, including the town hall which dominates the skyline. Within the green in market square are the old town stocks giving you a taste of this town’s past which has been quite bloodthirsty at times. Stow is located at the junction of six roads which made it a popular and convenient meeting place. It developed a reputation for having a number of inns and public houses and this is still true today, as it is a fantastic place to stay within easy reach of a number of Cotswold landmarks. Like many of the towns in the Cotswolds, you will find independent boutique shops and antique emporiums along the streets. Many of these streets are narrow and winding as Stow held major sheep markets and this arrangement made it easier for the sheep to be controlled and counted. Full of character, it is a sought-after Cotswold destination where you can stay in your own Cotswold stone cottage.

Tetbury

If you’ve ever felt like carrying a 65lb sack of wool up and down a Cotswold town’s hilly streets, then Tetbury is for you! Their famous Woolsack Races bring thousands of visitors to the town with entertainers, stalls and amusement rides. It is a reminder of the history of this wool town which can be seen at the market house once built for the sale of wool and yarn. One of the more impressive market halls in the Cotswolds, it was built in 1655 and is supported by rows of stone pillars leaving it open beneath. Tetbury’s streets are lined with weavers’ cottages in Cotswold stone and the old Victorian police station is now a museum. It is a lovely town to explore and there is a circular walk from the village which begins by following an old railway line and ends passing the church of St Mary.

Winchcombe

Home to the magnificent Sudeley Castle and Gardens, Winchcombe is a walkers’ paradise in a lovely setting. Sudeley Castle is the resting place of Katherine Parr and it is a beautiful place to visit. Surrounding the castle are award-winning gardens and several events are held here throughout the year. In Winchcombe you will find a fantastic range of independent shops and restaurants including options for a pub lunch and more gourmet evening meals. In 2021 the Winchcombe meteorite arrived, the oldest meteorite to land on Earth, which is now on display in the Natural History Museum in London after it hit a driveway in the town. Outside Winchcombe the Isbourne Way passes by, and the Winchcombe Way is a figure of eight route which is centred on the town which holds Walkers are Welcome status.

Cottages in Winchcombe

Read more: Best pubs in Stow-on-the-Wold

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