When I was writing my list of the 15 prettiest Cotswold villages to visit, I grappled with the difficult decision of which beautiful village to put first. Bourton-on-the-Water has so much that makes it an absolute favourite, and it’s earned its place on the list without a shadow of a doubt. From the quirky quintessential English charm of the Bourton-on-the-Water model village to the welcoming pubs and shops. I highly recommend a visit to this central village in the Cotswolds.
For a village, Bourton-on-the-Water succeeds in retaining its slow-paced charm, with a sense that you’ve come to a totally unique place. It’s known affectionately as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ due to the wealth of bridges traversing the River Windrush which meanders through the village centre. Bourton-on-the-Water is a village which easily wins over your heart and quickly puts you in a relaxed mood.
This guide will explain everything you need to know when visiting Bourton-on-the-Water. From things to do and the best walks, to accommodation, restaurants and pubs.
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Bourton-on-the-Water – what you need to know
Five charming bridges span the tranquil River Windrush in the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water and the buildings are set back, showcasing the iconic Cotswolds golds of the region. It’s no surprise that this village is frequently voted one of the prettiest villages in England. For its size, it is packed with things to do and interesting things to see. But don’t underestimate how much you’ll simply want to unwind and relax here.
The village has a history dating back over 6,000 years, and is even mentioned in the Domesday Book. The character of the history is not all ancient though. A fascinating slice of living history in Bourton-in-the-Water is that every August Bank Holiday, the football team have match actually in the river! Kicking and splashing, the aim is to still score goals, and has been a tradition now for 100 years!
Where is Bourton-on-the-Water?
Bourton-on-the-Water is quite a central Cotswolds village. It is also central to the UK, making it relatively easy to get to from most places. For visitors to Gloucester and Cheltenham, it is one of the closest villages to tag on for a visit, but I urge you to spend at least one night in the village itself. The village is close to the A429, which makes it very easy to get to.
From central London, Bourton-on-the-Water can be reached in around 2 hours by car. You can also visit by train from Paddington to Kingham or Moreton-in-Marsh (both journeys take around 1.5-2 hours). From Kingham you would need to pre-order a taxi to take you on to Bourton-on-the-Water. From Moreton-in-Marsh, there is a bus which will take you to the village in 20 minutes.
What about Bourton-on-the-Water parking?
Many Cotswold villages, like Castle Combe, can be tricky for parking. Whilst some of these issues apply, and you should always be considerate to local residents, it is generally much easier to park in Bourton-on-the-Water. There are two large car parks open to anyone, both of which are pay and display. One is on Station Road and the other can be found on Rissington Road. You can easily walk to the centre of the village in just a few minutes from either of these car parks.
There is a small amount of parking in the village centre, but this is often full. There are some Blue Badge spaces within the village too, but the bulk of disabled parking in Bourton-on-the-Water is in Station Road car park.
You should be aware that coaches and motorhomes are very much not welcome in the village. You cannot enter via Lansdowne and must not travel down the High Street in these vehicles. Dedicated parking for both is available in the Station Road car park.
Many walks and cycle routes take you through Bourton-on-the-Water.
If you want a more leisurely experience of Bourton-on-the-Water, you may want to consider staying overnight. Many people fly through Bourton-on-the-Water just for a few hours. As a result, they miss the ambience that is found in the early morning and evening when the tourist numbers are lower and you can amble along the river without the hoards. There are also lots of options for places to stay in Bourton-on-the-Water, from self-catering and B&Bs to lovely hotels. Browse hotels in Bourton-on-the-Water or discover my top picks:
The Old New Inn
Comfort and luxury await in this iconic pub in the heart of the village. Once a coaching inn, The Old New Inn is where you’ll find the model village. As guests, you get to visit before the doors open to the public each day. With just eight bedrooms, expect a bespoke stay and you’ll be sure to enjoy the wonderful local menu.
Chester house Hotel
This 22 bedroom hotel is set away slightly from the river on Victoria Street which ensures a little more peace and quiet. The Chester House Hotel has got a contemporary feel with a dash of countryside chic.
Manor Close B&B
Stay in a classic Cotswold’s house right in the centre of the village at Manor Close B&B. The Victorian walled garden will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time. The rooms here are really airy and spacious.
There are a number of self-catering properties in the village and on its outskirts. Lots of areas of interest are within a short drive making Bourton-on-the-Water an ideal base for your Cotswolds holiday.
Where to eat
Bourton-on-the-Water has quite a range of pubs, restaurants, independent cafés and tea rooms, giving the village quite a convivial vibe. Your trip also wouldn’t be complete without experiencing afternoon tea in Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s a classic way to spend the afternoon in a historical English village.
From cafés to restaurants, here are the best places to eat in Bourton-on-the-Water:
L’Anatra Italian Kitchen
From the Chester House Hotel you can get delicious Italian fare including pizza, pasta, steak and seafood. The restaurant is bright and airy and you can’t quite beat their takeaway pizza enjoyed down by the river.
The Riverside Café
Looking over the river, in the heart of the village, is The Riverside Café. It’s worth a trip for a snack and a coffee as you watch the world go by.
Green & Pleasant
Green & Pleasant is another café serving up classic light bites and sandwiches.
Bakery on the Water
Bakery on the Water has a charming little riverside garden where you can enjoy food from the artisan bakery. You’re also able to nip into the café itself if the weather isn’t in your favour. Alternatively grab some delicious baked goods and make a picnic of it down by the river (hint: snaffle one of their sausage rolls!).
For classic and hearty pub fare but right on the river, enjoy a meal at the Kingsbridge pub. It’s undoubtedly one of the best pubs in Bourton-on-the-Water.
Smiths of Bourton
Looking for mammoth burgers and brilliant beers? Smiths of Bourton has your name on it. You’ll be missing out if you don’t enjoy a cocktail here too.
The Duke of Wellington
Another of the best restaurants in Bourton-on-the-Water is another pub: The Duke of Wellington. Family run and with a friendly atmosphere, this is a pub with a range of food options. Check out their sharing platters.
Best things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water
Bourton-on-the-Water is the perfect place to just stop, slow down, and take in your surroundings. I recommend reserving some time to chill out on the grass by the river and even dip your toes, especially in the summer months. Relaxing aside, here are the best things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water:
Just outside of Bourton-on-the-Water, and indeed one of the primary draws for people to this corner of the Cotswolds, is Birdland. Whatever you do though, don’t come and visit this famous attraction and miss out on the village itself!
Nonetheless, young and old alike will delight in the nine acres of woodlands and gardens given over to 130 different species of birds. Marvel at the flamingos, squawk like a parrot or be amazed by the King Penguins. The Jurassic Journey is a particularly popular trail with children and the Flamingo Café is a great place to refuel.
2. The Model Village
The Old New Inn is home to the Model Village which dates from the 1930s. This is a popular attraction which is a one-ninth scale replica of the village, created by a previous landlord in 1937. It’s a way to get a bird’s eye view of the whole village.
See if you can spot the model village itself or marvel at the singing church and the ambling waters of the river. If you’ve got time, within the model village you can view Miniature World. This is a remarkable display of detailed miniature scenes and room sets, some of which move. Incredibly, over 100 craftspeople were involved in its creation.
3. Dragonfly Maze
A charming activity to keep you amused is the wonderful Dragonfly Maze. Embark on your quest through the yew hedge solving 14 hidden clues and trying to locate the golden dragonfly at the centre.
4. Bourton-on-the-Water walks
Bourton-on-the-Water has a bustling heart but lots of different walking trails take in or pass near the village. The Bourton to Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter walk is particularly lovely and will see you make your way through a handful of Cotswold villages and countryside. The route is circular and just under seven miles. Plus, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of pubs to stop off at along the way!
5. Greystones Nature Reserve
Greystones Nature Reserve is wonderfully delightful and I particularly love their glorious wildflower meadows. Here you’ll also find a replica Iron Age roundhouse, Iron Age ramparts, a Discovery Barn (with its live camera feed to a Barn Owl box) and a working organic farm. Entrance is free, so what are you waiting for? The Greystones Courtyard Café is a relaxed place to enjoy afternoon tea in Bourton-on-the-Water.
Greystones is also great for Bourton-on-the-Water walks. You can pick up a map which shows you all of the different marked trails through the wildflower meadows. This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and if you come in May or early June you may even be treated to seeing some rare local orchids. Sit quietly by the river and you could just spot an otter or vole. Look up and you may even see a bird of prey silently circling.
6. Bourton-on-the-Water shops
It may be a village, but Bourton-on-the-Water is the perfect place for some interesting shopping. Cotswold China & Cookware is a popular boutique-style shop selling china, gifts and cookware with names such as Emma Bridgwater, Portmeirion and Yankee Candles. While Cotswold Pottery is a studio where you can have a go yourself. Cotswold Sheepskin and The Cotswold Perfumery are another couple of quirky shops worth your visit. Buy souvenirs at The Victorian Christmas Shop and finish off with a little something from Sweet Treats & Gifts.
7. The Cotswold Motoring Museum
One of the most-loved attractions of the Cotswolds, and certainly one of the must-do things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water is the Cotswold Motoring Museum. Found in The Old Mill, here you’ll find more than 40 classic cars and bikes, many of which are notably rare. Some even date back as far as the early 1900s.
The museum’s most-famous exhibit is Brum from the 1990s hit TV series. There are also all sorts of enamel signs to keep you curious as well as an eclectic range of motoring paraphernalia. You’ll enjoy seeing the replica garage which is like stepping back to the early days of motoring. There’s also the Paved Paradise Gallery showcasing 1960s and 1970s memorabilia, which is a must-see. Don’t forget to nip into the gift shop before you leave.
What else to do in Bourton-on-the-Water?
Bourton-in-the-Water is a beautiful village that encompasses all that the Cotswolds is. It can get quite busy with tourists, but try to get absorbed with the vibe. Alternatively, there’s something wonderful about visiting at Christmas time and you really can’t beat seeing the twinkling lights as carols are sung. A Christmas tree even gets planted right in the river!
Whenever you visit, you’re sure to love Bourton-on-the-Water and realise why it really is so often hailed as one of England’s prettiest villages. For other charming Cotswolds towns, discover gorgeous Stow-on-the-Wold or historic Castle Combe.
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