April 4, 2024

Destination: Cotswolds

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Visiting Bourton-on-the-Water: A Local’s Guide

Many visitors refer to the picturesque village as somewhere that wouldn’t be out of place in a whimsical storybook. With its quaint stone bridges, idyllic riverside setting, and honey-coloured cottages, Bourton-on-the-Water is often referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds.” 

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, this charming village offers a plethora of activities to suit every traveller’s taste.  

A typical residential street in Bourton-on-the-Water. Image: Benjamin Elliot, Unsplash

Where is Bourton-on-the-Water? 

Bourton-on-the-Water is located in Gloucestershire, England, nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds. The village itself is certainly among one of the most popular to visit and oozes that quintessential English charm. Geographically, Bourton-on-the-Water sits on the River Windrush and is about 4 miles southwest of Stow-on-the-Wold, another equally famous Cotswold village. The closest major city is Gloucester. 

Locals tip: The village is world renowned, and it gets very busy during the summer months especially at weekends and bank holidays. We recommend visiting anytime of year as Bourton-on-the-Water always has something to offer.  

If you do plan to come during the peak season, plan to stay overnight so you can wander during the light summer evenings and enjoy the peace and tranquillity early morning before the day visitors return.  

How to get to Bourton-on-the-Water 

The village is easily accessible by car and public transport, adding to the popularity of this destination for visitors exploring the Cotswolds area. 

There are several ways to get to Bourton-on-the-Water. 

Train and Bus

Moreton-in-Marsh is the nearest train station to Bourton-on-the-Water.  

From Moreton-in-Marsh, you can catch a bus operated by Pulhams Coaches or Stagecoach West to Bourton-on-the-Water. The bus journey takes approximately 10-15 minutes. 

Bourton-on-the-Water is well connected by train and bus from many English cities such as London, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester. Trains from Bristol and Manchester arrive at Cheltenham Spa station where you can catch an onward bus to Bourton-on-the-Water. Trains from London and Birmingham arrive at Moreton-in-Marsh where regular buses operate the short journey to Bourton-on-the-Water.  

London to Bourton-on-the-Water 

If the Cotswolds is your first destination after landing in the UK, then you’ll most likely be starting your journey from central London 

From the airport the Heathrow Express arrives straight into London Paddington. Helpfully this is where you can catch your onward train to Moreton-in-Marsh which will take approximately 1.5 hours. After arriving in Morton-in-Marsh there are regular buses to Bourton-on-the-Water.  

Rent a Car

If you prefer to drive, you can rent a car. Depending on where you are coming from this is a good option with Motorways across the UK connecting you to nearby Oxford before main A roads as take you on into the Cotswold area. The journey from London to Bourton-on-the-Water by car usually takes around 2 – 2.5 hours, depending on traffic conditions. 

The Slaughters Manor House Hotel just outside Bourton-on-the-Water is 4* establishment. Image: Active England

Top 6 things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water 

1. Riverside walks, bridges and shops

The best thing to do if it’s not too busy (choose early summer evenings or off-peak days) is to soak up the village charm on foot. You can enjoy leisurely walks along the riverbanks, crossing over the arched footbridges and admire the picturesque scenery. Take your own picture-perfect postcard against the  quaint riverside backdrop.   

Extend your walk to the charming High Street of Bourton-on-the-Water. Lined with quaint shops, tearooms, and galleries, making it a delightful area to explore. Browse for unique souvenirs, handmade crafts, and locally produced goods, or simply revel in the village atmosphere whilst enjoying a leisurely stroll. Flower-filled gardens and Union Jack bunting often adorn the shops and streets during the warmer months.  

Local’s Tip: Visit on the August Bank Holiday and take in the famous Bourton-on-the-Water football match. This 5-a-side match takes places in the River Windrush!

2. The Model Village 

The Model Village is a one-ninth-scale replica of Bourton-on-the-Water itself, showcasing the village as it appeared in the 1930s. Built of Cotswold stone it is the only grade II listed model village in England. Visitors can explore the intricate miniature buildings, bridges, and landmarks, all painstakingly recreated with meticulous detail. There is water flowing under the famous miniature bridges and music coming from the tiny model church. It’s a unique and charming way to experience the village’s architectural heritage. 

Local’s Tip:  Don’t miss the scale model of the scale model of the scale model. Confused? Don’t worry, we are too!

3. St Lawrence’s Church  

The Church of St Lawrence is set just behind the High Street. This peaceful spot to visit is built on the site of a Roman Temple and there has been a church on the site since 709 AD. The church interior was re-ordered in 2017 to make it suitable for the needs of a modern community. Despite this there is still fantastic historical aspects of the church to be enjoyed. From the Chancel that dates back to 1328 to the wonderfully detailed stain glassed windows and the decorated ceilings above the alter. The church is well worth a visit during a stroll around the village.  

Local’s Tip: Try to spend enough time at the church to hear the bells sound. See if you can see the strange bale tombs in the graveyard. Some say these capping stones represent the Wool bales which provided much of the wealth in this region.

4. Birdland Park and Gardens 

Birdland Park and Gardens is a must-visit attraction for nature lovers and families. Home to a diverse collection of exotic birds from around the world, including parrots, penguins, flamingos, and birds of prey, Birdland offers interactive experiences and daily feeding sessions. The tranquil gardens provide a scenic backdrop for leisurely strolls and picnics. It is a great experience for families or those seeking a peaceful walk amongst the nine acres of woodland and gardens.  

Local’s Tip: Plan this as an option to visit during the day whilst Bourton-on-the-Water is more crowded and return to the village once the day trippers have gone home. 

5. Cotswold Motoring Museum

Car enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Cotswold Motoring Museum, which showcases a remarkable collection of vintage vehicles dating back to the early 20th century. Located in The Old Mill, from classic cars and motorcycles to caravans and bicycles, this museum celebrates the golden age of motoring in style. 

Local’s Tip: Don’t forget to check out the fascinating memorabilia and period garages on display. 

6. The Cotswold Perfumery, Bourton-on-the-Water

Discover the art of fragrance at The Cotswold Perfumery, where you can explore a wide range of handmade perfumes, colognes, and skincare products. The Cotswold Perfumery offers 1 day course where you can design your own perfume. Learn about the history of perfume-making and the process of creating unique scents using natural ingredients.   

Local’s Tip: If you’re visiting for the day, read the advice from Master Perfumer John Stephen on how to choose a perfume and then visit the shop to purchase some exquisite scents for home fragrances.

Alternative things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water 

These alternative sights and activities offer a unique perspective on Bourton-on-the-Water and provide opportunities to delve deeper into the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty of the Cotswolds. 

1. Bloody Bourton Walking Tour 

If you’re fascinated by the natural world and ghost stories then the Bloody Bourton Walking Tour might be for you! This fun, quirky walk is lead by a guide dressed in full costume who will reveal village secrets and ghoulie tales. You’ll learn more about Bourton’s history whilst a cast of ghostly characters appear when you’re least suspecting. Tickets are available from Bourton Visitor Information Centre.  

Local’s Tip: If you have time to spend the night in Bourton-on-the-Water this is a fantastically unique way to spend the evening and learn unusual anecdotes about the village.

2. The Dragonfly Maze 

Another fun way to spend a couple of hours in Bourton is at the Dragonfly Maze. On the outskirts of the Bourton, this traditional English yew hedge maze is trickier than it looks! The aim is to make it to the centre of the maze Allow approximately an hour to complete, but if you get completely lost there are always staff on hand to point you in the right direction!  

Local’s Tip: Don’t forget the 14 questions to be answered along the way. You’ll need the answer in order to find the Golden Dragonfly. 

3. Walking trails near Bourton-on-the-Water 

The Cotswolds is a beautiful area to explore and you won’t be disappointed by any of the quaint villages you come across. So if Bourton-on-the-Water appears a little busier than you’d like, we recommend following some of the national footpath walks away from the village. These walks are particularly enjoyable if the weather is favourable. You’ll pass through meadows and follow the River Windrush through stunning English countryside.  

There are easy and relatively short walks to neighbouring villages of Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter. Both villages are lined with the quintessential honeycomb-coloured cottages and dainty streams running through them.  

Although it's been adjusted over the years this bridge in Lower Slaughter is a good example of a Clapper Bridge. Image: Active England

The walk to Lower Slaughter is just 1.3 miles each way. The slightly longer, 5.4 mile circular walk encompasses both Upper and Lower Slaughter, returning back to Bourton-on-the-Water passing through fields and along the river. Perfect to build up your appetite for a British afternoon tea and you’ll experience walking amongst the glorious English countryside. Alternatively, there are cycle routes throughout the Cotswolds, another great way to discover the area.   

Local’s Tip: Stow-on-the-Wold, another charming Cotswold gem is just 4 miles walk from Bourton-on-the-Water. If either village is busy, it is a great option to walk between the two and avoid any hassle with parking. You can catch the bus back to Bourton, and it is an ideal way to tick off two villages at once 

Where to stay in Bourton-on-the-Water 

The nature of Bourton being a small village means there isn’t an abundance of hotel options and there certainly aren’t any big chain options. Locally run bed and breakfasts and country inns are delightful options to rest your head but it is advisable to book in advance as accommodation gets booked up very quickly during the peak season. Here are our recommendations for where to stay in and around Bourton-on-the-Water.  

The Lansdowne Guest House

www.lansdownevilla.co.uk

A family-owned bed and breakfast with emphasis on the breakfast! Locally sourced eggs and freshly baked morning goods, guests are very well set up for a day exploring. With only 14 en-suite rooms, be sure to book early to avoid disappointment. This accommodation is adult only.  

Coombe House

A small guest house within walking distance from the village. Guests recommend this accommodation for its charm and welcoming hosts. With only 6 rooms it is on the smaller side of accommodation but offers comfortable, classic style bedrooms. This accommodation is adult only and does not accept pets.  

Chester House Hotel

This light and airy hotel is in the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water. With 22 bedrooms it is still cosy but nothing is too much trouble for the staff. Offering a variety of rooms to accommodate families and couples alike. The hotel can also arrange travel cots and baby monitors on request. As with all properties in Bourton, the rooms will sell out quickly in peak season.  
You won't be surprised to hear that The Dial House is a Grade II listed building. Image:Simon Godfrey, Unsplash

Dial House Hotel and Restaurant

dialhousehotel.com A boutique hotel right in the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water. A luxury stay awaits in a historic grade II listed hotel. 13 exquisitely designed rooms provide an elegant place to stay in the Cotswolds. This hotel also caters for families and couples with spacious rooms and en-suite bathrooms with all accommodation options. Complementary parking and breakfast is included for all hotel guests.  

Sunny Nest

Located on the outskirts of the village, approximately 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water this family-run Bed and Breakfast is a delightful place to stay. Immaculately presented rooms and facilities that look out over a well-kept garden and green fields beyond. It is a 5-bedroom, family-owned bed and breakfast run by a friendly, local host. Rooms are available for solo, couple and family occupancy.  

Where to eat in Bourton-on-the-Water 

Restaurant, pub or café? There are lots of options to ‘grab a bite’ within the village of Bourton-on-the-Water. With the village located in the heart of the Cotswolds, fantastic independent bakeries and tearooms offer mouthwatering cakes and scrumptious British Cream Teas.  

The aptly named Bakery on the Water is a firm favourite with locals and visitors. Known for its handmade bread, which is baked all day, grab a treat, and sit in their waterside garden for a quick break in sightseeing. Serving breakfast, lunch and classic cream teas, whatever the time of day, something is baking!  

The Riverside Café and The Den, also sit in the village and offer great lunchtime options including Vegan and gluten-free. If the weather is balmy, the Riverside Café also sells ice creams and of course, a classic cream tea can be enjoyed whatever the weather!  

Local’s Tip: If you’re visiting Bourton on the fourth Sunday of the month then you’ll catch the Bourton-on-the-Water Farmers’ and Producers’ Market in the Royal British Legion car park. Take home a tasty chutney, jam or selection of fresh meats and cheese from local suppliers 

With plenty of treats inside, it's difficult to choose fom BOTW's wonderful selection. If pushed, our favourite is the Chelsea Bun. Image: Simon Godfrey

Pubs and restaurants 

If you’re staying later into the evening, overnight or just fancy a bigger meal then there is a sprinkling of restaurants and classic British pubs to be found in Bourton-on-the-Water.  

The Mousetrap Inn is just out of the centre of Bourton but is a historic pub bursting with charm. If you’re looking to experience a classic British Pub, then this is it! We love this pub because it is proudly independent, using locally sourced produce and seasonal ingredients as part of its dishes. It is high-end pub food with a delightful atmosphere. 

The Willow pub is a former converted tearoom next to the Motor Museum in the centre of Bourton. A large beer garden where you can soak up the summer evenings next to the water provides an atmospheric place to relax after a day exploring the Cotswolds. 

To continue your quintessential Cotswold experience, look no further than the Rose Tree Restaurant. Set in a cosy grade II listed stone cottage with a garden on the banks of the River Windrush this restaurant provides the perfect setting for dinner. The family-run restaurant provides home-cooked food using fresh, seasonal ingredients which is great for the environment and the taste buds!  

Overall, Bourton-on-the-Water captivates visitors with its classic Cotswold charm, offering a perfect blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and leisurely pursuits.  

We would recommend spending time in the Cotswolds area and giving yourself flexibility to adjust your schedule according to weather and how busy the towns and villages are.  

Walking the Cotswold area always provides the opportunity to come across hidden gems, stunning views and ‘off the beaten track’ eateries to ensure you leave having had your own unique Cotswold experience.  

Fancy cycling through the Cotswolds? Check out our Cotswold guided bike tours.  

Experienced by

Sophie

Content Marketing Manager

Cotswold Tours

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