Nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds, there’s a village that is often referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds”. With its pretty stone bridges, idyllic riverside setting, and rich history, Bourton-on-the-Water is a must-visit destination.
Whether you’re looking for a quintessential English experience, just want to relax, or need an active vacation, there’s something for everyone in this charming village. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the best things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water, so you can make the most of your visit to this magical corner of England.
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- About Bourton-on-the-Water
- History of Bourton-on-the-Water
- Things to Do in Bourton-on-the-Water
- #1 See The Model Village
- Things to Do Near Bourton-on-the-Water
- What is the Best Time to Visit Bourton-on-the-Water?
- Can You Get to Bourton-on-the-Water by public transportation?
- How Long Should You Spend in Bourton-on-the-Water?
- Where to Stay in Bourton-on-the-Water
- Is Bourton-on-the-Water worth visiting?
- Tips for Visiting Bourton-on-the-Water
Bourton-on-the-Water is a picturesque village located in Gloucestershire, around 22 miles east of the city of Gloucester and 90 miles west of London. It is easily accessible via the A429 (Fosse Way), with clear signposting from the major routes in the area.
Bourton-on-the-Water is known for its natural beauty, with the River Windrush flowing through the center of the village. The a series of small stone bridges have earned the village the nickname “The Venice of the Cotswolds.” With the views and fresh air, its a perfect area to explore by foot or bike.
In addition to its breathtaking surroundings, Bourton-on-the-Water is home to several historic buildings and a range of tourist attractions, such as the Model Village, Birdland Park and Gardens, Cotswold Motoring Museum, and the Cotswold Brewing Company. Whether you are looking for a romantic break, a peaceful getaway, or an outdoor adventure, Bourton-on-the-Water has something for everyone.
History of Bourton-on-the-Water
Bourton-on-the-Water’s rich history dates back to Neolithic times, with evidence of uninterrupted habitation from that period to the Roman era. With the famous Roman road, Icknield Street, that connects Bourton-on-the-Water to Templeborough in South Yorkshire, the village had a strategic location.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Bourton-on-the-Water was a bustling trading center known for its production of wool and other agricultural goods. During the English Civil War, the village was a royalist stronghold and saw fighting in the area, with Charles I even visiting on several occasions.
In the mid-19th century, the arrival of the railway in nearby Cheltenham improved accessibility to Bourton-on-the-Water and cemented its status as a popular tourist destination. Today, this charming village continues to be one of the most popular places in the Cotswolds for visitors from all over the world.
Things to Do in Bourton-on-the-Water
Although the village may appear serene before the influx of summer crowds, there is never a dull moment in Bourton-on-the-Water. Allow me to suggest some of the top things to do during your visit.
#1 See The Model Village
The Bourton-on-the-Water Model Village is one of the most popular attractions in the Cotswolds for good reason. Built of Cotswold stone it is a one-ninth scale model of the actual village as it looked in the early 1930s includes around 100 buildings and even a model village within the model village.
It was built by the landlord of the New Inn, Mr C A Morris, to bring in more visitors. It opened in 1937 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of George VI. The construction of the model village was completed in 1940, and no significant changes to the architecture have been made since except to update shop logos and window displays to reflect the current occupants. In 2013, it became Grade II listed.
You can also visit the Exhibition of Miniatures, which includes highly detailed miniature scenes and room sets. There’s a separate £1 fee for entry which must be paid with a coin (they will give you change). Smaller coins are needed to see the displays in action.
If you want to grab a bite to eat, they have a newly refurbished restaurant. You can get 10% meals there with your admission to the model village.
While you could breeze through the model village in 15-20 minutes, you will want to allow at least an hour to truly appreciate the details that makes this attraction truly special. Take time to appreciate the carefully pruned-to-scale Alpine plants in the gardens, the choirs singing in each of the village’s two churches, and the tiny model of the Model Village itself.
Get more information here.
#2 Visit the Motoring Museum
If you’re a fan of vintage cars, nostalgic toys, antique enamel signs, and other automobile memorabilia, you won’t want to miss the Cotswold Motoring Museum. With its idyllic location in a converted mill building and a large collection that’s sure to delight all ages, a visit to the Cotswold Motoring Museum should be on your list when you go to Bourton-on-the-Water.
In 1959, Mike Cavanagh, a private collector, acquired his first 1929 Brooklands Riley for a mere £30, and over the next 20 years, he continued to collect vintage cars and memorabilia while living in South Africa. Upon his return to England in 1978, he was brought his entire collection and stumbled upon an opportunity to purchase the disused Old Mill in Bourton-on- the-Water. Cavanagh seized the chance and made the building his own, creating a unique space to showcase his beloved cars.
True automobile enthusiasts may want to spend a few hours exploring the museum’s extensive collection. However, if you have a passing interest in vintage cars and motoring history, an hour or two may be sufficient to get a good sense of the exhibits.
The museum is open every day from 10am to 6pm, and no booking is required – simply turn up and pay by card on the door. Get more information here.
#3 See the Five Stone Bridges
It’s easy to see why Bourton-on-the-Water is known as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” with the River Windrush and its cute stone bridges. Be sure to explore all five bridges, each with their unique charm and character.
Mill Bridge, located at the western end of the village green close to the war memorial, is the oldest bridge in Bourton-on-the-Water and was constructed in 1654. The village green is home to three other stone bridges: High Bridge (built in 1756) and Paynes Bridge (built in 1776 for a road) are situated in the center of the green, while New Bridge (built in 1911 for pedestrians) is located near Paynes Bridge. The Coronation Footbridge, constructed in 1953, is opposite the Old New Inn and replaced a wooden bridge dating back to 1750.
#4 Visit St. Lawrence Church
St. Lawrence Church is one of the most iconic buildings in Bourton-on-the-Water because of its unique blend of architectural styles. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the current Grade II listed church is a mix of a 14th-century chancel, Victorian nave, and Georgian tower.
It’s worth stepping inside to see the beautifully painted chancel ceiling, 15th-century font, and an ornate oak screen. Despite its rich history, the church feels quite modern inside with white walls, stained-glass windows, and wooden pews.
Also, take a walk through the churchyard where you can see some typical Cotswold bale tombs, carved to resemble bales of wool.
#5 Visit Birdland Park & Gardens
You can see over 500 different birds from around the world, including penguins, flamingos, parrots, owls, and birds of prey at Birdland. The park has several enclosures, aviaries, and habitats where you can see the birds up close. They also have feeding and handling sessions, a nature trail, a Jurassic Journey exhibition, and a gift shop. Their café is currently closed while they design and build a new one but hot drinks are still available.
Birdland is wheelchair accessible and has disabled parking spaces. Assistance dogs are also welcome in the park.
Admission price and opening hours vary by season. Find out more here.
#6 Relax at one of the Pubs
Bourton-on-the-Water is home to several quaint and historic pubs, each with a distinct ambiance that reflects the village’s unique character. These pubs not only offer delicious food and drink but also provide an opportunity to relax and take in the serene surroundings. Many of these pubs have outdoor riverside seating areas, allowing visitors to soak up the village’s natural beauty while enjoying a local ale or hearty meal.
Among the most popular pubs in Bourton-on-the-Water are The Mousetrap Inn, Kingsbridge, and The Duke of Wellington. Whether you’re looking for a quiet afternoon pint or a lively evening with friends, these quaint establishments offer something for everyone.
#7 Go For a Walk
Bourton-on-the-Water is surrounded by the rolling hills and serene countryside of the Cotswolds, making it a perfect destination for those who enjoy walking and hiking. Here are several scenic walks that can be done from the village.
Bourton-on-the-Water to Upper Slaughter Walk: This 3-mile circular walk takes you through some of the most picturesque villages in the area, including Upper and Lower Slaughter. Along the way, you’ll see historic churches, thatched cottages, and plenty of lovely countryside.
The Windrush Way: Experience the beauty of nature on this moderately challenging 13.5-mile trail that runs from Bourton-on-the-Water to Winchcombe. This long walk offers a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the outdoors and explore the serene scenery of the surrounding countryside.
The Heart of England Way: Discover the picture-perfect scenery of the English countryside on this 100-mile trail that stretches from Milford Common on Cannock Chase to Bourton-on-the-Water. For a more manageable hike, consider walking the final section from Bourton-on-the-Water to Chipping Campden, which covers approximately 14 miles. Be sure to check out the route map here to plan your journey.
#8 Have a Cream or Afternoon Tea
A cream tea is a British tradition that typically consists of a pot of tea, warm scones, clotted cream, and jam. This simple but delicious combination has been enjoyed in the UK for centuries, but if you want something more filling you can opt for afternoon tea which also includes sandwiches and other treats.
The village’s quaint tea rooms and cafes like The Chestnut Tree, The Croft, or Bakery on the Water, offer a perfect setting to indulge in a cream or afternoon tea, often served on vintage china in a cozy atmosphere. Whether you’re looking for a midday snack or a sweet treat after exploring the village, this is the perfect way to enjoy a bit of the local culture and cuisine.
Things to Do Near Bourton-on-the-Water
Once you’ve had your fill of this enchanting village, there are a few places nearby that you need to check out.
The Slaughters, consisting of Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter, are two of the most picturesque villages in the region. Both villages boast a treasure trove of heritage buildings dating back to the 17th century, which provide a glimpse into the area’s rich history and cultural significance.
Take a leisurely stroll along the River Eye and soak up the stunning countryside views, or explore the charming stone cottages and traditional architecture that line the village streets. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in local cuisine at cozy cafes, traditional pubs, and fine-dining restaurants. For history enthusiasts, the Old Mill Museum and St. Mary’s Church in Lower Slaughter are must-see attractions that offer an insight into the area’s fascinating past.
The Old Prison
The Old Prison is a family-friendly museum that offers a unique and immersive experience of 19th-century prison life. Explore the prison cells, punishment cells, exercise yards, and courtroom to learn about the punishments inflicted on prisoners and the reforms that led to the eventual closure of the prison.
Don’t miss the Rural Life Collection, a fascinating exhibit located in sheds built on the former exercise yard, featuring a replica Wheelwright’s workshop and a working Blacksmith’s forge. Plus, you can also see agricultural wagons and artifacts from The Lloyd-Baker Collection.
Admission to the museum is free, and there’s a gift shop and cafe to visit as well.
Stow-on-the-Wold is a delightful market town full of history, natural beauty, and modern conveniences. With its picturesque stone houses, bustling market square, and quaint shops and cafes, the town exudes a warm and welcoming atmosphere that will make you feel right at home. It’s ancient yew tree door inspired Doors of Durin in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Whether you’re interested in exploring the town’s rich heritage and winding streets or hiking in the surrounding countryside, you will enjoy your visit to Stow-on-the-Wold.
Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, is the only country house in the UK to hold the title of palace, and the sole historic home to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With the extensive grounds created by Capability Brown, a tour of the house, and more, a visit to Blenheim Palace is a full-day adventure. For more information on how to make the most of your trip, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide to visiting Blenheim Palace.
What is the Best Time to Visit Bourton-on-the-Water?
If you are trying to figure out when to visit Bourton-on-the-Water, think about the type of weather you prefer and what you want to see and do while you are there. There is no one “best” time to visit because there is something to enjoy in every season.
Those that enjoy warm weather and outdoor activities might want to come in the summer months (June-August). The village and countryside are fun to explore in the sunshine, but be prepared for higher prices and larger crowds during this time.
If you prefer a quieter and more peaceful experience, you may want to visit during the shoulder seasons of spring (March-May) or fall (September-November). The crowds are smaller and you can see spring flowers or autumn foliage. The weather may be cooler, but there are still plenty of indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy.
Winter (December-February) can also be a wonderful time to visit Bourton-on-the-Water, especially during the festive season. The village is decked out in Christmas decorations (including a Christmas Tree in the river!), and there are plenty of cozy pubs and tea rooms to enjoy a warm drink or traditional Christmas meal. Just keep in mind some attractions may have limited opening hours during the winter months.
Can You Get to Bourton-on-the-Water by public transportation?
Yes. The nearest rail stations to Bourton-on-the-Water are Moreton-in-Marsh and Kingham, which are both served by regular trains from London Paddington, Reading, Oxford, and other major cities. From the train station, you can take a local bus or a taxi to reach the village.
You can get to Bourton-on-the-Water by bus from Cheltenham, Gloucester, and other nearby towns and villages.
Alternatively, there are some guided tours from both London and Oxford that include a visit to Bourton-on-the-Water. Check out the different options here.
How Long Should You Spend in Bourton-on-the-Water?
How long you should stay in Bourton-on-the-Water depends on your interests and schedule. If you’re short on time, a few hours are enough to see the highlights, like strolling around the charming bridges and river, visiting the Model Village, and trying local food and drinks. However, to fully explore the village and its countryside, plan on spending at least a full day or two.
Where to Stay in Bourton-on-the-Water
If you choose to stay in a hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water, you can fully immerse yourself in the timeless atmosphere of the village. It will give you more time to visit some of the local attractions and you will be well-situated to explore more of the Cotswolds.
The Lansdowne Guest House
The Lansdowne Guest House is a charming accommodation option in the heart of Bourton-on-the-Water. With its convenient location and comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, it’s the perfect base for exploring the village and its surroundings. The friendly staff, delicious breakfasts, free parking, and lovely garden make this guest house a top choice for travelers.
Read reviews of the Lansdowne Guest House here.
Check price and availability of the Lansdowne Guest House here.
Chester House Hotel
If you’re searching for a luxurious stay in the heart of Bourton-on-the-Water, the Chester House Hotel is an excellent choice. The hotel features elegant and stylish decor throughout, providing guests with a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. The rooms are en suite and equipped with tea and coffee making facilities, so guests can enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee at their leisure.
The hotel also offers family rooms, making it a great option for those traveling with children. With top-notch amenities including free parking and an onsite Italian restaurant, guests have everything they need for a comfortable and enjoyable stay. The hotel’s prime location just steps from the River Windrush provides easy access to the village’s charming attractions, cafes, and shops.
Read reviews of the Chester House Hotel here.
Check price and availability of the Chester House Hotel here.
You can find more options for places to stay in Bourton-on-the-Water here.
Is Bourton-on-the-Water worth visiting?
Absolutely! Bourton-on-the-Water could easily be my favorite Cotswold village. It’s just as pretty as Castle Combe but has more things to do. From the architecture and tranquil river to the Model Village, Birdland Park and Gardens, and St. Lawrence Church, the village has plenty of attractions to explore. It’s easy to see why this village is so popular with tourists.
Have you been to Bourton-on-the-Water?
If you enjoy places like Bourton-on-the-Water, also check out our guides to Tetbury and Painswick.
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Tips for Visiting Bourton-on-the-Water
- If you want to avoid the crowds go early in the day or avoid the peak travel season.
- Don’t forget your camera. There are plenty of photo opportunities in Bourton-on-the-Water.
- The Model Village is definitely a must-see, you will love it!
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Last Updated on March 7, 2023