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Known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ due to the many bridges that cross the River Windrush as it flows through the village centre, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds, and its central location close to Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold and Burford make it the perfect addition to any itinerary. Explore what to see and do when visiting Bourton-on-the-Water with an insider’s guide to this charming village from our local expert Jessica.
With history dating back to 4000 BC, excavations at nearby Salmonsbury Camp show Bourton-on-the-Water was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the word ‘Bourton’ is of Saxon origin and means either ‘camp’ or ‘fortification’ – adding weight to the idea that it was once the site of an Iron Age camp or Neolithic village.
Much later, ancient coins and pottery pieces were discovered in the village itself, giving evidence of Roman occupation, and the A429 which runs alongside Bourton-on-the-Water actually follows part of the Fosse Way, the old Roman road which connected Exeter to Lincoln.
Centuries later the village retains its ancient charm. One eccentric tradition which is still popular with locals and tourists is the August Bank Holiday football game, which began 100 years ago.
Every August Bank Holiday Monday, the local football team plays directly in the River Windrush, simultaneously getting soaked and trying to score as many goals as possible!
Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water
There are things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water for all ages, but the village is particularly well suited for families with children. One of the most popular attractions is Birdland, situated on Rissington Road at the entrance of the village next to the large visitor car park. Home to over 130 bird species in nine acres of woodland and gardens, visitors can admire flamingos, emus, pelicans and parrots – and it’s the only place in the UK which breeds King Penguins.
A few metres away is the Dragonfly Maze, a fairly difficult hedge maze for adults and children. The aim is to get to the centre of the maze, along half a mile of winding pavement, but there are questions to be answered along the way in order to find the Golden Dragonfly at the end.
Another of Bourton-on-the-Water’s popular attractions is the Model Village located behind The Old New Inn. Opened in 1937, and created by an ex-landlord of the pub, the model village is a one-ninth scale replica of Bourton itself. Complete with the River Windrush, two churches, pubs, shops and more, the model village shows Bourton off in all its glory, albeit in miniature form!
If you enjoy long walks and want to get out of the busy village centre, there are a variety of hikes and walking trails around Bourton-on-the-Water. One of the most popular walking routes is the Bourton to Slaughters walk which takes in the nearby villages of Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter, passing fields, rolling hills and the River Eye along the way.
Both of these villages are great places to tick off your Cotswolds bucket list and this circular 6.8 mile/11km route will take approximately four hours – but it can be broken up by stopping for lunch at The Slaughters Inn in Upper Slaughter which is highly recommended.
Greystones Nature Reserve is another place to escape the crowds, and is a real hidden gem. Located on Greystones working farm, just 300 metres from Bourton’s main car park, the nature reserve is home to wildlife, wildflower meadows and a large lake. There’s also an interactive barn and a fascinating replica Iron Age roundhouse. The courtyard café with limited outdoor seating area serves drinks, snacks and ice creams and there are toilets on-site too.
If you’re a motor fan you’ll definitely want to head to the Cotswold Motoring Museum during your visit to Bourton-on-the-Water. Situated at The Old Mill, the museum is home to over 40 rare and classic cars and bikes, with the oldest dating back to the early 1900s.
The museum’s most famous exhibit is Brum – the bright yellow, self-driven car that was the star of the popular children’s TV series of the same name back in the 1990s. There are also various temporary exhibitions throughout the year, and a gift shop and toy collection.
Bourton-on-the-Water can get extremely busy and a little overwhelmed with tourists during peak season. So why not escape the summer crowds and head to the village during winter instead? It’s arguably the best time to visit, with quieter streets, less tourists and a Christmas tree planted firmly in the middle of the river which makes Bourton look even more beautiful than normal.
The annual Christmas lights switch-on usually takes place on the first Friday of December, where the village twinkles with fairy lights and carol singing can be heard. There’s also an appearance from Father Christmas and many little boutique stores are open for late-night shopping, making this festive event one of the highlights of the year in Bourton-on-the-Water.
Places to eat & drink in Bourton-on-the-Water
Bourton-on-the-Water has an abundance of places to eat and drink, including cosy pubs, cute tea-rooms and boutique restaurants, as well as a few takeaways too. L’Anatra Italian Kitchen, which is part of the Chester House Hotel, serves up authentic Italian food in a pretty restaurant setting – the pizzas here are amazing!
If you just fancy a light bite or a sweet treat, head to either The Riverside Café or Green & Pleasant, both of which serve up a range of hot and cold meals for lunches, delicious cakes and desserts and classic cream teas. Green & Pleasant also has a good range of vegan options.
During the summer months, the large green beside the river is full of people sitting down with friends and family enjoying picnics and ice creams. Situated slap bang in the middle of the village, it’s the best place to sit and watch the world go by. A number of takeaways surround the green, including Bakery on the Water which serves up some of the best sausage rolls in the village!
Prefer classic British pub grub for your evening meal? Head to the Old Manse Hotel Restaurant which offers a range of traditional meals from pies and burgers to fish and meat dishes, and occupies an enviable position on Victoria Street, directly opposite the river.
Where to stay in Bourton-on-the-Water
Tucked away on Victoria Street and set one road back from the river, Chester House Hotel* is right at the heart of the action whilst still offering some peace and quiet. The hotel has 22 en-suite bedrooms, decorated in contemporary country style. It also has a restaurant and bar as well as car parking, and is just a stone’s throw from the centre of the village.
For accommodation which is a little further out of town, The Lansdowne Guest House* offers 12 en-suite bedrooms and is a three-minute walk from the village centre – making it perfect for getting away from the hustle and bustle of Bourton during the peak summer months. There is free on-site parking and WiFi throughout.
Or if you prefer self-catering accommodation, there are several places to rent around the village. Feather Cottage is a two-bedroom, one bathroom property within a cluster of cottages which sleeps a family of four. Located just a few minutes walk from the river and village centre, this charming cottage features a cosy lounge/kitchen with woodburner and quiet courtyard garden.
How to get to Bourton-on-the-Water
By car: Bourton-on-the-Water lies on the A429 between Stow-on-the-Wold and Cirencester. There are two main car parks in the village, located on Station Road and Rissington Road, but in peak season spaces are extremely limited so other seasonal temporary car parks are available.
By public transport: Bourton’s nearest train stations are in Moreton-in-Marsh and Kingham, or there are more frequent services to Cheltenham. The 801 bus takes 20 minutes to reach Bourton from Moreton-in-Marsh or 45 minutes from Cheltenham. And the 802 connects with trains from London at Kingham and will take you to Bourton in just under an hour.
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