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Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds: A local’s guide

With its stone bridges across the River Windrush, overhanging willow trees, village green and historic stone cottages, it’s no wonder that Bourton-on-the-Water tops lists of the prettiest villages in England and is one of the most popular destinations in the Cotswolds. So discover the best things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water with this guide from our local expert Jessica, who shows us what there is to do as well as the top places to eat, drink and stay in the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’.

Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds: A local’s guide
Picturesque Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water’s history

Bourton-on-the-Water’s history dates back to 4000 BC, with remains of Neolithic pottery found outside the village and excavations at nearby Salmonsbury Camp showing evidence of occupation from the Neolithic period through the Bronze and Iron Ages. Iron Age currency bars (which were exchanged for goods) have been uncovered locally and are now in the British Museum.

The word ‘Bourton’ is of Saxon origin and is made up of two words – ‘burgh’ which means camp or fortification, and ‘ton’ which means village or settlement.

Village sign in Bourton-on-the-Water
Village sign

The A429 on the edge of the village follows part of the Fosse Way, the old Roman road which connected Exeter to Lincoln. Bourton was an important strategic point for the Romans as a crossing over the River Windrush (which was a lot wider and deeper then than it is now) so they built a settlement in the west of the village, where Roman coins and pottery have been unearthed.

In the 17th century the river was diverted through the centre of the village to power three mills – one of which is now home to the Motor Museum. Many of Bourton’s stone cottages were built during the 17th and 18th centuries. And from 1862 until 1962 there was a train service from Cheltenham to Oxford which stopped in Bourton, helping turn it into the tourist hotspot it is today.

The River Windrush in Bourton-on-the-Water
The River Windrush

The best time to visit Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water is busy year-round, but the July/August summer holidays are peak season when it can be unbearably busy. If you are visiting in the summer try to get there before 10am or after 5pm things when quieten down as many people just come to Bourton for the day.

And look out for the traditional August Bank Holiday football match, a 100-year-old tradition where the local football team play a game right in the middle of the River Windrush!

Early morning in Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds
Early morning in Bourton

Spring and autumn are good times to visit Bourton-on-the-Water, with colourful spring blossoms and autumn leaves. The village can still be very busy at weekends but is quieter on weekdays. The weather in the Cotswolds can be changeable though so bring a raincoat or umbrella.

Bourton is also lovely around Christmas, when the Christmas tree planted in the middle of the river makes the village look even more beautiful than normal. The village’s annual Christmas lights switch-on usually takes place on the first Friday of December, with twinkling lights reflected in the water, carol singing, late-night shopping and a special appearance from Father Christmas.

Spring blossom in Bourton-on-the-Water
Spring blossom in Bourton

Map of Bourton-on-the-Water

Map of things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water
Click on the map to open an interactive Google Maps version

Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water

The River Windrush

The River Windrush runs right through the heart of Bourton-on-the-Water and is crossed over by five stone bridges. The oldest is the Mill Bridge next to the war memorial and Motor Museum which was built in 1654. Then there’s the High Bridge dating from 1756, the Paynes Bridge from 1776, the New Bridge from 1911 and the even newer Coronation Footbridge from 1953.

The River Windrush is a tributary of the Thames, which starts near Winchcombe and joins the Thames at Newbridge in Oxfordshire. The village green on the riverbank is a popular spot for a picnic while you watch the ducks – or cool your feet off in the water on a hot day.

The River Windrush and Bourton's village green
Bourton’s village green

The Model Village

Feel like a giant by exploring Bourton-on-the-Water in miniature at the Model Village (entry £4.50 adults, £4 seniors, £3.50 under 13s). This is an exact replica of the village at one-ninth scale and is the country’s only Grade II-listed model village. It features everything from Bourton’s shops, pubs and houses to its two churches and tiny trees and bridges across the River Windrush.

The model village is located behind The Old New Inn on Rissington Road, and was created by a former landlord of the pub in the 1930s. It took over five years to build, with the help of local craftsmen who used Cotswold stone and slate to make each building as authentic as possible.

It’s kept up to date when new shops open, and even has its own one-ninth scale model village – with its own even smaller model village. There’s also a model landscapes display and a small museum where you can learn about model-making skills and the model village’s history.

Shops in Bourton-on-the-Water in miniature at the Model Village
Tiny shops at the Model Village

The Cotswold Motoring Museum

If you’re a car fan, you won’t want to miss the Cotswold Motoring Museum when you visit Bourton-on-the-Water (entry £8.50 adults, £5.75 children 5–16). Located in The Old Mill, the museum is home to over 50 rare and classic cars and bikes, with the oldest dating to the early 1900s.

The museum’s seven galleries are packed to the rafters with vintage motor memorabilia, and there’s also a collection of toys and games to bring back childhood memories. The most famous exhibit though 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, with a mini Brum for kids to ride on.

A vintage Riley in the Cotswold Motoring Museum, one of the top things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water
A vintage Riley in the Motor Museum

The Cotswold Perfumery

The Cotswold Perfumery has been blending fragrances for over 50 years and sells its range of luxurious perfumes from its shop on Victoria Street in Bourton. The Grade II-listed historic building is over 300 years old, with plenty of character from its oak beams and crooked floors.

Perfume-maker John Stephen has created perfumes for clients around the world – including the late Queen Elizabeth II. And if you want to learn some of his skills you can sign up for a one-day perfume-making course, which teaches you how to create and blend your own fragrance.

The Cotswold Perfumery in Bourton-on-the-Water
The Cotswold Perfumery

Birdland Park & Gardens

One of the most popular things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water for families is Birdland, located on Rissington Road at the entrance of the village (entry £13.95 adults, £12.95 students/seniors, £10.50 children 3–15). The park has over 500 birds in its nine acres of woodland and gardens.

Among them are flamingos, emus, pelicans, owls and parrots – and it’s the only place in the UK which breeds King Penguins. There’s also the Jurassic Journey section with its life-sized dinosaur models. You can watch the birds being fed and listen to talks from the keepers about the different species, and there are also indoor and outdoor playgrounds to keep younger kids occupied.

Colourful flamingos at Birdland
Colourful flamingos

The Dragonfly Maze

Just along the road from Birdland is the Dragonfly Maze (entry £4.50 adults, £4 seniors, £3.50 children 4–14, and dogs are welcome), a traditional English yew hedge maze. It might not be huge but it’s more difficult than it looks, and it’s easy to get disoriented and lose your way.

The aim is to get to the centre of the maze, along half a mile of winding gravel pathway. But there are also 14 questions to be answered along the way in order to find the Golden Dragonfly at the end. It normally takes around 20–50 minutes to reach the centre of the maze – but don’t worry, the maze’s staff are always on hand to point you in the right direction if you get completely lost.

Hedge maze
Try not to get lost…

St Lawrence’s Church

The Church of St Lawrence is set just behind the High Street and is a peaceful spot to visit. It’s built on the site of a Roman Temple, but the first church on this site was a Saxon one which was built from wood in the 8th century. A Normal stone church came later in 1110, and the church you see today combines a 14th-century chancel, Victorian nave and Georgian tower.

Look out for the unusual domed roof on the clock tower and the painted ceilings in the chancel inside. And in the graveyard you can see some traditional Cotswold bale tombs. These are a type of chest tomb with a carved top made to resemble bales of wool. They were often used on the graves of wool merchants in the late 17th century and can be seen in several Cotswold churches.

The Church of St Lawrence in Bourton-on-the-Water
The Church of St Lawrence in Bourton

Greystones Farm Nature Reserve

If you want to escape the crowds, Greystones Farm Nature Reserve is a real hidden gem that’s only a 10-minute walk from the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water and is free to visit. Located on a working organic farm, the nature reserve is a great place for birds and wildlife – you can sometimes spot otters and water voles along the Eye and Dikler, two of the Cotswolds’ smallest rivers.

Greystones also includes the site of Salmonsbury Camp, which was an important Neolithic and Iron Age meeting point. Take a walk through peaceful wildflower meadows along the Wildlife Walk or Time-Travel Trail, visit the interactive barn or explore the replica Iron Age roundhouse. There’s also a café on site which serves drinks, snacks and ice creams. Dogs are welcome on leads.

Greystones Farm Nature Reserve –Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds
The River Eye in Greystones Farm Nature Reserve

Bloody Bourton walking tour

One of quirkiest things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water is to take a Bloody Bourton Walking Tour after dark (departs at 7pm on Fridays and Saturday evenings, adults £10, seniors £5, children under 12 £4 – tickets are available from the Visitor Centre on Victoria Street).

These two-hour spooky tours are led by guide Edward Charnel – dressed in full costume – who reveals the village’s secrets. You’ll be introduced to its ghostly residents as well as a cast of fairies, witches, priests and murderers as you learn more about Bourton’s darker history.

The Old Manse pub in Bourton-on-the-Water by night
Bourton by night

Walks from Bourton-on-the-Water

Another way to escape the crowds is to head out into the countryside surrounding Bourton-on-the-Water, with a variety of great walks to choose from. One of the most popular is the Bourton to the Slaughters walk, a 5.4-mile circular walk which visits the nearby villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter, running across fields and along stretches of the River Windrush and River Eye.

The route takes two–three hours, but you can also do a shorter version of the walk which just goes to Lower Slaughter and back (1.5 miles each way). Or you could walk one way between Bourton and Stow-on-the-Wold via Lower Slaughter (4.2 miles) and then catch the bus back.

The Cotswold villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter
Upper and Lower Slaughter

Or head east of Bourton on the 4.6-mile/7.4km circular walk to the neighbouring village of Wyck Rissington – where you can see the church where a teenage Gustav Holst played the organ. The route runs through Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, past an old mill and lakes.

And if you fancy a bigger challenge, Bourton-on-the-Water is also on the route of several long-distance walks including the Wardens and Windrush Ways from Bourton to Winchcombe (14 miles each), the Diamond Way circular walk (66 miles), the Oxfordshire Way from Bourton to Henley-on-Thames (67 miles) and the Monarch’s Way from Worcester to Shoreham (589 miles).

Read more: 8 scenic Cotswold walks from Bourton-on-the-Water

Walks from Bourton-on-the-Water
Walks from Bourton

Things to do near Bourton-on-the-Water

As well as exploring Bourton, there are lots more things to do in this part of the Cotswolds. Stow-on-the-Wold is only four miles away with its historic Market Square, St Edward’s Church and antique shops. And picturesque Upper and Lower Slaughter are even closer (1.5 miles).

Families can visit Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park (5 miles) to meet their rare breed animals, see farm demonstrations and take part in feeding and petting sessions. Or kids aged eight and over can try out electric quad biking at QuadQuest on the Notgrove Estate (4 miles).

Also within easy reach of Bourton-on-the-Water are the National Trust sites at Lodge Park and Sherborne Estate (6.5 miles) and Chedworth Roman Villa (9.5 miles). And garden fans can visit Sezincote House, Bourton House Garden or Batsford Arboretum (10 miles).

Chedworth Roman Villa, one of the things to do near Bourton-on-the-Water
Chedworth Roman Villa

Places to eat in Bourton-on-the-Water

Cafés and delis

The photogenic Bakery on the Water is known for its bread, made using a long fermentation time to develop the flavour and give it a crunchy crust. And they also make freshly baked scones, pastries, cakes and quiches – plus some of the best sausage rolls around. You can grab a takeaway, pick up a picnic basket to eat by the waterside, or eat in at their café or in the riverside garden.

If you fancy a lunchtime light bite or sweet treat, head to The Riverside Café or The Den, both located where the High Street meets Rissington Road. The Den is a takeaway selling baguettes and cakes, with a good range of vegan and gluten-free options. And the Riverside Café offers a range of hot and cold meals for lunch as well as delicious cakes, ice creams and classic cream teas.

And if you’re visiting Bourton on the last Sunday of the month, don’t miss the Bourton-on-the-Water Farmers’ & Producers’ Market. It’s held in the Royal British Legion car park and you can buy oils, chutney, jams, bread, cheese and meat direct from local producers.

Vintage bike outside the Bakery on the Water
Bike at the Bakery on the Water


Bourton’s newest pub is The Willow, whose owners Fullers have converted former tea room next to the Motor Museum into a stylish waterside pub. There’s a big beer garden where you can soak up the sun, and a menu of traditional pub dishes and lighter salads and charcuterie platters.

The Mousetrap Inn is just out of the centre of Bourton so has a bit more of a local feel. This historic pub is bursting with charm but still feels light and bright, with a range of local ales. The menu features high-end pub food using seasonal ingredients, with dishes like braised ox cheek or white bean cassoulet – and they serve a great Sunday lunch (though do book ahead).

Bourton also has its own brewery on the edge of town. Hawkstone Brewery is part-owned by Jeremy Clarkson and produces a range of craft beers and cider. You can give them a try in their taproom, The Hawkstone Arms, which is open daily from lunchtime to early evening.

Read more: The best pubs in Bourton-on-the-Water

The Willow pub in Bourton-on-the-Water
The Willow pub


L’Anatra (which translates as ‘the duck’, appropriately enough for Bourton) is an Italian restaurant which is part of the Chester House Hotel. It’s best known for its delicious stone-baked pizzas, but they also serve other Italian classics like spaghetti carbonara and risotto, along with a selection of Italian wines. And make sure to leave room for a bowl of their creamy tiramisu.

The Rose Tree Restaurant is set in a cosy Grade II-listed stone cottage with a garden on the banks of the River Windrush. It’s run by a husband and wife team who’ve created a menu which features British dishes with a twist, like braised lamb shank and a roasted vegetable and Stilton lasagne. There’s a good range of gluten-free and vegetarian options available too.

Or for something more casual, Smiths of Bourton specialise in burgers, made using their dry-aged meat patties (vegan and chicken versions are available too) with Cajun or Philly cheese fries, alongside sides like mac and cheese or smoky beans, as well as shakes, sundaes and cocktails.

The Rose Tree restaurant – places to eat in Bourton-on-the-Water
The Rose Tree Restaurant

Where to stay in Bourton-on-the-Water

Tucked away on Victoria Street one road back from the river, Chester House Hotel* is just a stone’s throw from the centre of the village. This Victorian hotel building has 22 en-suite bedrooms, which are decorated in contemporary country style. Dogs are welcome in their ground-floor coach house rooms. The hotel also has an Italian restaurant and bar as well as car parking.

The Lansdowne Guest House* is a five-minute walk from the village centre – making it perfect for getting away from the hustle and bustle of Bourton during the summer months. It has has 14 en-suite bedrooms, on-site parking, a free minibar and has won awards for its breakfasts.

The Chester House Hotel and L'Anatra restaurant in Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds
The Chester House Hotel and L’Anatra restaurant

If you prefer self-catering accommodation, there are several places to rent around the village. Forsythia Cottage* is a traditional honey-coloured stone cottage tucked just off Bourton’s High Street. It sleeps three in double and single bedrooms, with an open-plan living/dining room with leather sofas downstairs. And there’s a sunny garden and private off-street parking.

Or Puffitts Cottage* sleeps up to five in three bedrooms. It has plenty of historic character, with exposed beams, limestone floors and an inglenook fireplace with woodburner, but has been renovated in smart, contemporary style. There’s a garden and patio, and dogs are welcome.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Bourton-on-the-Water?*

The River Windrush flowing through Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds

How to get to Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water by car

Bourton-on-the-Water lies on the A429 around four miles south of Stow-on-the-Wold and 16 miles north of Cirencester. There are two main car parks in the centre of the village. The Rissington Road Car Park (GL54 2BN), located near Birdland, starts from £4 for two hours’ parking. And the Bourton Vale Car Park, near the Coop on Station Road (GL54 2LU), costs £3 for two hours.

Parking spaces are extremely limited in Bourton, so other seasonal temporary car parks are available in peak season, including at the Cotswold School (GL54 2BD). They offer full-day parking for £5 at weekends from April to September and every day during the summer school holidays.

Bourton at dusk
Dusk in Bourton

Bourton-on-the-Water by public transport

The nearest train stations to Bourton-on-the-Water are in Moreton-in-Marsh and Kingham, or there are more frequent services to Cheltenham. The Stagecoach 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 Paddington at Kingham and will take you to Bourton in just under an hour.

The River Windrush in Bourton-on-the-Water
Ducks on the River Windrush

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Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds – a local's guide to what to see and do, eat, drink and stay in the 'Venice of the Cotswolds' | Bourton-on-the-Water guide | Visiting Bourton-on-the-Water | Places to visit in the Cotswolds

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