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Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds

I’d lived in the UK for about 30 years and had never visited the Cotswolds, so it was about time to change all that!  I planned a trip in Mabel the Motorhome to explore some of this beautiful region in the UK.  I spent three days in Bourton on the Water, shortly after the lockdown lifted in 2020.  While some activities were closed I still had a great time, and these are my favourite things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water which I am sure you will enjoy too!

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The Best Things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water

Stroll Around the Village

The village of Bourton-on-the-Water is GORGEOUS!  Not only is it a picturesque Cotswold village, but it also has the River Windrush meandering right through the middle.  It has been voted the prettiest village in England and is often referred to as the Venice of the Cotswolds, thanks to the river and its bridges which make Bourton-on-the-Water simply irresistible. 

The river and a bridge at Bourton on the Water - Stroll Around the Villagte - The Best Things to do in Bourton on the Water
Stroll Around the Village – The Best Things to do in Bourton on the Water

Go Cottage Spotting

The Cotswolds are famous for their quaint cottages and attractive buildings made with distinctive local yellow limestone.  There are plenty of cute cottages in and around Bourton-on-the-Water to give you serious home envy, so enjoy exploring!  Remember to be mindful when you’re taking photos of people’s homes, and never trespass into gardens – even if it is to get that perfect Insta shot! 

Typical yellow limestone cottage in the Cotswolds
There are Lots of Quaint Cottages in the Cotswolds

Picnic on the Riverbank

You can’t visit Bourton-on-the-Water and not sit on the banks of the river, it is an absolute must-do in the Cotswolds!  My favourite food stops were the Bakery on the Water which has delicious baked goods including breakfast pastries, quiches, sausage rolls and cakes, among others, and The Chip Shed which offers up steaming hot portions of fish and chips and other fried delights to eat in or takeaway. 

There are also plenty of places selling ice-creams so you can sit along the riverbank and munch away.  The water is shallow, and there were plenty of dogs and children paddling about, although I kept on dry land!

Piece of Quick on a picnic plate on grass next to the River - A Picnic next to the River is an Essential Activity in Bourton on the Water
A Picnic next to the River is an Essential Activity in Bourton on the Water

Feel Like a Giant at The Model Village

I loved this cute Model Village, a one-ninth scale replica of Bourton on the Water.  It has so much detail in the little buildings, including a hardware shop selling “four candles and fork handles” and even a model village in the model village in the model village! 

It doesn’t take long to walk through it, although I took my time to spot the details and take photos.  You could visit the village first to get your bearings or visit at the end of the day to spot all of the places you’ve seen on your visit.

Visits do not need to be pre-booked as there is a one-way system in place and the attraction is outdoors.  Tickets cost £3 per person.

Minature Bourton on the Water at the Model Village
Look Down on the Minature Bourton on the Water at the Model Village

Get Some Space at Greystones Nature Reserve

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with people, Greystones Nature Reserve is the place to get some space!  A few minutes walk from the centre of the village this spacious reserve has a replica Iron Age roundhouse, the remains of Iron Age ramparts and various footpaths to explore.  Entry is free.

Greystones Nature Reserve Replica Iron Age Roundhouse
Greystones Nature Reserve Replica Iron Age Roundhouse

Shop Till You Drop

Bourton-on-the-Water has some fabulous independent and locally-owned shops where you can buy all sorts of items, from locally made spirits at the Cotswolds Distillery, to handmade candles, pottery, gifts, and sweet treats.  You can even make your own perfume at the Cotswold Perfumery, so you can smell of the Cotswolds long after you head home.

Take a Walk Along the River Windrush

Whilst Bourton-on-the-Water is a lovely town, it can get very busy at the weekends and school holidays, so a good way to escape the crowds is to walk along the river.  There is a footpath that goes from Sherborne Street that runs alongside the river and takes you out of town to the main A429 road.  It’s a short walk, but a nice breather, and a good way to start the walk to the Slaughters!

Picuresque River with trees on either side and a wooden footrbidge in the distance - The River Windrush provides a Quiet Refuge from the Crowds
The River Windrush provides a Quiet Refuge from the Crowds

Walk to the Slaughters

Just over half an hour’s walk from the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds – Lower Slaughter.  And another 15 minutes beyond that is Upper Slaughter, which is also worth a visit.  There isn’t much parking here though, so if you can walk or cycle to these quaint villages, I’d advise doing that.

In Lower Slaughter you can visit the Old Mill Museum, where you can see the workings of the old mill, visit the craft shop and enjoy a homemade organic ice cream or other tasty treats from the riverside tearoom.

Aside from that, just walk around and admire the gorgeous cottages – and try to avoid the Instagrammers!

Cotswold cottages and the Old Mill across the river in Picturesque Lower Slaughter
Picturesque Lower Slaughter

Other Things to In Bourton on the Water

See the Birds at Birdland

I am in two minds about recommending Birdland, I’ll be honest.  Of course, I would rather see all of the birds in their natural habitats, but a lot of them are breeding so they must be doing something right.  The flamingos had some young babies and Birdland has the only breeding group of King Penguins in the UK, although they did look a little sad that their tank was being cleaned on the day I visited, so none of them were swimming around. 

However, unless you have children who would enjoy learning about the birds, I would be tempted to give it a miss as I felt it was expensive for what was on offer.

My favourite part of the park was actually the Marshmouth Nature Reserve which has the dubious addition of models of dinosaurs for the Jurassic Journey attraction.  This area was quieter than the rest of the park and I enjoyed spotting birds and butterflies in the reserve, including what I think was a firecrest, which I’ve never seen before. 

Tickets cost £10.95 per adult, and £7.95 for children, plus a £1.50 booking fee.

King Penguins at Birdland - Things to do in Bourton on the Water
King Penguins at Birdland – Things to do in Bourton on the Water

The Dragonfly Maze

Next to Birdland, you can find this fun attraction – a traditional hedge maze with clues to help you find your way to the golden dragonfly at the centre.  Entry is currently by time-slots which you have to book in advance at the kiosk.  The kiosk opens at 10 am, so go early and book a slot for later on in the day – the maze shouldn’t take longer than an hour.

The Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection

I’m not a huge car fan so I skipped this one, but this relatively small museum is crammed full of vintage cars, motoring exhibits and historic toys and is hugely popular with families.

Model of a Mini covered in grass at The Entrance to the Motoring Museum
The Entrance to the Motoring Museum

Bourton Model Railway Exhibition

If you’re a fan of model railways you won’t want to miss this.  Over 40 British and Continental trains trundle over tracks covering over 500 square feet, and most are controlled by visitors who can start the trains with a push of a button.  The exhibition was closed due to COVID when I visited but has now been reopened.  Tickets cost £3 for adults and £2.50 for concessions.

Have a Beer at the Cotswold Brew Co

On the way back from the Slaughters you’ll pretty much pass by the Cotswold Brew Co, where you can stop off for a beer to replenish your energy.  There are tours available of the brewery and a variety of Cotswold lager available to buy to take home or drink there.

Visitors Flock to the Riverside to Enjoy the Sunshine
Visitors Flock to the Riverside to Enjoy the Sunshine

Go Horse Riding in the Cotswolds

I ran out of time on my trip to Bourton-on-the-Water, but if I come back here I would love to take a ride with Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre.  They offer tuition and scenic rides around the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter for all levels of riders.

Where to Stay in Bourton-on-the-Water

Camping in Bourton-on-the-Water 

I was camping in the Cotswolds with Mabel the Motorhome, so I stayed at Field Barn Park campsite, just outside town.  It is a lovely campsite, with spacious rural pitches.  I loved it here, although the bike ride back to the campsite was up a very steep hill!

The Carp Farm Campsite is closer to town and looks like a lovely spot too.  I couldn’t stay there as it was closed in 2020 due to the pandemic but has now reopened. 

Hotels in Bourton-on-the-Water

The Chester House is a popular hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water, with excellent reviews.  Its central location and tasty breakfast make it a hit with guests and is a great place to stay for couples.

Cottages in Bourton-on-the-Water

For families or those wanting a bit more space, there are some gorgeous Cotswolds cottages to choose from.  Check out Bourton Croft Cottage which includes free parking, spacious rooms and a private garden. 

Have you been to the Cotswolds?  Do you have any more tips and recommendations for other things to do in Bourton-on-the-Water?  I’d love to hear what you think!

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