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Bag-of-words (BOW), which represents an image by the histogram of local patches on the basis of a visual vocabulary, has attracted intensive attention in visual categorization due to its good performance and flexibility. Conventional BOW neglects the contextual relations between local patches due to its Naïve Bayesian assumption. However, it is well known that contextual relations play an important role for human beings to recognize visual categories from their local appearance. This paper proposes a novel contextual bag-of-words (CBOW) representation to model two kinds of typical contextual relations between local patches, i.e., a semantic conceptual relation and a spatial neighboring relation. To model the semantic conceptual relation, visual words are grouped on multiple semantic levels according to the similarity of class distribution induced by them, accordingly local patches are encoded and images are represented. To explore the spatial neighboring relation, an automatic term extraction technique is adopted to measure the confidence that neighboring visual words are relevant. Word groups with high relevance are used and their statistics are incorporated into the BOW representation. Classification is taken using the support vector machine with an efficient kernel to incorporate the relational information. The proposed approach is extensively evaluated on two kinds of visual categorization tasks, i.e., video event and scene categorization. Experimental results demonstrate the importance of contextual relations of local patches and the CBOW shows superior performance to conventional BOW.