Explore a county that has been at the heart of British heritage for thousands of years, has a rich maritime history, and is the birthplace of one of the biggest musical festivals in England. Enjoy everything from nature reserves to breath-taking gardens and national heritage sites.
With a thriving music scene that has given us one of the biggest music festivals in Britain, and a wealth of nature reserves and beautiful scenery to enjoy, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into with a visit to Essex. To get you started, we made a list of our ten favourite places to see and things to do on your holiday.
Places to Visit
Explore the UK’s oldest recorded town with a visit to Colchester, with a history that dates back over 2,000 years. The town’s celebrated heritage is on full display at the Colchester Castle Museum, and for a distinctly Roman flavour, the Roman Wall and circus centre are not to be missed. Colchester is also rich in contemporary art, as Firstsite Gallery offers a generous collection of international artists, creative events, and activities for you to try your hand at. Bring the kids on a trip to Colchester Zoo and see over 270 species of animals both great and small, including leopards, giraffes, sea lions, penguins, butterflies, and much more!
Whether you’re looking to enjoy one of the most breath-taking coastlines Britain has to offer or you fancy browsing some remarkable historical artefacts, Southend-on-Sea is an ideal destination. Bring the kids along to a fun-filled day at Adventure Island, a wonderland of rides and amusements, or simply tuck into a portion of fish and chips while relaxing and enjoying the sands of Thorpe Bay. Just a quick trip along the seafront is the Pier Museum, where you’ll find lovingly restored trams and carriages shining a light into the history of the local area. Journey into the centre of the city to explore the Central Museum filled with natural history and a planetarium constructed by Harry Ford.
An absolute must-see in Chelmsford is the breath-taking cathedral, which is home to some of the finest ecclesiastical artwork in the country. See the etched windows, bronze statues, and exquisite paintings, such as The Tree of Life, which are illuminated in the spring and summer months. Then, explore Hylands House, a restored country house that dates back to 1730, and the stunning acres of parkland that surrounds it. For everyone wanting to enjoy a little tipple during their stay, Chelmsford also host two outstanding beer and cider festivals, a summer festival in July and a winter one in February. Since 1977, the festival has showcased the finest locally brewed beverages, as well as hosting tasting sessions and live music around various venues in the city.
Enjoy a leisurely sail through the waters with a trip to Maldon, which sits at the bottom of the River Blackwater. Nothing beats the site of the barges at Hythe Quay, where you can enjoy a range of boat trips, from visiting Osea Island to taking in a relaxing birdwatching cruise. The Maldon Art Trail is an annual event that takes you around the town’s local shops, cafés, and other buildings, to highlight the superb work by local artists. Relax with a stroll through Promenade Park; the perfect spot for a family picnic or tucking into some local seafood cuisine. If you’re looking for something to really get your hands dirty, take part in the annual Maldon Mud Race, held in the spring. It’s a 400 metre dash over the bed of the River Blackwater, held when the river is at low-tide, which draws thousands of spectators every year!
One of the historical highlights of Essex is Hedingham Castle, a 900-year-old Norman keep that rests in the heart of luscious woodlands and beautifully landscaped gardens. The castle holds five floors of brilliantly maintained Norman interiors, thanks to it still being the home of the Lindsay family, descendants of the original owners, the De Veres. From galleries and banqueting halls to cellars and catacombs, the castle is a rich time capsule of the past waiting to be explored. The surrounding gardens are the perfect spot for a relaxing picnic and a wide variety of events are hosted throughout the year, from jousting and medieval re-enactments to open-air theatre and classic car shows.
RHS Garden Hyde Hall
Step into nature with a trip to RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Chelmsford. With around 360 acres of blissful scenery to appreciate, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a stroll in the springtime to watch the flowers bloom, or a winter woodland walk, when the trees are beautifully draped with snow. Workshops also run throughout the year, letting you can try your hand at a wide range of crafts, including willow weavings, woodcarving, and pole lathing. Events are also held on the Hyde Hall grounds, meaning you can pick up some of the finest produce on offer, with stalls supplying fresh meat, condiments, and beverages, each with a local flavour.
The Museum of Power
Housed in a 1920s steam pumping station, the Museum of Power in Langford is a rich collection of tools, machinery, and exhibits that illustrate the evolution of technology behind Britain’s industrial and transportation heritage. Tour the outside grounds of the museum on the delightful miniature railway, steam, and diesel locomotives that take visitors on a quarter mile trip through delightful woodlands and meadows. The museum is also home to Astaria Model Village, bringing delight to visitors young and old, and a range of vibrant wildlife, with over 70 species of birds (including kingfishers, sparrow hawks, and goldcrests) being regular visitors to the grounds.
Explore Epping Forest
The Epping Forest district offers a true wealth of attractions to explore, starting with its extraordinary green landscape. Roam through the beautiful woodland and watch nature uncoil before your very eyes, with blooming wildflowers and towering, ancient trees. You can see the area by foot or via one of the many cycle paths, taking you over hills and by graceful ponds. To the west, you’ll find the market town of Waltham Abbey, the resting place of King Harold (who was killed in the Battle of Hastings) and the Royal Gunpowder Mills, exploring the substance’s use throughout history, as well as the development of military and scientific technology. Venture south to find Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, a renovated 1500s lodge filled with insightful exhibitions, surrounded by the medieval royal hunting forest first enjoyed by Henry VIII.
Essex is the perfect place for you to indulge in exceptionally fresh seafood, with prime locations peppered along the coast, bringing you the finest in locally fished produce. Visit the cockle sheds at Old Leigh, the historic fishing village at Leigh-on-Sea, and dine in a café housed in an 18th century stable mews. In West Mersea, The Company Shed and West Mersea Oyster Bar are not to be missed, and the Maldon Smokehouse is the perfect stop after a stroll along the beautiful River Chelmer. With a trip out on the water, you may even be able to catch your dinner yourself!
Attend V Festival
There’s no better way to energise your holiday than by enjoying a music festival, and Essex is home to one of the best in the country. V Festival has ran for over twenty years, showcasing the talents of the biggest names in music, including Oasis, Beyoncé, Radiohead, James Brown, and Paul Weller. Split across Hylands Park in Chelmsford and Weston Park in South Staffordshire, the festival brings a weekend of music to enjoy, with blockbuster acts taking to each venue’s main stage, and smaller tents shining the spotlight on independent talent. Nothing compares to the festival atmosphere of a roaring crowd and a thrilling performance you won’t soon forget.
Did you know?
Essex has a quarter of the UK’s population visit each year. That’s 17 million visitors a year!
Essex has plenty to offer for a perfect UK holiday. Take a trip to the “Discovery Coast” with beautiful diverse coastline awaits, with places such as Southend-On-Sea that has a fabulous beaches, it’s famous pier and Adventure Island for the thrill seekers! You can take a trip to various islands from the Essex coast such as Mersea Island which is great for taking in the sights and crabbing from the jetties.
There is also the historical side of Essex where the Romans, Saxons and Normans left their mark on this county, Colchester Castle has Roman remains are some of the most impressive in the country, and the Layer Marney Tower is the tallest Tudor Gatehouse in England where Henry VIII stayed, there are 99 steps up to the top where the views across the county are breath-taking.
Colchester Zoo is definitely worth a visit as it is one of the top 10 zoos in the whole country and also Europe! But if you are like me Essex is great for shopping and socialising! Take a trip to Lakeside Shopping Centre which has over 250 shops and over 50 cafes and restaurants, perfect for shopaholics! There are also the “TOWIE” hotspots to visit such as Brentwood where you can take a tour to see the TV stars shops and beauty salons and meet them in person. Essex is also great for a night out with a wide variety of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, in Essex there is always something to do and you will never be bored!