15 Best Things to Do in Essex, England

15 Best Things to Do in Essex, England

By will

If you’re on the hunt for a new and exciting vacation destination, consider Essex, England.

Located in South East England, this county is full of things to do, see, and explore.

From outdoor activities to cultural attractions and more, Essex has something for everyone.

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and enjoy some much-needed freedom, read on to discover the 15 best things to do in Essex!

1. Colchester Zoo

Colchester Zoo
Photo by Angela Tuff

Colchester Zoo is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to explore the wild side of Essex.

Situated on a sprawling 60-acre site, this award-winning attraction offers an array of exciting experiences for all ages.

From watching majestic tigers prowling their enclosure to marveling at the playful Humboldt penguins waddling around the pool, there’s something for everyone here.

For those keen to learn more about conservation and animal welfare, Colchester Zoo runs regular talks and keeper sessions throughout the day.

With over 260 species of exotic wildlife and plenty of opportunities to get up close, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular attractions in Essex.

Plus, with plenty of restaurants, shops, and even a play area full of activities, you’ll never be short of things to do!

Whether you come as a family or alone, you’re sure to make lasting memories at Colchester Zoo.

2. Mersea Island

Mersea Island, Essex
Photo by Rebecca A Wills

Leaving the captivating creatures of Colchester Zoo behind, venture south to Mersea Island.

This is a place where you can truly get away from it all.

A unique microclimate keeps the island cool and breezy in summer, while its salt marshes, creeks, and mudflats provide a haven for wildlife.

The area is steeped in history with lots of archaeological sites to explore.

The remains of an Iron Age fort, Roman villas, and Saxon churches are among the many attractions this island has to offer.

Take time to wander along the shoreline and spot wading birds such as oystercatchers and avocets – or just relax and enjoy some spectacular sunsets.

For something a little livelier there are plenty of pubs, restaurants, cafes, and shops that come alive during summer months as tourists flock here from all over Essex.

Whether you’re looking for an action-packed day out or simply want to take it easy, Mersea Island has something for everyone.

3. Mountfitchet Castle

Mountfitchet Castle
Photo by Thomas Nugent

Tucked away in the corner of Essex, England lies a remarkable attraction – Mountfitchet Castle.

This 11th-century castle is a living history experience that transports you back in time.

Step through the gates and discover an authentic Norman Motte and Bailey castle with three levels of wooden ramparts, a drawbridge, portcullis, and an array of buildings including houses, workshops, and even a dungeon!

You can wander through the grounds and explore the fascinating exhibits on display.

The castle shop sells replica weapons, coins, and armor as souvenirs to take home.

For those who wish to stay longer, there’s even a Medieval Village full of period-style buildings that you can explore.

Kids will love being able to dress up in costume and learn all about what life was like during this era.

With its beautiful surroundings, Mountfitchet Castle is sure to provide an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages.

4. Harwich Redoubt

The next stop on your Essex adventure is the Harwich Redoubt, an iconic coastal fortification with a fascinating past.

Located between Felixstowe and Harwich, this impressive structure stands atop a grassy mound surrounded by beautiful views of the North Sea.

The Redoubt was built in 1808 as part of Britain’s coastal defense network during the Napoleonic Wars and served as an important guard post during both World Wars.

Today, visitors can explore the Redoubt’s winding tunnels, underground magazines, and courtyard gardens.

Guided tours are available to learn about its history or you can take in the panoramic views from the top of the walls.

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If you’re feeling adventurous, why not bring a picnic and spend some time enjoying the serenity of this picturesque setting?

There’s also a small visitor center offering refreshments and souvenirs to mark your visit.

With plenty to do at Harwich Redoubt – from exploring its history to simply taking in its spectacular views – it’s definitely worth a visit while touring Essex!

5. Hylands Estate

Located in the heart of Essex, England, Hylands Estate is one of the most beautiful and unique places to explore.

This stunning Grade II listed building was once owned by the Petre family until it was bought by Chelmsford City Council in 1929.

It covers an impressive 500 acres of ground and includes a stunning 18th-century mansion, which is now home to a museum.

The grounds have been carefully maintained and are dotted with picturesque gardens, ponds, and woodlands – perfect for a leisurely stroll or an invigorating jog.

The estate also houses a variety of events throughout the year such as outdoor theatre performances, live music concerts, and classic car shows – so there’s always something happening!

In addition to this, you can take part in activities like archery, clay pigeon shooting, and orienteering on site too.

For those looking for something more laidback, why not try your hand at pond dipping or bird watching?

Either way, you’ll be sure to have an exciting day out here!

6. RHS Garden Hyde Hall

Just outside of Chelmsford is RHS Garden Hyde Hall, a stunning oasis of the English countryside.

This beautiful garden offers something for everyone, with breathtaking views and a variety of activities to enjoy.

From the tranquil lake to the historic walled gardens, you’ll find plenty to explore.

There are also plenty of events throughout the year, like plant sales and outdoor cinema nights, so be sure to check what’s coming up.

The formal gardens are particularly striking and feature some incredible topiary sculptures, as well as seasonal displays like snowdrops in winter and daisies in spring.

You can also wander through the wildflower meadows or visit the vegetable plots for inspiration.

The café serves delicious homemade food and has great outdoor seating on sunny days.

With so much to do at this gorgeous location, it’s no wonder why RHS Garden Hyde Hall is one of Essex’s best attractions!

7. Chelmsford Cathedral

Next on our list of the best things to do in Essex is Chelmsford Cathedral.

This stunning building stands as a symbol of faith, culture, and history for locals and visitors alike.

With its beautiful stained glass windows, historic architecture, and tranquil atmosphere, it’s a sight to behold.

The inside of the cathedral showcases the dedication of those who built it centuries ago.

Every corner you turn reveals a new piece of artwork or a stunning monument that speaks to the beauty of this sacred space.

From its impressive organ to its intricate stone carvings, there is plenty to explore here.

Visitors can even climb up into the bell tower and take in the remarkable view over Chelmsford city center.

After exploring all that Chelmsford Cathedral has to offer, one can only be left in awe at its timeless beauty and grandeur.

It’s no wonder why it’s one of Essex’s top attractions – everyone should experience this place at least once!

8. Hollytrees Museum

When visiting Essex, a visit to the Hollytrees Museum is a must.

Located in Colchester, this museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the history of the area.

From its beginnings as a Roman settlement to the modern day, the museum showcases artifacts and exhibits that chronicle the town’s past.

The museum is split into two sections, one dedicated to the Roman era and another focusing on more recent history.

Visitors can explore collections of coins, pottery, and other objects from that time period.

In addition, there are displays about Colchester’s role in World War II and how it has been shaped by industry over time.

The museum also features interactive displays which bring history to life for all ages.

A visit to Hollytrees Museum can be combined with exploring nearby attractions such as Colchester Castle or High Street shopping.

With so much to see, there’s something for everyone at this wonderful institution!

It’s sure to make your trip to Essex complete!

9. Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle is a stunning relic of history situated high upon a hill in the borough of Castle Point, Essex.

It is one of the most picturesque sights in the area, and its incredible view of the Thames Estuary can be seen for miles around.

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Built in 1215 by Hubert de Burgh, it was used as a royal residence for Henry III and Edward I.

Today, it stands as a reminder of England’s medieval past.

Visitors are free to explore this beautiful ruin on their own or take part in guided tours that offer detailed insight into its long history.

From the outside, Hadleigh Castle looks like an impenetrable fortress, but once you step inside its walls you’ll find an array of fascinating features such as turrets and arches that would have been part of everyday life centuries ago.

There are also plenty of photo opportunities to capture this impressive structure from all angles.

Whether you’re looking for a romantic day out or simply want to experience history first-hand, Hadleigh Castle is definitely worth a visit!

You’ll be captivated by its grandeur and beauty – and it’s sure to make your trip to Essex even more memorable!

10. Leigh Heritage Centre

After taking in the stunning views of Hadleigh Castle, it is time to explore Leigh Heritage Centre.

This center is located in the heart of the historic village of Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, and it offers a unique insight into life in this area over the past two centuries.

Visitors to the center can explore an extensive collection of artifacts from local history, such as photos, memorabilia, and postcards.

The center also holds regular exhibitions that focus on different aspects of Leigh’s heritage.

Leigh Heritage Centre also has an array of activities for all ages, including guided tours of the area, craft workshops, and educational talks.

For those looking for some adventure, there are plenty of outdoor activities to try too; visitors can take part in kayaking and canoeing trips along the nearby River Thames or go on a nature walk around Two Tree Island Nature Reserve.

Whether you’re keen to learn more about Leigh’s history or just want to spend some time enjoying nature, there are plenty of things to do at this fascinating heritage center.

11. Southend-On-Sea

Southend-on-Sea is a seaside town on the Thames Estuary in Essex, England.

With its stunning beach and pier, it’s no wonder that this vibrant destination has been a popular spot for holidaymakers for centuries!

For those looking to make the most of their time in Southend, there’s plenty to do.

From exploring its historic sites to shopping and dining at one of its many eateries, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

If you’re keen to soak up some of the area’s history, then why not visit Prittlewell Priory?

This beautiful 12th-century building was once home to a wealthy Augustinian monastery and is now a Grade I-listed building open to visitors.

Alternatively, take in some of the local cultures by visiting Southend Pier Museum.

Here you can learn all about the history of the pier and the surrounding area.

The museum also houses an impressive collection of Victorian memorabilia from times gone by.

Those looking for something more relaxed should definitely head down to Southchurch Park Beach – it’s perfect for sunbathing or just taking in the views along the coast.

There are also plenty of shops and restaurants nearby so you can get your retail fix or grab a bite to eat.

Whether you’re looking for adventure or simply want to relax by the sea, Southend-on-Sea has something for everyone!

12. Saffron Walden

Saffron Walden is a charming market town in Essex, England, that boasts an impressive variety of attractions.

It’s the perfect destination for those looking to explore the unique features of this region.

The centerpiece of Saffron Walden is its impressive castle ruins.

Dating back to 1090, these ancient walls will capture your imagination and transport you back to a simpler time.

If you’re looking for something more modern, Saffron Walden also offers a range of restaurants, shops, and pubs to enjoy.

There are plenty of places to wander around and explore, including the attractive churchyard and St Mary’s Church.

For outdoor enthusiasts, there are plenty of activities on offer from walking and cycling trails to nearby nature reserves where you can observe some of the local wildlife.

Alternatively, take a leisurely stroll along one of the many riverside walks or hire a boat and go sailing on one of the local lakes.

No matter what your interests may be, there’s something here for everyone at Saffron Walden!

13. Maldon

Leaving Saffron Walden, the next stop on our tour of Essex is the picturesque town of Maldon.

This coastal town has been a popular destination for centuries and continues to be today.

From its picturesque harbor to its world-renowned salt marshes, Maldon offers an abundance of attractions and activities that will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.

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One of Maldon’s most popular attractions is Hythe Quay, a stunningly beautiful harbor where you can watch boats sailing in and out or take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk.

The nearby Hythe Beach Park is a great spot for picnics and beach sports, with plenty of scenic views to enjoy.

Further inland lies the Blackwater Estuary Nature Reserve, home to hundreds of species of birds as well as rare plants and wildlife.

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful escape from everyday life or simply want to appreciate nature at its finest, this reserve is sure to leave you in awe.

For those who prefer more urban attractions, Maldon also boasts some excellent shopping opportunities.

The High Street is teeming with unique boutiques, antique shops, and galleries showcasing artwork from local artists.

And if you’re looking for something special to take home with you, there are many craftspeople selling handmade items such as pottery, jewelry, and glassware.

After all your exploring, be sure to sample some traditional pub grub at one of the many pubs scattered throughout town – it’s an experience not to be missed!

14. Thurrock

Thurrock is an exciting destination in Essex, England.

It’s located on the banks of the River Thames, making it a perfect spot for river cruises and strolls along its picturesque shoreline.

In addition to its beautiful views, Thurrock has plenty of things to do that will satisfy everyone in your group.

You can find a variety of shops selling local products, visit historical monuments such as Fuller Street Tower or opt for some outdoor activities like golfing or kayaking.

There are also plenty of nature trails nearby for those who prefer to explore the area on foot.

Thurrock is also home to some amazing restaurants and pubs that serve up delicious dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

Whether you’re looking for a traditional British pub meal or something a bit more exotic, you won’t be disappointed by the culinary offerings here.

And after dinner, be sure to check out the local nightlife scene – there are plenty of bars and clubs where you can let loose and enjoy an evening under the stars.

15. Waltham Abbey

Leaving Thurrock, the next stop on your Essex itinerary should be Waltham Abbey.

This small market town is steeped in history and boasts a number of impressive monuments, including the 11th-century abbey of the same name.

It’s also surrounded by lush countryside, making it a great place to take a break from urban life and explore nature.

The abbey is one of Waltham Abbey’s main attractions.

Today, only ruins remain but it’s still an impressive sight.

The wall paintings inside are well worth seeing as they depict some of England’s earliest monarchs.

The town itself is full of quaint shops and pubs, perfect for those wanting to experience local life.

There’s also a variety of historic sites nearby such as Epping Forest and the River Lea Valley Walk, both great for getting out into nature and enjoying some fresh air.

When visiting Waltham Abbey you can’t miss taking part in some traditional activities such as fishing or boating on the nearby river Lee.

There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy shopping, dining, and entertainment – making this an ideal destination for anyone looking for a bit of respite from city life.

Whether you’re after history or relaxation, Waltham Abbey has something special to offer every visitor – just don’t forget your camera!

Best Things to Do in Essex – Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Essex offers a wide variety of activities to suit all tastes and ages.

From Colchester Zoo and Mersea Island to Mountfitchet Castle and Harwich Redoubt, there are plenty of options for those looking for a great day out.

And if you’re after something a bit more cultural, you can visit Saffron Walden, Maldon, or Thurrock.

Finally, Waltham Abbey is the perfect place for a relaxing walk in the countryside.

Essex has something for everyone; whether you’re looking for an exciting adventure or simply want to take in some stunning historical sights.

With so much to offer, it’s no surprise that this part of England is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK.

So why not make your next UK holiday one to remember by visiting Essex?

You won’t regret it!


What are the best things to do in Essex with kids?

The best things to do in Essex with kids are visiting Colchester Zoo, Colchester Castle, and Adventure Island.

What to do during the day in Essex?

The best things to do during the day in Essex are visiting RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Colchester Castle Museum, and Barleylands Farm Park.

Is Essex worth visiting?

Yes, Essex is worth visiting because of its tranquil nature and beautiful coastlines. Essex is also perfect for individuals and families wanting to do outdoor activities.

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About the author

Will is an avid hillwalker and traveler. You may find him surfing in Cornwall or hiking in the Yorkshire Dales.