The 13 Best Things To Do In Essex – Attractions, Sights & Tours

(Last Updated On: January 19, 2023)

Essex is a county located in the East of England, bordered by Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Kent and Greater London.

It is part of the East of England region for government statistics purposes and has been since 1999.

This county has a long history stretching back to the Early Middle Ages when it formed part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom.

Today Essex is home to three cities: Southend, Colchester and Chelmsford. These cities are all connected by motorways and arterial roads throughout the county making commuting between them easy.

Essex has excellent transport links with London and the rest of the UK by rail and road.

There are also over 14000 buildings that have listed status in Essex with 1000 being recognised as Grade I or II*.

You’ll find tons of cool places to see in and around Essex and below you’ll find out some of my favorites!

Things To Do In Essex

1. Southend-on-Sea

Southend-on-Sea is an exciting resort town. Located on the Thames Estuary, this vibrant destination offers a wealth of activities that can be enjoyed by both young and old alike.

Whether it’s soaking up views from the top of the lift or exploring the seafront’s Adventure Island and Sea Life Adventure aquarium, you can have a great time in Southend-on-Sea.

The Southend Pier stretches out more than 1.34 miles into the Thames Estuary and is one of the longest pleasure piers in the world!

It is serviced by a small train, so you can explore what lies beyond without having to worry about getting back – though you could also choose to take a leisurely stroll at your own pace. At the shore end of the pier, there is even a museum filled with interesting artifacts and history related to this area.

If you’re looking for some adventure, head over to Adventure Island amusement park which boasts a range of thrilling fairground rides as well as water slides – sure to create lasting memories with friends and family!

Nearby you can also catch scenic views from atop the century-old Cliff Lift funicular which clings to the hillside near the waterfront.

Sea Life Adventure aquarium offers visitors opportunities to get up close with sea life such as otters, clownfish and turtles – perfect for curious minds who are eager to learn more about these aquatic creatures.

Overall, no matter if you’re looking for something fun or educational – Southend-on-Sea has something for everyone!

2. Great Notley Country Park

Great Notley Country Park is a beautiful 100-acre green space in Essex, offering something for everyone to enjoy.

From its breathtaking views and wildlife spotting opportunities, to its exciting range of leisure activities and play areas, the park has something for visitors of all ages.

The highlight of the park is the 1.2km play trail which features a range of exciting activities such as a giant see-saw, climbing forest, tyre swings, sand pits and rope climbers.

For those looking for a challenge, Sky Ropes offers both an adventure course for teenagers and a ‘Junior’ version that is suitable for children over two years old.

In addition to the playgrounds and ropes courses, the park also has flat cycling routes.

Visitors can take advantage of these routes to explore further or simply sit back and enjoy nature’s beauty from one of many picnic spots around the park.

Birdwatchers will be delighted with sights of skylarks woodpeckers and bats while walking in the tranquil environment.

3. Adventure Island

Adventure Island is an iconic theme park located in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. Since its opening in 1976, it has been a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. You’ll find the theme park at the north end of Southend Pier.

The park is home to 36 rides, ranging from thrill-seeking roller coasters to more mild rides perfect for younger ones.

Not only that, but retail outlets and catering options are available to satisfy everyone’s needs.

As soon as you step inside, you can feel the energy of the place – with vibrant colors, happy laughter and endless activities awaiting you.

A wide variety of thrilling rides ensure that there’s something for every age group – from toddlers to teens and adults!

Those looking for a more relaxed experience can explore the range of shops including souvenirs, apparel stores and even gift shops with exclusive offers catering to all tastes.

After working up an appetite on the rides, visitors can enjoy a wide selection of delicious snacks at one of the many dining options available at Adventure Island.

Thrill-seekers will have plenty to choose from when planning their visit; head over to Rage or Green Scream for some exciting twists and turns!

4. Colchester Castle Museum

Colchester Castle is a remarkable Norman castle located in Colchester.

Built in the late 11th century, this impressive stone fortress has been standing for more than 900 years and serves as a reminder of the Norman Conquest.

The castle’s keep is the largest example of its kind still surviving anywhere in Europe. It stands an impressive 25 metres tall with walls up to 3 metres thick, and it is estimated that the building could originally have stood at least one storey higher.

The castle also boasts a massive inner bailey which would once have contained many outbuildings and apartments, while four enormous stone towers stand at each corner of the main wall.

During its history, Colchester Castle endured a three month siege at the hands of King John’s forces during 1216’s First Barons’ War which eventually led to Magna Carta being signed.

By the 17th century however it had fallen into disrepair; much of the curtain wall and upper parts of the keep were demolished leaving only a fraction of its original height remaining today.

Following this period it was used as a prison before later being sold off to private owners who began restoring it as a large garden pavilion.

In 1922 however it was purchased by Colchester Borough Council who decided to use it as an exhibition space for local artefacts – an idea which then blossomed into what we now know as Colchester Museum.

This museum houses an incredible collection of Roman exhibits that help tell the story of how this remarkable castle came to be standing here today.

5. Southend Pier

Southend Pier is one of the most iconic landmarks in Southend-on-Sea.

Located on the Thames Estuary, Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, extending 2.16 kilometres out into the sea.

It has a rich history that dates back to 1829 when a bill was passed to build a new pier, replacing an existing timber jetty from earlier years.

In 1889, an iron pier opened to the public and soon after saw its first pier railway open in the early 1890s—the very first of its kind in England.

Due to its long length and lasting popularity as a tourist destination, Southend Pier has since become one of the most recognisable attractions in this region and beyond.

In addition to being a popular holiday spot for locals and tourists alike, Southend Pier also plays host to various events throughout the year such as firework celebrations during summer months and Christmas markets during winter months—making it a great option for those looking for an entertaining day out all year round!

6. Colchester Zoo

Colchester Zoo is an amazing zoological garden located near Colchester.

It has been delighting visitors with its remarkable wildlife and incredible exhibits since it opened in 1963.

With over 270 species of animals and birds, the zoo offers a variety of fascinating experiences to enjoy!

At Colchester Zoo, you can explore many interesting attractions including Playa Patagonia – a South American-themed area where you can get up close to flamingos and other exotic birds; Rajang’s Forest – an immersive habitat for orangutans featuring a rainforest walkway; Dragons of Komodo – home to some of the world’s most beautiful reptiles including Komodo dragons; Tiger Taiga – discover magnificent tigers in their natural environment; Lion Rock – marvel at the majestic African lions; Bears of the Rising Sun – come face-to-face with Japanese black bears; and Leopards at Ussuri Falls – watch leopards play in their own grassy meadow.

Visitors can also enjoy educational talks on a range of topics from animal welfare to conservation and animal behaviour as well as plenty of hands-on activities such as getting up close with smaller animals like meerkats, snakes and lizards.

7. Walton On The Naze Beach

Walton-on-the-Naze is a charming coastal town.

It lies on the North Sea coast and is known for its beautiful sandy beaches and stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

Its most noteworthy feature is the second longest pier in Great Britain, which stretches out into the sea and offers plenty of recreational opportunities such as sightseeing, fishing and crabbing.

The Naze, an unspoiled headland jutting out into the ocean, is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its importance to migratory birds.

This area is also home to many rare species of flora and fauna, making it a popular spot for wildlife enthusiasts too.

Walton-on-the-Naze’s beachfront is full of attractions from amusements along the seafront promenade to shops selling local produce or souvenirs.

The gently shelving sand provides safe bathing for children, while there are also rockpools where budding explorers can search for marine life.

Further inland, visitors will find plenty more cultural activities such as galleries exhibiting local art or places to enjoy a delicious meal with fresh seafood caught from local waters.

8. Essex Nature Reserves

Essex is home to some of the most beautiful nature reserves in the UK.

From Benfleet and Southend Marshes, an internationally important site for migrating birds, to Nazeing Triangle, a small pond and wildflower meadows, there is something here for everyone.

The Essex Wildlife Trust manages and protects over 8,400 acres of land across 87 nature reserves and 11 Nature Discovery Centres.

Nine of these reserves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with the largest being Southend-on-Sea Foreshore at 1,084 hectares (2,680 acres).

This vast expanse of land is part of the Benfleet and Southend Marshes SSSI which makes it a great place to observe migratory bird species from around the world.

There is also much to be discovered at smaller reserves such as Nazeing Triangle which covers 0.5 hectares (1.2 acres).

This reserve supports a range of flora and fauna with its pond offering a haven for amphibians along with its wildflower meadows providing an array of colour throughout the year.

9. Chelmsford Cathedral

Chelmsford Cathedral is a beautiful example of historic Anglican architecture located in the city of Chelmsford, Essex.

This remarkable structure has stood proudly since 1914 when it was established as the seat of the Bishop of Chelmsford after the creation of the Diocese of Chelmsford.

Dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, St Peter and St Cedd, this magnificent building features an iconic spire and tower with a ring of thirteen bells.

Inside the cathedral, visitors are instantly awestruck by its stunning interior; coated in pastel colours and traditional gothic design.

This awe-inspiring atmosphere was further enhanced in 1983 when extensive refurbishments took place; resulting in a new floor being laid, seating installed, an impressive altar erected and artwork hung up to add vibrancy to its hallowed halls.

Furthermore, the cathedral boasts a majestic bishop’s throne font which towers over all other furniture in its grandeur.

Seen from afar, Chelmsford Cathedral stands watch over its surroundings; acting as both a local landmark and symbol of faith for locals.

10. Hylands Gardens & Parkland

Hylands Estate is a breathtaking 574 acre parkland located near Chelmsford.

Situated in the picturesque English countryside, it has been an historic country estate since 1500 with references to its name in medieval documents.

The Estate is open to the public and provides visitors with five different mapped walks through its beautiful landscape, ranging from a 30 minute stroll to a four mile leisurely hike.

Hidden within Hylands Estate, visitors can explore the enchanting Victorian Pleasure Gardens.

This ornately designed garden dates back to the early 1900s and features herbaceous beds lined with Box edging and standard roses, including Mary Rose and Ann Boleyn varieties.

Visitors can also explore a formal raised border by the House which is bordered with clipped Yew hedging and Irises marking the start of the main walk into gardens.

The center of it all is a beautiful duck pond home to variety of fish, ducks and geese.

For those interested in history, Hylands Estate also offers tours showcasing some of its most famous historical artifacts such as the Grade II listed Great Hall built for Sir Francis Child in 1881-2 as well as his extensive art collection which includes works by Gainsborough and Reynolds along with exquisite furniture pieces from renowned cabinet makers like Gillows and Morel & Seddon.

11. Clacton-on-Sea Beach

Clacton-on-Sea beach is a stunning stretch of coastline located in Essex.

As the jewel in the crown of the Essex coast, Clacton offers visitors a traditional British seaside experience with plenty to do and explore.

The golden sands of the beach are clean, inviting and make for an ideal spot for families. With lifeguard services available during the summer months, easy parking and plenty of amenities within walking distance, Clacton-on-Sea Beach is a popular destination for people looking to get away from it all.

As well as its beautiful beach, Clacton also has a historic pier which provides visitors with plenty of entertainment.

Here you can try your hand at some classic traditional arcade games or visit one of the onsite cafes for a bite to eat whilst admiring the stunning views out to sea.

For those looking for some adventure there is also an amusement park just off shore which features thrilling rides, fun fair attractions and of course plenty more places to grab something to eat and drink.

12. RHS Garden Hyde Hall

RHS Garden Hyde Hall is an iconic public display garden located in the English county of Essex.

Spanning an impressive 360 acres, it is maintained and run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

Hyde Hall offers a wide range of captivating gardens, each exhibiting their own unique style and composition.

The Dry Garden provides visitors with an insight into plants that are drought resistant and thrive in arid conditions, while the Hilltop Garden displays a variety of roses and herbaceous borders.

Within its grounds, Hyde Hall houses a plethora of flora from across the globe.

This includes trees from Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia.

These 60 trees form part of the renowned Woodland Gardens which were initially planted back in 1955 by Dr and Mrs Robinson.

There is also a reference library situated in the old farmhouse which provides books on practical gardening, garden design, botanical art and garden history.

13. Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens

Beth Chatto’s Gardens are a stunning example of the power of nature and garden design.

Founded in the 1960s by Beth Chatto OBE VMH, these award-winning gardens have become internationally renowned for their inspiring beauty and ecological sustainability.

Spanning 7.5 acres on a challenging site that was boggy in places and dry and infertile elsewhere, this garden is an ode to Beth’s principles of ‘right plant, right place’.

The gardens are made up of five distinct areas – the Gravel Garden, Water Garden, Reservoir Garden, Woodland Garden, and Scree Garden – each with its own unique character and plants.

The Gravel Garden is particularly striking for its mix of sun-loving perennials such as artemisia, euphorbia, salvia and phlomis; whilst in the moist shaded areas you will find ferns and hostas amongst others.

In the Water Garden a range of aquatic plants including pond iris (Iris pseudacorus) thrive in perfect conditions; while the Scree Garden boasts an impressive selection of alpine plants suited to dry soil.

This diverse habitat also serves as a haven for wildlife too – from birds to butterflies – making it one of the most beautiful places to visit in England.


  • Tamara M

    Hey there! My name is Tamara, welcome to my little world! I’m a 20-something-year-old from Toronto, Canada (though I’m rarely there) and I’m super passionate about exploring the world, photography, and cooking delicious plant-based recipes. I created this blog to share my favorite places, adventures, restaurants, accommodations, and travel tips with all of you and keep a bit of a travel diary for myself.

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