Essex is populated by a myriad of visitor attractions and places of historical interest.
It’s proximity to London also makes it a popular short-break destination for city-dwellers, as well as tourists looking to experience the beauty of the county and the bright lights of our nation’s capial.
Whatever your reason may be for visiting, the followong Essex travel guide should be of help. You’ll find information about some of the best Essex attractions, from art galleries to petting farms. So read on!
Opening our guide on top things to do in Essex is Chelmsford Cathedral – a remarkable architectural and spiritual landmark.
Originally a parish church dating back to the 13th century, it was elevated to cathedral status in 1914, making it one of the youngest cathedrals in England. Despite its relatively recent elevation, the building boasts a rich history and exquisite Gothic architecture.
The cathedral is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows, which illuminate the interior with vibrant colours. The intricate stone carvings and woodwork throughout the building reflect the skill and artistry of its craftsmen.
Visitors are welcomed into a serene atmosphere, ideal for reflection and exploration of the cathedral’s historic and religious significance.
Its central location in Chelmsford makes it easily accessible and a must-visit Essex attraction for those interested in historical architecture and the spiritual heritage of the area.
Firstsite in Colchester, Essex, is a contemporary visual arts organization that offers a dynamic and innovative platform for the exploration and presentation of modern art.
Housed in a striking, architecturally acclaimed building, its design is both modern and inviting, reflecting the creativity and forward-thinking ethos of the institution.
Firstsite’s diverse range of exhibitions showcases works from both established and emerging artists, often focusing on relevant social and cultural themes.
The space is not just a gallery but a community hub, hosting workshops, film screenings, performances, and talks that encourage public engagement with contemporary art.
Firstsite offers a welcoming environment for all visitors, regardless of their background in art. In terms of culture, it’s one of the most iconic and important Essex attractions.
Hollytrees Museum, Colchester
Hollytrees Museum, located in the heart of Colchester, is a delightful public museum housed in a charming Georgian building dating back to 1718.
This museum offers a fascinating journey through three centuries of domestic life in Colchester, showcasing a variety of artefacts and exhibits that tell the story of the town and its people.
The museum’s collections include decorative arts, costumes, toys, and day-to-day household items, offering insights into the changing styles and living conditions over the years.
Particularly captivating is the display of Colchester’s famous clocks, highlighting the town’s significance in clockmaking history.
The museum also overlooks the picturesque Castle Park, adding to its appeal as a top cultural Essex visitor attraction.
Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford
The Essex Regiment Museum, located in Chelmsford, is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history of the Essex Regiment and the Essex Yeomanry.
Housed within the historic confines of Oaklands Park, the museum offers a deep dive into over 300 years of military history.
Visitors to the museum can explore a vast collection of artefacts, uniforms, medals, and personal memorabilia that tell the story of the soldiers who served in these regiments.
The exhibits cover various conflicts, including the Boer War, World Wars I and II, and more recent operations, providing a comprehensive view of the regiments’ roles and contributions.
The museum offers a moving tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the Essex soldiers – an essential entry in our Essex travel guide.
RSPB Old Hall Marshes, Maldon
Nestled in the picturesque Essex countryside, RSPB Old Hall Marshes offers a tranquil escape.
This renowned nature reserve, managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), spans a vast area of coastal grassland, saltmarsh, and freshwater habitats.
It’s a haven for birdwatchers, with its diverse avian population including rare species like the avocet and the marsh harrier. Visitors can explore a network of well-maintained trails, perfect for leisurely walks while observing the rich wildlife.
The site’s carefully preserved ecosystems support not only birds but also a variety of other wildlife, including butterflies and dragonflies.
With its stunning landscapes and abundant fauna, Old Hall Marshes is an ideal destination for anyone seeking to connect with nature and witness the UK’s wildlife in its natural habitat.
Call of the Wild Zoo, South Woodham Ferrers
Call of the Wild Zoo in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, stands out as a unique and vibrant Essex visitor attraction, renowned for its extensive collection of exotic wildlife.
This compact, family-friendly zoo offers an immersive experience with its diverse range of animals, from colourful tropical birds to fascinating reptiles.
The zoo’s highlight is its impressive tropical house, where visitors can walk amongst free-flying butterflies and birds, experiencing these creatures in a habitat that closely mimics their natural environment.
In addition to the exotic species, the zoo also cares for a variety of farm animals, making it a hit with younger visitors. With its engaging exhibits and commitment to animal care, it offers a delightful and educational day out for all ages.
If you’re looking for top outdoor activities in Essex, then Call of the Wild comes highly-recommended.
Bridge End Gardens, Saffron Walden
Bridge End Gardens in Saffron Walden, Essex, is a hidden gem of horticultural beauty and historical significance. Created in the 19th century, these Grade II listed gardens are a splendid example of Victorian design.
The gardens encompass a series of interconnected areas, each with its unique character and charm. A highlight is the Dutch Sunken Garden, featuring symmetrically arranged beds and ornamental statues, offering a serene spot for contemplation.
Additionally, the Rose Garden and the Wilderness Garden, with their array of colours and scents, are a delight for the senses.
Bridge End Gardens, with its picturesque scenery, provides a perfect backdrop for leisurely walks, photography, and family outings. Another worthy additoin to our guide about things to do in Essex.
Roman Circus Remains, Colchester
One of the most important historical sites in Essex, the Roman Circus Remains in Colchester, represents a significant archaeological find that sheds light on Britain’s ancient Roman history.
Discovered in 2005, this site was once home to a Roman chariot racing track, dating back to the early 2nd century AD.
It is the only known Roman circus in Britain, making it a site of considerable historical importance. Visitors to the site can explore the remains of the starting gates and the track outline, where thrilling chariot races once entertained thousands of spectators.
The visitor centre provides informative displays and artefacts, offering insights into the circus’s history and its role in Roman Colchester.
While much of the original structure is no longer visible, the well-presented interpretations and reconstructions give a sense of the scale and excitement of the ancient events.
Roman Wall, Colchester
The Roman Wall in Colchester, one of the oldest and most significant Roman structures in Britain, encircles the old town and is a testament to the town’s ancient history.
Built around AD 65-80, this wall was constructed to protect the Roman city of Camulodunum, the first Roman capital in Britain.
Remarkably, much of the original structure, including its gates and towers, still survives, offering a fascinating glimpse into Roman engineering and architecture.
The wall, approximately 3,000 meters in length originally, was made from septaria, a type of stone found locally, combined with layers of tiles and bricks.
Today, it provides a scenic and historical walking route for visitors, allowing them to explore various parts of the town while following the ancient wall’s course.
Clacton-on-Sea Beach, a popular seaside destination, is renowned for its golden sands and vibrant seaside atmosphere.
This classic British beach offers a delightful escape with its expansive shoreline that is perfect for sunbathing, sandcastle building, and leisurely strolls.
It’s gentle waters also make it ideal for swimming and paddling, especially for families with children. The seafront is backed promenade, where visitors can enjoy scenic walks with picturesque views of the North Sea.
The beach is also particularly famous for its Victorian pier, a centrepiece of entertainment with amusement arcades, rides, and a variety of food stalls.
With its blend of traditional seaside fun and relaxing beach environment, Clacton-on-Sea Beach remains a favourite destination for both locals and tourists seeking a quintessential British beach experience.
Braintree Village, Braintree
Braintree Village in Essex is a premier shopping destination, offering a unique blend of retail and leisure.
This open-air outlet centre boasts a wide array of stores, ranging from high-end fashion brands to home decor and accessories. Shoppers can enjoy significant discounts on designer goods, making it a popular spot for finding quality products at reduced prices.
The layout of Braintree Village, with its charming village-style streets and contemporary design, creates a pleasant and relaxed shopping atmosphere.
In addition to the retail offerings, there are numerous cafes and restaurants, providing a variety of dining options for visitors. The centre also hosts seasonal events and promotions, adding an extra layer of excitement to the shopping experience.
Braintree Village is an essential visitor anyone looking for a day of shopping and leisure in Essex.
Saffron Walden Museum, Saffron Walden
Saffron Walden Museum is a treasure trove of history and culture, offering a fascinating journey through time. Established in 1835, it’s one of the oldest provincial museums in the UK.
The museum’s collections are diverse, covering archaeology, natural history, and local and world history. Visitors can explore artefacts ranging from ancient Egyptian relics to specimens of local wildlife.
The museum’s layout guides guests through a series of themed galleries, each offering a unique insight into different aspects of history and the natural world. Highlights include the costume and textile collection and a significant collection of historical coins.
Set in a picturesque, historic building, Saffron Walden Museum provides an engaging and educational day out for all ages, appealing to those with a curiosity about the past and the world around them.
St Botolph’s Priory, Colchester
St. Botolph’s Priory in Colchester is a site of significant historical and architectural interest. Founded in the 12th century as a house of the Augustinian order, it is among the earliest examples of Norman stone church architecture in England.
The priory, now largely in ruins, still exhibits impressive remnants of its original grandeur, including the tall arches and distinctive Norman decorative stonework.
The ruins provide a poignant reminder of the priory’s turbulent history, particularly its partial destruction during the Siege of Colchester in the English Civil War.
Despite its ruinous state, St. Botolph’s Priory remains an evocative and serene site, offering a window into medieval religious life in England.
It is a popular spot for both historical enthusiasts and casual visitors, drawn to its peaceful ambiance and the beauty of its surviving architecture.
Epping Forest, Epping
Epping Forest, a notable area of ancient woodland spanning approximately 2,400 hectares. Straddling the border between Greater London and Essex, this forest is a remarkable blend of dense woodlands, open grasslands, and serene ponds.
Historically, Epping Forest was a royal hunting ground, used by monarchs such as Henry VIII, and was granted the status of a royal forest in the 12th century. In 1878, it became a public space, protected by the Epping Forest Act.
Today, Epping Forest is a popular recreational destination, offering a wide range of activities. It’s a haven for nature enthusiasts, with its rich biodiversity including ancient trees, myriad bird species, and diverse plant life.
Walking, horseback riding, and cycling are popular activities, with numerous trails winding through the forest. Its proximity to London makes it an accessible escape for city dwellers, offering a peaceful retreat into nature.
Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre, Billericay
Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre, located near Billericay in Essex, is a haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
This serene spot, set within the beautiful landscape of the Hanningfield Reservoir, offers an opportunity to connect with nature and observe a rich variety of birdlife.
Surrounding the centre are well-maintained nature trails and bird hides, allowing visitors to explore the area and watch birds in their natural habitat.
The reservoir, a significant site for water storage and wildlife conservation, attracts a diverse range of birds throughout the year, making it a popular spot for birdwatching. Additionally, the centre features a café and gift shop.
East Anglian Railway Museum, Colchester
The East Anglian Railway Museum, located near Colchester in Essex, offers a fascinating journey into the history of rail transport in the East Anglia region.
This open-air museum, set around a restored Victorian railway station, provides a hands-on experience with its collection of vintage trains, carriages, and railway paraphernalia.
Visitors can explore the heritage steam and diesel locomotives, experience the nostalgia of classic railway carriages, and learn about the life and work of railway workers in the past.
The museum also features a miniature railway, popular with younger visitors, and offers train rides on certain days.
The East Anglian Railway Museum is is an engaging destination for train enthusiasts and families alike – a highly-recommended Essex visitor attraction.
Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens, Braintree
Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens, located in Braintree, Essex, are a serene and picturesque haven, offering a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Established in the early 20th century, these beautifully maintained gardens span approximately 5 acres, showcasing a diverse range of flora and landscaped features.
Visitors can enjoy meandering through the winding paths, admiring the vibrant flower beds, expansive lawns, and mature trees. The gardens are home to a charming bandstand, often hosting live music and events, adding to the community spirit of the space.
A tranquil pond, complete with a fountain, adds to the gardens’ tranquil ambiance. Additionally, there are dedicated areas for children to play, making it a family-friendly Essex destination.
Audley End House and Gardens, Saffron Walden
Audley End House and Gardens, in Saffron Walden, Essex, is a grandiose country mansion, once one of the largest and most opulent houses in Jacobean England.
The house itself showcases lavishly decorated rooms and an extensive collection of artworks and furnishings, giving visitors a glimpse into the life of English aristocracy.
The gardens are equally impressive, designed by the famous landscapist Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, featuring meticulously manicured lawns, ornate flowerbeds, and a variety of themed gardens.
The estate also includes a kitchen garden, restored to its Victorian glory, supplying produce to the on-site café.
With additional attractions like a children’s play area and a calendar full of events, Audley End House and Gardens offers a fascinating and enjoyable day out.
The Naze Beach, Walton-on-the-Naze
The Naze Beach, located at Walton-on-the-Naze, is a picturesque and popular seaside destination known for its striking cliffs and fossil-rich shores.
This natural and unspoilt beach is famed for its geological and paleontological significance, with the Naze cliffs offering a glimpse into England’s ancient past.
Visitors often engage in fossil hunting along the beach, uncovering remnants from millions of years ago. The beach itself, with its soft sands and gentle waves, is ideal for traditional seaside activities like swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing.
Adjacent to the beach is the Naze Tower, an iconic 86-foot historic landmark offering panoramic views of the coastline.
The Naze, as a whole, is a haven for wildlife and a key site for birdwatching, especially during migration periods.
Colchester Zoo, Colchester
Colchester Zoo, located in the historic town of Colchester, is a vibrant and conservation-focused wildlife attraction that offers visitors an immersive journey into the animal kingdom.
Spanning over 60 acres, the zoo is home to a diverse collection of animals from around the world, making it a delightful destination for families and nature enthusiasts.
Visitors can explore a wide range of exhibits, each carefully designed to replicate the natural habitats of the animals.
From majestic big cats to playful primates, the zoo provides opportunities to observe these creatures up close while learning about their conservation needs and the importance of protecting endangered species.
Visitors can also participate in interactive experiences, talks, and feeding sessions, gaining a deeper understanding of the animal kingdom and the challenges it faces.
Colchester Zoo offers a memorable day out that combines entertainment with a meaningful message about conservation.
Essex Police Museum, Chelmsford
The Essex Police Museum, situated in Chelmsford, is a captivating destination that offers visitors a unique insight into the history and evolution of policing in Essex.
This museum, housed in a historic police station, provides a fascinating journey through the world of law enforcement.
The exhibits at the Essex Police Museum showcase the development of policing from its early days to the modern era.
Visitors can explore a wide range of artifacts, including uniforms, equipment, and archival materials, offering a glimpse into the challenges and triumphs of law enforcement over the years.
One of the museum’s highlights is its collection of historic police vehicles. Interactive displays and engaging exhibits also help make the museum an educational and enjoyable experience for visitors of all ages.
Headgate Theatre, Colchester
Headgate Theatre, located in the heart of Colchester, is a vibrant cultural hub that has been captivating audiences for years.
This intimate and charming venue offers a diverse range of theatrical productions, concerts, and performances, making it a cultural gem in the town.
The theatre’s unique character stems from its historic building, which was once a church. This architectural heritage adds to the ambiance, creating an inviting space for both performers and spectators.
With its cosy setting, Headgate Theatre provides an immersive experience where the audience can feel closely connected to the performers.
Headgate Theatre’s program boasts a rich variety of events, from classic plays and contemporary dramas to musical performances and comedy shows.
Princes Theatre, Clacton-on-Sea
Princes Theatre, situated in the picturesque coastal town of Clacton-on-Sea has been entertaining audiences for generations.
This beloved venue offers a diverse array of live performances, ranging from plays and musicals to concerts and comedy shows, making it a vibrant part of Clacton’s entertainment scene.
The theatre’s location, just a stone’s throw from the seafront, adds to its charm. Its proximity to the beach and the promenade makes it a delightful destination for both locals and visitors.
Princes Theatre takes pride in its program, which caters to a wide range of tastes and preferences.
From classic dramas that transport audiences to different worlds to musical extravaganzas that fill the air with melody and dance, the theatre offers something for everyone.
Wallasea Island Wetland Reserve RSPB
Wallasea Island Wetland Reserve RSPB is a remarkable conservation success story that has transformed industrial land into a thriving haven for wildlife.
This ambitious project, managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), has created a vast wetland landscape that is home to an array of bird species.
The reserve’s transformation from former farmland and industrial land into a thriving ecosystem has been nothing short of astonishing.
Visitors to the reserve can explore its network of lagoons, saltmarshes, and mudflats, providing crucial habitats for both resident and migratory birds. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts flock to the reserve to witness the spectacular avian displays throughout the year.
For visitors, the wetlands offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature, witness the beauty of coastal wildlife, and learn about the vital conservation efforts undertaken to protect these fragile ecosystems.
Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea
Adventure Island is a thrilling amusement park that promises fun and excitement for visitors of all ages.
Situated along the iconic Southend seafront, this lively destination has been a source of joy and entertainment for generations.
With its breathtaking seaside location, Adventure Island offers a wide range of exhilarating rides including Sky Drop as well as gravity-defying rollercoasters. There are also gentler rides suitable for younger children.
The park’s vibrant atmosphere, complete with arcades and food stalls, adds to the festive ambiance. In short, Adventure Island is a cherished part of Southend’s cultural heritage and a popular Essex attraction.
Old MacDonald’s Farm, Brentwood
Old MacDonald’s Farm is a delightful and educational farm attraction that brings the countryside to the heart of the city.
This family-friendly farm provides a hands-on experience for visitors of all ages, offering a glimpse into rural life and a chance to connect with a variety of farm animals.
Children and adults alike can enjoy getting up close and personal with a range of animals, from friendly goats and fluffy rabbits to adorable piglets and inquisitive chickens.
The farm’s interactive approach allows visitors to feed, pet, and learn about these creatures, fostering a love for animals and nature.
With additional attractions like playgrounds and tractor rides, the farm promises a day of outdoor adventure and discovery.
Colchester Castle, Colchester
Colchester Castle Museum, located in the heart of historic Colchester, is a captivating journey through time that delves into the rich history of this ancient town.
Housed within the impressive Norman castle, this museum offers a wealth of exhibits and artefacts that trace Colchester’s evolution from its Roman origins to the present day.
Visitors can explore the castle’s well-preserved keep, climb its spiral staircase, and enjoy panoramic views of Colchester from the rooftop.
Inside, the museum’s displays take you on a chronological voyage through history, with highlights including Roman treasures, medieval artefacts, and interactive exhibits that bring the past to life.
For history enthusiasts and curious minds, a visit to Colchester Castle promises an immersive and educational experience that unveils the layers of Colchester’s fascinating past.
Marsh Farm, Woodham Ferrers
Marsh Farm is a charming and family-friendly Essex attraction that immerses visitors in the beauty of rural life.
This working farm offers a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of urban living, providing a serene and educational experience.
Visitors to Marsh Farm have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of farm animals, from friendly goats and fluffy lambs to adorable piglets and inquisitive chickens.
The farm’s interactive approach allows guests to feed, pet, and learn about these animals, making it a memorable experience for children and adults alike.
In addition to its animal encounters, Marsh Farm offers a range of activities and attractions, including tractor rides, play areas, and educational displays.
Green Island Gardens, Ardleigh
Green Island Gardens is a horticultural paradise spread over 20 acres, meticulously designed and cared for by owner Fiona Edmond.
These private gardens, open to the public, present a stunning array of diverse landscapes, from formal gardens to woodland areas.
Visitors can explore a variety of themed gardens, including a water garden, a Japanese garden, and a series of terraced gardens, each offering a unique aesthetic experience.
The gardens boast an impressive collection of plants, shrubs, and trees, many of which are rare and unusual, providing interest throughout the seasons.
Well-defined paths meander through the gardens, leading to hidden corners and delightful surprises, like sculptural elements and tranquil ponds.
Green Island Gardens is a feast for the eyes and a great source of inspiration for gardeners.
Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, Colchester
Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens is a renowned horticultural destination that celebrates the innovative gardening principles of the late Beth Chatto.
This iconic garden, founded by the pioneering plantswoman herself, showcases a harmonious blend of ecological gardening, sustainable practices, and artistic design.
Visitors to Beth Chatto’s Gardens are treated to a unique and inspirational experience. The gardens are divided into distinct areas, each highlighting Beth Chatto’s deep understanding of plant ecology and her commitment to creating sustainable landscapes.
The plant nursery on-site allows visitors to take home a piece of this horticultural treasure, making it a destination that both educates and delights.
RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Chelmsford
RHS Garden Hyde Hall is a horticultural paradise that showcases the best of British gardening.
This stunning garden, spanning over 360 acres, is part of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and offers a diverse and captivating experience for visitors.
Hyde Hall features an array of themed gardens, from vibrant herbaceous borders to serene water features, woodland areas, and innovative contemporary designs.
The Dry Garden, in particular, is a standout feature, displaying a striking collection of drought-resistant plants that thrive in challenging conditions.
Visitors can explore the beautifully landscaped grounds, discover horticultural inspiration, and learn about gardening techniques and plant varieties.
Frinton Beach, Frinton-on-Sea
Frinton-on-Sea Beach, located along the pristine Essex coastline, is a quintessential British seaside destination known for its charm and unspoiled beauty.
This picturesque stretch of coastline offers visitors a serene and nostalgic escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Frinton-on-Sea Beach is renowned for its golden sands, which stretch for miles and provide ample space for leisurely walks, sunbathing, and family picnics. The beach is framed by colorful beach huts that add a delightful splash of character to the landscape.
Unlike some of the busier seaside resorts, Frinton-on-Sea Beach maintains a tranquil and family-friendly atmosphere.
It is an ideal spot for building sandcastles, paddling in the gentle waves, and enjoying the simple pleasures of a traditional British beach experience.
The town of Frinton-on-Sea itself exudes a timeless elegance, with its charming Victorian and Edwardian architecture, quaint tea rooms, and welcoming shops.
Visit the Official Essex Tourist Website