Things to Do in Essex: 13 Must-See Essex Attractions

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If you want a memorable holiday trip with friends and family, a visit to Essex should be at the top of your list. Essex is an English county in the east of England, sandwiched between Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Northsea, Hertfordshire, and River Thames. 

Its position offers each traveller a unique experience because it is easily accessible and has everything from epic sceneries to warm beaches.

Essex also boasts a bountiful number of cultural and historical sites, unlike other counties in England. So for history buffs and culture enthusiasts, castles, food markets, and festivals are open for an enriching and educational experience. And Essex’s well-renowned landscapes are ideal for those who enjoy the natural environment.

Check out this list of 13 fun things to experience in Essex with family and friends, whether you prefer intimate indoor activities or the great outdoors.

Things to Do in Essex 

To assist Essex newcomers, we compiled a list of attractions and places to visit, combining outdoor and indoor activities. Their cultural events, such as music shows, exhibitions, and food markets, offer visitors a chance to connect with authentic English talents and cuisine. But they also have a wide selection of natural landmarks to see.

From Colchester Zoo to an exquisite manor’s tea room, Essex promises a memorable visit for kids and adults alike.

Gardens, Parks, and Towns

The UK is well-known for its lush terrain. The grounds are often green and fertile, producing fascinating landscapes thanks to their climate. While rain is expected, there is the occasional sunny day which many like to spend outside.

Essex, as a region, is lavish and rich in vegetation, and it is home to some beautifully manicured gardens and massive green spreads often completed with serene water features.   

Whether an amusement or a nature park, Essex is dynamic and versatile, giving holidaymakers plenty of vacation choices. Venture out into the top exquisite parklands for a refreshing family day out. 

1. Great Notley Country Park

First on the list is one of Essex’s popular outdoor gems, Great Notley. While it began as an excavating site revealing artefacts from the Iron Age, Great Notley is a friendly area and ranks easily as a top choice for many.

The park is spacious and lively, and it is highly recommended for its activities. It includes horse riding, cycling, and climbing for sporty, adventurous individuals.

The country park has several play areas and forts, with slides and tyre swings for kids, meaning they will never go bored. Additionally, it is the perfect picnic spot for leisurely afternoon tea or a sundown walk.


  • Longest kids’ play trail in the county
  • Dog-friendly for pet owners
  • Free fishing
  • Sky ropes
visit essex

2. Southend On Sea

One of the most popular attractions in Essex is Southend On Sea, a resort town perched perfectly in one of the most historic parts of England.

Steeped in culture, the Southend On Sea is home to a museum and galleries for contemporary souls with a keen eye for art. Holidaymakers can visit the historic site to learn more about Essex and its importance in English history.

A trip to the longest pleasure pier in Essex is the perfect escape for a family day out in nature. The Southend pier overlooks the island and is an outstanding natural beauty. A stunning panoramic view of the sea and nature makes it an all-time favourite for visitors from across the globe.  

Furthermore, to complete your visit, Southend On Sea holds annual festivals and exhibitions, a great way to spend a sunny day outdoors. The festivals and events vary in the season to allow every guest to find something that fits their holiday schedule—just one of the many reasons Essex and its attractions are the best.


  • Thames Estuary
  • 7-mile coastline
  • Thorpe Bay
  • Westwood Nature Reserve
  • Southend Cliff Garden

3. Dedham Vale 

Very few places can compete with Dedham Vale, the world-renowned Saxon nature reserve. 

Located just in the northeast of Essex, Dedham Vale was awarded the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in recognition of its splendour. And it truly is an impressive site with remarkable landscapes maintained carefully to prevent too much tampering while still allowing a breathable, fresh environment for its visitors.

Opened in 1970, the nature conservatory grew in importance, particularly when addressing issues regarding climate change and the natural environment. 

For lovers of art, they will find Dedham Vale exceptional as many famous painters, including John Constable and Gainsborough, drew inspiration from it.


  • Volunteer program for individuals passionate about the environment 
  • Cycling and walking guided tours
  • Accessibility ramps for disabled guests
  • Bird Spotting
time out

4. Stour Valley

The Stour Valley is home to the River it shares a name with, an important water source for the gardens and natural life of Dedham Vale and the surrounding regions. Tucked away from the fast-paced English life, Stour Valley is rural and idyllic, connecting villages, woodlands, and historic church buildings.

Further delve into the valley with a visit to Palace House– a centre dedicated to the sport of horse racing, its history, and practices. Or take time at the St Mary The Virgin Church, which is crested with unique paintings dating back to the nineteenth century. 

For guests who wish to take a gander, the Visitor Centre welcomes you. It is open every day at 10 in the morning and closes at 5 in the evening during summer. In conclusion, Stour Valley promises a wholesome getaway with its elegance and beauty.


  • Some Heritage Trail
  • Kedington Library
  • Marquis of Granby
  • Anchor Inn
  • The Granary
kent downs

5. Promenade Park

A trip to Essex is incomplete without a stop at the Promenade Park’s urban hub. An excellent place for a wholesome family day out, the recreational park offers a serene setting in nature. Take a stroll by the ornamental lake, which is home to various wild birds– a bird watcher’s paradise. 

However, Promenade Park is more than just an excellent choice for casual walks and relaxing afternoons. During the summer holidays, when the days are a bit warmer, residents from all over Essex bring their families to Splash Park, where children can cool down in the swimming area. 

Another children’s treat is the petting zoo, where kids meet farm and wild animals.


  • 18-hole golf course 
  • Skateboard park and BMX tracks
  • Valley Adventure Play Area
visit fort wayne

6. Adventure Island

Adventure Island is one of many ever-exciting theme parks just a short distance from Southend On Sea. The theme park has more than forty fast rides for thrill chasers and child-friendly games for the younger crowd. Enjoy the winding water slides and the fairground food.

Though theme parks have a festive atmosphere, this amusement park’s immediate environment is tranquil and friendly, an open space surrounded by nature. 


  • Free rides for ages 14 and up if accompanying an individual shorter than 1.2 metres
  • Free entrance
  • Open during the day and night until 10 pm
  • Annual passes to save money

7. Walton On The Naze

The coastal resort town, named after the Naze headland, is a family-friendly getaway for children and adults alike with stunning panoramic views.

The best part about this quaint beach town is that it is just a short walk from other attractions, including sandy beaches, salty marshes, and of course, the Naze headland. The town attracts migratory birds, particularly ducks and the brent geese, making it a superb option for bird enthusiasts. 

While many travel far and wide for the headland, very few know the Naze Tower, the coastal monument. Moreover, the obelisk rises to 27 metres, with 111 stairs and more than eight floors. Furthermore, the eighteenth-century tower features galleries and a museum detailing the town’s maritime history. 

Therefore, while the natural beauty of this small town pulls in crowds, there is more to it than meets the eye.


  • Titchmarsh Marina
  • Columbine Centre
  • Walton Wildlife Trails
  • World War 2 and History Trails

Castles and Historic Buildings

Essex boasts many ancient manors and castles, making it one of the few places that offer rich insight into the past civilizations of England. Stone castles are a famous sighting, particularly in this small county English royals often frequent.

Many of the castles take the names of the great families that inhabited them once upon a time. 

Furthermore, the castles are an immersive experience as many buildings are kept authentic in their structure with very few modern touches. 

the guardian

8. Hylands House

Hylands House is an elegant 574-acre estate built in the Victorian era. Surrounded by beautiful spreads of green, it is a fantastic venue for family gatherings, festivals, and events. 

However, the prestigious villa is still perfect for short visits. Built in 1730 and restored in 2007, the prestigious manor opens its doors monthly to the public.

Even so, Hylands is just a corner piece of the esteemed estate. The famous yet modest stables attract large crowds yearly, and they come with a bookshop, a café, and even an art studio where visitors can buy hand-crafted pieces. 

Moreover, the ancient woodlands and splendid gardens with ponds and lakes for picturesque strolls are close to the stables. 


  • Horses available for riding
  • Award-winning Adventure Playground for children
  • Hylands Farmers and Crafts Market 

9. Colchester Castle

Roman Britain is known as one of the most significant pieces of ancient times, and Colchester Castle is a beacon of such a history. Rome, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, pioneered empirical glory across what is now known as Europe, so its impact on Colchester is evident.

Coined Roman Britain, Colchester Castle connects to the rich past of Rome and modern Europe and how it came to be. This crucial structure, therefore, ties many elements of modern-day Britain to some of the most significant historic civilizations in the world.

Colchester castle was constructed in the 11th century and remained the largest Norman site in Europe. It was built upon the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius. 

Even though it is an ancient building, tours are elaborate and interactive with the help of technology to make information more accessible and fun for all ages. 


  • Tours available for on-arrival bookings
  • Affordable interactive devices
  • Replica ballista
  • Colchester Zoo reachable by train or taxi 

10. Cressing Temple

The Temple in Braintree was built during mediaeval times, making it an excellent site for holidaymakers in Essex. It was an estate gifted to the Templar Knight monks, a military-style order that sought to protect travellers to the Holy Land in the 12th century.

Not only is it known as the home of fierce militant worshippers, but it also has a vast history that spans decades. Furthermore, historians also recognise its features as some of the finest in the world.  


  • Great Barns: The Wheat Barn and the Barley Barn
  • 17th-century Granary
  • Tudor Gardens
explore essex

11. Chelmsford Cathedral

Chelmsford Cathedral is an elegant sanctuary for worshippers, but its doors are open to welcome visitors from all around Europe. The Cathedral began as a parish church with recorded sermons as early as 1223. 

Later, in the 15th century, the church was renovated to include the tower, and over the centuries, other features were added to accommodate the growing community. Moreover, the library documents the journey of the Cathedral for interested individuals.

Several important figures in the English clergy are linked to it, including St John Mildmay, Dr. John Knightbridge, and painter Mark Cazalate. Exceptional and alluring, the Cathedral is worth a visit.  


  • St Peter’s Chapel
  • The Bombed Child sculpture by George Ehrlich
  • St Cedd’s Chapel
  • The Nave (central room of the Cathedral)
chelmsford cathedral

12. Saffron Walden

The quaint mediaeval town of Saffron Walden promises more than just an informative tour of the town’s treasured past. There are several seasonal festivals held yearly to celebrate the town and the holidays during the school breaks.

One of Saffron Walden’s valued sites is the Audley End House. The stunning architecture and gorgeous grounds are perfect examples of culture and history in the small town. Offering an immersive experience likened to a period drama, the Audley End House is an ideal destination. 


  • Audley End miniature railway
  • Golf World Stansted
  • Saffron Walden Museum
  • One Minet Skatepark
  • Bridge End Garden 
the independent

13. Hedingham Castle

Lastly, on this comprehensive list of Essex attractions is Hedingham Castle. Like many castles in Essex, Hedingham is a historic building completed during the mediaeval era. But unlike other Essex landmarks, it became a well-rounded educational institute. Stimulating guides talk school pupils through the prehistoric Victorian times that shaped modernity.

The Lindsay Family, relatives of the past Dukes of Oxford, owned the fort and its surrounding lands. Specialising in the arts of the Middle Ages, Hedingham puts on outdoor theatre, jousting tournaments, and fairs to revive history to the fullest. 

Additionally, Hedingham is notoriously popular among filmmakers and photographers and is the site for many media projects. Therefore, it is one of the most recognisable landmarks across the UK.


  • Hour-long Escape room games for up to eight players
  • The Georgian Mansion Hall
  • Events all year round 
  • Castle Hedingham, the local village
visit essex


Are pets allowed at Cressing Temple?

Yes! Dogs are allowed at the Temple. However, they must be well-trained and kept on a leash. The Temple does not permit pets in the buildings. Therefore, if you are a pet owner, you must keep your pet on the grounds around the building area.

It may be easier to leave your pets behind to experience Cressing Temple without limitation.

Does Chelmsford Cathedral have parking?

Unfortunately, the Cathedral itself does not offer parking spaces. However, vehicle owners have designated parking areas at Waterloo Lane. Several parking spaces are available for a small fee during your visit. 

An app is available for download to book a space for your vehicle to make travelling with your car in Essex an easier experience. 

Is Audley End House wheelchair-friendly?

Yes. To accommodate everyone and ensure that guests are comfortable, Audley End House has several ramps for wheelchairs. Additionally, they have accessible toilet facilities and rent wheelchairs for any who may require them. 

Furthermore, Audley End House also accommodates the hard of hearing with the appropriate facilities.

Does Adventure Island have an age restriction?

No. Adventure Island is open to people of all ages. However, some rides may come with height restrictions. Other rides may allow all heights but require the individual to go with a companion.

The restrictions ensure that the ride safety measures work effectively to ensure the customers’ safety. 


In summary, there are plenty of things to do in Essex; it is bursting with variety for every visitor. Whether you prefer Victorian manors or you wish to spend time in the English countryside, by the seaside, or in fantastical gardens, the county of Essex has it all. It is rich in culture and history but adds a modern touch to keep its sites alive and youthful. 

Essex continues to satisfy the hungry traveller, from castles to manors and outdoor attractions in the countryside. So check the Essex map, plan your trip, get a train ride or drive over and visit in Essex.

About The Author

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James is a writer who is a self-confessed kitchenware and coffee nerd and a strong advocate of Sundays, good butter, and warm sourdough.