Places to visit in Essex
Staycations are on the up and up, and in recent times the county of Essex has become an absolute hotbed of holidays. This is in no small part thanks to the county’s selection of beaches, some achieving Blue Flag status, and many more winning ‘Seaside Awards’, giving visitors an array of options for a day at the seaside.
Essex is culturally rich, being home to the oldest town in the UK, a wealth of historical sites and several National Trust properties and parks. The rural stretches of the county are full of beauty spots, offering walkers miles of unspoiled countryside with riverside trails, rolling hills, and ancient woodland to take in. There are dozens of well-signposted routes around the county making it a walker’s paradise.
The county also offers a lot in the way of family activities. In addition to the world-famous Colchester Zoo, there are arcades, piers, trampoline parks and go-karting tracks alongside many other amusements. It’s almost impossible to spend a day in this eastern county without finding something fun for the whole family to enjoy. This list of Haven-approved places to visit in Essex will give you a starting point to help plan your trip.
Seaside resorts don’t get much more iconic than Clacton-on-Sea, the largest town on the Essex Sunshine Coast. There’s also a familiar old-time vibe about the town which likely comes the 1950s and ‘60s when this was the beachside place to be seen. However, where other British resort towns have faded away, Clacton has managed to keep up with the times, the pier is still now just as entertaining and lively as it was half a century ago.
Clacton-on-Sea boasts an array of shops, restaurants, attractions, and leisure facilities throughout the town to satisfy visitors of all ages. You can also jump on a bike and try one of the many cycle routes around Clacton that encompass a variety of distances, from a short 8-mile ride around the Martello Tower to a 20-mile epic that takes in the rural charms of Great Bentley further inland. With The Orchards Holiday Park just a 15-minute drive away, there’s no reason not to experience the seaside fun at Clacton-on-Sea, one of the best places to visit in Essex. For even more to do in the town, check out our list of things to do in Clacton-on-Sea.
If you’re staying with Haven at The Orchards Holiday Park and fancy exploring the local area, there can be no better option than the maritime town of Brightlingsea, right on your doorstep. Brightlingsea is a pleasant little location on the Colne estuary, between Colchester and Clacton. It is a popular yachting destination with excellent sailing and water sport facilities as well as an attractive harbour.
The promenade of Brightlingsea is a highlight, stretching along the west coast of the town, it features a tranquil bathing area, backed by rows of colourful beach huts. The promenade ends with the impressive Batemans Tower, a curious octagonal, block-built folly, believed to have been originally built as a lighthouse.
Alongside 13th-century timbered buildings, Brightlingsea’s centre has a convenient souvenir shopping space and is a pleasant area to wander in due to its floral decorations, which, along with Springmead Gardens, ensures that Brightlingsea is a regular winner of ‘Britain in Bloom’ competitions. A small boating lake and outdoor swimming pool can also be found to the west of the harbour, ideal for when the sea is too cold to swim. A regular foot ferry takes you from Brightlingsea Harbour to Mersea Island, a unique island to explore and a massive recommendation of ours!
Find out more in our round-up of things to do in Brightlingsea.
St Osyth is a hidden gem and one of the best places to visit in Essex, so it’s just as well that it’s a mere stone’s throw from us at The Orchards Holiday Park. A two-mile walk takes you to the heart of this quaint Essex village. Your arrival is marked by Curve Water Sports, a brilliant aqua activity that’s based on the lovely Mill Dam Lake.
As you head into the village centre, there are 116 listed buildings and structures to explore, and a couple of relaxing pubs to enjoy a drink or two with the loved ones. Historic walls run alongside the main thoroughfare, and behind these you’ll find St Osyth Museum, offering a brilliant insight into this historic corner of Essex.
See more stuff that makes this village special on our things to do in St Osyth article.
Colchester, formerly known as ‘Camulodunum’, is the oldest town in the UK and was a former capital of Roman Britain. Its rich history dates back over two millennia and is ripe for discovering on one of the city’s self-guided trails that help bring Colchester’s fascinating heritage to life. But it's not all about the past here. Modern Colchester is also a thriving town with first class attractions such as the cultural Colchester Castle and family-friendly Colchester Zoo.
The latter is home to many rare and endangered species, including primates, big cats and birds of all shapes and sizes as well as many invertebrates and fish species; it is a sure fire hit with curious minds and animal lovers. If you are looking for unique heritage, family attractions, picturesque villages, and quintessentially English countryside surroundings, then Colchester is the town for you. See what else makes this Essex town great in things to do in Colchester.
Walton-on-the-Naze is a wonderful way to spend a day away from the action at The Orchards Holiday Park. Standing close to the northern limit of Essex’s coastline, the town combines classic seaside features with natural beauty to make it once of the best places to visit in Essex.
Explore the glorious 19th-century pier, walk along the lovely beach and head north to Naze Tower to complete a brilliant family day out. For a bit of indulgence, pick from one of the many quality fish and chip shops. See more delights on things to do in Walton-on-the-Naze.
Places to visit in Essex don’t come much more peaceful than Frinton. A sprawling space with plenty of greenery, the town never gets too busy, meaning you can turn up whatever time you want and enjoy the things to do. Frinton is quite literally a breath of fresh air, and perfect for a stroll along the coast with loads of convenient places to park when you drive the 30-minute journey from The Orchards Holiday Park.
If you’re here in the warmer months, check out the Frinton Summer Theatre. The venue has hosted many a famous name over the years, with Sir Ian McKellen bringing a one-man production to the stage here in 2019.
Southend-on-Sea might be a bit of an outlier in this article, but we promise the relatively long journey from The Orchards Holiday Park is worth it. A household name, Southend has been welcoming visitors from far and wide for decades, and proudly hosts the longest pier in the world! A handy train takes you from one to the other, so you don’t have to worry if you’re feeling lazy.
There are awesome amusements on the seafront, as well as a raft of rides and places to eat and drink. All in all, Southend-on-Sea has all the ingredients for a brilliant day out, making it a place with some of the best things to do in Essex.
Located on a peninsula at the entrance to the estuaries of the Rivers Stroud and Orwell, Harwich is a busy port town with a rich maritime history. This legacy is thanks to former residents such as the famous seafarers Martin Frobisher, Sir Francis Drake, as well as the fact that it was the launching site of The Mayflower in 1620, the ship that famously transported a group of English families, known today as the Pilgrims or the Founding Fathers, to the New World.
The older part of Harwich was built in the 1200s and is protected due to its collection of unique cantilevered and flat-fronted houses. Not only does Harwich entice visitors with stunning history and heritage, but it also boasts a wonderful selection of restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs, as well as the Electric Palace Cinema from 1911, the oldest unchanged cinema in Britain which still has its original silent screen. The tranquil seaside at Dovercourt Bay features an award-winning Blue Flag beach while the Marine Parade links the town to a range of seafront facilities and unspoilt beauty making it one of the best places to visit in Essex.