Things to do in Southend-on-Sea

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Seaside towns don’t get more famous than Southend-on-Sea. The resort town has been allowing Londoners to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city for decades and became a city in 2022. 

At just over an hour, Southend is a fairly meaty drive from our park at Orchards, but such are the qualities of this Essex gem, we think it’s well worth the travel time to see a different side of the county by the sea. We’ve come up with a definitive list of days out in Southend, with abundance of things to do that add extra entertainment to any holiday with us. 

1. Southend Pier and its railway

1. Southend Pier and its railway

The longest pleasure pier in the world was a sure-fire inclusion on the list of things to do in Southend. Stretching for over 1.3 miles, it comes up in many a pub quiz and really helps distinguish Southend from similar places by the sea. The pier is so long that a handy train runs from its start to finish, taking you from the heart of the town all the way out to the middle of Thames Estuary in minutes.

Many choose to stretch their legs for one leg of the journey and get the train back into town. There are brilliant vantage points along the pier, and a range of refreshment stands to tempt you too. All in all, this attraction is a must for any day out in Southend.

2. Adventure Island

2. Adventure Island

Adventure Island is one of Southend’s premier attractions. The fun-filled theme park is one of the best by the coast in the whole UK, with a whole host of rides suitable for all ages. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a bit queasy when it comes to the bigger rides, you’ll find something to your taste here. Entry to the park is free so you only pay when you jump on a ride, simply buy a wristband for access once something takes your eye. You can go on together for the price of one person when you’re bringing a little one too, adding to Adventure Island’s reputation as one of the best value days out in Southend.

3. Sealife Adventure

Southend’s Sealife Adventure can lay claim to being the south east’s best aqua attraction. Home to over 40 displays of marine life, the aquarium represents all oceans on earth and unlocks endless knowledge on what is one of the world’s most undiscovered areas.

There is a specific area for rescued tortoises that you must check out, and the kids will love the clownfish enclosure that draws comparisons to the popular film Finding Nemo. You’ll leave this family-friendly venue educated and inspired, and with family tickets available it’s a great value option for your next day out in Southend.

4. The amusements

No trip to Southend would be complete without a visit or two to the town’s abundance of amusements. A walk along Marine Parade in the heart of the town is the best way to sample as much as possible. Places like Funland and Star Amusements are home to everything from soft toy machines to classic arcade games. 

Pick up some fish and chips along the way, sample the fresh sea air and treat yourself and the family to what’s a must-do part of a classic day out by the sea. 

5. Southend Cliff Lift

5. Southend Cliff Lift

Southend is fairly hilly at its seafront, with the pier actually towering over the town’s promenade straight into the city centre. In recent years, lifts have been put in to get people up into the town a lot easier, but a ride on the Southend Cliff Lift gives you a ride up as well as a snapshot into Southend’s history.

Opened in 1912, the site lays claim to being Britain’s shortest funicular railway and its smallest single-track funicular. You can take a ride on this piece of history from 10am-3pm and fares remain more than reasonable so as far as things to do in Southend goes, this is a brilliant value option for all the family.

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6. Southend Central Museum

Southend Central Museum has been a bastion of local history since it swung open its doors to visitors in 1981. Housed in a Grade II listed building, the museum hosts a range of collections including the remnants of archaeological ruins from nearby Prittlewell.

There are artefacts galore in this hidden Essex gem and an interesting new ‘Wunderkammer’ exhibition. Educational for the kids and informative for history buffs, the museum is one of the best things to do in Southend.

7. Cliffs Pavilion and Palace Theatre

A trip to Cliffs Pavilion or the Palace Theatre is a great way to round off a day out in Southend. These are two slightly different but equally brilliant venues with a range of shows throughout the year for all the family.

Touring shows, comedians and live bands are just some of the genres hosted within the walls of these Southend cultural hubs, and you can check a full listing of what’s coming up on their respective websites.

8. Old Leigh, Leigh-on-Sea

8. Old Leigh, Leigh-on-Sea

Leigh-on-Sea is a lovely town only a few miles west of Southend. Leigh very much continues the maritime feel of its bigger neighbour, with boats moored out in the estuary as you pass through Old Leigh. Old Leigh itself is an area of immense beauty, topped off with picturesque pubs and restaurants with a lovely walking route back towards Southend.

This is the oldest part of the affluent town, dating back to the Middle Ages. Places like Old Leigh Studios Gallery and Leigh Heritage Centre and Museum touch on this intriguing past, so they’re well worth a visit when you’re down here.

How to get to Southend-on-Sea from us

Southend-on-Sea isn’t exactly round the corner from us at Orchards, but it’s well worth the hour or so journey to sample a different side of Essex by the sea. Here’s how to get to Southend: 

  • Head to the A120 via St Osyth, Great Bentley and Elmstead 

  • Drive west on the A12 towards Chelmsford 

  • Turn off onto A130, joining the A127 

  • Follow signs for Southend seafront 

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