The Best Things to Do in Essex, UK

England's Southend Pier is the largest pleasure pier in the world
England's Southend Pier is the largest pleasure pier in the world | © Lyna / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nicholas Grantham
16 September 2021

From Southend Pier to a Secret Nuclear Bunker, this East of England county is full of surprises.

Known for its starring role in reality television shows and locals who take pride in their appearance, there’s far more to Essex than meets the eye. With some of the most scene-stealing countryside in the UK, as well as a great mix of culture, attractions and heritage, there’s plenty to do with your time in Essex. To help you choose, we’ve put together a list of some of the best things to do on your next trip.

Meet creatures at Colchester Zoo

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One of the top zoos in the country – and definitely one of the best attractions in the county – Colchester Zoo is home to a huge number of rare and endangered animals. First opened in 1963, today, the zoological park champions its conservation efforts, taking a leading role in the care and survival of some of the most at-risk species in the world, including Komodo dragons and African big cats. Offering visitors an up-close look and, in some cases, hands-on experience, the zoo hopes to educate in order to help protect the collection of animals that call the park their home.

Explore the Secret Nuclear Bunker

Museum, Amusement Park
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9372. Kelvedon Hatch, Secret Nuclear Bunker, Brentwood, Essex, England
© Rick Strange / Alamy Stock Photo

Underneath a rather discreet bungalow, on the outskirts of Kelvedon Hatch, lives a huge former nuclear bunker now open to the public. Originally opened by the RAF as a command centre in the case of a full-blown nuclear attack, the centre today offers visitors a fascinating look at what life would look like at the end of the world. Outside of its underground space, the centre offers excellent high-ropes adventure activities, as well as an exciting obstacle course through the nearby woodland.

Seek pleasure on Southend Pier

Historical Landmark
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The famous Southend Pier is the largest pleasure pier in the world and is definitely worth a visit. Stretching over a mile (1.6km) into the sea, the pier has entertained guests for well over a 100 years and, today, includes the Salt Cafe, a mini-golf course and even its own railway covering the length of the pier. On top of this, there is the Royal Pavilion, an excellent venue hosting a mixture of live performances, exhibitions and concerts throughout the year.

Take in the free Adventure Island

Amusement Park
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© Rodger Tamblyn / Alamy Stock Photo

Often cited as the best free amusement park in the UK, Adventure Island can be found in the heart of Southend-on-Sea, just a short walk up from the pier. The park features a mix of heart-racing rides, including the Rage Rollercoaster, Vortex and The Dragon’s Claw, as well as options for those looking for a calmer day out. In between the thrill rides, catch your breath, and grab a bite at The Britannia, a traditional British pub with a great menu.

Go wild at Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre

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Path Through Belfairs Woods with Lots of Autumn Colour
© Timothy Smith / Alamy Stock Photo

Set among the ancient woodland of Belfair and Daws Heath, the Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre offers you over a 1,000 acres (405ha) of pristine English countryside. Through the conservation efforts of Essex Wildlife Trust, the park is now home to a huge variety of local flora and fauna. To admire the park’s full beauty, follow the Seven Woods Walk, a 5-mile (8km) route that takes you around the whole park and through the resident sculpture trail as well. Be sure to stop off at the welcome shop and cafe, perfect for a break after a long walk.

Lay siege on Colchester Castle

Historical Landmark
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Great Britain, England, Essex, Colchester, view of Colchester Castle, castle keep built by the Normans between 1076- 1125
© Manfred Gottschalk / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the best-kept castle keeps in the country, Colchester Castle is an excellent destination for a day out with the whole family. Built nearly a thousand years ago, following the Norman conquest of Britain, the castle is a reminder of the country’s fascinating history. Found right in the centre of the city, the castle is much more than a collection of old walls. Exhibits – including genuine artefacts, interactive displays and even chances to dress in period clothing – offer an up-close look at what life was like for everyday people, stretching back to the last millennium.

These recommendations were updated on September 16, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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