Last Updated on August 6, 2022
Essex holds a very special place in my heart, why? Because I was born and lived there for over 26 years of my life, so I guess you could call me an Essex Expert! One thing that drives. me. INSANE, is that wherever I go people are like “oh yeah, The Only Way Is Essex! I’ve watched that!”. That programme is awful, there is so much more to Essex than the area where that is filmed! Essex is the county just to the East of London and has awesome transport links to the capital! So if you are after ideas for days out in Essex or even things to do in Essex with kids (remember I grew up in Essex when I was a kid!), here are some of my favourite places to go!
Days Out In Essex
Colchester Zoo has always been one of my favourite places in Essex. I have childhood memories of how it was in the early days and I’ve seen it get better and better through the years and they just seem to keep improving all the time. I even volunteered at the zoo for a year, as part of the education team (I was so sad the day I had to return my uniform). The zoo first opened back in 1963 and is home to over 260 different species of animal.
Some of my favourite animals and enclosures include:
- Orangutan Forest (you have to walk through a glass tunnel through the sea lion pool to get there!) with Rajang the Orangutan, that has been at Colchester Zoo since 1980 (he was born in 1968!!)
- Lost Madagascar – A walk-through Ring-Tailed Lemur enclosure, reached by the Lost Madagascar Express road train (I really wanted to be the train driver!)
- Elephant Kingdom and Kingdom of the Wild are GINORMOUS enclosures, one side has the elephants and the other is a mixed enclosure with Giraffes, Rhinos, Zebras etc. There are daily feeding encounters with the Elephants and Giraffes, which is fun for the family.
I’m yet to see the new Chimpanzee enclosure but I’m desperate to see what they’ve come up with! As sad as it sounds I got to be able to tell the difference between all 8 of the Chimps!
Tips for visiting with kids
I’ll warn you now, Colchester Zoo is located on a hill. There are routes around the park that make it easier for pushchair users but there are a few particularly steep hills. Also, if one of the educational team ask you not to take a pushchair through the walk through monkey enclosures, PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM and don’t argue! The monkeys are naughty and try to escape in the baskets. If a monkey gets out, you successfully ruin the experience for everyone. There are also more than enough playgrounds spread out around the park to keep young visitors entertained!
Tickets (Gate Prices)
Children 3-15yrs: £13.99
Tickets are cheaper if booked in advance. I have also taken part in the Keeper For a Day experience too which gives you a behind the scenes look at how the animals are cared for!
For more information, visit the Colchester Zoo Website
🗺Castle Bailey, Colchester CO1 1TJ (just off Colchester High Street)
Colchester is actually the oldest recorded town in England…yup, older than London! The main part of the castle museum is around 300 years old and has displays about what life was like in the Roman times. You can pay for a tour that takes you down into the underground vaults, which date back 2000 years! While on this tour, you learn about the history of the Castle, which I found really interesting. A ‘new’ addition, includes a tour of the roof. There is a tree that was planted on the roof that signifies the end of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Local schools have been ‘protecting’ cuttings from it, so if ever it dies, they will be able to plant another one using parts of the original tree.
The Castle Park grounds are also worth a visit. There are play areas and a small boating lake. One of my favourite parts is feeding the squirrels! Take some monkey nuts and they will love you forever!
The best place to park is in one of the multi-storey car parks (or the park and ride) and then walk to the castle. You could also park in the Leisure World (swimming pool) car park off Cowdray Avenue and then walk through Castle Park up to the castle. I believe this car park is pay and display too now.
Adults: £7.75 (tour £3)
Children 4-16yrs: £4.80 (tour £1.50)
Find out more on at the Colchester Castle Museum website
Another Essex castle: Hedingham Castle
Maldon Promenade Park
🗺Park Dr, Maldon CM9 5JQ
I LOVE Maldon Prom Park (header image)! It’s located on the estuary of the River Blackwater and again, is an area that has just continued to get better and is one of my favourite days out in Essex! I’m not going to lie, the car park is pay and display and it is expensive (£1.10 for an hour, £5.50 up to 4hrs, £7 all day).
There’s a splash park that’s open during warmer months (£2.50), a bmx track, skate park, crabbing and boating lake, a giant playground, lots of open space, a seawall walk, boat trips along the river, refreshment kiosks (the Slushie Floats are my favourite, there are loads of flavours but I like the lemon and lime Slushie with ice cream on top!) and Pirates Bay Adventure Golf (an 18 hole ‘Florida style’ mini golf course, Adults: £7.50, Children 5-13yrs: £5.50).
Throughout the year, the park holds special events, such as: the annual Maldon Mud Race (which I have completed! It was originally held in December to make it even more of a challenge, but one year it was so cold it was moved to April and was such a success, it’s now permanently held in the warmer months), Carters Steam Fair, the Maldon Motor Show etc.
If you fancy somewhere a little quieter, Heybridge Basin is just down the road, there is free parking (just abandon it on the road), a Tiptree Jam tea room and seawall river walks!
Also near Maldon: Langford Museum of Power. There is a small museum (mainly about steam engines) and a tea room but on site there is a miniature ride-on railway which I’m obsessed with (£1 a ride) and a little model village which is cute! They often hold special events, so check for opening times!
Other river estuary villages to check out: Heybridge Basin, Mersea Island (watch for high tides!), Brightlingsea
Adventure Island, Southend-On-Sea
Essex’s closest answer to a theme park! Adventure Island was always one of our favourite days out in Essex! You can normally find a parking space SOMEWHERE along the seafront…as long as you don’t mind walking, it’s also pay and display so bear that in mind if you get carried away and have to walk miles to reload your ticket!
It’s free to enter the park and wander around. They use a wristband and a ticket system. (The last time I visited, I just bought tickets for Rage, the rollercoaster!) It always used to be that if you visited in the evening, after a certain time, the wristbands would be half price, we used to use this a lot! They now have an indoor zone with rides for little kids, so they are open more throughout the year now! There are a couple of attractions, such as mini golf and the dodgems, that aren’t included as part of the unlimited wristbands.
While you’re in Southend, you can check out the Sea Life Adventure aquarium, take a train ride along ‘the longest pleasure pier in the world’ (over 1 mile long!), try and get out an Escape room at Escape Live, have fun in the amusement arcades, go shopping at The Royal’s Shopping Centre (they have a Primark!), eat fish and chips, or see a show at the Cliffs Pavilion!
I feel that Clacton is a slightly less crazy version of Southend! The biggest difference between the two, is that Clacton’s Pier is more traditional, where the majority of the attractions are on the pier! It has some larger rides inside, so if the weather is bad, it is possible to still have some fun!
I love the rollercoaster that is on the outside area of the pier, it feels like you are going to fly right off into the sea! The 2-storey go-kart track is fun too! The pier also has a little aquarium, a large amusement arcade and a brand new mini golf course. (When I visited in December the pier was being completely renovated!)
Clacton is a great place to get all the typical British seaside food: fish and chips, warm donuts, candy floss, ice cream, sticks of rock etc!
If you feel like exploring further away from the pier, the walk along the seawall is nice. It leads past colourful beach huts towards where the former site of Butlins Holiday Camp was located with information boards displaying the history of the camp that ran for over 50 years! There’s also an old Martello Tower, which was used during the Napoleonic Wars and then became a water tower for Butlins.
I can’t help it, I love Essex seaside towns!
Other Essex seaside towns: Walton on the Naze (pleasure pier), Harwich
Walk the Flitch Way
The Flitch Way is a 15 mile hiking/cycling/horse riding/dog walking route between Braintree and Bishop Stortford. It used to be part of the railway line which now ends at Braintree Station. It’s a safe walk through the countryside, with bridges that even avoids having to stop and cross roads!
A nice short walking route is between Braintree and Rayne Station. The Booking Hall Cafe does AMAZING doorstop sandwiches. Seating is on the old Rayne train station platform (with only a teenie tiny little bit of space inside to sit), in winter they even provide blankets for the customers sitting outside! It’s a nice place to stop and use the toilet too!
It’s also possible to cut through Rayne village and end up in the Great Notley Country Park, which is a great space for walking, has lots of play and climbing equipment and even a high ropes course. (There is a car park charge at the Great Notley Country Park).
Other places to enjoy nature: Hylands Park (Chelmsford), Hatfield Forest (near Stansted Airport), Broaks Wood (near Hedingham), Gosfield Lake, Highwoods (Colchester)
Have a cream tea in Finchingfield
It would be a crime to visit Essex and not see one of the cute little villages! I love Finichingfield, with its duck pond, cute little bridge (if it hasn’t been savaged by the council wanting to make it 2 way), tiny cottages and there’s even a windmill!
Right next to the duck pond is a small pub and a tearooms next door. If you sit outside, beware that you might get bitten on the bum by a goose!
Cressing Temple Barns
🗺Witham Rd, Cressing CM77 8PD
Cressing Temple Barns date back to the early thirteenth century and are free to visit! There are displays on the history of the barns and the area as well as a Tiptree Jam tearoom! (The Tiptree Jam Factory is an Essex product (shall we say?) located in Tiptree, there is a small museum and sometimes you can take tours of part of the factory! I’ve even found the jam for sale in America!) The walled garden is well worth a wander around too. Cressing Temple holds several events throughout the year including car shows and the popular annual Essex Food and Drink Festival.
Go White Water Rafting at Lee Valley
Lee Valley is right on the border of Essex but it’s too cool not to mention! You can go white water rafting near Essex! It was used as one of the venues during the London 2012 Olympics! As well as white water rafting, you can go canoeing, kayaking (and Hot Dog inflatable kayaks), tubing and hydrospeeding (river surfing on a body board). Prices are between £35 – £55 per person which is actually pretty reasonable! It’s located just off the M25 (north bound from Essex).
You can find out more information on the Lee Valley White Water Centre website!
Take a cheap flight from Stansted or Southend Airports
Ok, so if you don’t want to actually visit Essex, why not consider flying from Stansted or Southend?! Stansted Airport is considered one of the London airports and is a HUGE Ryanair hub. I’ve flown to: Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Krakow, Riga, Ljubljana, Dubrovnik, Prague, Berlin, Budapest, Dublin, Rome, Lisbon and Edinburgh from Stansted. Amsterdam was literally a day trip, I took the first flight in the morning and got the last one back in the evening (runway to runway is less than 30 minutes)!
I’m not going to lie, immigration is a pain coming back, it always seems to be 10 miles long! It now offers long haul flights in the summer or it’s possible to use it as a means of connecting to other long haul destinations, such as flying into Reykjavik, Iceland and transferring onto USA flight or going to Dublin and then on to America with a different carrier (PLEASE make sure you have a decent sized connection time if using this option, I even got a hotel for the night before my onward flight to Chicago!).
Stansted Airport has several connections into London. It’s just off the M11, making it an easy drive, there are National Express coaches into London Victoria (as well as links to Gatwick and Heathrow) or the Stansted Express train into London Liverpool Street.
I’m yet to fly from Southend, but I hear good things about it.
Getting From London to Essex
So if you’re in London and fancy a day out in Essex, several of these places can easily be reached by train from London Liverpool Street (or even Stratford…both are on the London underground). Chelmsford, Colchester, Clacton, Braintree and Southend all have direct links.
What are some of your favourite family days out in Essex? For more Essex things to do, check out Essex Explored!