You've decided to visit Essex. Great choice, as Essex is a lovely county in southeast England, between London and the North Sea. You'll see a stunning rural market town, national nature reserves and outstanding natural beauty. There will be lots of great food, outdoor adventures and colourful beach huts. Essentially, you're going to have a lot of fun exploring Essex and you will want to keep on coming back for more.
We recommend spending at least 3 nights in Essex to be able to experience what the area has to offer. Your Essex experience will be full of attractions, and you'll discover the best of the English countryside too, all while indulging in proper good food. If you love the coast and want to have fun by the sea, then Essex is the place to visit.
Our stay in Essex was sponsored by Visit Essex who kindly made an itinerary for us to follow and recommended things to do in the region. This article is authentic and based on our own experiences in Essex which we love and recommend to everyone!
Are you ready? Let's go. Here are the best things to do in Essex.
Table of ContentsOpen
Visit Mersea island
Essex is all impressive and beautiful but since the county is by the seaside, then it's only natural that the best thing to do in Essex is to head to the beach! Mersea island is an island in Essex in the Blackwater and Colne estuary. Head to Mersea Island and walk on the beach, photograph the cutest beach huts and relax in the sunshine.
During summer, the island can get fairly busy, so we recommend arriving bright and early to pick your favourite spot on the beach.
The island is accessed via Strood which is a causeway that floods during high tide. Pick your arrival well.
Do you know what else is exciting here? The food! You are literally by the sea, and you'll find plenty of seafood restaurants selling some of the best fish and chips you'll ever taste. Not to mention, the oysters here have been harvested off the island since Roman times.
Eat oysters by the sea
The oysters here are so sought after, the oyster trade is of international importance. The oysters are shipped worldwide, and for good reason. The oyster in the area are meaty, fresh and delicious. Many come to Essex to specifically indulge in oysters here.
We recommend trying the oysters from the Company Shed, which is the best seafood restaurant in West Mersea. Honestly, we visited off season, and it was already busy, so plan your trip accordingly. You can eat in the restaurant or just ask them to open them for you so you can take them by the beach.
Marvel at Blackwater Estuary
One of the best things to do in Essex is to take a stroll through the gorgeous marshes and explore the Blackwater Estuary National Nature Reserve at low tide. You'll cross wooden bridges, see ships, vessels and old wrecks.
If you love bird watching, then this is definitely the place for you. It has thousands of hectares of biological site of scientific interest, a national nature reserve and a special protection area. It looks especially stunning from above.
Start your trip from the Tollesbury free car park and make your way to the restored Edwardian sail lofts, where lightning-fast racing yachts were moored in the 1900s.
While you're in the area, stop at The Loft and have Tea by the Sea.
Cycle along the blackwater canal
Essex is all about embracing the nature, and that's precisely why you should get cycling along the Blackwater canal. Head to Maldon, the second-oldest town in Essex, which was once upon a time under constant attack from the Vikings who would raid the town in the 10th century.
Cycle on the banks of the Blackwater and see the Promenade Park, laid out in Victorian times.
A great place for it is to start from the gorgeous hotel Le Bouchon and cycle to The Old Ship, at the Heybridge Basin.
Stop for a pint at The Old Ship, get some whitebait at the Jolly Sailor, or admire the candy floss skies during sunset with a lovely cup of tea from the Lock Tea Room.
You can also enjoy a long walk by the canal too, this being just one of the many activities for your family.
Eat fantastic pub food at The Hoop
One of the best places to enjoy a proper traditional lunch has to be The Hoop, a fantastic gastropub located in the village of Stock. Step into this incredible 15th-century building with a brick fireplace which serves traditional hearty meals.
Order their signature organic sourdough with butter, go for their delicious soup and follow with a traditional fish and chips. The menu changes daily, but you're guaranteed a great quality, satisfying meal.
Visit the Chequers Inn
You love history and no trip to Essex is complete without seeing the Chequers Inn, a 14th century inn which retains much of its original charm. The Chequers is located in the charming village of Goldhanger on the River Blackwater in Essex.
The Chequers is an award-winning inn so if you have time to stay here for a real ale, you absolutely should.
Next to the inn is a medieval church. The north side of the church is Norman, 11th century, and the south side is 14th century when the aisle was added.
The beauty of Essex is that is has so many such quaint villages with places to visit.
Enjoy the best dinner at Le Bouchon
You know we take our food seriously, and let us tell you that the dinner at Le Bouchon is an absolute must. The dinner at Le Bouchon was one of the best places for food in the whole country.
Make sure to reserve a table in advance and head to Le Bouchon for their delicious menu. Order the tasting menu with wine pairing, or pick your favourites from the menu. Their gin menu is also extensive. We recommend the Gin Mare as it's garnished with the best olives you'll ever try.
Order the oysters, which are locally sourced from just minutes from the restaurant. The food is well presented, and it exceeds any expectation. We loved it so much, we had dinner at Le Bouchon twice. We're still dreaming about it.
Stay in luxury at Le Bouchon
It's not just the food that will make you fall in love with Essex but the accommodation too. We stayed at Le Bouchon, and we can't stop raving about it. The room was exquisite, the service fantastic and the staff so attentive. The bedroom was well decorated with fresh flowers, and you know how much we appreciate a super comfortable bed. A superb and spacious bathroom came with a stunning standing bath and a spacious rainforest shower. It gave us honeymoon vibes, so we truly recommend that you book the junior suite.
Le Bouchon is a grade II listed, 300-year-old Georgian building which has undergone an extensive refurbishment programme restoring the building to its former glory. The onsite restaurant offers a blend of French and English cuisine, in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Guests can also enjoy afternoon tea and go for a wide selection of cocktails.
The best part? There is a superb breakfast included that comes complete with the best service thanks to Amy, the morning staff that is sure to make your day bright and wonderful. Rushing? Just tell Amy to pack some quick pastry for you and add some coffee in a take-out cup.
It's the little things that really makes Le Bouchon stand out. You'll love it there. Book your stay at Le Bouchon.
Catching some sunny days in Essex? Then you must head to the Mersea Island Watersports and rent your kayak for an hour or two. If it's your first time kayaking, then you can ask the staff for some help. They are so happy to accommodate and make you feel comfortable.
Now, if you are like us, first time kayaking, let us tell you it's easier than it looks. Besides, the flat kayaks also offer more stability with way less chances of capsizing. Once you learn how to use the paddles (it's way easier than you think), you'll zoom towards the marshes when you can take it easy and enjoy the quiet.
It feels like a real holiday, away from the hustle and bustle, kayaking in the marshes of Essex, bird watching and taking in all that sunshine. Your kids will love it too as it really is a fantastic activity for the whole family. Prebook your kayaking here as it gets really busy in the summer.
Eat seafood at The Coast Inn
It's all about fish when you're in Essex by the sea and trust us, after a couple of hours of kayaking, you will be famished. And that's good news because The Coast Inn is right next door and ready to serve some incredible riches from the sea.
Go with the whitebait for a starter or a hummus with the pita bread, then follow with a delicious main of scampi with chips.
The Coast Inn doesn't just serve delicious food, but it also looks the part. It features a calm and cosy interior with marine feature and nautical decor.
Take a cooking class
Your visit in Essex must take you to the Braxted Park for a cooking class. If you love old buildings with a rich heritage, then this is for you.
Braxted Park is a country house in the Queen Anne style set in a landscaped 2,000 acre park near the village of Great Braxted, Essex. In the Domesday Book of 1086, Eudo Dapifer is shown as owner of the manor.
Clearly this is one of the places to visit in Essex. But also, an incredible place to enjoy a cooking class with one of the head chefs. You can pick your own theme for the cooking class and learn how to cook Japanese, French, Italian or just about any cuisine that interests you.
You will be cooking in the same place where some parts of the "The Only Way is Essex" was also filmed. Come prepared as the cooking class can take several hours, but worry not, as you'll have plenty of delicious things to eat at the end of it all.
For any foodie, this is one of the best things to do in Essex, and we will be back in the county to learn even more! Book your spot here.
Go fossil hunting
If you have children or just want to enjoy something truly splendid in Essex, you must go fossil hunting. It's one of the best things to do in Essex and it's so much fun.
You can get guided tours with a volunteer to show you around and tell you what type of fossils you will be after. Head to Walton on the Naze as early as possible and go straight to the beach.
You will learn about shark teeth as old as 56 million years old. You will also learn about shells that open on the left, which are quite rare and sought by collectors.
It goes without saying that this is a lot of fun, but you need to check in advance tide times just to make sure you have plenty of time to hunt for fossils before the stairs get completely covered by the sea.
Bring your wellies, as you'll likely get wet and muddy, but this is part of the fun. When you finish, head over to the Naze Discovery Centre to have a nice cup of tea.
Enjoy the best brunch at Pier Hotel
Head to the Pier, an elegant waterfront hotel and restaurant close to the Harwich International Port. We wanted to try something different, and we decided to head to Harwich.
Harwich is a town in Essex and one of the Haven ports, located on the coast with the North Sea to the east. Nearby places include Felixstowe to the northeast, Ipswich to the northwest, Colchester to the southwest and Clacton-on-Sea to the south. It is the northernmost coastal town within Essex. The town's position on the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell rivers offers the only safe anchorage between the Thames estuary and the Humber.
Visitors can walk around the centre, before sitting down for the most delicious brunch at the Pier Hotel. Order the eggs on toast followed by the fluffiest pancakes with maple syrup. Order flat whites with oat milk and indulge in the foamiest, most delicious cups of coffee.
We love discovering small UK towns as these are the best places to visit in Essex that make a proper staycation worthwhile.
Fun fact: The Electric Palace Cinema is the oldest unchanged cinema in Britain. It was opened in 1911, and it still has its original silent screen.
Afternoon walk in Weald Country Park
Weald Country Park is a 700-year-old, 500 acre country park in South Wealdm Essex. Weald manor, parts of which dated to the 16th century, was bought by Sir Anthony Browne in 1547, and he died at Weald Hall in 1567.
The park is now managed by the Essex County, and it's very much a beloved natural green space that locals and visitors alike love.
Meander around the green open fields, see ducks and deer and take one of the walking trail for a tranquil afternoon.
If you're loving cute villages, then Saffron Walden is a cute medieval market town within a short distance of Cambridge.
Head to Myddlyton Place and Castle street, lined with colourful half-timbered buildings. These are your picture-perfect places to visit in Essex that will make it to the gram.
Next, visit the 17th-century Audley End House, a Jacobean stately home with gardens and parkland in Saffron Waldon.
Walk on the longest pier
Southend on sea is a great place for a day trip from surrounding areas. It's got the world's longest pleasure pier and home to a permanent funfair.
Many come here with the children to enjoy time at Adventure Island, one of the coolest theme parks in England in operation since 1976. There are many rides and attractions, perfect for adventure seekers.
Buy souvenirs from Art Galleries
If you love art, then know that Essex has plenty of art galleries for all budgets. You will find British contemporary art, traditional paintings but also Scottish and Irish art too. We often say that art galleries are a great way to spend an afternoon in Essex to find fantastic, local souvenirs to take home and support fantastic artists.
If you just wish to admire art, head to the Fry Art Gallery, The Munnings Art Museum or Colchester Arts Centre.
How to get to Essex
Essex is straightforward to reach, especially if you live in London or Greater London. It takes an hour to get to the heart of Essex from London and less than 30 minutes from Cambridge.
Even if you visit Essex from other major cities, you have a great network of motorways and carriageways to get you to your destination. Driving within Essex is also easy and quite recommended, as you'll pass various stunning villages with great points of attractions.
With so many things to do in Essex and so many wonderful attractions, it's easy to see why so many have Essex on the list for a great staycation. Essex is perfect for an incredible holiday with your loved ones, especially if you want beaches, seafood and long countryside walks.