Did you know that US citizens contribute more travel dollars to England’s economy than any other demographic?
This might not come as a surprise since England is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. Fascinating history, stunning architecture, sweeping views, and delicious food are all great reasons to visit England.
London gets a lot of love from visitors, but some of the best adventures in England are found just outside of the big city. If you’re planning a British vacation, why not explore some of the country’s lesser-known destinations?
Essex, England, is just outside of London, making it the perfect spot to get away from the big city’s hustle and bustle. In this article, we’ll head off the beaten path and give you 15 incredible reasons to visit beautiful Essex, England.
1. Dark History at the Essex Witch Hunt Victims Memorial
Matthew Hopkins appointed himself Witchunter General in 1645 and decided that he would take it upon himself to rid England of witches. Does this sound familiar? Something similar happened in Massachusetts about 45 years later.
Mr. Hopkins appropriated Colchester Castle and used this space to detain, try, and execute nearly 300 people charged with witchcraft. In fact, more people were executed for witchcraft in Essex than anywhere else in England.
Colchester Castle is a beautiful attraction in its own right. But if you’re interested in dark tourism, be sure to check out the memorial plaque on the castle grounds.
2. Explore the Mysterious Gants in Braintree
If you look at a map of Braintree in Essex, you might see the word “gant.” What is a gant, anyway? It’s a small alleyway, and you will only find gants in Braintree.
The word “gant” comes from the Flemish word “gang” which means path or corridor. Flemish speakers from Belgium migrated to Essex when Queen Elizabeth l was on the throne. They established a thriving community of weavers, and words from their native language are still used today.
Most of the gants in Braintree are short, but they’re still a unique oddity you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
3. Get Stranded on Mersea Island
If you want a glimpse into island life in England, you must pay a visit to Mersea Island. Only 7,000 residents call Mersea Island home, and here you’ll find some of England’s oldest pre-Roman historical sights.
Mersea Island is famous for its oysters, so be sure to save your appetite! Mersea Island also boasts miles of coastline, a winery, and an annual regatta.
But pay attention to the tides! During high tide, the causeway to and from Mersea Island is covered by salt water, which can damage your car or even sweep it away. Plan your arrival and departure accordingly, or book a night at one of Mersea Island’s charming inns.
4. Visit a Nuclear Bunker and Escape Room
During the Cold War, England was on high alert for the threat of nuclear blasts. Thus, the English built bunkers to shield people from the radiation and house them until it was safe to emerge.
Just outside of Kelvedon Hatch, you’ll find one of these bunkers. It descends more than 120 meters underground, and you can take a self-guided tour. Try on a gas mask for a photo op and have lunch in their underground cafe.
Nearby you’ll find Clue HQ, a nuclear-themed escape room. This is the perfect way to see how you might have survived a nuclear blast. Or not.
5. See the Essex Beaches on Horseback
If you love to ride horses, you know there’s nothing more thrilling than a gallop on the beach. Even if you’re new to riding, you’ll still be able to enjoy the beautiful beach scenery when you visit Essex.
Pakefield Riding School offers daily beach rides for riders of all skill levels. While they usually match the pace of the ride to the rider with the lowest skill level, they can also separate groups. This means the more experienced group can gallop, and the less experienced group can stay at a walk.
Regardless, everyone will enjoy the sweeping ocean views and the well-behaved horses.
6. Go Fishing in Essex, England
One of the most popular things to do in Essex is fishing. Whether you’d like to try fishing off the coast of Essex or visit one of the many lakes and reservoirs, every angler will find something to love about fishing in Essex.
But what if not everyone in your group is as keen on fishing as you are? In that case, have a look at https://cabinadventures.co.uk/fishing-lodges/ to find a cozy lakeside cabin. You can enjoy fishing for carp and pike, and the rest of your group can swim in the pool, play golf, try archery, join an arts and crafts class or explore the nearby beaches.
7. Visit Colchester Zoo
If you thought you couldn’t see dragons in modern England, think again. When you visit the Colchester Zoo, you will see Komodo dragons! This zoo is also home to big cats, elephants, great apes, birds, and many more species from around the world.
You can even take part in one of their immersive experiences. You can become a zookeeper for a day or shadow a zookeeper as they care for the animals. Kids can take part in their own experiences too.
And be sure to visit the Komodo dragons at 11:45 am for feeding time. This is something you definitely don’t want to miss.
8. Walk in the Footsteps of Kings at Hatfield Forest
During the times of the Norman kings, parcels of land were used expressly for the royals to hunt. These swaths of land were left for native plants to grow wild, and the royals and their courtiers hunted the animals for sport. Hatfield Forest is one of the last intact royal hunting grounds.
Royals like King Henry Vlll hunted at Hatfield Forest, and commoners were denied entry. In fact, commoners could go to jail for taking wildlife from these forests.
Today Hatfield Forest is a stunning place to hike and explore. Over 1,000 acres of woodland and fields are now in the care of the National Trust. Trails vary in length and difficulty, so you’ll find a path that suits your ability.
May and June are beautiful months to visit Hatfield Forest. The buttercups bloom, creating gorgeous seas of yellow flowers throughout the fields.
9. Fun for All at Clacton Pier
Seaside towns in England are known for fun and games, and Clacton Pier in Clacton-on-Sea is no exception. Clacton Pier opened in 1871 and has been a getaway destination ever since.
Take your pick from roller coasters, Ferris wheels, waltzer rides, and bumper cars. Clacton Pier also features arcade games and bowling. A seaquarium gives you a glimpse into life under the ocean’s surface.
You’ll also find plenty of food and drink, including authentic and delicious fish and chips.
10. Learn All about Gin and Whiskey
Tea might be the national drink of England, but gin is the national spirit, at least in the region of Essex. Even though the Dutch first made gin in Holland, you’ll find that England now produces the most gin in the world.
Gin is a delightfully aromatic spirit, and distillers use local ingredients to create variations on the classic recipe. You can learn about the ingredients and the distillation process at East Coast Distillery. Their tours are free, and you’ll get to sample their products.
Or maybe a train ride featuring whiskey and wings is more your style. If so, you’re in luck. The Essex Steam Train offers a two-hour ride featuring whiskey samples, hot wings and spectacular views. You can also order additional food and beverages from their menu.
11. Dining at Michelin-Starred Restaurants
For many travelers, eating is almost as important as sightseeing. If that’s how you like to travel, then Essex is the place for you. Essex boasts ten Michelin-starred restaurants.
Haywards offers local favorites such as a rack of lamb, smoked salmon, and cod. Galvin Green Man, located in a building dating back to 1341, serves British favorites like Scotch eggs, fresh trout, and a classic pub burger.
Finally, Food by John Lawson offers a locally sourced and seasonal menu, so you’ll be able to try something different and delicious each time. Book your table early because seating is limited at this popular eatery.
12. Have an Epic Pub Crawl in Colchester
A trip to England would be incomplete without a pub crawl. Luckily, Colchester in Essex was named the country’s best city for a pub crawl! Colchester has over 800 pubs and bars to choose from, many serving craft cocktails and locally brewed beer.
You can follow an established pub crawl route if you’d rather not travel from pub to pub by yourself. These pub crawls are curated by local experts and let you take in the culture in between pub stops. But you’ll often find plenty of culture inside the pubs themselves.
Just be sure to have your hotel’s address handy. You might need it for the taxi ride back.
13. Visit the Sugar Hut
If you want to pay homage to “The Only Way Is Essex,” a visit to the Sugar Hut needs to be at the top of your list. The reality television show might not have always painted Essex in the best light, but the featured nightclub still draws fans.
Dress to impress as you explore the Sugar Hut’s many rooms and courtyards, all designed in a Baroque style. The food at the Sugar Hut doesn’t always receive the best reviews, but let’s be honest, who comes to a nightclub to eat?
Reserve a table if you’re visiting with a group, or if you’re a fan of bottle service and a little privacy. Since the Sugar Hut is very popular for bachelor and bachelorette parties, it’s best to reserve your table well in advance.
14. Go Back in Time at the Audley End House
If you want to learn more about what life in a Victorian castle was like, a visit to the Audley End House should be on your list. Most of the rooms are open for a hands-on experience. You can play with the toys and even play the piano.
During the summer months, the staff holds reenactments of life as it was in the Jacobean Era. They give horse riding demonstrations, and you can meet the gardeners who tend the lovely estate.
Audley End House also holds seasonal activities during Halloween, concerts, falconry exhibits, and an autumn fair featuring a plant sale.
15. Visit the Naze Tower Before It’s Gone
An ancient navigational marker and the precursor to the lighthouse, the Naze Tower dates to 1726 and stands 86 feet high. During World War ll, a radar mounted on the top of the tower kept track of German advancement.
Today you can visit the museum and learn more about the history and use of the tower. But perhaps the most exciting part of the Naze Tower is what lies beneath it.
This coastal area is rich in ancient fossils. Archaeologists find fossilized whale bones here and rare bird bones and shark teeth.
Unfortunately, erosion is rapidly eating away at the clay cliffs of the Naze Tower. No one knows precisely when the tower will fall into the sea, but you’ll want to visit before it’s gone.
Plan Your Trip to Essex, England
These 15 reasons to visit Essex, England, only scratch the surface. Essex is the perfect addition to your English vacation with its close proximity to London and its idyllic seaside location.
Are you interested in more travel guides? Take a look at our other travel articles and start planning your trip as soon as possible.