30 great ideas for days out in and around Essex this summer
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Essex has it all this summer - the UK’s second-highest rated zoo according to TripAdvisor, a stunning castle and a trampoline park in the form of Jump Street.
1. Colchester Castle
Star finds at this excellent example of a Norman keep, include the Colchester Vase and Colchester Mercury statuette. Re-opened after being closed for a year of extensive improvements, the castle is a wholly interactive and unique visitor experience.
As well as unravelling 2,500 of history you can build a Norman archway, excavate a Roman doctor’s grave, steer a chariot, watch the large scale son et lumiere projection or use one of the castle’s tablets (available to hire) to get even more out of your day. Go to their website
2. Colchester Zoo
One of the county’s biggest attractions and one of the very best zoos in Europe. This really is a whole day out. Take the land train. Feed a giraffe. Wander through the lorikeet enclosure, feeding them nectar. Watch the sealions dance under water in Playa Patagonia.
There are special evening openings on allocated days during summer. Go to their website
You may also want to watch:
One of the best indoor skating rinks in Europe. The Colchester-based rink is open throughout the year and has sessions for all ages including a family skate and roller discos. Extra sessions run between 2pm and 5pm in the school holidays.
Quasar and amusements, plus a café and bar are also found at Rollerworld and parties and group bookings can be taken in advance. Go to their website
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4. Beth Chatto Gardens
Inspirational gardens that change dramatically through the seasons, making it a visitor attraction garden lovers return to time and time again. Built from 1960 onwards, there are varying styles of outdoor space, from the world renowned gravel garden, to the scree beds, lush water garden and woodland garden.
Plants and gifts are available from the shop, while homemade refreshments come via the tearoom. Throughout summer children under 14 (three per paying adult) can try out the wildlife trail, with a heroes and villains theme. The free trail has prizes to be won. Go to their website
5. Maldon Promenade Park
Maldon is a smart town worth visiting in its own right. But one of the best bits in summer is Promenade Park. There’s a splash park (£2 per 25 minutes), galleon play area, model boating and crabbing lake, skateboard park, wildlife garden and more to explore. During summer weekends and school holidays from 11am to 6pm a junior funfair can be found there too.
Or, for something more sedate, follow the Tree Trail and view more than 65 different species, both native and from around the world.
6. Jump Street
The coolest new indoor sport/play centre in Colchester, where it’s all about the bounce.
Inside the unique, purpose-built trampoline centre are bright, funky, colourful spaces that all ages will enjoy. Practise your skills in the freestyle jumping area. Flip into a foam pit. Try trampoline basket ball. Play dodge ball. And advanced jumpers can even have a go at wall running! Go to their website
7. Cudmore Grove Country Park
One of the best reasons to travel over the tidal road to Mersea Island. This great country park has all the elements you need for a wild day out. Fly kites on the huge green space. Play around the pill boxes and old gun emplacements. Watch birdlife from one of the hides. And spend time on the sandy beach, watching the boats and jet skis zoom by.
There’s a small visitor block by the car park with refreshments and toilets and a car parking charge applies.
8.Brightlingsea Outdoor Swimming Pool
When the sun’s out this lido is the place to be. It’s one of the few remaining outdoor public pools in the country and offers a safe and warmer alternative to bathing in the sea.
There’s a 15m paddling pool as well as a 50m main pool and it’s open 10am to 6pm on weekends and school holidays.
9 and 10. Hadleigh Castle and Hadleigh Country Park
Explore the ruins of this ancient castle, as refortified and enjoyed by Edward III in the Hundred Years War. The area surrounding the castle remains is breathtaking and superb for walks and picnics.
If adventure is more your thing however, in Hadleigh Country Park you’ll discover the legacy of the 2012 Olympic games. There’s a series of world class mountain bike trails to explore including the Olympic mountain bike course.
11. Hyde Hall
A horticultural gem found near Chelmsford. The 360 acre site is constantly being adapted and nurtured as experts gradually restore it to its former glory.
There is lots for garden fans to see, including the fascinating south-facing Dry Garden which demonstrates drought tolerant plants and has around 400 varieties planted. On site are a shop, plant centre, restaurant and café and there are regularly special events. Hyde Hall gardens are open every day (except Christmas) from 10am to 6pm. Go to their website
12. Harwich Maritime Trail
Wander around historic Harwich and encounter important elements of the town’s nautical past, from the Low Lighthouse to the Treadwheel Crane, Lifeboat Museum and Electric Palace.
13. Hedingham Castle
One of the best Norman keeps in the country, the 900-year-old, privately owned structure is a fascinating find. Over four floors find out all about its past, including visits from monarchs such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
From the Tudor bridge, to the tapestry room and banqueting floor, there is lots to take in. The gardens are well worth wandering around too. Look out for regular events during the summer such as jousting and open air theatre. Go to their website
14. East Anglian Railway Museum
Situated by one of the largest railway viaducts in the east, this certified museum in Chappel is a little treasure and a complete blast to the past.
See restored trains, carriages and signals boxes. And set children off on the Milo Mouse trail. A miniature railway is open for most event days and you can take advantage of the ‘driver for a fiver’ experience where you can drive a small electric train for two return journeys, The EARM is open from 10am to 4.30pm daily. Go to their website
15. Natural History Museum
A concise but nonetheless interesting museum found in a former church in Colchester. Exhibits examine local geology, habitats and natural finds and there are several hands-on and interactive things to do.
Kids love checking out the features with magnifying glasses and peering under the microscopes. Go to their website
16. Layer Marney Tower
England’s tallest Tudor gatehouse, built by Lord Marney in the reign of Henry VIII. The ornate, extravagant and grand building is open to visitors, Sundays to Thursdays 12noon to 5pm during August. The views from the top over the river Blackwater are unrivalled and there are lovely gardens with unusual trees, farm animals and even red deer. A tea room is on site for refreshments. Go to their website
17. Museum of Power
Found at Langford near Maldon, this former water pumping station has a great collection of machines – the highlight being the Lilleshall triple expansion steam pump.
There are many working examples of power sources, machinery and tools to see, plus a model village in the grounds and a miniature railway on event days. Go to their website
18. Abberton Reservoir
At Layer de le Haye, this Essex Wildlife Trust run spot is home to wetlands that are incredibly important for wildfowl and there are very good birdwatching opportunities.
The reserve is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, from 9am to 5pm and, in addition to there being a play area, over the summer there are special activities for children at the reserve such as bug hunting, pond dipping and bush crafts. Go to their website
19. Topsail Charters
Take a trip aboard a distinctive Thames sailing barge from Maldon. Just a few of these vessels (once used to take cargo along the coast) remain today.
There are a variety of day and afternoon options to choose from including an afternoon tea sailing from Maldon, and an evening cruise with a ploughman’s or seafood platter. On Thursday, August 27 book a spot on the sailing from Brightlingsea where the barge will anchor just off Clacton Pier for the famous air show. Go to their website
20. Marsh Farm Animal Adventure Park
A charming farm park set in 300 acres of wooded parkland with loads of play areas and animals to meet – from donkeys and ponies, to cuddly pets, pigs and chickens.
There are regular shows (don’t miss Shaun the Sheep) and multiple other things to occupy youngsters. Take them on a tractor and trailer ride. Boing on the bouncy pillow. Try out the diggers in the sand pit. And have a well-deserved slice of cake in the tea room. Go to their website
21 Kelveden Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker
Not such a secret any more. Explore the history of this fascinating bunker, which started life as an RAF Rotor Station before becoming a civil defence centre and regional government HQ. Decommissioned in 1992, the bunker remains as a curiosity and insight into the Cold War period. See the Plotting Room, Plant Room, communications area and more. At the exit is the original canteen which is still used today.
The bunker is open every day from 10am to 4pm during the week and 10am to 5pm weekends and bank holidays. Go to their website
22. Riverside Ice and Leisure
Get your (ice) skates on and zoom around the rink here in Chelmsford. A highlight is the ice disco, with professional DJs, the latest music, lighting effects and smoke.
Penguin skating aids are available to hire for under 10s. Go to their website
23. Rope Runners
Open Tuesday to Sunday and essential to pre-book, the main attraction here is the high ropes course which sees you take to the trees, navigating walkways and climbs. Dare you try the climbing wall, big zip wire or descender? Other attractions are paintball target shooting, archery, zorbing, air rifle target shooting and a tunnel adventure. Full and half day adventures incorporating a variety of activities can also be booked. Or, for family value, book a wristband for £18 per person which can gives a day’s unlimited archery, air rifling, water zorbing, tunnelling and scavenger hunting. Find Rope Runners at Kelveden Hatch. Go to their website
24. Adventure Island
Southend’s very own free theme park with around 40 rides and attractions. Rides are categorised into bands- red, green and blue – with wristbands for a day’s unlimited use available for varying heights.
A new addition this year is Adventure Inside, where pedal buggies, a carousel, a soft play area and state-of-the-art video games such as the latest Star Wars game, can be found. Go to their website
25. Fingringhoe Wick Visitor Centre
Essex Wildlife Trust’s first nature reserve and visitor centre, overlooking the Colne estuary. There are varied habitats to discover, including grassland, heaths, meadows and coast, and the reserve is great for spotting birdlife, butterflies and reptiles. It’s particularly noted in spring for attracting lots of nightingales.
In summer the vistas, framed by sea lavender, are lovely. At the visitor centre are refreshments, a shop, toilet and baby changing facilities plus a viewing tower. Go to their website
26. Bridge Cottage
Immerse yourself in Constable’s landscape here. This Natural Trust site is absolutely picture perfect – from cows grazing and lapping at the river, to boats lulling along under bridges, there’s no wonder it’s a haven for artists.
See Willy Lott’s Cottage, and visit the exhibition about Constable inside Bridge Cottage, or the contemporary art in the Boat House Gallery. There’s a tea room and gift shop on site. Bridge cottage is open from 10.30am to 7.30pm each day. Go to their website
27 Great Notley Country Park
Let off some steam here. Ride a bike. Play sports in the open spaces. Go for a run. There really is loads of space to enjoy almost every outdoor activity.
Children will spend ages on the 1.2km play trail with its giant see saw, climbing forest and tyre wings. Plus there are 3G football pitches and games areas for tennis and basketball to hire via Braintree District Council.
28. Dedham Vale Vineyard
Some cracking English wines are made here at this vineyard, which was planted by an international wine judge and viticulturist.
Follow the vineyard trail and enjoy tastings at the end for just £5 per person. More formal tastings can be arranged too. The vineyard is open Wednesday to Sunday 12noon to 5pm. Go to their website
A wild and wonderful place, Wallesea is subject to the Wild Coast Project – a landmark conservation engineering scheme and the largest endeavour of its kind in Europe.
Once complete (development is planned through until 2025) it will be a mega recreation of the ancient wetlands, mudflats, saltmarsh and lagoons. As it stands the site is still worth visiting now for cycling, walking, photography, birdwatching and seal spotting. In summer there a thousands of butterflies to see and you might even spy a marsh harrier or kestrel. Go to their website
30. Saffron Walden Museum
This is one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the country and houses exhibitions that have both local and international relevance.
Recent acquisitions include a gold ring banded with silver from between 1020 and 800BC, and a medieval buckle plate from Thaxted.
A current special exhibition called Visions of the World, runs until August 16, revealing images of people and places in photography from the Royal Geographical Society in conjunction with objects from the World Cultures collection. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and opens for a short while on bank holidays too. Go to their website