Essex is a beautiful, peaceful place in England and although it can sometimes get overlooked by international travellers, due to its proximity to London, it makes for a great weekend getaway!
The county is full of old castles, forts and ruins and holds many medieval fairs. There are countless small villages with historical buildings and colourful cottages, each telling a fascinating story.
This local’s guide to three days in Essex is the perfect itinerary for visitors who love nature and those who want to learn more about England’s past.
Your first day in Essex should be spent in the countryside. Essex has a breathtaking Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) at Dedham Vale which surrounds the River Stour and is simply a place which can’t be missed from any Essex itinerary.
There are many country trails and villages to visit but for this particular 3 days in Essex itinerary head to Dedham and begin your journey from there. Alternatively, if you are staying in Colchester head to Manningtree and do this day in reverse!
Activity: Dedham & Munnings House
Est. time: 4 hours
Costs: £12.00 p/adult
Dedham Vale is one of the nicest places in Essex. Known as Constable Country the area was John Constable’s muse, who famously painted beautiful landscapes. It’s now an AONB and although there are numerous places to visit one of the most popular is Dedham itself.
The village is quintessentially British with pretty pastel-coloured cottages lining the wide high street; think Tudor and Georgian architecture. You’ll be able to rent a boat from Dedham Boathouse and row along the river, something extremely enjoyable during the summer months.
A little further out of Dedham (about an hour) is the famous Castle House (Munnings House), the house and museum of Sir Alfred Munnings. He was a sculptor and equestrian artist, who like Constable, painted landscapes. The museum holds a collection of his work and you can visit the original studio.
Top Tip: A great place to stop for lunch is The Sun Inn. It’s a beautifully bright yellow building which was originally a coaching inn and is one of the nicest pubs in Essex.
Activity: Stour Valley Path - Section 10: Dedham to Cattawade/Manningtree
Est. time: 8 miles circular - 3 hours
Costs: Free (hardcopy of map £5.00)
In the afternoon you can walk through Constable Country along the last section of the Stour Valley Path from Dedham to Flatford and onwards to Cattawade. It’s about an hour and a half walk (one way) at a leisurely pace.
Flatford is world famous as the site of Constable’s best-known paintings. You’ll spot the mill and millpond, the lock and Willy Lott’s House there, but the village is also home to the RSPB wildlife garden which is a lovely stop.
Top Tip: You can take guided tours from Flatford as well which will explore more of the area and provide detailed information from local guides.
Activity: The Marlborough
Est. time: 2 hours
Costs: Est. £42.00 p/p (incl. 3 courses/glass of wine)
Another nice pub to grab a bite at is the Marlborough which, much like the Sun Inn, is a favourite place to visit in Dedham. The 16th-century inn was once a clearing house for local wool merchants but has since been transformed into a traditional pub and hotel in the heart of Dedham.
Day two and we’re off to Colchester; known as the first Roman city in Britain. Colchester is home to a whole host of history and architecture which, if you’re in Essex for 3 days, really should be explored!
Some examples include a well-preserved Norman Castle built upon the ruins of a Roman Temple, a colourful Dutch Quarter and the medieval ruins of an Augustinian Convent.
Activity: Colchester Heritage Trail
Est. time: 2.5 hours
There are various ways in which you can explore the sites around Colchester and some of you might prefer a guided tour. If so, head over to the Colchester Visitors Centre where you can arrange tours and get hold of maps.
However, it’s completely doable to complete this heritage trail by yourselves. You will want to start at Colchester high street and make your way around the Dutch Quarter, noticeable by black and white timber-framed buildings and pretty pink, blue and green cottages.
Places of interest in walking order from the High Street include:
The Dutch Quarter
Medieval Churches (there are six)
The site of a Roman Theatre
Castle Park (including the famous Colchester Castle)
The War Memorial outside the castle gates
The Natural History Museum
Contemporary Visual Arts Centre
St Botolph's Priory (ruins)
St John's Abbey Gateway
The Bull on Crouch Street
The remains of the Roman Wall
The Balkerne Gate
Jumbo, the Victorian Water Tower
Activity: Mersea Island
Est. time: 5 hours
One of the best places to spend an afternoon in Essex is Mersea Island, especially on a warm day. Mersea is about a 20-minute drive from Colchester, although it’s possible to catch a bus - these run regularly throughout the week.
Mersea is broken up into two parts, East and West Mersea. West Mersea is busier and sees more crowds but it's where you’ll find the town centre, pubs and activities. If you’re heading East you’ll want to park at Cudmore Grove Country Park.
Mersea is a cute seaside spot home to hundreds of brightly multi-coloured beach huts, which everyone loves to take photos of and in parts, a sandy but mainly shingle/shell beach.
The area is tidal which means the water line will change dramatically during your visit so try and take sea shoes if you’re going to be wading out at low tide!
After you’ve enjoyed the beach, why not end your afternoon at Mersea Vineyard? You can visit the cafe and taste some local wine before venturing back to Colchester.
Activity: The North Hill Noodle Bar
Est. time: 2 hours
Costs: Est. £28.00 (2 courses/glass of wine)
A really delicious place to eat out in Colchester is tucked away on North Hill. The Noodle Bar is a favourite among locals and serves a contemporary Chinese menu.
They use fresh ingredients fusing traditional Asian ways of cooking to create wonderful recipes in a warm and welcoming restaurant.
This Essex itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a traditional coastal town and for your final day, we visit a more local spot which sees fewer tourists than other areas in Essex.
Maldon is an ancient town and the site of the first ever recorded battle in Britain - The Battle of Maldon. It’s a lovely place to visit with character and old-world charm especially down by the quay which is home to a number of Thames Barges.
Activity: Thames Barges Boat Ride
Est. time: 2 hours
Costs: £40.00 p/p
There are numerous things to do in Maldon but one of the most enjoyable is to head up the estuary on a Thames Barge. These boat trips run throughout the weekend and holidays periods. You can make reservations online via Topsail Charters, here.
The area surrounding the quay where the boats are kept is also a really nice part of Maldon. Hythe Quay used to be its own village before merging with Maldon and is home to two traditional British pubs - The Queen’s Head and the Fish On The Quay - and St Mary’s Church.
There’s a popular park known as the Prom which is over one hundred years old and is the perfect place for views over the estuary. Follow the path along the Prom which follows the river to the tip of Maldon ending at a large bronze statue of Byrhtnoth, Earldom of Maldon, who led the Battle of Maldon.
Activity: Maldon Historic Centre
Est. time: 3 hours
The historic centre of Maldon is found at the top of the high street and although small, it’s an interesting place to walk around. The side roads are home to some nice-looking old buildings including the Blue Boar Hotel & Pub, which was once a coaching inn and the White Horse Inn.
Places of interest in Maldon’s historic centre include:
Edwards Walk (a small shopping arcade)
All Saints Church
Maeldune Heritage Centre
Friary Walled Garden
2012 Olympic Avenue (park)
The ruins of St. Giles Leprosy Hospital
The high street is full of boutique shops, charity shops, restaurants and coffee shops. In fact, there are some really nice places to eat in Maldon, especially if you know where to look! Maldon is full of little side streets that shelter independent coffee shops and restaurants which usually get missed by visitors - so make sure you’ve got your discovery hat on!
Activity: Sunset At Heybridge Basin
Est. time: 1 hour
If you have time, head down the road to the next village over - Heybridge Basin. The small village is located at the end of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and is a lovely little spot by the river.
There are trails which you can follow along the seawall or if you fancy it, up the canal where you’ll pass colourful canal boats and houseboats. But, the most magical thing about this place is the sunset which you’ll witness setting over the river.
There are also a couple of places to eat here such as the Jolly Sailor or you can head back to Maldon.
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Last Updated 25 May 2023