A panoramic view over the River Chelmer in the town of Maldon in Essex, UK
travel guide

Essex essentials: know before you go

Abigail Dalton

Contributing writer

Essex is a destination that often flies under the radar of the typical tourist trail, but those who take the time to explore will discover an abundance of interesting sites and experiences. Spending a few days in Essex will let you discover the county’s historical landmarks, soak in the peaceful tranquillity of the Blackwater salt marshes and visit picturesque villages.

Visitors can savour local delicacies like Colchester Natives oysters and Tiptree jam, and enjoy traditional seaside treats like candy floss in Southend. With stately homes and castles to explore, Essex also offers several opportunities to delve into the county's rich history.

Not only is Essex a great place to visit to learn about the past but with meandering waterways, large country parks and ancient forests it’s a stunning part of the country for any nature fanatic. It’s also a coastal county, so no trip to Essex would be complete without time spent looking out over the estuaries.

Here is some essential information to know before you visit.

Brightly coloured beach huts on West Mersea beach, UK in the summertime

Where to go in Essex

Colchester

No visit to Essex would be complete without visiting the historic town of Colchester, with its Roman ruins, impressive museums, and famous castle. The region is also home to a number of annual events, including the Southend air show, the V Festival, Colchester's Medieval Oyster Fayre, and the Guy Fawkes Festival at Waltham Abbey.

Mersea Island

Mersea Island is a beautiful spot on the coast of Essex, famous for its Colchester Natives oysters. It's a great place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some of the finest seafood in the country. The island is also home to several walking trails, nature reserves, and historic sites.

Maldon

Known for its character and old-world charm, the ancient town offers a glimpse into Essex's history and maritime heritage. Take a boat trip on a Thames Barge, then watch the sunset at Heybridge Basin for the perfect end to your visit.

Dedham Vale and Stour Valley

Discover the landscapes that inspired the famous artist John Constable. The area is known for its idyllic rural landscapes, picturesque villages, and quaint market towns. Visitors can explore the beautiful countryside, visit the places that inspired Constable's paintings, and learn about the life and work of one of England's greatest artists.

View of Flatford Mill in Essex, made famous by John Constable's paintings

Southend-on-Sea

Spend an afternoon (or more) at this popular coastal resort town in Essex, known for its long pier, sandy beaches, and vibrant seaside atmosphere. Stroll along the world's longest pleasure pier, indulge in traditional seaside treats, and enjoy a range of family-friendly attractions. 

Epping Forest

Explore this ancient woodland, home to a range of wildlife and outdoor activities. Visitors can explore the forest's many trails and pathways and visit historic sites like Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge.

Visit a castle

In addition to its stately homes and gardens, Essex also boasts a rich history of castles and defences, including Walden Castle, Hadleigh Castle, Hedingham Castle, Mountfitchet Castle, and Layer Marney Tower. Visitors can also explore the region's military heritage at Coalhouse Fort, Harwich Redoubt, and Tilbury Fort.

See the coast

Essex also offers a range of coastal escapes, including the sandy beaches of Frinton, Walton-on-the-Naze, Clacton, Martello Beach, and Shoebury. For those seeking quieter shores, Harwich and Mersea Island (mentioned above) offer a more relaxed pace.

Beautiful, ornamental gardens in Colchester, Essex

Essex travel tips

  • Dedham Vale is one of the best outdoor places to visit in Essex and this itinerary is perfect for nature and wildlife enthusiasts who spend a lot of time walking. Make sure you are well prepared and have comfy clothes and appropriate walking shoes to enjoy the trails. 

  • A good idea is to have afternoon tea while you’re in Essex. The Tiptree Jam Factory, world famous for producing mouth-watering jams and chutneys, is located in Essex. If you're following our three-day itinerary, with a little detour, you can pass Tiptree on your way to Mersea (for afternoon tea) or on your way to Maldon (for breakfast).

  • Make sure you check the tides when you’re visiting Mersea as it’s best to go to the beach when the tide is coming in or nearer high tide, but if the tide is too high the causeway (the Strood) can become flooded. This can hinder your access to either the island or your return to the mainland.

  • If you’re visiting Maldon, the town holds the annual Maldon Mud Race in May. This is an entertaining and fun day where the community comes together down by the quay and cheers on the competitors as they trudge their way through the mud. It gets very busy with live music and entertainment.

The impressive remains of Colchester Castle in Essex

Where to stay in Essex

There are a few interesting places to stay during your visit to Essex however the easiest location which is central to all these activities is Colchester. That being said, you could split your time between Colchester and Maldon which would provide some variety to your trip.

Colchester - Grey Friars

Our top pick for Colchester is the boutique hotel, GreyFriars. Very central with free parking it’s a stone's throw from Colchester Castle and easy to get to. The hotel has friendly staff and if you can get breakfast included it is very good.

Maldon - The Limes 

Located in the heart of the historic centre on Market Hill, the Limes is part of Luigi’s Al Fresco restaurant and just like the restaurant the hotel is unbeatable. It’s a lovely cosy hotel with a splash of colour and a great place to stay in Maldon.

Dedham - The Sun Inn

If you want to stay in Dedham Vale the Sun Inn is a great location to spend the night. There are only a handful of rooms so advanced booking is important but you’ll get to stay in the heart of the village in fresh rooms overlooking the high street.

People sitting at the beach on a sunny day at Southend-on-Sea

Getting to Essex 

Getting to Essex is very easy, especially if you’re coming from London. The UK has great transport links and you can get to Essex via car, train, plane or bus.

Airports

Due to Essex’s proximity to London, there are two airports in Essex both of which fly internationally. Southend Airport is the smaller of the two but it’s still easy to get international flights from Europe.

The main airport which serves Essex is Stansted Airport, where you will find many incoming flights to the county. Keep in mind, Easy Jet and Ryanair are the two main low-cost airlines which fly around Europe. 

Train

The Greater Anglia Rail Network serves Essex with regular departures from London Liverpool Street. There are two main lines that run east into Essex.

The first line turns north to Norwich while the other heads to Wickford. There are also a handful of other lines which will take you to destinations like Southend, Burnham, Clacton and Braintree.

Colchester is on the main line and takes around 50 minutes from London Liverpool Street. You can also reach Manningtree via train which is the only stop in Dedham Vale, should you want to head there. 

The historic Chappel Viaduct near Colchester, Essex

Getting around Essex

The easiest and most convenient way of getting around Essex is to have your own car. Renting cars in Britain is very easy, you will need to be over 25, and have your license and insurance. Under 25s usually pay a premium.

Luckily, most hotels will have free parking so leaving your car overnight isn’t a problem, and public parking is usually easy to find around Essex.

Street parking is widely available, just keep an eye out for the parking signs otherwise most car parks are pay-and-display which are mostly contactless these days, although you can still use coins if you have them! 

Public transport

There is a good bus network in Essex which will get you between the smaller towns and villages if there’s no train station (see above). You’ll need to check online for timetables as there are a few different companies operating however the main one is First Buses. 

There is a regular service which runs from Stansted Airport to Chelmsford (the county town), from there you can easily jump on the train to your next destination.

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Abigail Dalton

Author - Abigail Dalton

Abigail is the content creator behind I’m Going On An Adventure. She focuses on budget travel and adventure, giving first-hand experiences to help her readers plan their perfect travel and make the best memories.

Last Updated 25 May 2023

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