Call in at our country homes and have yourself a splendid day out.

With over 14,000 listed buildings to its name, Essex is unusually well supplied with interesting architecture - of all shapes and sizes! Many of its most notable buildings are of military importance; mighty fortresses like Colchester Castle and Hedingham Castle, testaments to foreign power in a conquered country, and coastal forts at Tilbury and Harwich, built to repel invasion. Others are more purely decorative: the Jacobean splendour of Audley End, 16th century Ingatestone Hall and Layer Marney, whose magnificent Tudor gatehouse was built to outshine Hampton Court.

Whether you want to follow in the footsteps of kings and queens, visiting the best examples of period architecture in the county, or are simply looking for a relaxing spot with a historic backdrop, Essex has a great deal to offer.

Browse our historic buildings and sites

Picture of a lady in period costume showing a group of children Victorian cooking.
Step back in time at Audley End House and enjoy a family day out.

Building on the past

Essex architecture through the ages

Picture of the outside of the church.

Greensted Church

Aerial view of the fort.

Tilbury Fort

Picture of a Victorian Water tower.
The Colchester 'Jumbo'
Outside of an art deco building with palm trees in the front garden.
Art Deco era in Frinton
Picture of the ultra modern environmental building.
RSPB Rainham Marshes
Outside of the iconic building.
Firstsite
Image of the outside of the building during sunset.
Southend Royal Pavilion

 

Among the most characteristic buildings of Essex are its vast medieval churches, many of which hold an architectural surprise or two like Home to the oldest wooden church in the world at Greensted, Little Braxted with its lavish Victorian interior and the medieval wall paintings at Copford.

The subsequent Tudor period saw the birth of many of the county’s great houses, built by nobility and those grown wealthy through trade. It was in this period also that Henry VIII built a series of forts to defend London and Harwich from invasion from Europe, the most distinguished architecturally of which is Tilbury Fort, whose magnificent water gate was added by Charles II.

A wealth of lesser known gems also abound in towns and villages throughout the county, from ornate timber-framed merchant’s houses, built with wealth from the wool trade, to relics of the county’s industrious past including maltings, weatherboarded mills and, more recently, factories, viaducts and power-generating stations.

The threat of invasion in the Napoleonic Wars saw the construction of a series of Martello Towers as well as the circular redoubt at Harwich. Other distinguished Victorian survivors include Colchester’s ‘Jumbo’, the largest Victorian water tower in England; the Mistley Towers, designed by Robert Adam and the octagonal Naze Tower, today an art gallery and tearoom. Rubbing shoulders with these are art deco treasures and striking cutting edge designs, which continue to evolve the face of Essex.

Among the most characteristic buildings of Essex are its vast medieval churches, many of which hold an architectural surprise or two. The subsequent Tudor period saw the birth of many of the county’s great houses, built by nobility and those grown wealthy through trade. A wealth of lesser known gems also abound in towns and villages throughout the county, from ornate timber-framed merchant’s houses, built with wealth from the wool trade, to relics of the county’s industrious past. Rubbing shoulders with these are art deco treasures and striking cutting edge designs, which continue to evolve the face of Essex.

Treasures left behind

Exterior of the castle with flower beds on front lawn.

Colchester's Roman remains are some of the earliest and most impressive in the country. Not only is it the oldest recorded town in Britain, it was also the first capital of the Roman Empire in Britain. Visit Colchester Castle and get an insight to the fascinating history of this town.

Picture of the Saxon chapel standing a midst big open skies.

As Roman rule disintegrated so Othona fell to Saxon raids. When St Cedd arrived in 654, he built St Peter’s Chapel on the same remote site. One of Britain’s oldest churches, it still stands today, its simple interior entirely appropriate to its wild location.

Picture of the exterior as seen through the trees.

The consequences of the Norman conquest are still visible. Castles were built, churches reconstructed, towns developed and hunting forests protected. Finest of the Norman castles is that at Hedingham, home of the de Vere family (Earls of Oxford).

Splendid houses to visit

Picture of a man in period costume sitting on a horse in front of Audley End House.

Built to entertain kings, this grand Jacobean mansion is one of England’s most magnificent stately homes. Experience a real life period drama as you explore life above and below stairs at this decadent mansion. The authentic Victorian Service Wing, glorious gardens, stable block, the nursery suite with its authentic Victorian toys and intricate interiors are all waiting to be discovered.

Picture of the tower from the back with steps leading to the entrance.

This tallest Tudor Gatehouse in England is one of the finest examples of Tudor architecture. Built in the same year that Henry VIII met the French king, Francis I at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Henry stayed in the impressive tower in 1522. Climbing the 80ft tower’s 99 steps is well worth the effort, as the reward is a breath-taking view across the north of the county.

Hylands House

Picture of the outside front of Hylands House at night

Rescued from ruin and steeped in history, Hylands House is a fascinating and beautifully restored Grade II* listed country house. Built in 1730 as a modest red brick Queen Anne style house, the house has changed considerably throughout its history. Visitors can now enjoy spectacular rooms and stunning views over the landscaped parkland.

More gems for you to explore

Shot of the back of the house overlooking the lawn and trees on the side.

Step back some 400 years to the 16th century and the home of another knight of the realm, Sir William Petre, Secretary of State to four Tudor monarchs. Scions of the Petre family still live. Visitors can enjoy a fascinating tour of the hall’s eight principal rooms containing paintings, furniture and memorabilia accumulated over the centuries and wander in the gardens.

Picture of  walled garden with the barn in the background.

Cressing Temple Barns, the oldest timber-framed barn in the world, is a medieval moated farmstead once owned by the elite warrior monks, the Knights Templar. Founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land, they were granted the Cressing site in 1137 and it became the largest and most important estate in Essex.

Picture of the side of the building showing also the boarded up windows.

An electrical fault in 1917 caused a fire that pretty much reduced this 18th century mansion to a burnt-out shell. A campaign to restore the fine Georgian mansion to its former glory is an on-going process. You can visit Copped Hall is follow their progress. The gardens are well worth a visit. Rock star Rod Stewart also lives in a property on the Copped Hall estate.

Featured accommodation

Featured hotels

Down Hall Country House Hotel

AA 4 Star Hotel £99-£159 prpnb, Bishop's Stortford

 
 
Maison Talbooth

AA 3 Red Star Country House Hotel £150-£295 prpnb, Colchester

 
 
Wivenhoe House Hotel

AA 4 Star Hotel £95-£230 prpnb, Colchester

 

Featured B&Bs and Guesthouses

VisitEngland 4 Star Inn £105 prpnb, Chelmsford

 
 
Sun Inn

AA 5 Star Inn £100-£160 prpnb, Dedham

 
 
Linden House

VisitEngland 5 Star Guest House £105-£195 prpnb, Stansted

 

Stay somewhere different

Glamping at Layer Marney Tower

£299-£779 pupw sleeps 2, Colchester

 
 
Bouncers Farm

Self-assessed Accessibility Information £40-£120 pupn sleeps 2-6, Maldon

 
 
Greenlands Barn

VisitEngland 4 Star Self-catering £350-£400 pupw sleeps 2, Colchester