10 'must-see' attractions when visiting Essex for the first time

Is this your first visit to Essex?

Culturally vibrant, redolent with over 2,000 years of history, Essex is a fascinating place to explore. So, ignore the received wisdoms and come and enjoy one of Britain’s most surprising and rewarding counties. We have also put together some quirky facts you might not know.

Here are our top ten suggested attractions for you to visit for a great day out. You could even stay a while longer and explore more of our county.

Picture of two giraffes leaning down to a mother and child to get fed.
Colchester Zoo

Featured attraction

Audley End House and Gardens

Picture of a lady in vintage clothes walking with a horse in front of Audley End House.
Picture of the west wing of the building with the gardens in the foreground.
Picture of the front building as seen from the left.
Picture of the great hall with lots of paintings on the walls and a massive fireplace.
Picture of the woodland walk through two Greek style columns.
Picture of two girls looking at a bed of bright orange flowers.
Picture of a kitchen help dressed in Victorian outfit showing a girl how to prepare food.
Picture of a horse interpreter sitting on a horse and grooming it.
A group of costumed musicians dancing around the lawn.

 

Experience a real life period drama as you explore life above and below stairs at this decadent mansion.

Audley End was one of the great wonders of the nation when the first Earl of Suffolk, Lord Treasurer to King James I, built the house like a royal palace in the early 1600s. It did have a spell as a royal palace when King Charles II bought it in 1668 to use as a base when he went racing at Newmarket.

Surrounding the mansion is a superb park designed in 1763 by that most famous of English landscape architects, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. Scattered around the park, a number of garden buildings add to the 18th century character. Most delightful of all is a bridge over the River Cam, designed by the equally famous architect, Robert Adam. At the rear of the house, a parterre, originally planted around 1830, has been restored and adds a spectacular splash of colour in summer.

On site is also one of the country’s finest organic Victorian Kitchen Garden. Thanks to the detailed diary of William Cresswell, an under-gardener, and recently discovered drawings,  this two-acre garden has been lovingly restored to it’s original glory by English Heritage. Steeped in history, this garden is both functional as well as pleasing to the eye. Every possible space has been used efficiently and both sunny and shady corners are exploited to their full potential. Long forgotten vegetables come back to life and fruit with exotic names grow again in the Orchard House, which was rebuilt to exact measurements of the original building.

More to explore

With glorious gardens and stunning countryside views, it’s not only the grounds at Audley End that are unmissable. The authentic Victorian Service Wing, impressive 17th century stable block, intricate interiors and wonderful works of art are all waiting to be discovered.

Children’s stories are brought to life at the nursery suite with its authentic Victorian toys to play with and clothes to dress-up in; and the coal gallery with its smells and sounds of 19th century innovation. Visit the stables to meet the horses and have fun dressing-up, then let off steam in the fantastic outdoor play area next to the Cart Yard Café where you can watch on with a coffee! Feeling peckish? The Servant’s Hall Tea Room offers a selection of delicious, locally sourced refreshments perfect to tickle the taste buds. 

Experience a real life period drama as you explore life above and below stairs at this decadent mansion.

Audley End was one of the great wonders of the nation when the first Earl of Suffolk, Lord Treasurer to King James I, built the house like a royal palace in the early 1600s. It did have a spell as a royal palace when King Charles II bought it in 1668 to use as a base when he went racing at Newmarket.

Surrounding the mansion is a superb park designed in 1763 by that most famous of English landscape architects, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. On site is also one of the country’s finest organic Victorian Kitchen Garden. Steeped in history this garden is both functional as well as pleasing to the eye.

More to explore

With glorious gardens and stunning countryside views, it’s not only the grounds at Audley End that are unmissable. The authentic Victorian Service Wing, impressive 17th century stable block, intricate interiors and wonderful works of art are all waiting to be discovered. Children’s stories are brought to life at the nursery suite with its authentic Victorian toys to play with and clothes to dress-up in; and the coal gallery with its smells and sounds of 19th century innovation.

The Servant’s Hall Tea Room offers a selection of delicious, locally sourced refreshments perfect to tickle the taste buds.

Must see attractions for your first visit

Aerial view of the historic building.

Magnificent Tudor building with the tallest Gatehouse in Britain and 16th century Italianate terracotta. Climb the tower and marvel at the views of the Blackwater estuary and beyond.

Picture of the exterior as seen through the trees.

The 110 feet high Norman keep of Hedingham Castle, the finest and best preserved in England, was built around 1140 by Aubrey de Vere and is still owned by one of his descendants.

Exterior of the castle with flower beds on front lawn.

The largest Norman Keep in Europe. Superb Roman displays, hands-on activities and tours. An award winning experience of 2000 years of history. Exciting events all year round.

Picture of a family walking along exquisitely maintained flower beds.

With sweeping panoramas, big open skies and far reaching views over the countryside, this Essex garden provides somewhere to watch the changing seasons and get closer to nature.

Beautifully landscaped garden around a pond with a boat in it.

Beth Chatto is one of the most influential living gardeners in Britain, best known for her pioneering, ecological approach to gardening. Her gardens are internationally acclaimed.

Picture of the iconic Firstsite building at night.

The spectacular Rafael Viñoly-designed building, in the heart of the cultural quarter, is a modern art gallery in Britain's oldest recorded town. Regular new exhibitions run all year round.

PIcture of a leopard laying on its back and looking in to the camera.

The zoo features in the top 20 zoos in the world according to The TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Attractions Awards. With more than 270 wildlife species, over 50 daily displays, beautiful parkland and lakes, everyone will be entertained.

A group of people in a raft hurdling down the white water course. The are all looking excited.

Discover the thrill of white water rafting at Lee Valley White Water Centre, the London 2012 venue where the rapids challenged the world’s best athletes. Book your own white water adventure now.

Picture orf a family sitting on their bikes and standing looking over the estuary.

A fantastic park offering spectacular views of Hadleigh Castle and the Thames. While walking or cycling on the new surfaced trails which have been adapted for a range of riders, you can discover some of our native plants and insects.

Explore our county

Picture of the iconic Firstsite building at night.
Discover Essex’s creative spaces. They come in all shapes and sizes and are crammed with artistic treasures, from international names to emerging local artists.
Picture of a sunset over the The Naze waters with some rocks protruding from the water.

Explore our 350 miles of coastline, the longest shoreline of any county in England, a place of surprising wild beauty, rich in wildlife and sprinkled with history and hidden cultural gems.

Essex’s history has been shaped by a wide variety of cultures. Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans – all left their mark. Echoes of their influence can still be seen today.
Picture of a cow at the edge of the River Stour and drinking water.
A scenic patchwork of rich farmland speckled with pastelwashed villages of thatch and timber, the views interrupted by mighty oaks and ashes presided over by the hurrying skies.