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 a leopard lying down and looking into the camera.

Enjoy a day out at Colchester Zoo

Featured attraction

Clacton Pier is an iconic part of our tourism heritage and steeped with history since it first opened to the public on 18th July 1871. Clacton Pier was acquired on 16th March 2009 by The Ball Family and now boasts a variety of indoor and outdoor entertainment for all the family.

Clacton Pier is the perfect recipe for a great day out. We have developed the indoor entertainments area giving our visitors a fantastic place for families to visit and have fun all year round. We have kiddies, family and thrill rides spread over 6 acres giving a wide variety of choice for all. The undercover section currently houses nine attractions allowing visitors ride whatever the weather. Outside we have a range of thrill and family rides along with the newly opened activity zone which include Bumper Boats and Go Karts.

The Boardwalk Bar and Café Cappuccino has a comfortable atmosphere set in a contemporary interior. The menu includes alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, teas and coffees, snacks and meals all freshly prepared. Soak up the golden rays of sun and savour the best sea view in Clacton, while you enjoy a cold crisp lager or your favourite refreshment. Situated by the shoreline at the front of the pier the Sunshine Terrace has been recently developed expanding the area and improving the facilities, making it a choice location to dwell with your friends and family on a sunny day.

The Lanes Bowling Centre is open seven days a week with bowling offers and great value packages to suit everyone. It is also the perfect venue for Bowling Parties either for birthdays or a special get together. You can go 'cosmic' and bowl to the sounds of disco using the latest in hi-tec audio visual equipment.

The Casino Arcade boasts an indoor world of amusements, kids of all ages love the electrifying thrill of the amusement arcade, keeping you entertained for hours. They have redemption amusements, video games, American pool and traditional prize amusements. You can also grab a bite to eat at the American Diner and enjoy one of the juicy burgers and crunchy fries. A selection of kid’s meals are also available.

Experience a life aquatic at the Clacton Pier SeaQuarium. Get up close and personal with a wonderful collection of sea creatures from around the world. Visit the magical and enchanting world of the clown fish, dare to visit the red bellied piranhas or keep an eye out for our incredible smooth hound sharks. Our Aquarist and staff are on hand to assist with any questions that you may have with talks and tours bookable in advance.

Clacton Pier has widely been seen as one of the prime sea fishing spots along the Tendring coastline. Fishermen can enjoy fishing all year round as a member of the 24/7 Fishing Club for £75 or purchase a day ticket for £6. The most common fish to catch are whiting, codling, pouting, rockling and bass.

Must see attractions for your first visit

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

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.

Imgae of a girl feeding a goat

Free range family fun in the Farm Park with all-weather activities; farmyard friends, soft play, outdoor adventures, tractor & trailer ride, miniature train and more. Plus 60+ Craft Village shops & studios for you to discover as well as the new Tiptree Tea Room.

Aerial view of the historic building.

Magnificent Tudor building with the tallest Gatehouse in Britain and 16th century Italianate terracotta. Henry VIII was so impressed by the building he came to stay in 1522. Climb the tower and marvel at the views of the Blackwater estuary and beyond.

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.

Interior of the museum with a a young woman looking at the displays.

The biggest Norman Keep in Europe, Colchester Castle Museum, voted the Best Large Attraction in the 2015 Essex Tourism and Hospitality Awards delights thousands of families with its exciting new displays and hands-on activities.

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.