Take a break from traditional holiday parks by the sea this year. From farm stays surrounded by roaming countryside, quirky glamping, grand gatehouses, and adventure rafts, we’ve rounded up our hidden gems of Essex, perfect for family breaks. #SecretEssex

Mountfitchet Castle

Mountfitchet Castle

Step back in time at this open-air museum; dress up in armour, put your children in the stocks, learn how to catapult, and more! Visit the world’s only medieval Castle and Norman Village reconstructed on its original site. From feeding roaming goats, chicken and deer to open fires, let your imagination run wild. Children will enjoy following the trail to receive their medal! 

Don’t miss the world’s largest collection of toys in The House on the Hill Museum brimming with memorabilia through the ages, The Haunted Manor and life-size dinosaurs, all included in your ticket.

Picnic within the grounds or visit their tearooms. 40 min direct train from London, 5 min walk from Stansted Mountfitchet station.

The Fieldbarns at Bullocks Farm

Bullocks Farm Barns

Overlooking fields, hay bales and beautiful gardens, step inside one of three luxury boutique barns at this farm stay. Each sleeping 4, be welcomed to a homemade cake. Set at the edge of a working family farm, visit the sheep and rare breed pigs. Whip up your favourites in the fully equipped kitchen or bbq at the picnic benches outside. If you are feeling lazy during your stay, prepared meals are available to pre-order, and a pub and cafe are within walking distance across beautiful country. On your return cosy up aside the log burner. From £150pn. 50 mins train from London, 11 min drive from Stansted Airport train station.

Malting Farm

Malting Farm Cabins & Glamping

Escape to the country in a luxury cabin or boutique glamping glade nestled between wildflower meadows, sweetcorn fields and a lazy stream. You’ll find a delicious homemade cake awaiting your arrival.

The 4 bell tents sleep up to 4 adults and 4 children. Each cabin (sleeping up to 6) has been designed with families in mind. From quirky window hatches between bedrooms to hot tubs, campfires, and plenty of outdoor space to roam. Each cabin has underfloor heating, so it’s really cosy in winter. 

Pre-book an animal petting session to meet the goats and guinea pig residents on the working family farm, follow country footpaths, hire bikes to explore further afield or paddleboards to use on the farm reservoir. Sandy beaches are only 20 mins drive away. And if you are feeling lazy, pre-order food which will be waiting for you when you get back. From £130pn, min 3-night stays. 1hr direct train from London, 20 mins drive from Colchester North station.

Pets' Corner

Pet’s Corner

Pet’s Corner is a little gem for those with young children. Amazingly, entry to the zoo is free and there are so many animals to see from pigs, sheep and donkeys to llamas and reptiles.

Located within Harlow Town Park, there is a cafe just next door or the pretty Water Garden is a lovely spot to tuck into your packed lunch. Kids will love the adventure playground within the park too, with zip line and giant climbing net.

Buy nets in the Pets’ Corner shop for pond dipping in the stream opposite or take a dip in the paddling pool. There is lots there to make a great day out! 30 min direct train from London, 10 mins walk from Harlow Town train station.

The Wobbin

The Wobbin Farm Cottage

Sleeping up to 4 adults and 2 children, this period country cottage boasts beautiful views of the water, and a conservatory looking out over fields. Set on a working farm with sheep and cattle, this rural retreat is great for families with dogs with secure garden, direct access to private woodland and great walks to the sea. Nearby Tollesbury, locally renowned for its unusual salt marsh landscape, has a tidal pool and sand play area, and can be reached in just 12 minutes’ walk. Don’t miss the quirky Loft Tearooms on your visit! From £520 for 2 nights. 45 min direct train from London, 30 min drive from Witham train station.

Six Apples barn

Six Apples Barn

This beautifully refurbished 18th century former coach house sleeps 8 and boasts an outdoor heated swimming pool for a luxurious self-catering holiday. The sheltered garden provides a safe space for the children to roam, with badminton, swing set, tepee, pool inflatables and mud kitchen to keep them amused for hours! They’ll love playing hide and seek in the old nooks and crannies of this historic building, cosying up with board games by the fire come dusk. Visit the “most photographed village in England,” Finchingfield, only a 30 min walk across fields, with pubs and tearooms. Plus, there is no minimum night’s stay from October through to June and dogs are welcome too. From £400. 1-hour direct train from London, 15 min drive from Braintree train station. NB Closing in November so last chance to stay!

Writtle Sunflowers

Writtle Sunflowers

Check out family-run Writtle Sunflowers for mooching amongst beautiful blooms as far as the eye can see each July and August. Get lost in their maze, have your own photoshoot amongst the sea of yellow, picnic with a stunning backdrop, and pick some beautiful flowers to take with you. Pre-book tickets. 30 min direct train from London, 20 min drive from Chelmsford station.

Cambridge Lodge

Cambridge Lodge, a Victorian Gatehouse

Built in 1843, Cambridge Lodge is set within the grounds of one of England’s finest stately homes, Audley End House & Gardens. Be welcomed by a luxury hamper as you step inside this historic self-catering cottage. Sleeping 4, dog friendly, and with roll top bath, this cosy cottage includes entry to the grand house, where you can meet Victorian characters below stairs, and stable horses. It is also close by to the charming market town of Saffron Walden, and opposite Audley End Miniature Railway. From £490 for 3 nights, 1 hour 5 min from London by direct train, 5 min drive from Audley End train station.

Chigborough Farm

Chigborough Farm

For the ultimate adventure, stay on a floating Raft in the middle of a private lake! Put your belongings in a wheelbarrow and follow the clues to reach your bed for the night. Explore in your own private rowing boat or hire a pedalo and make a splash in your wood-fired hot tub. Sleeps 4, from £215pn. Or stay in the secluded and luxurious safari tent nestled in a woodland clearing, complete with welcome hamper and private hot tub. Sleeps 5, from £120pn. Café, bikes to hire, paddleboarding, pottery painting, shared games room and more available at the farm. 40min direct train from London, 15min drive from Hatfield Peverel train station.

Teybrook Orchard

Teybrook Orchard Glamping

Choose from traditionally hand-crafted Mongolian yurts, bordered by meadows, and named after cool Disney characters, to Bell tents nestled amongst the trees, sleeping up to 6. The skylight in the yurts means you really will fall asleep under the stars; magical! Both options have a private firepit/BBQ grill and picnic table. Make your Essex stay something out of the ordinary. From £80pn. 1hr from London by direct train, 10 min drive from Marks Tey station.

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