Looking for free things to do in Essex? From secluded beaches of wild beauty to cultural treasures and award-winning vineyards, discover the best of #SecretEssex on a shoestring. 

Earlham's Beach from the air

Earlham’s Beach 

Virtually unknown, breathe in fresh sea air as you walk along secluded, sandy and naturally beautiful Earlham's/Irlham's Beach. Backed by dunes, marshes, and wildflowers this is a great place for spotting wildlife, enjoying impressive views of the Essex coast and dog walking.

With free parking at West End Lane car park, or a 40-minute walk from Harwich train station, this is a secret gem to add to your bucket list! Please be mindful of tides when visiting. 1hr 20mins from London by train.

Harvest at Bardfield Vineyard

Harvest at our Vineyards 

Our vineyards are always looking for volunteer pickers between the end of September and the beginning of November, exact dates subject to season conditions. It’s physically demanding work but very rewarding; you’ll get to meet new people, learn a thing or two about viticulture along the way, and enjoy some previous years vintage along with some hearty food. No previous experience is necessary, join the waiting list now!
Email Saffron Grange Vineyard 
Email Bardfield Vineyard

Cycling the Harlow Sculpture Trail

Cycle the Harlow Sculpture Trail

Harlow was designed for bicycles; town planner Sir Frederick Gibberd created an excellent network of cycle paths in the 1950s and installed 24 sculptures to discover on the 13 mile, 5-hour, cycle loop, which includes the beautiful River Stort Trail. 30 min direct train from London to Harlow Town Station, the start of the trail, where the river is joined by Burnt Mill Lane.

1935 Rooftop Restaurant Southend

Plane spot at 1935 Rooftop Restaurant Southend

Calling all plane fanatics… overlooking the runway of London Southend Airport this is the perfect spot to plane watch to your hearts content, over a cup of coffee. The rooftop restaurant and bar is fully soundproofed. Also open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday Lunch with kids’ menu available. Please note, at the time of writing, Mondays and Wednesdays are the busiest days at the airport to see all the action!

Why not combine with a Visit the Vulcan day and get up close, including cockpit visits, to this Cold War icon. 50 min direct train from London, 4 mins walk from Southend Airport train station.

Electric Palace Cinema

Electric Palace Cinema

Follow in the footsteps of the stars as you enter one of the world’s oldest cinemas. Used as a film set for the latest Downton Abbey film, and often frequented by patron and Hollywood actor Clive Owen, sit back in one of the plush red seats and enjoy a glass of wine while watching Hollywood blockbusters, live streamings and more. Films are about 4 weeks behind chain cinemas, but screening dates are published well in advance. From £7pp. Only 1 hour 20 mins from London by train.

East Coast Distillery

Tour East Coast Distillery

Book on to a free gin tour and tasting at this micro distillery; you’ll learn what goes into the gin, how it is made and discover your favourites! The dream team behind this venture, four friends, were keen to use local ingredients in their gin. Sea Buckthorn, which grows wild on the sandy beaches nearby and is farmed just a stone’s throw from the distillery, provides a citrusy sweet undertone to their signature gin, Tide’s Fortune. Sea Purslane, carpeting the muddy coastal inlets around the distillery, adds a lovely minerally layer to the gin and compliments the heat of some of the more traditional botanicals that you would expect to find in a London Dry Gin. Taste the flavours of Essex. Tours run 12 and 2 on Saturdays, duration 1 hour 30 mins. 1 hour 18 mins direct train from London, 5 min drive from Thorpe-le-Soken train station.

Landermere Quay

Landermere Quay

Landermere Quay, on the beautiful Walton Backwaters, is a tidal estuarine saltmarsh between Harwich and Walton, reached only by foot. The beauty of the area was appreciated by the many artists who live and once lived there, including the Virginia Wolf family, and Edward Paolozzi (who created the Tottenham Court Road station mural). It has a colourful history to match; reputedly a 16th century smugglers bay and once home to Queen Victoria’s physician, Sir William Gull, who became a Jack the Ripper suspect! Calm and tranquil, this is an idyllic spot for kayaking or swimming. But there is something wonderfully wild about this little-known gem. Tie this in with a visit to the distillery above and use their car park or ask for alternative spots nearby. 1 hour 18 mins direct train from London, 5 min drive from Thorpe-le-Soken train station.

Hatters Farm

Pumpkin picking 

With over 50 varieties of pumpkins and squashes to choose from, whether you like knobbly ones, giant ones, tiny ones or colourful ones, Hatters Farm is the perfect place to visit with your little ones for those cute photos you will cherish forever. Don’t miss the UKs first Pumpkin Cannon and their Maize Maze too! For a spooky night out with friends, bring your torches and book a twilight pumpkin picking session. Open selected dates in October. 50 min direct train from London, 10 min drive from Stansted Airport train station.

Cammas Hall also offer pumpkin picking and the six-acre Maize Maze throughout October. 50 min direct train from London, 18 min drive from Stansted Airport train station.

Pets Corner, Harlow

Pets 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, 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.

Walking around Hatfield Broad Oak

Follow in the footsteps of a local

We have some beautiful chocolate box villages to explore, off the beaten track footpaths at the edges of farmers’ fields, and disused railway lines to reveal a secret Essex that is best discovered on foot. Many of our walking trails start and finish at destinations with a train station or pub, including the Crouch Valley Rail Ale Trail. But if you prefer to ramble, we have a great interactive map showing all the footpaths in our county.

If you liked this budget-friendly blog, follow us on Instagram @visitessex for lots more #SecretEssex ideas.




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