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The Best Things To Do In Colchester, Essex


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Candra Bell



Welcome to Colchester, the historic town nestled in the county of Essex, England. With its rich heritage, picturesque landscapes, and vibrant cultural scene, Colchester offers a plethora of activities and attractions for visitors of all ages.


As the oldest recorded town in Britain, Colchester boasts a fascinating history that dates back over 2,000 years. From the iconic Colchester Castle to the ancient ruins of Balkerne Gate, history enthusiasts will find themselves captivated by the town’s rich historical tapestry.


But Colchester is more than just a living museum. It is a town that embraces modernity while cherishing its past. With numerous parks, gardens, and nature reserves, outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to explore the stunning landscapes that surround the town.


Art and culture thrive in Colchester, with a dynamic arts scene that includes theaters, galleries, and music venues. Whether you’re interested in catching a show at the Mercury Theatre or immersing yourself in contemporary art at the Colchester Arts Centre, there is something for everyone.


And let’s not forget the culinary delights that await you in Colchester. With its proximity to the coast, you can savor the freshest seafood and taste the renowned Tiptree jam at the historic Tiptree Jam Factory.


So, whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, art enthusiast, or foodie, Colchester has something to offer. In this article, we will explore the top ten things to do in Colchester, allowing you to make the most out of your visit to this enchanting town.


Colchester Castle

No visit to Colchester would be complete without a trip to Colchester Castle. This iconic Norman castle, built in the 11th century, stands as a testament to the town’s rich history. Take a step back in time as you explore the castle’s impressive walls and towers.


Inside the castle, you’ll find the award-winning Colchester Castle Museum, which houses an extensive collection of artifacts and exhibits showcasing Colchester’s Roman roots and medieval past. From interactive displays to archaeological treasures, the museum offers a fascinating journey through the town’s history.


Don’t miss the opportunity to climb to the top of the castle keep, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Colchester and the surrounding Essex countryside. The castle’s beautifully maintained gardens also provide a tranquil escape, perfect for picnics or simply enjoying the scenery.


Throughout the year, Colchester Castle hosts a range of events and activities for visitors of all ages. From historical reenactments to children’s workshops, there’s always something happening at this captivating landmark.


For those interested in delving deeper into Colchester’s past, guided tours of the castle are available, led by knowledgeable local guides who bring the history to life. Gain insights into the castle’s construction, learn about the lives of its previous inhabitants, and uncover fascinating tales of intrigue and war.


With its impressive architecture, informative exhibits, and stunning views, Colchester Castle is a must-see attraction that offers a glimpse into Colchester’s rich historical legacy.


Colchester Zoo

Prepare to embark on an unforgettable wildlife adventure at Colchester Zoo, one of the finest zoos in the United Kingdom. Located just outside the town center, this award-winning attraction is home to over 220 species of animals, making it a must-visit destination for animal lovers of all ages.


Spread across 60 acres of beautiful parkland, Colchester Zoo offers a unique and immersive experience. As you wander through the carefully designed habitats, you’ll have the opportunity to encounter a diverse range of creatures, from majestic elephants and graceful giraffes to playful primates and fearsome big cats.


The zoo prides itself on its conservation efforts and the welfare of its animals. You can take comfort knowing that your visit supports various global conservation projects, as well as the zoo’s vital breeding programs for endangered species.


Make sure to catch one of the daily informative talks and feeding sessions to learn more about the animals and their behaviors. From the fascinating world of penguins to the incredible intelligence of orangutans, these experiences provide valuable insights into the natural world.


Colchester Zoo is not just about the animals; it also offers a range of family-friendly activities and attractions. Let your little ones unleash their wild side at the Adventure Playgrounds or hop aboard the Lost Madagascar Express train for a fun-filled journey through the heart of the zoo.


If you’re looking for a truly immersive experience, consider booking one of the zoo’s exclusive animal encounters. Get up close and personal with lemurs, meerkats, or even elephants, as trained keepers guide you through these unforgettable encounters.


With its commitment to education, conservation, and animal welfare, Colchester Zoo provides a captivating and enjoyable day out for the whole family. Prepare to be amazed by the beauty and diversity of the animal kingdom as you explore this world-class zoo.


Beth Chatto Gardens

Nestled in the rolling countryside of Essex, the Beth Chatto Gardens is a horticultural paradise that delights garden enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Created by the late plantswoman Beth Chatto, these stunning gardens offer a tranquil escape from the bustle of everyday life.


The Beth Chatto Gardens are a true testament to the power of nature and the artistry of design. Spanning over seven acres, the gardens showcase a diverse range of plants, carefully arranged to thrive in different environmental conditions.


As you meander through the various themed areas, you’ll be greeted by bursts of colors, textures, and scents. From the lush water garden, with its serene ponds and water lilies, to the dry garden, showcasing resilient plants that thrive in challenging conditions, each area presents a unique and captivating experience.


One of the highlights of the Beth Chatto Gardens is the Gravel Garden, a pioneering concept developed by Beth Chatto herself. This area demonstrates how well-adapted plants can thrive in low-water conditions, creating a striking landscape that blooms and thrives with minimal maintenance.


The gardens are not only a feast for the eyes but also a haven for wildlife. Watch as butterflies dance among the flowers, bees buzz from bloom to bloom, and birds take refuge in the trees. Nature truly thrives and harmonizes in this enchanting sanctuary.


For those looking to enhance their gardening skills, the Beth Chatto Gardens also offer a range of workshops and events throughout the year. Learn from the experts about topics such as plant propagation, garden design, and sustainable gardening practices, and take home inspiration to transform your own green space.


After exploring the gardens, take a stroll through the on-site nursery, where you can find an extensive selection of plants, many of which can be found in the gardens themselves. Bring home a piece of Beth Chatto’s unique horticultural vision and continue to cultivate beauty in your own garden.


The Beth Chatto Gardens are a true gem in the heart of Essex, capturing the essence of nature’s beauty and showcasing the transformative power of thoughtful and sustainable gardening practices.


Colchester Natural History Museum

Step into the fascinating world of natural history at the Colchester Natural History Museum. Located in the heart of Colchester, this hidden gem offers a captivating journey through the natural wonders of the region and beyond.


The museum showcases a vast collection of exhibits, spanning from ancient fossils to intricate taxidermy displays. Explore the rich biodiversity of Essex and discover the unique flora and fauna that call this area home.


One of the standout attractions of the museum is its collection of dinosaur fossils and skeletal replicas. Marvel at the towering T-Rex and examine the intricate details of the ancient creatures that once roamed the earth.


Delve into the fascinating world of geology, where you can learn about the formation of rocks and minerals and uncover the secrets hidden beneath the Earth’s surface. From sparkling gemstones to ancient fossils embedded in stone, the geology exhibits offer a glimpse into the geological history of the area.


The Colchester Natural History Museum also provides an opportunity to learn about local ecosystems and the importance of conservation. Discover the variety of habitats that exist in Essex, from wetlands to woodlands, and gain an understanding of the delicate balance required to preserve biodiversity.


Throughout the year, the museum hosts a range of educational events and activities, including workshops, guided tours, and interactive exhibitions. From hands-on experiments to engaging talks by experts in the field, these experiences offer a chance to deepen your knowledge and appreciation for the natural world.


Visiting the Colchester Natural History Museum is not only an educational experience but also a chance to support the museum’s mission of conservation and preservation. By exploring the exhibits and learning about the wonders of the natural world, visitors become advocates for the importance of protecting our environment.


Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or simply curious about the world around you, the Colchester Natural History Museum offers a captivating journey through time and space, showcasing the beauty and diversity of the natural world.


Tiptree Jam Factory

Satisfy your taste buds with a visit to the iconic Tiptree Jam Factory, located just a short drive from Colchester in the picturesque village of Tiptree. Established in 1885, this family-owned business has been producing exquisite preserves and jams for over a century.


The Tiptree Jam Factory offers visitors a unique opportunity to delve into the world of artisanal jam-making. Take a guided tour of the factory and learn about the traditional methods used to create the mouthwatering jams that have become synonymous with the Tiptree brand.


Witness the meticulous process of transforming fresh, ripe fruits into delectable spreads. From the careful selection of ingredients to the gentle cooking and hand-pouring of the jars, every step is carried out with the utmost care and attention to ensure the highest quality products.


During the tour, you’ll also learn about the fascinating history of the Tiptree brand and its royal connections. Discover how Tiptree became a supplier of choice to the British royal family, earning a royal warrant as a mark of excellence and quality.


After the tour, indulge your taste buds with a trip to the Tiptree Tearooms, located on-site. Treat yourself to a sumptuous afternoon tea, complete with scones, clotted cream, and, of course, a selection of Tiptree jams. Sample a wide variety of flavors, from classic strawberry and raspberry to more unusual combinations like apricot and armagnac.


Before you leave, make sure to visit the Tiptree Jam Shop, where you can purchase a range of jams, marmalades, chutneys, and other delectable treats to take home. From gift sets to personalized jars, there’s something for every jam enthusiast.


Whether you’re a food lover or simply appreciate artisanal craftsmanship, a visit to the Tiptree Jam Factory is a delightful experience. Immerse yourself in the world of flavorful preserves and discover the magic behind the timeless tradition of jam-making.


Adventure Island

For a day full of fun and excitement, head over to Adventure Island in Southend-on-Sea, just a short distance from Colchester. This thrilling amusement park offers a fantastic array of rides and attractions, making it a perfect destination for families and adventure seekers.


Adventure Island has something for everyone, with over 60 rides and attractions spread across its sprawling grounds. From adrenaline-pumping roller coasters to gentle carousels and everything in between, there’s a ride to suit every age and thrill level.


Thrill-seekers will be thrilled by the park’s impressive selection of roller coasters, including the iconic Rage and the heart-pounding Green Scream. Hold on tight as you twist, turn, and plummet through the air, experiencing the exhilaration of these high-speed rides.


For those who prefer a more leisurely pace, Adventure Island offers a variety of classic fairground attractions. Take a relaxing spin on the Ferris wheel, enjoy the panoramic views of the coast from the Sky Drop, or challenge your friends to a friendly race on the dodgems.


No trip to Adventure Island is complete without indulging in some classic fairground treats. Sample freshly made candy floss, munch on delicious hot dogs, and savor the aroma of freshly made popcorn as you explore the park.


If you’re visiting with younger children, there’s a dedicated area called Adventure Inside, filled with soft play areas, gentle rides, and interactive experiences. It’s the perfect place for little ones to let their imaginations run wild and burn off some energy.


Adventure Island also hosts a range of special events throughout the year, from firework displays to live performances. Check the park’s schedule to see what’s happening during your visit and make the most of the entertainment available.


With its thrilling rides, family-friendly attractions, and vibrant atmosphere, Adventure Island provides a day of non-stop excitement and entertainment. Strap in, let go, and create unforgettable memories at this thrilling amusement park.


Layer Marney Tower

Prepare to be enchanted by the grandeur and history of Layer Marney Tower, a magnificent Tudor mansion located near Colchester. This towering marvel, often referred to as England’s tallest Tudor Gatehouse, offers visitors a glimpse into the opulence and splendor of the past.


Layer Marney Tower was built in the early 16th century and has been wonderfully preserved, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the rich architectural heritage of the Tudor period. The tower’s striking red-brick façade, intricate ornamentation, and towering turrets make it an imposing sight.


Throughout the tower, you’ll find beautifully furnished rooms that once played host to nobility and royalty. Explore the Great Hall, adorned with magnificent oak paneling and a grand fireplace, or marvel at the exquisite craftsmanship of the Long Gallery, which stretches an impressive 100 feet.


The tower’s grounds are equally captivating, featuring beautifully landscaped gardens, including a knot garden, a pleasure garden, and a peaceful moat. Take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque surroundings and enjoy the tranquility of the estate.


Layer Marney Tower also offers guided tours, led by knowledgeable and passionate guides who bring the history and stories of the tower to life. Learn about the powerful Marney family who built the tower, the tumultuous events of the Tudor era, and the secrets hidden within its walls.


For those interested in the architectural aspects of the tower, don’t miss the opportunity to climb to the top of the gatehouse. From this vantage point, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, making it a perfect spot for photo enthusiasts.


In addition to its historical significance, Layer Marney Tower hosts a variety of events and activities throughout the year. From open-air theater performances to art exhibitions and craft fairs, there’s always something happening to entertain and engage visitors.


Layer Marney Tower is a true gem of Tudor heritage, offering a captivating journey into the past. Immerse yourself in the grandeur of this architectural masterpiece, learn about its rich history, and marvel at the beauty that has withstood the test of time.


Colchester Arts Centre

Immerse yourself in the vibrant arts scene of Colchester by visiting the Colchester Arts Centre. Housed in a beautifully converted church, this thriving cultural hub offers a diverse range of performances, exhibitions, and workshops that cater to all artistic tastes.


The Colchester Arts Centre showcases an eclectic mix of live music, theater, comedy, dance, and spoken word performances. From renowned touring acts to emerging local artists, there’s always something captivating happening on the center’s stage.


Step inside the atmospheric venue and be amazed by the acoustics and ambience that only a converted church can provide. Enjoy a night of live music, let the laughter resonate during a comedy show, or be moved by the raw emotions of a theatrical performance.


In addition to its vibrant performance program, the Colchester Arts Centre also hosts a range of visual art exhibitions. Explore the gallery space and discover works by local and national artists, covering a variety of mediums and styles. From contemporary paintings to thought-provoking installations, there’s always something new and inspiring to see.


For those looking to get involved in the arts, the center offers a range of workshops and educational programs. Learn new skills, express your creativity, and meet like-minded individuals through a variety of classes and courses offered throughout the year.


The Colchester Arts Centre is not only a hub of artistic expression but also a vital community organization. It provides a platform for local artists to showcase their talent, fosters a sense of inclusivity and diversity, and creates opportunities for collaboration and engagement.


With its cozy atmosphere, diverse range of performances, and commitment to supporting artistic endeavors, the Colchester Arts Centre is a must-visit for both locals and visitors seeking a unique cultural experience.


Check the center’s schedule of events and immerse yourself in the creative energy of Colchester during your visit to this thriving arts destination.


High Woods Country Park

Escape the hustle and bustle of city life and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature at High Woods Country Park. Situated on the outskirts of Colchester, this expansive park offers a peaceful retreat and a multitude of outdoor activities for visitors of all ages.


With its lush woodlands, picturesque meadows, and scenic lakes, High Woods Country Park provides the perfect setting for a leisurely walk or a family picnic. Lace up your walking shoes and explore the extensive network of trails that wind through the park, allowing you to discover its hidden corners and breathtaking views.


The park’s diverse habitats support a wide variety of flora and fauna, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers. Keep your eyes peeled for native birds, butterflies, and even deer as you explore the park’s natural wonders.


High Woods Country Park also caters to those who enjoy more active pursuits. Take advantage of the park’s well-maintained cycling paths and bring your bike for an invigorating ride through the woodland trails. Or gather a group of friends for a game of football or frisbee on the open grassy fields.


If you’re visiting with children, High Woods Country Park offers a fantastic adventure playground where they can climb, swing, and slide to their heart’s content. Let their imagination roam wild as they explore the play area and enjoy the fresh air.


Throughout the year, the park hosts a variety of events and activities, from nature walks and conservation workshops to outdoor performances and community fairs. Check the park’s schedule to see what’s happening during your visit and take part in the engaging and educational programs on offer.


Escape the confines of urban life and reconnect with nature at High Woods Country Park. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, outdoor adventure, or simply a break from the everyday, this beautiful park provides the perfect retreat.


Soak up the natural beauty, breathe in the fresh air, and let High Woods Country Park refresh your body and rejuvenate your soul.


Mercury Theatre

Experience the magic of live theater at the Mercury Theatre, a prominent cultural institution located in the heart of Colchester. With its diverse range of productions, talented cast, and stunning venue, the Mercury Theatre offers a captivating and immersive theatrical experience for audiences of all ages.


The Mercury Theatre showcases a dynamic repertoire of performances, ranging from classic plays and musicals to contemporary dramas and innovative productions. Each show is carefully crafted and brought to life by a talented team of actors, directors, designers, and technicians, ensuring a high-quality and memorable experience.


Step into the beautifully designed auditorium, with its comfortable seating and excellent sightlines, and prepare to be transported to different worlds and eras. From the intimate Studio Theatre to the grand Main Stage, each venue within the Mercury Theatre provides a unique atmosphere, allowing the audience to fully engage with the performances.


The theater’s commitment to community engagement is evident through its numerous initiatives and programs. The Mercury Young Company provides a platform for aspiring actors aged 11 to 25, nurturing talent and fostering creativity. The theater also offers a range of workshops, educational programs, and community outreach projects, ensuring that theater remains accessible and inclusive for all.


As you enjoy a show at the Mercury Theatre, you become part of a rich theatrical heritage that spans over 80 years. The theater’s legacy as a leading regional theater in the United Kingdom is a testament to its ongoing dedication to artistic excellence and entertainment.


Outside of the main performances, the Mercury Theatre also boasts a stylish café and bar, creating a vibrant and social space where theatergoers can relax and discuss the shows they’ve seen.


Whether you’re a theater enthusiast or simply looking for a memorable night out, a visit to the Mercury Theatre promises an immersive and captivating experience. Immerse yourself in the world of live theater, be swept away by powerful performances, and revel in the transformative power of storytelling.


Check the Mercury Theatre’s schedule for upcoming productions and plan your visit to this remarkable cultural gem in the heart of Colchester.



Colchester, with its rich history, natural beauty, and vibrant cultural scene, offers a wide array of attractions and activities that cater to every taste and interest. From exploring the ancient Colchester Castle and delving into the town’s Roman roots, to immersing oneself in the wonders of nature at the Beth Chatto Gardens and High Woods Country Park, there is something for everyone to enjoy.


The town’s cultural scene is also thriving, with venues like the Colchester Arts Centre and Mercury Theatre showcasing a diverse range of performances, exhibitions, and workshops that celebrate the arts in all their forms. From live music and theater productions to visual arts and community events, visitors can immerse themselves in the creative energy that permeates the town.


Colchester’s culinary offerings should not be overlooked either. Indulge in the local delicacies, including the famous Tiptree jam, and savor the fresh seafood from the nearby coast. Whether you’re exploring the Tiptree Jam Factory or sampling the local fare in one of Colchester’s charming pubs and restaurants, there’s a culinary adventure awaiting your taste buds.


What sets Colchester apart is its ability to seamlessly blend the old with the new. The town’s rich history is visible in its ancient landmarks, such as Layer Marney Tower and the Colchester Natural History Museum, while its vibrant contemporary offerings, like Adventure Island and the Colchester Arts Centre, ensure that there is never a dull moment.


Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, art connoisseur, or simply seeking a memorable getaway, Colchester has it all. Embrace the charm and character of this historic town, immerse yourself in its cultural offerings, and explore the wonders that await. Colchester truly is a destination that promises to captivate, entertain, and leave visitors with lasting memories.