As Colchester is awarded city status, we discover what to eat, see and do here

11th century Norman castle in Colchester in springtime and UK flag.

Colchester Castle - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Sybilla Hart 

We discover the best places to eat, drink, visit and experience in Colchester as it celebrates being awarded city status as part of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Colchester, Britain's most ancient recorded city and the first capital of Roman Britain, is a treasure trove of history if ever there was one – and it’s right on our doorstep. Boudicca certainly thought that Colchester was worth fighting for and we tend to agree. Set close to the heart of Constable country, Colchester is not only flanked by timeless water meadows and pretty villages, it is also close to the sea, has an award-winning zoo, excellent state and private schooling options, its own castle and park and a cultural Dutch Quarter to boot. 

COLCHESTER, UK - MAY 7TH 2018: A view of the impressive architecture of Colchester Town Hall in the

Colchester Town Hall - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Things to do in Colchester

In terms of attractions, there is something for everyone in Colchester. Children will adore a trampoline fest at Jump Street and a trip to one of the top 10 zoos in the UK. For the culture vultures among us, there is a plethora of historic monuments to investigate such as Colchester Castle, St John’s Abbey Gatehouse (the only remains of the Benedictine priory) and St Botolph’s Priory. William the Conqueror chose Colchester as the site to build his first and largest royal stone castle on the Roman remains of a temple built for the Emperor Claudius. After the Civil War, the castle was nearly pulled down, but thankfully rescue arrived in the form of lawyer Charles Gray. Gray was gifted the castle as a wedding present and commissioned the lovely grounds of Castle Park, which can still be enjoyed to this day.  

Pond and castle at Castle Park Colchester

The tranquil gardens at Castle Park - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jane Taylor, who wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, moved with her family from Lavenham to live in West Stockwell Street in the Dutch Quarter. Many are of the opinion that Taylor wrote the celebrated poem from her bedroom on West Stockwell Street. No visit to Colchester would be complete without a peek inside state-of-the-art Firstsite, a gallery and cultural centre located at Lewis Gardens. There is currently an exhibition on the Benton End art movement, which is on until April 18, featuring the works of Cedric Morris and his student Lucy Harwood. During the school holidays, Firstsite lays on all sorts of events for children from craft to sport sessions.  

Firstsite, Colchester, Essex with people in foreground. Photograph by Jayne Lloyd.

Firstsite, winner of Museum of the Year Award 2021. - Credit: © Jayne Lloyd

Accommodation in Colchester

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If you are making a weekend of it, check into Dutch Cottage in the old Dutch Quarter. A cosy two-bedroom cottage close to the castle, it can be booked though Sykes Cottages. If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, take a look at the newly refurbished George Hotel on the high street – it sports the most stunning interiors. Make sure you book a table for afternoon tea in its Victorian-style tea room. 

The George Hotel - Colchester - 27/05/2021 - Photo: Richard Blaxall / Photerior

The George Hotel - Credit: Richard Blaxall / Photerior

GreyFriars Hotel & Restaurant is another luxurious option on East Hill, ideal for if you want to be pampered for a few days. For a really stellar B&B experience, check out Baye House on West Stockwell Street, a wonderful seven-bedroom private home that can be rented as a whole house or by the room. It has been beautifully decorated by the current owners who now open their home to discerning travellers.  

Best shops in Colchester

A spot of retail therapy beckons in the form of Fenwick on the high street. Treat yourself to a heady Jo Malone scent, indulge the children in the basement where a fabulous toy department awaits and whisk yourself up to the top floor to indulge in lunch at Carluccio's Italian restaurant.  One of the best independent boutiques has to be Frippery on Sir Isaac’s Walk, which stocks gorgeous gifts from silk pillowcases and candles to combat trousers.  

Top places to eat in Colchester

If this is all making you hungry, check out Pavilion, an Asian fusion restaurant in Middleborough. The floral displays at Pavilion are a work of art in themselves – think white blossom by day, illuminated pink by night. Alternatively, there’s Church Street Taven, which is tucked behind Head Street near the Mercury Theatre (check out the listings here!). For a modern take on traditional British cuisine, you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you’re dressed up for both these places, you won’t feel silly sitting in a dress in either establishment. For something more relaxed, try the highly recommended Sip & Tuck. Located next to Firstsite gallery, it’s the perfect spot for a post-cultural brunch.  

Property for sale in Colchester

Here are three Colchester properties on the market now that are sure to get pulses racing. (correct at time of press)

33 Lexden Road Colchester for sale

33 Lexden Road - Credit: Haakon Dewing / Chewton Rose

This five-bedroom house on Lexden Road has some lovely original 19th century features, and is set in a fifth of an acre. Guide price is £1.38 million, marketed by Chewton Rose. 

36 Creffield Road Colchester for sale

36 Creffield Road - Credit: Haakon Dewing / Chewton Rose

This stunning four-bedroom house on Creffield Road, also in the sought-after area of Lexden, has been painstakingly updated. Guide price is £785,000, marketed by Chewton Rose. 

Farthings, Great Horkesley

Farthings, Great Horkesley - Credit: Savills

Slightly further afield in Great Horkseley you will find Farthings, a sprawling country residence. Offers in excess of £2.175 million, marketed by Savills Chelmsford. 

If you’re considering independent schooling for your child, Holmwood House school is located on the edge of Colchester and is even featured on the Monopoly board set of Colchester! Holmwood House and its nursery runs until the age of 16, so that’s just sixth form left to take care of. 

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