What to eat, see and do in the Essex city of Southend-on-Sea

Aerial view of the Southend Pier, a major landmark in Southend-on-Sea and the longest pleasure pier

Southend Pier, a landmark of our newest city - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Sybilla Hart

Pack your beach bag and make the most of what Essex's coastal city has to offer

Southend-on-Sea is still basking in its new-found city status after a Royal visit from HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in March marked the transformation. Granted city status in honour of Sir David Amess, the Southend MP whose life was taken in tragic circumstances last year, Southend-on-Sea now bears the hallmark of Sir David’s legacy and commemorates years spent campaigning for his cherished constituency.  

Prince Charles and Camilla commemorating Southend's city status

Their Royal Highnesses commemorating Southend's city status - Credit: Amy Wiseman, SCC

What to do in Southend

There is so much to do in Southend-on-Sea. Catch a ride on the train down the pier (Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.33 miles) or take the children to Sealife Adventure aquarium. They don't call themselves ‘the first Zooquarium’ for nothing - check out Deepwater World where you can ‘see some of the fiercest ocean predators living in harmony with a beautiful variety of tropical fish in a tank of 195,000 litres of water’ or meet the meerkats and the short-clawed Asian river otters.  

Adventure Island theme park, formerly known as Peter Pan’s Playground, offers a wide variety of rides from Skydrop and The Pirates Plunge for those with strong stomachs to the Helter Skelter and Jumping Jolly Rogers for little ones. Buy a wristband for £25 onsite, £22.50 online or purchase an annual pass for £50, which includes special perks including 20 per cent off food and drink and the gift shop. Check the website for daily timings adventureisland.co.uk.  

Victorian Cliff Lift at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England

The historic Victorian Cliff Lift - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

After all that whizzing around, why not go for a peaceful culture fix at Prittlewell Priory? There is a Jubilee celebration at Prittlewell Priory on Thursday June 2 from 11am to 3pm. What better place to celebrate the Queen’s 70th Jubilee than at this beautifully historic location. They will be offering delicious cream teas, including a fruit scone, plain scone, clotted cream, jam, strawberries, biscuits and a cup of tea. A Jubilee-themed children's craft activity will be available free of charge for ticket holders, and for a small fee for non-ticket holders. For more information visit southendmuseums.co.uk. History-lovers will also want to head to Hadleigh Castle ruins, with its sweeping views across the Thames Estuary towards Kent.  

Old Ruin in Hadleigh town in Essex Uk with a beautiful sky

Hadleigh Castle - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Art aficionados should check out Focal Point Gallery on Elmer Square, while Beecroft Gallery is also well worth a visit and has a permanent collection of 2,000 paintings including some stunning Dutch oil paintings. ‘Furtherance’ is an exhibition running at Beecroft Gallery until June 25, displaying the works of Group East, a collection of Essex-based artists. Stephen Jordan and Tim Severwright are exhibiting their diverse rural and urban works in an exhibition called Rounded Perspective until June 22. For a little more culture, check out the diverse range of shows on offer at Cliffs Pavilion theatre. 

Best shops in Southend 

As for quirky independent shops, check out La Luna Boutique in nearby Leigh-on-Sea at 1170 London Road. Not only do they stock the perfect boho jumpsuit that will see you through summer, they also stock natural soaps infused with rose petals and patchouli oil. There are scented candles but not as you know them – think vanilla and coffee bean candles in the shape of a heart or a coconut and pineapple candle set in a coconut shell. 

Jez Boutique, also in Leigh-on-Sea, stocks some lovely stylish clothes and bags and is very reasonably priced. Hallelujah Boutique on Victoria Plaza sells unique shoes, bags and accessories, such as leather print shoulder bags.  

Places to eat in Southend

If that doesn't all make for thirsty work, we don't know what does. Grab a cocktail at the Royal Hotel on the High Street and book a table at La Petite Petanque, a French bistro overlooking the original 1920s bowling green. Order eggs royale for brunch or a sea bass fillet for lunch and finish with a homemade cheesecake of the day for dessert. For dinner, book into the classic Italian trattoria Piccolo on Shorefield Road. Order half a lobster or a spaghetti frutti di mare and tiramisu for dessert.  

Accommodation in Southend

Roslin Beach Hotel dining room

Roslin Beach Hotel - Credit: Insight Creative UK

Better still, why not make a weekend of it and stay at Roslin Beach Hotel? It oozes old-school charm (they will even lace your bath with rose petals for that special occasion) and have artfully embraced comfort with luxury. Sip a cup of tea overlooking the estuary in your tastefully decorated bedroom or relax in the bar with a lychee martini. The Roslin restaurant boasts 2 AA rosettes and was awarded a much-coveted Visit England rose award. Book a table and order the Essex asparagus and pea fregola or the seafood linguini and finish off with a rhubarb and elderflower panna cotta. Treat yourself to an Elemis facial, if you can drag yourself away from the mesmerising sea views.  

As far as individual guesthouses go, we think Beaches located on the Eastern Esplanade with sea views looks very enticing. Seashells and the Lookout are both luxury apartments available to book through Airbnb with stunning views of the estuary. The owners have Superhost status so you should be in for a treat.  

Property for sale in Southend 

Looking to make a permanent move? Here are our property picks... (on the market at time of publication)

Royal Terrace, Dedman Gray

Royal Terrace, Dedman Gray - Credit: Dedman Gray

This stunning four-bedroom Georgian house is located on the elegant Royal Terrace. Dating back to 1792, the Grade II listed house has been extensively refurbished and is set over four floors. Guide price £1 million, marketed by Dedman Gray. 

The Bay, Savills

The Bay, Savills - Credit: Savills

There’s a new development in Chalkwell of eight five-bedroom homes ranging from £650,000 to £900,000. Some offer sea views depending on the plot. Marketed by Savills of Chelmsford. 

Clifftown Shore is a collection of new apartments in the heart of Southend, with great views, a south-facing setting, beachfront location and pretty parkland behind. A three-bedroom apartment is £1,425,000, marketed by Home of Leigh-on-Sea. 

Golden Sand and Blue Skies

Southend is the perfect summer day out - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

We think Southend is a summer gem waiting to be rediscovered; you have all the ingredients for a successful holiday at your fingertips without the hassle of airline travel – though if you want to go abroad, London Southend Airport is on your doorstep! 

You may also like to see our guide to Colchester: https://www.greatbritishlife.co.uk/homes-and-gardens/places-to-live/visitor-guide-for-new-city-of-colchester-9019972