I’ve lived in Essex all my life and often wonder why more people aren’t flocking to our beautiful county for their mini-breaks and staycations. There really is something for everyone: history-lovers will be drawn to Thaxted with its famous Guildhall and restored windmill set against a backdrop of medieval houses; food-lovers should head to Mersea for fresh-from-the-sea oysters, washed down with a chilled glass of crisp white wine from Mersea Island Vineyard; garden-lovers will be in their element at RHS Hyde Hall, near Chelmsford, or Markshall Estate, near Coggeshall, where scenic walks and planting inspiration await.

What’s more, we Essex-dwellers don’t take ourselves too seriously, with a variety of quirky events throughout the year including the infamous Maldon Mud Race (June 2, 2024), the Dunmow Flitch Trials (July 13, 2024) and the Harwich Sausage Festival (November 2024).

For urbanites, Essex now proudly boasts three cities – Chelmsford, Colchester and Southend, though they’re all markedly different in their appeal. Southend is all wide-open beaches, old school entertainment arcades and – impressively – home to the longest pleasure pier in the world (1.33 miles if you were wondering). Just down the road you’ll also find the charming coastal town of Leigh-on-Sea, with its myriad independent art galleries and craft shops.

As for Colchester, it’s Britain’s first Roman city, with a 2,000-year heritage. It also lies claim to the largest Norman Keep in Europe. Moreover, the city’s zoo is a popular destination for families, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2023.

And then there’s Chelmsford, which has undergone something of a transformation in recent years thanks to huge investment in the city centre. The high-end shops, popular eateries and entertainment venues attract visitors from all over the county while, just on the outskirts, the picturesque Hylands Estate country park hosts regular events throughout the year, from concerts and theatre productions, to craft workshops and festive markets.

However impressive our cities are, it’s the stunning Essex coastline that really sets the county apart – all 350 miles of it, running from Purfleet on the River Thames to Manningtree at the tidal head of the River Stour. The landscape is diverse, ranging from low-lying salt flats to 70-foot-high cliffs, and the wildlife equally so: from two species of seal to catsharks and harbour porpoises. For walkers, the coastline has never been more accessible as 85 miles of new path, which spans from Tilbury to Wallasea Island via Southend, was opened last year. This means that 50 per cent of the Essex coast can be navigated by foot as part of the England Coast Path.

While Essex has long been overlooked, with so much on offer, it’s time to make the county your next staycation.

5 places to visit in Essex in 2024


Hedingham Castle
While many people make a beeline for Colchester Castle, lesser-known Hedingham Castle has a charm all of its own and hosts some fantastic events throughout the year, from medieval jousting to festive falconry. What’s more, you can even stay overnight in The Royal Chamber, located on the very top floor!

Crouch Valley
This little corner of Essex has quietly become one of the country’s newest wine hotspots. Made up of more than 10 vineyards, the region produces 80 per cent of the grapes grown in the county as well as some award-winning wines. Enjoy a delicious meal overlooking the vines at Crouch Ridge Estate, while sampling their still and sparkling wines.

Mersea Island
Located in the Blackwater and Colne estuaries, Mersea is an island of two parts. In the east you’ll find Cudmore Grove Country Park, offering scenic walks with beautiful views over the river beyond. In the west lies a lovely beach bordered by pretty beach huts. Stop-off for lunch at The Company Shed, offering diners fresh oysters and delicious seafood platters.

Audley End House & Gardens
A spectacular stately home set in spacious grounds, Audley End is one of the largest and most opulent houses of Jacobean England, with magnificent state apartments and an 18th century gothic chapel. The gardens are just as impressive – designed by Capability Brown to maximise the incredible views over the surrounding countryside.

Maldon Promenade
Home of the wacky annual Mud Race, Maldon’s Promenade Park on the bank of the river Blackwater is the perfect spot for a family day out. To truly appreciate the picturesque Essex coastline, hop on a Thames Barge at Maldon Quay for a leisurely sail past Northey and Osea Islands.

Great British Life: Great British StaycationsGreat British Staycations (Image: Newsquest)

This article appeared in the Great British Staycations magazine.

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