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8 Amazing Historic Essex Locations To Visit With Your Family, ASAP

By Katie Byrne – 10th December 2020
historic places to visit in Essex

Whether you’ve found lockdown an exhausting whirlwind or a never-ending drag (or a happy medium that sits somewhere inbetween!), the last nine months have really hammered home a couple of things for us all.

  • Time flies. Except when it doesn’t. But whether we’re conscious of how little time we have or frustrated by how it seems to be dragging, it’s shifting in its own sand-through-the-fingers style – and answer me this. How is it that a month in tier two or three feels equivalent to six months in ‘normal’ time? How does the original OG lockdown back in the spring feel as if it happened years ago?
  • We need to make the most of our beautiful great outdoors. There have been days when I’ve enjoyed nothing more than a simple walk around the local park, or even just a legstretch around the nearby roads, gazing up at the trees and clouds. (And I actually wrote a post recently about beautiful walks to enjoy in the Essex countryside.) With many of us spending vast swathes of this year cooped up and limited in the freedoms we’re so used to, heading outdoors became a treat again rather than just something we did. It was a release, a relief… And a reminder that sometimes something as simple as feeling the sunshine on your face can really make a difference.


Anyway – combine the two together and what have you got? Historic outdoor places (naturally!) – the perfect way to spend time as a family, get your exercise in and soak up some fresh air.

Essex is home to a huge number of amazing historic gems, many of which boast beautiful outdoor grounds that were made for roaming and exploring. Whether you’re a history buff on your own or are looking for somewhere to take your kids that perhaps doesn’t – whisper it – involve Peppa Pig, I’ve rounded up some of what I consider to be the best historical hotspots for you to discover.

Whether you’re planning a visit this winter or are holding out for warmer weather, get these must-see places on your to-go list, ASAP – and let me know if you’ve got any locations you’d add to the list!

Images above (left to right): Colchester Castle, Castle Hedingham (via Facebook), Mountfitchet Castle (via Facebook) and Tiptree Jam Factory (via Facebook).

Hedingham Castle, Halstead

Hedingham Castle is over 900 years old – not gonna lie, I’d love to look that good when I’m 900 – and plays host to everything from wedding parties to educational visits. (In fact, you’ll be hard pushed to find an adult in Essex who didn’t go there on a school trip as a child.)

Freshly reopened following lockdown, the Castle has recently launched its first ever Escape Room, which promises ‘festive family fun’ and sounds, quite frankly, amazing. If you’d prefer to visit in mildly warmer climes, hold out for Eastertime, when the Easter Joust! Knights of Middle England event will be taking place. Or, more simply, enjoy a peaceful family roam around the grounds and head to the Keep café for something delicious.


Colchester Castle, Colchester

Colchester is officially Britain’s oldest recorded town – meaning that this Essex hotspot is positively oozing history. A must-visit for any family is Colchester Castle, which offers something for everyone in your brood. From playing on the ruins to trying on armour and marvelling at the stunning range of artefacts and historic finds that are available to browse, the Castle brings history spanning from the Romans to contemporary times vividly to life.

Added bonus? It’s located in the beautiful Castle Park (home in turn to an excellent playpark); grab a drink from the park café or voyage onto the nearby High Street for coffee and cake at Sip & Tuck. Also of note – and quite literally just up the road – lies the stunning St Botolph’s ruins: the remains of a centuries-old monastery that is as ideal for clambering on as it is for inspiring a moment or two of quiet contemplation.

Mountfitchet Castle, Stansted

Closed until March 2021 (thanks, Covid), Mountfitchet Castle offers a uniquely immersive experience, providing visitors with an insight into how our ancestors lived in a Norman village. As well as giving visitors the opportunity to plunge their senses into what life was like back then, there’s also the rather exciting chance to meet and feed the deer and other creatures that roam the estate (as well as indulge in pocket money-friendly goodies in the giftshop).

Fast-forward from the Norman era with a visit to The House On The Hill Museum, which is included in the price of tickets and is home to the largest toy collection in the world. The world! Browse 80,000 toys, dating back to the Victorian era and, if you’re feeling truly brave, head to The Haunted Manor for a frightfully good time…


Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, Brentwood

There’s something about the words ‘secret nuclear bunker’ that will make any mini historian very excited about the prospect of a visit to Brentwood. An hour or so outside of London, this is – in its own words – ‘the biggest and deepest Cold War bunker open to the public in the Southeast of England’.

As well as offering the opportunity to book an immersive experience day, you can also enjoy a socially distanced explore with the prospect of tea and biscuits in the canteen… Oh and by the way: those with a head for heights will be desperate to try the Nuclear High Ropes area (voted Best Ziplining & Tree Top Adventure 2019).


Layer Marney Tower, near Colchester

Although it’s currently closed until spring 2021, a visit to Layer Marney is worth getting in your diary ASAP. This stunning Tudor-built stately home has played host to both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, with the building’s jaw dropping design earning it the title of tallest Tudor gatehouse in the country.

Tudor pedigree aside, modern-day visitors are able to roam the grounds and follow the Wildlife Walk before heading to the Tea Room for refreshments galore – you’ll need it after climbing the 99 steps that lead you to the very top of the Tower, after all. Best of all? Well-behaved dogs on leads are also permitted to visit.


Audley End House, Saffron Walden

With manicured grounds that were dreamt up by the renowned Capability Brown, Audley End House is a tonic for the soul. The Victorian-built stately home offers a fascinating insight into what life was like in the 19th century, presenting a unique opportunity into how stately homes were run over 100 years ago.

From the playground to the café, it’s got everything a family might need to make a day of it; social distancing restrictions mean certain parts of the property are currently closed to the public but there’s still plenty to enjoy.


Waltham Abbey Gatehouse, Waltham Abbey

Nestled in the historic town of Waltham Abbey, the eponymous Gatehouse dates back to the early 11th century, making it around a millennia old (by our maths, at least). Steeped in a rich history, the Abbey was the last monastic house in the whole country to be given up to the Crown in 1540, and has been an important landmark and historical institution ever since.

After all, it’s not every Abbey that is home to the tomb of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, is it? Ideal for an immersive introduction to Medieval history, it’s a great place to take the family – and dogs are welcome on leads, too.


Tiptree Jam Factory, Tiptree

We’ve all devoured them: the dinky jars of Tiptree preserves (they of the delicious jams, honeys and so on). If you’re a fan – and even if you’re not, for that matter – a visit to the Tiptree Jam Factory is a must. Sitting pretty at over 135 years old, jam-making at Tiptree isn’t so much a treat for your breakfast table as it is a national institution – there’s a reason, after all, that you spot those iconic little jars on hotel breakfast tables around the continent, after all.

The Tiptree Jam Museum is a sweet treat that offers a potted history of the company and its history, with a range of fascinating documents and artefacts to devour throughout your visit. No, not literally devour – save that for the Team Room, which is open seven days a week and home to a very good afternoon tea.


Wherever you plan to go – enjoy!

Katie x


This is a Girl About recommendation. This means that entry to none of the places listed was not gifted in return for a review. We only recommend places we absolutely love, and places that we know you’ll love too!

Katie Byrne Essex
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