Enjoy a weekend break in Essex. Colchester has everything you need; shopping, history and entertainment. Find things to do and places to visit with our guide to a weekend break in Colchester.
Colchester is a historic and beautiful town with a host of attractions ranging from its 900-year-old castle to its highly regarded zoo, all of which make it great for a day trip; but stay a bit longer and there’s plenty more to discover beyond its big-ticket attractions. A short break is a perfect way to explore the very best of the town’s under-the-radar treats and hidden treasures.
Historic attractions in Colchester
For the unfamiliar, start with The Castle Museum which alongside Hollytrees Museum and the Natural History Museum explore the town’s famous history. All three museums are located within two minutes’ walk of each other within the town centre and The Castle in particular is a perfect starting point to get to grips with Colchester’s fascinating past.
Charting over 2,000 years of life in Colchester it was built on the ruins of a Roman Temple destroyed by Boudicca and this, alongside many other stories are brought to life through a number of fantastic experiences, interactive exhibits, and tours that can be found throughout the museum.
Indeed, hands-on history is what Colchester is all about, whether it is following Britain’s oldest and longest town wall around the town centre, walking through the impressive ruins of St Botolph’s Priory or discovering civil war musket holes in battle-scarred walls. The streets of Colchester offer just as much history as the objects in glass cases within its museums.
You can pick up a handy map or guide to explore with from the Visitor Information Centre (located within Hollytrees Museum), it’s perfect for an early evening stroll in the summer once the shops have shut.
Entertainment in Colchester
But Colchester certainly isn’t stuck in the past. Firstsite, the town’s contemporary art gallery, is a curved, golden, space-age building that regularly hosts exhibitions by world-renowned artists and household names. Even those sceptical about the merits of modern art can find something to enjoy within its walls – perhaps via a trip to its in-house cinema, or by exploring the community events and craft fairs that take place there regularly.
Meanwhile, across town the Mercury Theatre is undergoing a multi-million pound redevelopment to bring the building up to the same quality as the work it’s been producing for years. Don’t despair if you’re planning on visiting before its summer re-opening however, as tucked behind it is Colchester’s much-loved Arts Centre with its programme of touring shows that perfectly balances the popular with the challenging. Its programme is always worth keeping an eye on or even taking a risk on something unusual.
Shopping in Colchester
Exploring the town centre wouldn’t be complete without a spot of shopping either and Colchester doesn’t disappoint in this regard, with well-kept shopping arcades housing the big name, High Street stores, whilst smaller lanes and roads host independent retailers and boutique stores. You won’t be stuck for a bite to eat either – a great mix of eateries throughout the town offer something for everyone.
The beauty of a short break in Colchester allows time to explore beyond the town centre though. Get a good night’s sleep in one of the town’s hotels (from the budget to the luxury, there’s something for everyone) before exploring further afield in the town’s self-styled “Beautiful Borough”.
Colchester Zoo is ranked just outside the top 10 zoos in the world, and you will need a full day to fully explore its extensive ground. It’s a fantastic family day out, keep an eye out for special offers, or events that add value to your trip – there’s a programme of zoo experiences that run throughout each day and are included in the general admission cost.
Places to visit near Colchester
If you’d rather experience a more homegrown variety of nature, the Dedham Vale and Constable Country are ripe for exploration to the North of Colchester, whilst Mersea Island lies to the south.
The Dedham Vale is Essex’s only Designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whilst the saltmarshes on the mainland around Mersea are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, providing unique habitats for native species and migrating birds alike. Nature reserves such as Abberton Reservoir and Fingringhoe Wick are run by the Essex Wildlife Trust, meaning there’s no shortage of scenic country walks around the flat Essex landscape to enjoy. Feeling hungry? Read our review of a county pub in Dedham.
Mersea of course is also famous for its seafood and particularly its oysters, and you’ll find a fine selection of seafood restaurants on the west of the island, kept stocked by the local fishermen. But the other local delicacy can be found in nearby Tiptree, where world-famous jam manufacturers Wilkin and Son run their farm and factory. Stop by one of the several local Tiptree Tearooms to sample their little scarlet strawberry jam as part of a delicious cream tea.
There’s plenty of other hidden treasure too, from the country’s tallest Tudor gatehouse at the impressive Layer Marney Tower, to a first-class heritage railway at the East Anglian Railway Museum, neatly positioned beside the sizable Chappel Viaduct.
For more information about Colchester or to book a guided tour visit www.visitcolchester.com or call 01206 282920.
The Visitor Information Centre is located at Hollytrees Museum.
Article courtesy of Visit Colchester