The Best Things to Do in Colchester, Essex [Castles, Museums & More]


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Colchester is England’s oldest recorded Roman town with a history dating back more than 2000 years.  In Colchester, you’ll find history from the Romans, Saxon’s Normans and Victorians all partly enclosed by the most complete Roman wall in the country.  In Colchester, you’ll find the most haunted place in Essex, a range of museums, gardens and an interesting architectural mix, from the divine to the just plain strange.  In our guide to the things to do in Colchester, we’ve also covered the top things to do near Colchester where you’ll find leading fresh fish restaurants, fabulous English wine and vineyards and the world-famous Tiptree Jam Factory.

The Best Things to Do In Colchester

Colchester is an excellent town to explore on foot.  It is reasonably flat and there are some pedestrianized areas.  We prefer to visit Colchester during the week as Saturday’s tend to be busier.  The town is well served by public transport, with the bus station in the centre of town.  Come on over and explore the best things to do in Colchester, Essex!

To help you get started, take a look at this introductory video to Colchester, and then come on back and plan your visit with the help of this guide.

Take a Guided Walking Tour of Colchester

Guided walking tours of Colchester run from the Visitor Information Centre every Saturday at 1100.  There are additional tours during July and August on Sundays at 1400 and at 1400 on Bank Holiday Mondays.  You’ll get a great tour with a qualified guide taking you through the history of Colchester on a 90-minute walk through the town centre.  Places are limited and the tour costs £4.70 for adults and £3.30 for Children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. > More Information and to book

If you prefer to guide yourself, then download this town centre map of Colchester to help you navigate the town!

Visit Colchester’s Castle Museum

There has been a fortification here in Colchester, England’s oldest recorded town, since Roman times.  What you see today is the remains of the Norman Castle which commenced building in 1076.  The Norman Keep is Europe’s largest – bigger than the White Tower at the Tower of London and it is remarkably intact.  The keep of Colchester Castle is built over the remains of the Roman Temple of Claudius.   Both the roof of the keep and the dungeons can be visited on a tour to Colchester Castle.  The dungeons are said to be the most haunted place in Essex!

things to do in colchester castle

The Castle has been a museum since 1860 and is, today a great place to visit.  You’ll find Roman mosaics here, the famous Roman Colchester Vase and the Fenwick Hoard – Roman treasure found during an excavation of the famous department store on Colchester’s High Street.  The Castle museum also contains an exhibition detailing the Boudiccan revolt, in which Boudicea led a bloody revolt against the Romans, destroying the entire town of Colchester.

For those who like a little more adventure Escape from The Castle is an escape room game, in which, along with your friends you can try to escape and break the Serpent’s Curse! More Information and Opening Times here

Visit Colchester’s Castle Park

The Castle Park surrounds Colchester Castle and is itself bisected by a remaining piece of the Roman Wall.  Colchester’s Castle Park comprises some 27 acres and includes a bandstand, formal terraces, boating lake, café and crazy golf park.  The Colchester Castle Park is the summertime location for concerts, the Colchester Food and Drink Festival, Oyster Fayre and also outdoor film screenings.  Find out more about what’s going on in Colchester Castle Park here

things to do in colchester castle park

Explore Roman Colchester through a Free Downloadable Audio Tour

This free two-hour audio walking tour was created in conjunction with Colchester’s Young Archaeology Club and the Colchester Roman Circus Visitor Centre.  You’ll get to follow the route detailed below and visit the remains of Britain’s oldest Church and the only known Roman chariot racing Circus in England! Download the free audio tour of Colchester here

Roman Colchester Audio Tour Map

Take a Self Guided Walking “Town to Sea Trail” Tour along the River Colne in Colchester

The Town to Sea Trail is a 3.2 kilometre or 2 mile guided trail from the town centre of Colchester along the tidal river Colne through some of the less known areas of Colchester.  Start at the Firstsite building and then follow the map and the unique artworks along the way to understand more about Colchester’s history and also the wildlife that lives along the way.   Download the Town to Sea Trail Map and Walking Guide here

Visit the East Anglian Railways Museum in Colchester

The railway arrived in the Eastern Countries of England in the early 19th century and the East Anglian Railways Museum in Colchester charts the history of trains and railways in the area.  You’ll find details on the buildings, coaches, engines and wagons related to the railways.  Tickets cost £7.00 for adults and £4.00 for Children.  More Information and opening times here www.earm.co.uk

Explore the Roman Wall in Colchester

The centre of Colchester is surrounded by the most complete Roman Wall in England.  The wall in total is 2.8 kilometres long and the Balkerne Gate is the oldest surviving Roman gateway in Britain.  The wall was built after the town was destroyed by Boudicea in AD 60.  There were originally 5 gates set into the walls, which are made of a combination of rubble, compacted clay and bricks.  The walls also contain elements of the properties that Boudicea’s army destroyed within the original town.  The wall was originally 6 metres high and on average 2.4 metres wide.  Construction, which began in 70AD was completed around 90AD.

things to do in colchester visit colchester roman walls

The best places to see the Roman Wall in Colchester is the Balkerne Gate – You can walk around the outside and one side of the gateway is now filled in by the Hole in the Wall Pub, which is also worth a visit.  There are several other locations in town to see parts of the Roman Wall in Colchester.  Download this map here for a route around Colchester’s Roman Walls and with full information.  You’ll need around 90 minutes to walk around the various locations, but it’s incredibly informative!

See the Only Roman Circus in England in Colchester

Colchester is the location of Britain’s only known Roman Circus, which was discovered in 2005.  It dates from the 2nd century AD. The Roman Circus Site is open from Tuesday to Saturday from Spring to the end of Autumn.  It was here that up to 8,000 spectators would watch chariot races and you can see the foundations of the starting gates which have now been excavated.   The visitors centre explains how the discovery was made as well as displaying artefacts and the remains of one of the circus’s turning posts.

Visit Colchester’s Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in Colchester has been located in the All Saints Church since 1958.  The church itself has been around since Norman times.  You’ll get to hear about Colchester’s earthquake of 1884, and learn more about climate change and the geology of Essex as well as the stag beetle, an insect which makes its home specifically in Essex and Kent.

See the Beth Chatto Gardens in Colchester

The 7 acred Beth Chatto gardens are a great way to see garden design in action.  Opened in 1960, by the award-winning gardener, Chatt’s gardens are a delight.  There is a gravel garden that was once a car park, a scree garden, woodland garden, reservoir garden and a water garden too.  It costs from £6.95 for adults to enter, £7.95 between May and September and opening hours are general 0900 to 1600 in winter with an hour extra until 1700 in Summer.

beth chatto gardens colchester

Photo Source:  Lyonothamnus / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Walk Through St Botolphs Priory

St Botolph’s Priory was one of the first Augustinian priories in England and was founded around 1100.  The priory was badly damaged during the English Civil War siege of Colchester in 1648 and what remains are great examples of early Norman architecture with reused Roman bricks included in the design.  There are several walls remaining.  The priority is under the stewardship of English Heritage today and entry is free.  You can access St Botolphs priory from Colchester Town Train Station Car Park easily.

things to do in colchester visit st botolphs

Go to The Tiptree Jam Tea Room

The Tiptree tea room at the Minories in Colchester is a haven of peace and tranquillity.  There’s a lovely inside space to enjoy and, when the weather is good, a glorious garden space too.  It’s a great place to come for lunch, afternoon tea or simply a cup of tea and a scone. All, of course, served with delicious Wilkins & Son’s favourites!

Visit the free HollyTrees Museum in Colchester

The free Hollytress Museums in Colchester is housed in a Georgian townhouse dating from 1718.  The museum includes more than 300 years worth of toys, costumes and clocks – with an excellent display from virtually every clockmaker who was based in Colchester.  There’s more information on additional exhibits and opening times here.

See the Buildings of the Dutch Quarter

Colchester’s Dutch Quarter buildings actually predate the arrival of a Dutch community and were originally inhabited by a Jewish Community and other immigrants.  They were then a 16th century home to Flemish Protestant refugees fleeing religious persecution.  Today the buildings have been restored and can be seen to the north of Colchester’s High Street, and include the following Streets:   Maidenburgh Street, West Stockwell Street, East Stockwell Street, Stockwell Street, St Helen’s Lane, Northgate Street and Nunn’s Road.   View from the footpath, these are private houses.

things to do in colchester visit the dutch quarter

Photo Source: David Hawgood / Dutch quarter of Colchester

Get Local Produce from Colchester’s Markets

There’s a regular farmer’s market in Colchester, hosted in the arts centre on the first Friday of each month and it’s a delicious mix of fresh fruit and veg, meat, bread and hot street food.  You’ll also find a fresh fish van each Friday, and fresh fruit and veg several times a week outside the entrance to Marks & Spencers.

Take in an Exhibition at Firstsite Colchester

This wasn’t the most popular of designs when it opened in 2011, but it’s popular as an easily accessible art museum for temporary exhibitions.  The only permanent exhibit is the Roman mosaic that was discovered during its construction.

Visit the Queen Street Brewhouse for locally brewed ales.

With a huge selection of Belgian beers on tap and a rotating selection of locally brewed ales, head to the independent Queen Street Brewhouse for a great pint of real ale!

Map of the Things to do in and near Colchester

 

Best Things to Do Near Colchester

Colchester is a great place to base yourself to explore the area near Colchester – you’ll find wine tasting here, a fabulous estuary island, historic buildings, wildlife centres and much more.

Go Wine Tasting near Colchester

Head north of Colchester to the Dedham Vale Vineyard, a glorious winery off 40 acres set amongst woodlands and pasture.  You can take a tour here or simply wander around the vines and then purchase wine to take home.  Vineyard tours start at 1100 and last for 3.5 hours, you’ll learn about the wines of the area, then taste 5 English wines and take a buffet lunch. More information and booking here. Alternatively, buy Dedham Vale wine here and have it shipped to home.

Visit Mersea Island Near Colchester

Mersea Island is located just 10 miles from Colchester and can be reached via the Roman era causeway, called the Strood.  Come for the day, rent a beach hut, find the local vineyard and brewery or just come for some of the famous Colchester Native oysters in the even more famous Company Shed. Read more about the things to do on Mersea Island in our guide here

Visit Layer Marney Tower

Originally dating from 1520, Layer Marney Tower is a former Tudor Palace with buildings, parkland and gardens.  It is a grade 1 listed building and is located between Colchester and Maldon, Essex.  The tower is England’s tallest Tudor gatehouse and is of a stunning design.  More information and opening hours here

Visit the Tiptree Jam Factory & Museum in Tiptree

Located at the home of Wilkin & Son’s factory in Tiptree, this is a small but fabulous jam shop and museum.  There are heaps of old jam-making photos, documents and equipment.   The attached tea room serves fabulous scones and savouries all, of course, served with Wilkin’s specialities – which now include craft gin!  Opening Hours in Winter are from 0930 until 1630 Monday to Saturday, 1000 until 1630 on Sundays.  Summer opening hours are from 0930 until 1900, Monday to Saturday and 1000 until 1700 on Sundays.

Visit the Free Naze Visitor Centre

The Naze Visitor centre at Walton on the Naze visitor centre has been open since 2016 and is an excellent spot to learn about wildlife in the area.   Come here to spot migrating birds, wildlife and build sandcastles on the beach.  The Naze Tower is also open to visitors.  This 8 story tower includes a museum on the tower, art galleries and fabulous views.  The visitor centre is free to enter.

Final Words on the Best Things to Do in and Around Colchester

Whether you visit Colchester for a day or longer – there are a variety of different activities, museums and events to keep you busy and enjoying this ancient town.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on the best things to do in Colchester – let us know what you get up to when you visit!

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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