Colchester offers a world of experiences, including a massive Norman castle built on Roman foundations, a lively zoo, tons of museums and endless parks. You can walk the tended flowers of a decades-old garden planted by a famed gardener or stroll the rolling pastures of historic estates and county parks.

    You can view artwork and displays dating to ancient Rome or visit the halls of a Norman castle. A visit to the local zoo lets you get up close and personal with native and exotic species of animal. Check out the 10 best things to do in Colchester, from the museums and parks to cultural attractions and theatre.

    1

    Colchester Zoo

    Take the Wallaby Walkabout and visit the Orangutan Forest

    • Families

    Colchester Zoo is home to more than 260 different animal species from all over the world, including African lions, fennec foxes, spider monkeys and penguins. The zoo is designed in zones so that you're not just seeing animals in their natural habitats, but you're walking through areas of the world. These include the Edge of Africa, Kingdom of the Wild, Chimpanzee Lookout, Orangutan Forest and Wallaby Walkabout.

    Each day, the zoo publishes an encounter timetable so you'll know when presentations and feeding sessions go on. Petting areas like the Sensation Station and the farm zone allow kids to get up close and personal with sheep, goats, rabbits and lizards. The zoo is just a 10-minute drive from the town centre.

    Location: Maldon Rd, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL, UK

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 331292

    Map
    2

    Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens

    Walk 5 acres of themed gardens planted by the famed gardener

    • Families
    • Adventure

    Beth Chatto's Plants and Gardens comprise 5 acres of perfectly tended native and exotic plants and flowers organised in various themed garden areas. These areas include a gravel garden, long shaded walk, scree garden, water garden and woodland garden. Each is like walking through a separate world of wonder.

    The gardens were first informally planted by the famed gardener on a 5-acre plot adjacent to her home in 1960. Today, they're a major attraction that includes a nursery where you can see plants being tended and a tea room where you can relax at the end of the afternoon. They can be reached with a 15-minute drive east of the town centre.

    Location: Elmstead Market, Clacton Rd, Elmstead, Colchester CO7 7DB, UK

    Open: Tuesday–Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Sundays and Mondays)

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 822007

    Map

    photo by Grahamec (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    3

    Castle Park

    Walk the grounds of a Victorian park built on Roman foundations

    • Families

    Castle Park is a Victorian park built on Roman foundations and offers a boating lake, miniature golf, a bandstand and a play park. The park draws over a million people every year to see the chunk of the Roman wall that divides the Upper Park and Lower Park, and even today maintains its Victorian charm and design.

    In the summer, events are held every weekend, such as live concerts by major international acts, an annual Food and Drink Festival, a Medieval Festival and Oyster Fayre and even outdoor movie screenings. The park is just 8 minutes away from the town centre.

    Location: High St, Colchester CO1 1UG, UK

    Open: Daily from 7.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 282962

    Map
    4

    Cudmore Grove Country Park

    Go hiking and cycling, lay on the beach and see historic fortifications

    • Families

    Cudmore Grove Country Park offers hiking and cycling trails, a sandy beach and a playground, all situated among the ruins of a fort dating to the 16th century. This park is an ideal spot for relaxation or outdoor adventuring and allows you to both visit exciting and interesting historic locations and to catch sight of a wide range of local wildlife.

    You can find pillboxes and gun emplacements dated to World War II here, as well as a blockhouse dating to the 16th century and a cliffside from which hundreds of thousands of fossils have been drawn. The park can be found on the eastern end of Colchester's Mersea Island.

    Location: Broman's Ln, East Mersea, Colchester CO5 8UE, UK

    Open: Daily from 8 am to dusk

    Phone: +44 1206 383868

    Map

    photo by Bob Jones (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    5

    Colchester Castle

    See the famed Fenwick Treasure in a massive Norman keep

    • Families
    • History

    Colchester Castle is the largest remaining original Norman castle keep in Europe and houses a museum with exhibits from the Roman era through today, including the famous Fenwick Treasure. The keep is nearly 1.5 times the size of the White Tower in London and is built atop the foundation of a Roman Temple of Claudius.

    Guided tours allow you to explore its vast vaults. Inside, you can view the Roman Colchester Vase, the Colchester Mercury statuette and Roman-era mosaics. You can also explore hands-on exhibits like excavating a Roman grave, steering a chariot and building a Norman arch. The castle is in the heart of Colchester, just an 8-minute drive from the town centre.

    Location: Colchester Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1TJ, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 282939

    Map
    6

    Colchester Town Hall

    Visit the historic social and political centre of town

    • History

    Historic Colchester Town Hall is popular as a venue for events and weddings, but history buffs come to view the stained glass, oil paintings, murals and architecture in the rooms. Originally built around 1160, the building was renovated in the late Victorian era with opulent rooms, stunning architecture and a Victorian tower standing at 49 metres.

    Guided tours are available to see the facilities. Colchester Town Hall is located right in the heart of Colchester town centre, so it's easy to access.

    Location: High St, Colchester CO1 1PJ, UK

    Open: Monday–Friday from 8.30 am to 5 pm (closed on weekends)

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 282230

    Map
    7

    Marks Hall Estate

    Walk the landscaped gardens with geographical themes

    • Families
    • Adventure

    Marks Hall Estate offers landscaped gardens with geographical themes, lakes, an arboretum with woodland hiking trails and a play area for the kids. This heritage landscape covers over just under a half-hectare of land in the Essex countryside with rare trees from all over the world, serene forest lakes and a walled garden with one of the longest herbaceous borders in the entire country.

    On site, the Orchard Kitchen cafe serves light refreshments and full meals, and the gift shop lets you find the perfect souvenir. The estate is roughly a 20-minute drive west of the Colchester town centre.

    Location: Coggeshall, Colchester CO6 1TG, UK

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +44 (0)1376 563796

    Map

    photo by Roger Jones (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    8

    The Munnings Art Museum

    See the iconic racing paintings of Sir Alfred Munnings

    • History

    The Munnings Art Museum features hundreds of paintings and other works by Sir Alfred Munnings, one of England's most famed equestrian painters. The paintings on exhibit rotate every year, with 150 new ones placed on display.

    Munnings lived at the Castle House where the museum is located for 4 decades. The paintings showcase the dynamic scenes of racing for which Munnings is noted, and visitors wonder at the sheer realism and composition they offer. It's only 20 minutes from Colchester town centre.

    Location: Castle Hill, Dedham, Colchester CO7 6AZ, UK

    Open: Wednesday–Thursday and Saturday from 11 am to 3.30 pm (closed Sunday–Tuesday and Friday)

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 322127

    Map

    photo by Paul Franks (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    9

    High Woods Country Park

    Go hiking, cycling and angling along forested lakes

    • Families
    • Adventure

    High Woods Country Park is a Green Flag park that offers a stretch of hiking and cycling through scrub, woodland and meadows, as well as relaxation around clear lakes. The park is just a half-mile from the Colchester train station in the heart of the town, and it's located on the lands that once were part of the medieval forest of Kingswood.

    The park features entire groves of sweet chestnut trees, and the lake is popular with anglers looking to catch carp, tench, gudgeon and other stocked fish. The visitor centre has a cafe with plenty of picnic tables to sit down and enjoy a meal.

    Location: 174 Turner Rd, Mile End, Colchester CO4 5JR, UK

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 853588

    Map

    photo by PAUL FARMER (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    10

    Headgate Theatre

    Catch a live theatrical performance

    • Couples
    • Families
    • Unusual

    The Headgate Theatre is a premiere performing arts venue offering regular plays, musical performances and other live entertainment, classes and workshops. The events change regularly and are performed by both local and visiting professional and amateur troupes who showcase a range of classic and modern drama, musical theatre, stand-up comedy and even magic shows.

    The in-house production group puts on 4 or 5 plays per year with open auditions. The theatre is easily accessible and is located right in the heart of the town centre.

    Location: 14 Chapel St N, Colchester CO2 7AT, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1206 366000

    Map

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