With active outdoor pursuits, fascinating history, theme parks, animal adventures and beautiful beaches to enjoy, Essex boasts a whole range of options for great family days out to enjoy all year round.
Despite being within easy reach of London, Essex is blessed with 13 country parks to explore. Providing not only excellent free days out for families, country parks are the perfect way to escape city life, get active and enjoy the great outdoors. In the south of the county, just across the Dartford Crossing, is Belhus Woods Country Park. Spanning 300 acres, the park treats visitors to ancient woodland, flower meadows, open fields, lakes and even a musical-themed play area and model boats. It’s also a great place for wildlife lovers, who might be able to spot woodpeckers, mute swans, kingfishers and kestrels.
If you’re in the Colchester area, don’t miss a trip to Cudmore Grove Country Park on Mersea Island – a stunning coastal nature reserve which is also rich in history. Take the dogs for a sandy beach walk, have a paddle, explore remains of a 17th-century blockhouse, built during the English Civil War, or see if you can find some fossils around the prehistoric cliffs.
Active families will also enjoy the opportunity to hone their skiing and snowboarding skills at Brentwood Park Ski and Snowboard Centre, while those looking for a different type of adrenaline rush will want to head to Lee Valley White Water Centre, which hosted events at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Back on dry land, Nuclear High Ropes in Brentwood provides the biggest highropes course in the whole county, with six different courses including zipwires, big drops and a climbing wall.
More time outdoors can be enjoyed at Colchester Zoo, with more than 220 species of animals and birds to discover, including sun bears, grey wolves, Andean condors, smooth-coated otters, African lions, L’hoest monkeys, and even farmyard friends to hand-feed.
Of course, Essex also has fabulous beaches, not least the seven miles of sandy seafront on offer at Southend. As well as building sandcastles and catching some rays, visitors can also enjoy Adventure Island and its 40 rides and attractions on the seafront.
For rainy days, there’s still plenty to keep everyone entertained. In Southend, kids will love Sea-Life Adventures, home to poisonous dart frogs, Humboldt penguins and several species of tropical shark. They may even get to find Nemo! But keep your eyes peeled for Gizmo, a Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman crocodile.
Kids interested in history will love Colchester Castle Museum, which tells the story of the largest Norman Keep in Europe. There are loads of hands-on experiences to enjoy too. You can build your own Norman archway and try steering a chariot around a Roman circus, while the brave can also tour the eerie Roman vaults or head up to the castle roof for great views.
North of Colchester, in Castle Hedingham, you’ll find Colne Valley Railway, where you can take in the beautiful views on an hour-long ride, enjoy a miniature model railway and grab a bite to eat too.
To the south-west of Essex, between Epping and Brentwood, kids will enjoy a day out with a difference at Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker, while just along the M11 in Stansted is Mountfitchet Castle, rich in history spanning the Iron Age to the English Civil War.