7 Beautiful Places to Visit in Essex

24 February 2022

Not so long ago, Essex was a holiday hotspot, with tourists flocking from London to enjoy the sea air and sandy beaches for the summer. Although many of the coastal towns are now not such a popular holiday destination, there are still some charming seaside locations to be explored.

1. Naze Tower, Walton-on-the-Naze

While Walton-on-the-Naze is a good place to catch some sun, with its sandy beach, beach huts and pier, a short drive from the hustle and bustle of the main town will bring you to the 86ft Naze Tower. Built in 1720 as a navigation tower, it is certainly an impressive structure, but it is the beach below that is truly special.

Here you can descend the steep stairs, turning left towards a 1.5km stretch of sandy beach where fossils of prehistoric animals can be found washed away from the eroding cliffs. It is a peaceful place that feels a million miles away from the crowds. When it is populated, it is mainly by people walking the beach or quietly hunting for treasures. Just make sure to check the tide times as the sea can cover the beach at high tide.

A trip to the seaside wouldn’t be complete without fish and chips, so head back into town to Yates Fish Bar on Old Pier Street, the perfect remedy for hungry explorers.

2. Frinton-on-Sea

Once upon a time, Frinton was an upmarket and fashionable resort that attracted visitors from high society, including Prince Edward and Sir Winston Churchill. Today it is still an elegant place that will leave you feeling like you have stepped back in time.

There are no noisy arcades here and beyond the small town centre you will be hard pushed to even find an ice cream van.  The esplanade along the cliff top has a wonderfully well-preserved Victorian shelter complete with clock tower, that really adds to the timelessness of the place.  

Parking is free on the road and you can find a ramp down to the clean, sandy beach just beyond the toilet block, where you will be greeted by rows of colourful beach huts. Just remember to pack a lunch and check the tide times as the beach all but disappears at high tide!

3. Mersea Island

Mersea is an Island sandwiched between the estuaries of the rivers Blackwater and Colne. Covering only seven square miles the island is pretty tiny, but what Mersea lacks in size it makes up for in character. Make sure you check the tide times, as the tide is known to cover the causeway over to the island and you may find yourself unable to leave!

Cudmore Grove on the East Side of the island is home to sandy beaches, crumbling cliffs, soaring skies and views across the estuary which seem to change with the shifting tides.

Low tide exposes vast mud flats and is a haven for water fowl, just don’t venture to far out or you will find yourself literally stuck in the mud! There is an unspoilt wilderness in this small corner that can be enjoyed on meandering walks, water on one side and countryside on the other.

The west of Mersea sees a thriving fishing community and is well worth a stroll around before heading to The Company Shed, which is a semi famous spot for foodies. Known for its fresh fish and seafood, this dining experience is set against a backdrop of boats and oyster beds. It is utterly charming in its ruggedness and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike (it is called a shed for good reason!).

But perhaps you are more of a land lover? Luckily Essex has an abundance of beautiful and reasonably flat countryside for all your rambling needs.

4. Dedham Vale

A stones throw away from ‘Constable Country’ where the famous artist was inspired by Flatford Mill, is the Village of Dedham. The picturesque high street boasts a number of Georgian and medieval buildings; independent shops, an Arts and Crafts Centre, traditional pubs and a smattering of tea rooms. It is a delightful place to take a stroll and you could easily spend half a day enjoying the village centre.

But you should definitely make time to explore the surrounding Dedham Vale, officially recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s an unspoilt countryside and is as lovely as when John Constable first painted it in 1802.

Head towards the River Stour and you can walk along the beautiful river path towards Flatford, or if you are feeling more adventurous, hire a rowing boat and gently navigate your way along the calm, clear waters.

If you are feeling a little peckish after, why not stop for a cream tea at the Tiptree Tearoom at the Essex Rose for a quintessentially English indulgence?

5. Coggeshall and Dick Nunns Bridge

Coggeshall is a small medieval market town with a rich history, that still hosts a market every Thursday. It has many historic buildings, such as Paycocke’s House and Grange Barn, both of which are owned by the National Trust.

One of the most pleasant ways to enjoy all these building is by foot, and you can still observe the National Trust owned buildings from outside, if you wish to avoid the fee to enter.

From the town centre, walk up West Street where you will find Paycocke’s House, a timber-framed Merchants house dating to early 16th-Century. Continue your walk up towards West Street until you find the football ground.

Here, behind the grounds you will find a public footpath where you can walk along the River Blackwater. It is peaceful and abundant with wildlife. In the summer the banks are teaming with wild flowers. It is especially glorious at sunrise or sunset when all the colours become luminescent.

Eventually you will reach an elegant iron bridge that has recently been restored to its former glory with the original and somewhat surprising colour of pastel pink. Locally known as Dick Nunns Bridge, named after the formidable man that made it in 1892, it is a delightful and photogenic spot that is an interesting part of Coggeshall’s colourful heritage.

You can choose to either turn around and go back the way you came, or continue over the bridge and along the Essex Way Footpath, up to a track, before turning left. This will bring you to Grange Barn which was associated with the medieval Coggeshall Abbey.

The historic pub The Chapel Inn welcomes hungry wanderers or those looking for a pit stop before exploring the rest of the town.

6. Wivenhoe

The former port town of Wivenhoe sits on the River Colne, where the estuary narrows. It is a good place to explore on foot or bicycle, with many trails in the area. One of the most popular routes for walkers is the Wivenhoe Trail. Starting at Colchester Hythe port, the path follows along the banks of the river, leaving behind the urban and industrial buzz to become wild marsh and woodland. There is a rich diversity of wildlife to be found, particularly birds, and you can easily spot heron, egret and cormorants fishing in the shallows.

You will eventually reach a gap in the hedgerow that will bring you to a narrow strip of path, with the river on one side and marshland on the other. As you look across the river you will spot the pretty village of Rowhedge on the opposite bank. You can continue your journey along the river, all the way to Wivenhoe, where you can finally stop and enjoy a well-earned drink at the Rose and Crown as you sit overlooking the river.

Once refreshed you can continue following the estuary and head out towards Alresford, enjoying the sweeping skies and mud flats if the tide is out, or the expanse of water if it is not. Along the shore are small beaches, a perfect place for a packed lunch and skimming stones.

Alternatively take a short walk into Wivenhoe town, past a very well stocked deli, and The Wivenhoe Bookshop, to reach The Olive Branch, which serves Syrian vegetarian and vegan food and really good coffee. You can choose to sit in, but I recommend getting one of their falafel wraps to take-away and enjoying your lunch with a view of the water.

7. Finchingfield

Last stop is the picturesque village of Finchingfield. You would be forgiven for feeling like you had wandered on to an old-world film set, with its whimsical backdrop of sweet cottages, old windmill, and village green.

If you’re a fan of antiques you can explore Finchingfield Antiques Centre. There is a lovely gallery, a gift shop and a few tea rooms to choose from, or you could take a picnic and enjoy sitting on the green next to the duck pond and soaking in the quaint atmosphere.

A short stroll will take you past beautiful, thatched cottages and will bring you to Finchingfield Post Mill, which is the smallest remaining post mill in Essex. Built around 1756, it is open to the public every 3rd Sunday of the month from April until September.

If after your meandering you are ready for a pint and a bite to eat there are a few pubs to choose from. The Finchingfield Lion is a good choice for anyone looking for accommodation and has a friendly atmosphere, a large garden space for sunny days and serves up fantastic pizzas. If you eat here you can park for free in the carpark while you explore the surrounding area.

There are so many beautiful places to visit in Essex within easy access from London Liverpool Street via the train. It is bursting at the seams with fascinating and historically important places, so why not plan a trip and discover what the real Essex has to offer.