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27 Things To Do In Colchester, Essex: By A Local

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Are you searching for things to do in Colchester? It’s a town that holds a special place in my heart! Growing up in the nearby area, Colchester was always our go-to destination for fun and adventure. 

Its proximity made it a regular part of our lives, and these days, most of our friends have relocated to the city, which means we are there a lot! Colchester is rich in history, charming architecture, and a lively atmosphere and offers a diverse range of activities for all ages and interests. 

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or someone who enjoys exploring local culture, the town is truly captivating. From exploring ancient ruins and medieval castles to strolling through picturesque gardens and experiencing the thriving arts scene, you’re going to love your visit to Colchester!

Discover My Guide To The Best Things To Do In Colchester, The First Roman City!

Visiting St Botolph's Priory is a unique thing to do in Colchester.
Visiting St Botolph’s Priory is a unique thing to do in Colchester.

In this guide, we’ll delve into some of the top things to do in Colchester. We’ll provide you with a glimpse of the town’s unique attractions and hidden gems.

Is Colchester Worth Visiting?

We certainly feel like Colchester is worth visiting, and for a multitude of reasons! First and foremost, its rich historical heritage sets it apart. As Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester boasts fascinating remnants of its Roman past, such as the well-preserved Colchester Castle and the ancient Roman walls that still encircle the city. 

Visiting Castle Park is a unique thing to do in Colchester.

Beyond its historical charm, Colchester offers a thriving arts and culture scene. A lively atmosphere shines through its growing market scene, charming cafes, and bustling shopping streets. The great thing about Colchester is you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the local culture and discover unique treasures.

Nature lovers will also find solace in Colchester’s natural beauty. The town is surrounded by picturesque countryside, with tranquil parks and gardens waiting to be explored. One such gem is the stunning Beth Chatto Gardens, known for its innovative and sustainable gardening practices.

Castle Park, Colchester
Is Colchester The Oldest City In the UK?

While Colchester is often referred to as Britain’s oldest recorded town, it is not considered the oldest city in the UK. The title of the oldest city is often attributed to other historic cities in the UK, such as York. York has evidence of human settlements dating back over 10,000 years! 
However, Colchester does hold the distinction of being the oldest recorded town in Britain, with evidence of its Roman origins dating back over two thousand years. 

Let's get ready to explore this historic city of Colchester in Essex!
Let’s get ready to explore this historic city in Essex!

27 Best Things To Do In Colchester

Colchester offers a plethora of activities and attractions that cater to diverse interests and budgets. Whether you’re looking for free activities or planning your visit around specific opening days, Colchester always has something exciting!

I’ll start with the best things to do in Colchester’s city centre and then follow up with those attractions outside the city.

Finding these picture perfect cottages in colchester is a popular things to do!
Finding these picture-perfect cottages in Colchester is a popular thing to do!

Things To Do In Colchester City Centre: Cultural

1. Heritage Walking Tour

The number one thing you should do in Colchester is to embark on a captivating heritage walking tour! From the well-preserved Roman walls to the fascinating medieval architecture, this immersive experience will transport you back in time, unravelling the town’s rich heritage as you stroll along its historic paths.

There are a few heritage trails you can do, some are guided and some self-guided. For more information on guided tours click here.

Explore the rich heritage of Colchester with these top things to do!
Explore the rich heritage of Colchester with a hidden Colchester heritage tour!

2. Riverside Walks 

One of our favourite things to do in Colchester is to take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque riverside walks. One path we enjoy traces the banks of the tranquil River Colne from the bottom of North Hill. 

If you love peaceful walks, take in the beauty of the surrounding nature on a riverside walk. It’s a place where you can absorb the serene atmosphere of picturesque cottages and enjoy the scenic views. It’s a perfect escape for a peaceful moment away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre or to start your Colchester adventure. 

The River Colne runs through Colchester
The River Colne runs through Colchester

3. The Dutch Quarter

The Dutch Quarter in Colchester is a captivating and historically important neighbourhood that showcases the town’s exceptional heritage. Located within the town centre, this area features a collection of beautifully conserved Dutch-inspired buildings dating back to the 17th century. 

Take a leisurely stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets and admire the unique architecture characterised by its steeply pitched roofs and intricately designed gables. This remarkable district offers a glimpse into Colchester’s rich past and exemplifies its architectural and cultural legacy.

You'll love exploring the unique Dutch quarter in Colchester
You’ll love exploring the unique Dutch quarter in Colchester.

4. Colchester Castle & Museum

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Colchester Castle and Museum, a true gem of the city. Imposing and steeped in history, the castle offers a captivating journey through the ages, with informative exhibits that delve into Colchester’s Roman roots and beyond. 

You can explore its ancient walls, climb the tower for panoramic views, and dive into the engaging displays that bring the past to life.

The one and only Colchester Castle is a popular place to visit in the city.
The one and only Colchester Castle is a popular place to visit in the city.
Is Colchester Castle Free Entry?

While some attractions don’t charge an entrance fee, Colchester Castle does have an admission fee. However, the experience is well worth the cost, as it grants you access to the castle’s fascinating exhibits, historical artefacts, and an immersive journey through the town’s intriguing past.

🌟 If you’re planning to visit Colchester Castle, you can book your ticket here for Colchester Castle museum tickets.

5. Hollytrees Museum 

Hollytrees is an interesting museum set within a charming Georgian townhouse that offers a glimpse into Colchester’s domestic history. You’ll be able to explore period room displays, miniature collections and interactive exhibits. 

This museum provides an engaging free experience, for all ages to explore the daily lives of past residents and gain insight into the town’s social history. There’s also a small shop on site (which is within Castle Park) where you can purchase Colchester momentos.

6. The Natural History Museum 

If you’re a nature enthusiast, you’ll find a small but lovely spot at Colchester’s Natural History Museum. It’s not very big but you can delve into the diverse flora and fauna of the region. 

Discover interesting exhibits showcasing local wildlife, geological wonders, and ecological marvels, making it an ideal destination for those of you interested in the natural world.

Colchester's Natural History Museum is set within a converted church at the bottom of the High Street.
Colchester’s Natural History Museum is set within a converted church at the bottom of the High Street.

7. The Town Hall & High Street

Immerse yourself in the heart of Colchester’s bustling town centre by exploring the historic Colchester Town Hall and strolling along the vibrant High Street. Admire the impressive architecture, browse the eclectic mix of shops, and soak up the lively atmosphere of this vibrant hub.

Colchester's Town Hall can be seen from the centre of town.
Colchester’s Town Hall can be seen from the centre of town.

8. Firstsite Art Gallery

Do you love art? Although contemporary art isn’t one of my favourite forms, experiencing contemporary art at the Firstsite Art Gallery is a unique activity to do in Colchester. 

With the centre’s striking modern architecture and thought-provoking exhibitions, the gallery offers a space for artistic expression and cultural exploration. From modern masterpieces to interactive installations, it’s a must-visit for art enthusiasts.

9. St Botolph’s Priory

A place which doesn’t get enough recognition, in my opinion, is the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory. Although the site is small you will step back in time when you visit. As one of the first Augustinian priories in England, it’s an ancient monastery that dates back to the 11th century and is nicely tucked away just behind Priory Street. 

Visiting St Botolph's Priory is an interesting activity in Colchester
Visiting St Botolph’s Priory is an interesting activity in Colchester.

It was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries but you can discover the remnants of this historic site, walk around the stunning architecture, and imagine the monastic life that once thrived within its walls!

10. St John’s Abbey Gate

Not far away from St Botolph’s Priory and you’ll arrive at the impressive St John’s Abbey Gate, a magnificent medieval structure that serves as a gateway to the past. The gate is all that remains of St John’s Abbey, but with its intricate decorative details, you’ll pass through this historic landmark in awe. 

Whether you’re marvelling at the structure or simply seeking a moment of reflection, the St John’s Abbey Gate is a fascinating attraction to visit in Colchester.

St John's Abbey Gate is all that remains of the grand Abbey which once stood here.
St John’s Abbey Gate is all that remains of the grand Abbey which once stood there.

11. Roman Circus Visitor Centre

Uncover the Roman heritage of Colchester at the Roman Circus Visitor Centre, where you can explore the remains of Britain’s only known Roman circus. You’ll find exhibits and interactive displays that shed light on the fascinating history of this ancient entertainment venue, transporting you to a time of chariot races and grand spectacles.

There are hints all around the city towards Colchester's ancient past!
There are hints all around the city towards Colchester’s ancient past!

Things To Do In Colchester: Entertainment

12. Colchester Park & Putt In The Park

Enjoy a day of outdoor fun and explore Colchester Park. It’s one of the most beautiful parks in Essex and somewhere you can immerse yourself in nature while partaking in a range of activities. One of our favourites is Putt In The Park, an enchanting miniature golf course nestled in a picturesque environment. 

Okay, maybe not Out in the Ark but there's a Medieval Fair happening when I was last there!
Okay, maybe not Out in the Ark but there’s a Medieval Fair happening when I was last there!

Colchester Park is also home to many events throughout the year, but in summer the place really comes alive. Check the website to see What’s On in Colchester Park and maybe you can time your visit with one of these special events!

13. Mercury Theatre

Do you love theatre? Well, a fun thing to do in Colchester is to head into the captivating realm of performing arts at the highly acclaimed Mercury Theatre. It’s a well-known establishment celebrated for its wide range of theatrical performances. 

Discover timeless classics to cutting-edge productions, this esteemed venue consistently enthrals spectators with its exceptional cast, remarkable stage designs, and engrossing narratives. 

The Mercury Theatre in Colchester
What Is The Oldest Pub In Colchester?

Random question you say? Not quite, the honour of the oldest pub in Colchester goes to The Hole in the Wall, a pub which is right next to the Mercury Theatre! It’s a historic establishment dating back to the 1600s and exudes character providing a glimpse into Colchester’s pub culture throughout the centuries. 

The Hole In the Wall Pub in Colchester is the oldest pub in the city.

14. Colchester Arts Centre

Discover the vibrant arts scene of Colchester at the Colchester Arts Centre, an intimate venue that hosts a variety of performances, including live music, comedy acts, theatre productions, and more. With its cosy ambience and diverse program, the arts centre provides a platform for both established and emerging artists, making it a hub of creativity and cultural enrichment.

15. Shopping & Cafe Culture

Don’t miss out on indulging in a shopping spree while you visit Colchester! There are a variety of shops, boutiques, and retail centres to lose yourself in. From popular high-street brands to unique independent stores, the town offers a delightful shopping experience.

Roots and Grooves is a popular cafe to visit in Colchester
Roots and Grooves is a popular cafe to visit in Colchester.

Explore the bustling streets, browse the markets and street stalls, and find some of Colchester’s best coffee shops to while away sometime before you continue exploring Colchester.

16. Jump Street Colchester

Do you want to try something unique and adrenaline-filled? Fun for adults and children head to Jump Street, a trampoline park that offers a thrilling experience for everyone of all ages. 

Bounce, flip, and soar through the air on interconnected trampolines, test your skills on the challenging obstacle courses, and let the exhilaration of jumping take you to new heights.

17. Tenpin Bowling

If you’re looking for something fun to do in Colchester why not unleash your competitive spirit and have a fantastic time at the Tenpin Bowling in Colchester? It’s been a while since we visited this venue but it’s located around the back of the Leisure Centre. 

Enjoy Tenpin bowling while you're visiting Colchester!

It’s the perfect place to gather your friends or family, lace up your bowling shoes, and aim for those strikes and spares. It’s a perfect activity for a fun-filled day or evening out, creating lasting memories and friendly rivalries.

18. Aqua Springs

Indulge in relaxation and rejuvenation at Aqua Springs, a premier spa and wellness centre in Colchester. Immerse yourself in the tranquil surroundings, unwind in the luxurious thermal pools, enjoy a soothing massage or beauty treatment, and let the stresses of everyday life melt away in this oasis of serenity.

19. Escape Rooms

For one of the most challenging things to do in Colchester, head over to Colchester Escape Rooms and test your problem-solving skills. Although we haven’t visited these particular escape rooms in Colchester ourselves, I have done the same thing in London and it was extremely fun! 

Embark on an exciting adventure and put your teamwork to the test as you solve puzzles, uncover clues, and race against the clock to escape from intricately themed rooms.

In the middle of town you will find the Colchester Escape Rooms. A fun activity to do in Colchester for the whole family!
In the middle of town, you will find the Colchester Escape Rooms. A fun activity to do in Colchester for the whole family!

20. Colchester Curzon

The time is now for first-class and cosy cinema experiences! Catch the latest blockbuster or arthouse film at the Colchester Curzon, a stylish and contemporary cinema that offers a top-notch viewing experience. You’ll be met with comfortable seating and a curated selection of films, this cinema provides a perfect setting for film enthusiasts to enjoy the magic of the big screen in comfort.

Things To Do Outside Colchester City Centre

21. Colchester Zoo

One of the most popular things to do in Colchester is to embark on an exhilarating journey at Colchester Zoo, where the captivating world of wildlife awaits. Immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring wonders of the animal kingdom, from majestic big cats to playful primates and vibrant birds. 

Discover intricately crafted habitats, engage in interactive exhibits, and be captivated by mesmerizing animal shows, creating an unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts of every generation. Colchester Zoo stands as the perfect destination to connect with and appreciates the diverse beauty of the animal world.

Visiting Colchester Zoo is a top activity in Colchester. you can get close to the animals like this elephant!
Visiting Colchester Zoo is a top activity in Colchester. you can get close to the animals like this elephant!
How Much Is It To Get To Colchester Zoo?

The entrance fee for Colchester Zoo varies depending on factors such as age, time of visit, and any available discounts. It’s always a good idea to book in advance; you can book online here. 

22. Highwoods Country Park

For my nature lovers, escape into nature at Highwoods Country Park, a tranquil haven nestled on the outskirts of Colchester. With its sprawling woodlands, serene lakes, and picturesque trails, the park offers a perfect retreat for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Take a leisurely stroll, have a picnic, or simply bask in the beauty of the natural surroundings, providing a refreshing break from the bustle of everyday life.

Visiting Highwoods is a unique thing to do in Colchester.

23. Beth Chatto Garden

Discover horticultural marvels at the renowned Beth Chatto Garden, a true gem for plant enthusiasts and gardening enthusiasts alike. 

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes, meticulously designed gardens, and innovative planting techniques. From the famous Gravel Garden to the inspiring Water Garden, this botanical paradise showcases nature’s beauty in harmony with sustainability.

Colchester Castle fish pond
Not Beth Chatto Gardens…but the fish pond on the castle grounds. The Gardens will have a pond, with fish though!

24. Abberton Reservoir

Explore the scenic beauty of Abberton Reservoir, a haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers. This expansive freshwater reservoir provides a vital habitat for numerous bird species, making it an ideal spot for birdwatching and wildlife photography. Stroll along the nature trails, admire the serene waters, and witness the diverse array of birdlife that calls this reservoir home.

Abberton Reservoir near Colchester, Essex

25. Layer Marney Tower

Looking for more history to fill your days? Step into Layer Marney Tower, an impressive Tudor palace with breathtaking architecture and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Explore the grand interiors, wander through the beautiful gardens, and learn about the fascinating history of this remarkable tower.

Layer Marney Tower near Colchester

26. Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve

Immerse yourself in the tranquillity of Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, a stunning wetland reserve teeming with biodiversity. Meander along the scenic trails, observe a wide array of bird species and marvel at the rich flora of this peaceful nature reserve.

27. Mersea Island

Located just a short distance from Colchester, Mersea Island offers a unique escape if you’re seeking a tranquil coastal retreat. With its stunning beaches and picturesque landscapes, visiting Mersea Island is a fantastic thing to do in Colchester.

Natural beauty spots in Essex

Where To Stay In Colchester?

No matter how long you’re visiting Colchester, you’re going to need somewhere comfortable to park your bum! There are plenty of accommodations in Colchester to suit all budgets and travel preferences. 

🌟The top 3 hotels to suit all budgets are included below. Full list of the best places to stay in Colchester, click here.

📍Holiday Inn, Town Centre

Conveniently positioned in the heart of Colchester, the Holiday Inn Colchester offers comfortable and affordable accommodations. With its reputation for great customer service, this popular hotel chain provides a reliable and budget-friendly choice for you.

✔️ Check prices and book your stay at Holiday Inn Colchester by clicking here.

📍Greyfriars Hotel

Nestled within a historic building in the heart of Colchester, the Greyfriars Hotel provides a distinctive and boutique-style experience. Each room is individually adorned with unique decor, showcasing a blend of character and elegance. Its prime location near Colchester Castle and other attractions makes it a sought-after option for a cosy and intimate stay.

✔️ Check prices and book your stay at Greyfriars Hotel by clicking here.

📍Wivenhoe House Hotel

Nestled on the periphery of Wivenhoe Park, the Wivenhoe House Hotel seamlessly combines timeless elegance with contemporary comforts. Set within a beautifully restored Georgian manor, the hotel boasts stylish rooms and breathtaking vistas of the surrounding landscapes. 

✔️ Check prices and book your stay at Wivenhoe House Hotel by clicking here.

It's me! An old Roman wall at Colchester Castle
It’s me! An old Roman wall near the Castle

Resources For England

Is it your first time visiting England? We’ve written lots of useful posts to help you plan your trip. You can check them all out on our England Page here, but below are some of our most popular articles:

Conclusion: Things To Do In Colchester

There we have it, guys, our comprehensive guide to things to do in Colchester, Essex. Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to visit this historical city and have an amazing time ticking off all these fun things to do! 

Colchester offers a remarkable array of attractions and activities that cater to all interests and ages. Delving into its rich history and exploring fascinating landmarks such as Colchester Castle and St Botolph’s Priory is always a unique experience.

While immersing yourself in the vibrant arts scene and enjoying the natural beauty of parks and nature reserves, I’m sure you’re going to enjoy visiting Colchester. 

👉 Read Next: 25 Best Things To Do In Chelmsford, Essex: By A Local

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