Colchester is a town in Essex in the South of England that is rich with history and heritage.
Claimed to be Britain’s oldest town, Colchester has many Roman, Tudor, and Victorian remnants to be found as well as museums to visit – and amongst these are attractions like galleries, zoos and many more things to do in Colchester.
So, when working out where in Britain to explore, Colchester should be near enough top of your list.
More Than 50 Things To Do In Colchester That Will Make Your Day!
1. Go Back in Time
Colchester Castle is possibly the city’s most iconic attraction and was built by the Normans upon the foundations of the ruined Temple of Claudius – there when Colchester was the first Roman capital of Britain.
What’s more, you can visit this castle and walk through its hallways while learning about its glorious past.
Admission is £11.25 for adults, £6.25 for children and £7.25 for students and other concessions.
There are also group tickets available and you don’t need to book in advance.
Every September the Eco-Festival takes place in lower Castle Park. It’s the ultimate community event – and it’s free to book tickets online.
Taking place at this event is entertainment, kids’ zones, baby zones, healing tents, health and wellbeing activities, and arts and crafts stalls. And of course, there are vegan and veggie food stalls!
3. Explore 12th Century Ruins
St Botolph’s Priory is one of Colchester’s many historical gems from the 1100s.
Entry is free to this impressive Augustinian priory made from reused Roman materials by the Normans. Immerse yourself in the past and take a stroll around these ruins.
4. A Retreat From Town
Highwoods Country Park is great for those looking for somewhere tranquil to wander about with its still lake to do some fishing or nature watching, play areas for the kids, Nordic walking trail and community garden.
On Fridays and Sundays, free wellness walks also take place, beginning at the visitor centre. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Colchester.
5. Colchester Zoo
There’s nothing better for a family day out than a zoo! And Colchester Zoo is one of the best with a wide array of animals like meerkats and elephants, as well as fish and reptiles.
You can spend a whole day out here comfortably with its picnic tables, catering, and toilets.
Save money by booking in advance. Prices start from £22.94 for adults and £16.14 for kids.
6. Scenic History
Bourne Mill is a beautiful National Trust site full of tranquillity and 16th-century history.
The Mill itself has a brilliant exterior to admire and the grounds surrounding it are ideal for spotting waterfowl and fish in the Mill Pond.
Entry for adults is £5.50 and for children, it’s £2.75. Families can enter for £13.75 with one-adult families costing £8.25. Just make sure to book in advance.
7. Castle Park
Enjoy a stroll around Castle Park and take in the views of colourful flowers or let your children play in the parks. Or why not sit on a bench and admire the shimmering ponds teeming with wildlife?
There’s so much to experience and events also take place in Castle Park throughout the year.
8. An Electrifying Art Experience
Firstsite was declared the Art Fund Museum of the Year for a reason in 2021 as it exhibits a diverse range of art and encourages visits from anyone from art buffs to absolute newbies.
The staff are friendly and will answer any questions about the art you have, or they will simply chat with you about it!
Entry is free and it’s perfect for families too.
9. Leisure World
Leisure World Colchester is also good for those looking for an active day out as this leisure centre offers swimming, fitness, cycling, courts, pitches, climbing and even Aqua Springs spa treatment.
Leisure or fitness swimming sessions have to be booked online as well as any other fitness activities you want to try.
10. Trampolines Galore
Jump Street Colchester is exactly what it sounds like: a massive complex of wall-to-wall trampolines great for younger and energetic family members or friend groups.
It’s accessible to all with support sessions available for people with disabilities and additional needs.
An open jump session lasting 1 hour starts from £12.00 and 2-hour sessions cost £18.00. During off-peak seasons it’s slightly cheaper. This is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Colchester!
11. Arts Centre
Colchester Arts Centre is a converted church where many performing arts events take place such as live music, plays, films, workshops, tours, and comedy shows. The line-up can be found here.
12. Colchester Beer Festival
Taking place every year in Colchester Arts Centre is The Beer Festival where you can try – you guessed it – so many different types of beer!
Entry is free and you don’t need to book – just turn up with friends and relax with a beer in a very sociable atmosphere.
13. Fun Park
Funpark is the UK’s largest travelling theme park, and it arrives in Colchester’s Cymbeline Meadows every year.
Rides include classic fairground attractions like the waltzers and the freak-out, as well as rides suitable for children.
You only need to pay for one entry ticket per person which starts from £9.99 and gives unlimited access to rides.
14. Peaceful Meadows
For most of the year, Cymbeline Meadows does not host any funfairs, but it is home to beautiful pastures, meadows and woodland as well as the River Colne.
There are also picnic benches next to the river and many walking routes to explore. Just keep any dogs on a lead as cattle graze here!
15. Hilly Fields
The Hilly Fields Nature Reserve is also a wonderful place to walk your dog or have a picnic and perfect for nature lovers.
In the evening it offers tranquil views of the sunset, and during winter it can become a snowy wonderland.
16. Explore the Woods
The picture-perfect High Woods is ideal for dog walks and family hikes, with stunning scenery all year round and plenty of wildlife. And with ponds, cattle and even boulders for kids to climb on, as well as a play and activity area nearby, it’s the perfect retreat from the city.
Other woods include the Westhouse Wood, Charter Woods, and Hillhouse Wood.
17. See Colchester’s 15th Century Abbey Gate
See the remains of the St. John’s Abbey in all its decorative beauty. Built around 1400, its purpose was to defend the abbey against the Peasants’ Revolt.
But it’s not so hard to enter now, with free entry for everyone!
18. Roman Church
This small historical landmark dates to the 4th century. It’s argued that these foundations are the makings of Britain’s first church, but some think it could be a Mythraeum for Roman soldiers.
When passing through Colchester be sure to explore these remains with family or friends, and maybe you can make up your own minds on what it could be.
19. Roman River Valley
If you want to mix nature with history, you can explore the Roman River Valley where you can spot water voles, otters, and dragonflies.
Stroll along the river and admire the ancient woodland and rare plants, such as the Small Teasel.
20. Roman Theatre
Another quaint archaeological spot in Colchester: these Roman Theatre foundations are thought to be dated back to the Boudican attack, and now they have been converted into a mini museum for you to explore.
21. Hollytrees Museum
Go back in time to the 18th century at Hollytrees Museum which has well-kept grounds and local history exhibits.
The building itself is a Georgian townhouse, and inside you can learn about anything from Bernard Mason to the origins of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Admission is free and you don’t need to book.
22. Rollerworld and Laser Quest
Adults and children alike are guaranteed hours of fun here, with a roller-skating rink that is host to many events and disco sessions, as well as a separate Laser Quest (laser tag) venue.
It’s cheaper to book online with Laser Quest games starting from £7 per person and skating sessions starting from £10.00. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Colchester!
23. Go on a Shopping Spree in Colchester
Wander through the Colchester city centre and explore its various department stores, or maybe flip through a few books in Colchester Library.
There are also several shopping centres such as the Culver Square Shopping Centre and the Lion Walk Shopping Centre.
24. Mersea Island and Museum
Quite the distance from Colchester’s city centre is Mersea Island Museum which exhibits local, natural, and marine history as well as geology.
Learn about local heritage, such as the area’s fishing, oystering and wildfowling past. Games are available too for younger family members. Admission for adults is £2 and children can enter for free.
25. Mersea Coast
Visit Mersea Coast if you prefer the sea air, as there are many places to explore.
Here you can find seafront shops like Coastal Coffee West Mersea and The Coast Inn, as well as a playground for kids. Or just take a peaceful walk along West or East Mersea Beach.
26. Treasure Island
Cobmarsh Island is Colchester’s tiny island and nature reserve, with stunning footpaths and lots of chances to spot countless bird species.
27. An Area of Natural Beauty
Dedham Vale is in the North of Colchester, and its beauty is so apparent that it has even inspired English painters of the past, such as John Constable and Sir Alfred Munnings.
Along Dedham high street you will find cosy shops and at the River Stour, you will find activities such as rowing, boating, and scenic walks.
28. The Roman Circus
The Roman Circus is a vast archaeological site with a café and events taking place throughout the year, such as Roman Chariot Racing. Tours take place Tuesday to Saturday at 12 noon and 2 pm.
Entry is free for under 11s and £3 for adults, or £6 if you want a tour of the remains.
29. Gosbecks Archaeological Park
Colchester’s historical treasures keep coming with Gosbecks Archaeological Park.
This is an Iron Age and Roman site full of information boards and the outlined remains of a Romano-Celtic Temple; one of the 5 known Roman theatres in Britain, and a precinct surrounded by a portico. The area itself is also peaceful and quiet.
30. The Mercury Theatre
The Mercury Theatre overlooks Colchester’s 2000-year-old Roman Wall, and the theatre itself is named after the Roman God of Poetry – a god represented on its roof architecture.
Plays put on are locally made, internationally renowned or nationally renowned, so there’s something to entertain everybody here.
31. The Headgate Theatre
This small theatre not only puts on locally made plays, but it also holds workshops and has venues available for hire. Performances include plays, showcases, gigs, dramas, musicals, comedies, and magic shows.
32. Colchester’s Hidden Art Gem
The Minories Gallery is housed by the Grade II listed building The Minories.
Inside you can explore the contemporary art gallery run by the Colchester School of Art as well as the building’s Tudor architecture. You will also find a café surrounded by a quiet garden. It’s free to enter.
33. Roman Walls
It’s hard to believe that this 2000-year-old wall is still standing and ready to be visited by those passing through modern-day Colchester.
In the past, it would have stood 6 metres high, and the entire wall measures 2,800 metres in length. You should particularly watch out for the Balkerne Gate and Duncan’s Gate, as well as the numerous archways. Take this map with you.
34. Invasion Colchester
Every year the charity event Invasion Colchester takes place in the town centre, where you can take the whole family to meet their favourite heroes in aid of St Helena Hospice, Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals Charity, and Mind.
Characters to meet range from Star Wars heroes to Princesses. There will also be live performances and competitions.
35. Festival of Rice and Spice
Food lovers will adore Colchester’s Festival of Rice and Spice which takes place annually, close to Firstsite.
There will be of course lots of culturally diverse food stalls to try as well as performances, children’s activities, and workshops. For foodies, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Colchester.
36. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum uncovers the history of Colchester’s wildlife and natural events. Discover what happened in 1884 when Colchester experienced an earthquake or go back even further and find out what prehistoric creatures roamed before the Romans or Celts.
With collections to admire, a shop to browse, Norman architecture, and interactive displays, this museum is perfect for families. Admission is free.
37. Free Family Fun
The Free Family Fun Festival is accessible to all families and gives everyone a chance to have a great day out together.
Taking place annually in Castle Park, here young children can take part in arts, crafts, sports, and other fun things like bouncy castles.
38. Roman Trivia Trail
Download the Roman Trivia Trail map to take your kids on a historical treasure hunt in Colchester.
And the best thing is that if you draw a picture of Roman Colchester or tell an interesting fact, you can win a small prize!
While this trail is designed especially for kids, it’s also great for adults as a guide around Colchester.
39. The Colchester Garden Festival
Every August you will find The Colchester Garden Festival in the town centre with a mixture of free and paid events. Activities include walking trails, theatre productions, gardening entertainment shows, Sow and Grow workshops and more.
Watch out for window murals popping up in celebration throughout the town centre.
40. Bandstand Concerts
During your travels, you may come across one of Colchester’s many bandstand concerts in Castle Park which are local or regional and perform on Saturdays and Sundays throughout summer.
The types of music can range from classical and jazz to choir and pop.
41. Fresh Air Festival
Far away from Colchester’s town centre is Brightlingsea where the Fresh Air Festival takes place on Promenade Way yearly.
It includes free outdoor performances and silly seaside fun with giant lobsters, singing fish and storytelling.
42. Plants and Gardens
Nature enthusiasts will love Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens and its serene greenery curated by gardeners that work with the area’s natural environment. It covers 6 acres and features winding paths for a relaxing walk.
Why not end your day of exploration in the tearoom too? It’s open all year round. There is also a large plant nursery you will find here.
43. A Jammy History
Visit Wilkin and Sons Tiptree Jam, where this well-known brand of jam is made.
You will find lots of jams for sale as well as a tearoom and a small museum, where you can discover the history of the company. If you visit from May to August, you might also catch a tractor tour of the fruit farms.
44. Roman Theatre
Hidden beneath the streets of Colchester are the remains of a Roman Theatre, best viewed in Maidenburgh Street where you can see the theatre wall outline.
There you will also find a small museum to pop into, where bare remains are displayed, and recreations of the building are exhibited.
45. St Michael and All Angels Church
This 12th-century church contains some stunning Byzantine paintwork to admire and gives an insight into religious worship of the past.
The setting is also beautiful as it is surrounded by woodland. Guided tours sometimes take place which cost £1.50 per person and end with refreshments.
46. Green Island
Visit Green Island Garden to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and stroll through some natural beauty. View shrubs, trees, perennials, bulbs, water features, and interesting designs. There is also a café here to top off the day. For nature lovers this is definitely one of the best things to do in Colchester.
Admission is £9.00 for an adult and £2.50 for a child. Groups of 20+ cost £8.50 and any carers cost £2.50 (proof required). Dogs aren’t allowed here except for guide dogs.
47. Charter Hall
At the heart of Colchester is Charter Hall where many events take place such as live music, comedy, sports, festivals, and exhibitions.
Many famous faces have graced the stage here, like Jimmy Carr, Katherine Ryan, and John Bishop, as well as Boyzlife, 10cc and Jason Donovan.
48. Colchester’s Vineyards
Looking for a drink? Look no further at Dedham Vale Vineyard where you will discover 40 acres of vines amongst nature. Year-round events take place and there are picnic sites available.
Children can also visit with you and parking is free. And of course, there is plenty of wine for sale!
49. Munnings Museum
At Munnings Museum you can explore historical art collections, including the works of Alfred Munnings and archives, as well as The Studio which was designed for Munnings himself and has been re-erected for the museum.
50. Curry Leaves
Curry Leaves restaurant is claimed to be the best Indian restaurant in Essex, selling authentic Indian food on North Station Road. Starters are as little as £0.99, and curries start from £7.99.
51. Treat Yourself to Fine Dining
If you’re looking to splash out on something sophisticated, you can head to The Pavilion.
You can book some afternoon tea or select a meal from one of their many types of menus: A La Carte, Dessert, Six Course Tasting, Eight Course Tasting, Canapé, and Lunch.
Even More Things To Do In Colchester
- Visit the Smoke and Fire Festival in Castle Park to taste some yummy BBQ treats and watch food masters at work. This festival takes place during August.
- Visit the East Anglican Railway Museum on Steam Day (21st August) to experience unlimited train rides.
- Watch outdoor theatre productions in Castle Park throughout summer.
- Experience the Colchester Rugby Club Family Fun Day and expect games, inflatables, food, ice cream and entertainment. This takes place on the August bank holiday at Colchester Rugby Club.
- Take a guided tour anytime from February through to September (every Saturday and bank holiday) and have 2000 years of history explained as you stroll through Colchester.