Down with the kids - attractions and activities for youngsters in Essex

PUBLISHED: 12:18 26 February 2013 | UPDATED: 21:16 26 February 2013

Down with the kids - attractions and activities for youngsters in Essex

Down with the kids - attractions and activities for youngsters in Essex

In the hustle and bustle of the county's towns and city, you'll find a wealth of attractions and activities to keep your youngsters out of mischief...

Shop till you drop!
If you fancy a spot of retail therapy, head to one of Essexs great shopping centres...

Victoria Shopping Centre, Southend-on-Sea
With more than 40 stores including Next, Gamestation and Boots, The Victoria has recently been given a 24 million refurbishment. Open seven days a week, the centre also offers facilities including toilets and baby changing, cash machines, parking and a Shopmobility scheme.

Lakeside, Thurrock
The largest shopping centre in Essex, Lakeside is a day out in itself! More than 250 shops, cafes and restaurants mean youre bound to find what youre looking for, and have a lovely bite to eat into the bargain. Theres also a crche, a Shopmobility service, a cinema, a spa and much more besides theres even a diving centre!

High Chelmer Shopping Centre, Chelmsford
From fashion design to pound stretching offers, exciting events and spectacular shows to cafes and restaurants, there is plenty on offer for everybody at High Chelmer Shopping Centre. With a multi-storey car park close by, access to the area is also aided by a Shopmobility scheme.

Clacton Factory Outlet
With up to 60% off high street prices, youre bound to bag a bargain at Clacton Factory Outlet. Big-brand names include Marks & Spencer, Trespass and Denby, and when your appetite for shopping is satiated, you can satisfy your hunger in Burger King, the Tearoom, or with a tasty treat from Thorntons.

The Meadows Shopping Centre, Chelmsford
Boasting high street names including The Works, BHS, Fat Face and Warehouse, The Meadows also offers a range of cafes. Other facilities include a cinema, parking, a car valeting service, as well as Shopmobility and Pramobility schemes or why not hire a Kiddicab for your little one?

Find out more


Brentwood Theatre

CastlePark, Colchester

Central Museum & Planetarium

Central Park, Chelmsford


Chelmsford Theatres

ColchesterArts Centre

ColchesterNatural History Museum


Combined Military Services Museum

Country Parks

EastAnglian Railway Museum

Epping Ongar Railway



Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

Lee Valley Farm Parks

Leisure World

MangappsRailway Museum

Marsh Farm

Mercury Theatre, Colchester

MountfitchetCastle and Toy Museum

The National Jazz Archive

Odeon Cinemas

Old MacDonalds Farm

PrioryPark, Southend-on-Sea


The Royal Gunpowder Mills

RoyalOpera House Production Park

RyeHouse Kart Raceway

SaffronWalden Museum

Stow Maries Aerodrome

Tilbury Fort

Tropical Wings Zoo

Taken from Visit Essex 2013.
For more information please

In the hustle and bustle of the countys towns and city, youll find a wealth of attractions and activities to keep your youngsters out of mischief

From museums to leisure centres, and everything in between, Essex has plenty of ways to keep the whole family amused, whether youre planning a day out or a whole weeks holiday or even a fortnight!

If youve got youngsters who seem to have boundless energy, then more physical activities will be the order of the day, and our countys towns have much to offer in this respect. Every major town in Essex boasts at least one indoor play centre, and this is a great way for younger children to let off some steam while enjoying a safe adventure playground experience. But if youd rather they enjoyed themselves in the open air, our civic parks boast brilliant outdoor play areas, or you could make your own fun (for free) by taking a frisbee, ball or kite to the park for your kids to play with. Many of our towns and cities offer a green space in the heart of their urban spread, but Colchesters Castle Park, Central Park in Chelmsford, Gloucester Park in Basildon and Priory Park in Southend-on-Sea perhaps count among the best.

In addition, many of our towns boast a country park on their outskirts, Theres Highwoods Country Park, Great Notley Country Park & Discovery Centre, Danbury Country Park, Belhus Woods Country Park, Thorndon Country Park and Weald Country Park to name but a few plus the largest, Lee Valley Regional Country Park, which spans a huge 26 miles across. And then there is Hatfield Forest, an ancient royal hunting forest where you can explore the hidden depths of the woods on foot, on horseback or by bike. Many offer plenty of family-friendly facilities such as cafs and visitor centres, walking and cycle paths, picnic areas, adventure play areas, and sometimes even fishing lakes or football pitches. You could also get involved with geocaching, the hi-tech treasure-hunting game thats taking the country by storm its great for getting the whole family out in the fresh air and being active! Check out to find the coordinates of the caches that can be found in Essexs country parks and beyond, or, if you dont have your own GPS, visit to find details of taster sessions and GPS hire.

Alternatively, why not try out one of our regions leisure centres? Colchesters Leisure World boasts three swimming pools, the Aqua Springs spa, a gym, and a variety of pitches and courts to hire including football, squash and badminton, plus table tennis tables. In Rochford, Rollacity offers great fun for the whole family and is good exercise too. If youre further south, the Belhus Park Leisure Centre in Thurrock is well worth a visit, and if youre holidaying in Southend-on-Sea, the towns Leisure & Tennis Centre offers some great sporting facilities.

For plenty of high-octane fun on four wheels, why not challenge your family to a go-karting competition? There are several tracks around the region, including Rye House Kart Raceway near Harlow, which offers karts suitable for children and adults (though minimum ages apply), and make for the ideal day out for any budding Lewis Hamiltons!

Alternatively, if two wheels and pedal power is more your thing, then why not explore by bike? Several of our countys country parks many just on the outskirts of towns boast cycle paths, including Belhus Woods Country Park, Hadleigh Country Park and Thorndon Country Park.

If youre looking to mix a little education in with your days activities, youll be pleased to hear that our regions museums are diverse. Whether youre looking to enrich your experience of a place by discovering its history, or keep the kids occupied, youll find something to suit. Many towns feature their own regional museum, including Chelmsford, Braintree, Epping, Harwich and Saffron Walden, while others have more specific subjects. For example, Colchester Natural History Museum (find out all about the earthquake in 1884, and when mammoths and hippos roamed the area) and Hollytrees Museum (where you can find out more about the towns social history), or the Combined Military Services Museum at Maldon (featuring exhibits from the English Civil War to the Second Gulf War).

Every major town in Essex boasts at least one indoor play centre, and this is a great way for younger children to let off some steam

Just outside Brentwood theres another great militarythemed museum well worth a visit, the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker intended to keep the government safe in the event of a nuclear attack, which was perceived to be a very real threat during the time of the Cold War. Dating from a slightly earlier era, the Stow Maries Aerodrome near Maldon is a must-visit for those who would like to find out more about Britains World War I history.

If youd prefer to go back even further in time, Mountfitchet Castle and Toy Museum on the edgeof Stansted Mountfitchet is a great place to enjoy a family day out. Not only does the site boast a reconstruction of a Norman motte and bailey castle and village, but the toy museum houses a collection of toys and entertainment from Victorian times to the present day, plus a whole wealth of other displays and exhibitions. Another type of attraction that owes its existence to 19th-century innovation is the heritage railway of which we have several in Essex. Colne Valley Railway, East Anglian Railway Museum, Mangapps Railway Museum and Epping Ongar Railway all offer an insight into bygone days of steam, as well as train rides (though please check the timetables online before visiting), which are a firm favourite with all the family!

If youre a history buff then youll also find Tilbury Fort fascinating. This strategically placed structure has protected London from naval invasion since the 16th century. Explore the magazine houses used to store gunpowder, or find out what it was like to live at the fort from an exhibition that looks at the lives of the soldiers stationed there. On the subject of gunpowder, theres another location in Essex that, historically, has been pivotal in the countrys defence The Royal Gunpowder Mills. Brilliant for families, this museum not only explains the history of the factory that began producing explosives during the 17th century, but also offers fun, interactive opportunities for kids, including a Military Truck Tour and Professor Nitrates Mad Lab.

Budding scientists will also be delighted by the Central Museum & Planetarium at Southend-on-Sea, which not only houses displays on local and natural history, reflecting Southends growth as a seaside holiday destination, but offers a host of fascinating talks and live presentations that take you on a wonderful astronomical journey around the night sky. However, if youre more into zoology than astronomy, then you might like to visit Tropical Wings Zoo in South Woodham Ferrers, where you can see a variety of mammals including ring-tailed lemurs and meerkats, birds including Harris Hawks and White Storks, and invertebrates including butterflies, beetles and stick insects. You can even book a close encounter and help a keeper out with feeding and animal enrichment!

To get up close and personal with creatures of a more domestic nature, visit one of the several farm parks that we have in the area. At Barleylands Farm Park and Craft Village, you can discover all about birds of prey, cuddle a bunny or a guinea pig, ride on a tractor and trailer, or join a Farm Animal Feed tour, among other fun activities! Old Macdonalds Farm is situated just off the M25 at Brentwood, and is home to a variety of animals including goats, sheep, pigs, horses, guinea pigs and llamas and many of these are quite happy to be stroked! At Lee Valley Park Farms you can also meet all sorts of furry and feathered friends, as well as some with scales. Say hello to Ella and Eve the goats, Talullah and Barbara the pigs and Newton the bearded dragon, while kids can also play on a mini tractor or make use of the adventure playground.

Alternatively, take a trip to Marsh Farm in South Woodham Ferrers, where kids can groom or ride a pony, pet small animals, meet lambs, llamas and alpacas, or enjoy a tractor and trailer ride.

If wilder creatures are of more interest, then dont miss the opportunity to visit one of our regions nature reserves. There are 93 Essex Wildlife Trust sites around the county, including a number of visitor centres that are great for the whole family Thorndon Countryside Centre, Chafford Gorges Nature Park and Visitor Centre, and Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, to name but a few. In addition, check out the RSPB reserves at Rainham Marshes, South Essex Marshes, and Wallasea Island if youre lucky you might catch a sight of an avocet, a marsh harrier or even a little egret!

If you would like to experience a little culture, then there are many arts venues around Essex that put on family-friendly events and shows. There are theatres in all major towns and cities, including Colchester, Chelmsford, Basildon and Brentwood, so why not check out whats on during your holiday? As well as plays, gigs and comedy sets, many venues also run workshops for children. Of course, when it comes to entertainment, theres the big screen as well as the stage many arts centres run film festivals and a programme of special showings, or for an excellent choice of current blockbusters, visit one of the three Odeon Cinemas we have in Essex.

Speaking of entertainment, were also lucky enough to have two attractions of national importance here in Essex you can tour the Royal Opera House Production Park in Thurrock to see where all the magic happens in terms of the stage sets and costumes for this prestigious venues performances, or you can visit the National Jazz Archive in Loughton to find out more about the story of jazz in the UK.
As you can see, Essex is bursting with many opportunities for holidaymakers of all ages, whether they enjoy history or futuristic laser games, watching a stage show or stroking a furry friend or two. And thats not all, many of our tourist attractions organise a programme of family-friendly special events thoughout the year, so it's well worth checking before you visit. There truly is something for all the family!

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