Beyond the reality TV buzz, Essex has beach breaks, forest walks, and vineyards.
Essex might be best known for its fake-tanned beach-goers and larger-than-life reality TV show, but the real stars of this home county are all-natural. Explore the vast woodlands of Epping Forest, spot wildlife along the coastal marshes, or picnic in the gardens of a stately home or castle. With 350 miles of golden sandy beaches, Essex is a popular destination for seaside camping, and resorts fill up quickly in the summer. Spring and autumn offer a more relaxed experience, and the region’s parks and gardens are magnificent under their blanket of spring wildflowers and fall foliage.
Beach resorts come with all the trimmings along the ‘Essex Sunshine Coast’. Hit the beach at Frinton-on-Sea or Clacton-on-Sea to swim or enjoy water sports, then stick around until sundown to enjoy the seafront amusements and nightlife. Once you’ve had your beach fix, set sail on a bird-watching cruise around Wallasea and Foulness Islands, or enjoy wine tasting at a Rochford winery.
The River Thames flows out from London into Essex, where riverside parklands and marshes lead the way to the sea. Southend-on-Sea is the flagship beach resort, while neighboring Leigh-on-Sea offers a more traditional experience, with its cobbled lanes and family-run seafood restaurants. Further inland, enjoy bird-watching in the Rainham Marshes, visit the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, or tackle the mountain bike trails of Hadleigh Park.
Chelmsford is Essex’ capital, brimming with shops and entertainment, and just a 35-minute train ride from London. Outside the city, the heritage town of Waltham Abbey is the gateway to Epping Forest, which has miles of walking, cycling, and horseback riding trails. Nearby Lee Valley also has options for campers, from woodland glampsites to spacious holiday parks.
Escape the crowds to north Essex, where the rural landscapes are worth savoring. Enjoy a leisurely walk or bike ride around the water meadows in the Dedham Vale AONB, ride the steam railway through Braintree, or drive between the picturesque market towns of Saffron Walden, Uttlesford, and Dunmow.