If you do like to be beside the seaside, Southend on Sea is the perfect stopover, a stretch of sandy beach with sprawling views of the Thames estuary, the longest pleasure pier in the world, myriad restaurants (one Michelin-approved) and all the beach attractions you’d hope for - all under an hour from London.
From retro beach cafes serving up sugary doughnuts, salty chips and the sweetest candyfloss to historic arcades and its very own theme park, it’s the perfect spot for a nostalgia trip - but when you feel like returning to the modern world there’s plenty to offer the 21st Century traveller too.
Things to do in Southend on Sea
A staggering 1.34 miles long, it’s a decent walk to the end of this historical jetty but there’ll be room for you to rest in the 185-seater Royal Pavilion (the scene of many concerts and exhibitions), or the outdoor seating at the end, with uninterrupted views of the coast. Take a turn about artist’s studios, check out the Pier museum, try your hand at fishing and look out for Jamie Oliver’s one-time pop-up restaurant, where Jimmy, Jamie and Gwyneth Paltrow famously stretched their homemade pasta. Rest weary feet on the train back to shore, because there’s a lot to do yet.
Stop off at Adventure Island where dozens of exciting rides await little ones plus go-karts, fairground games and a crazy golf course. A handful of rollercoasters promise bigger thrills for teens, plus the retro arcades that line the seafront. Finish up with a visit to the Sea Life Centre, where you can walk through shark-infested waters and feel sea creatures in your hands, or bowling at Grade II-listed building the Kursaal, opened as one of the world’s first purpose-built amusement parks in 1901.
Just round the corner lies local institution Bailey’s, where fish, chips and mushy peas is a must. If it’s something sweet you crave, wander back through the ‘city beach’ (complete with fountains for children to play in) to The Three Shells beach cafe for hot doughnuts and a stick of Southend rock. For ice cream it can only be Rossi’s, proudly serving Southend for over 70 years. Regulars reserve deck chairs on the hilly green overlooking the sea, climbing the steps with a tub of lemon sorbet and a newspaper to while the day away.
If you’re still looking to keep busy, a walk up to Southend High Street leads you to all the major shops, a cinema and a cluster of pubs - try The Olde Trout Tavern in Victoria Plaza.
Not far off is the all-new Southend library, benefitting last year from a £27 million refurb (near the only Planetarium in Essex) and a taxi ride away is Roots Hall, the home of Southend United Football Club. Take a turn about Southchurch Hall museum, housed in a medieval manor house, or catch a show at The Palace Theatre.
Where to drink in Southend on Sea
Buzzing Bar Bluu, Box and Talk nightclubs overlook the bright lights of the seafront, but sample the pubs and bars first, the trendiest of which are tucked away down Market Place.
Vintage-inspired Old Hat, Marketplace and the infamous Sunrooms bar (now reincarnated as stylish restaurant cum cocktail bar Henry Burgers) attract in-the-know University of Essex students studying at the Southend campus, while sophisticated drinks take place at candle-lit Clarence Yard.
Element, Mayhem and Mansion nightclubs are within tottering distance and when all is done at 3am, many spill straight into the Rendevouz or Grosvenor casinos.
Where to eat in Southend on Sea
Beachfront restaurants are unsurprisingly popular, Ocean Beach, The Beach Hut Cafe and Toulouse being the more upmarket choices, each serving an array of fresh seafood among other delights. The Arches Cafes teem with people all weekend long, serving belly-busting breakfasts, roasts and the day’s catch with a lovely seaside view.
The Pipe of Port
84 High Street, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, SS1 1JN
A sawdust-strewn restaurant and wine merchant offering an excellent menu in a wonderfully Dickensian setting. Go for the homemade pies, stay for the wide selection of craft beers.
Henry Burgers, 20-21 Market Place, Southend on Sea, Essex, SS1 1DA
This quirky cocktail bar brings London and New York-style eating to the suburbs. Infinitely Instagrammable, the meaty mains and skin-on fries were made for Friday nights.
The Sandbank Restaurant, 1470 London Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex SS9 2UR
Nearest station: Leigh On Sea
A little further out in Leigh on Sea, Sandbank has certainly been making waves, frequently mentioned in the Michelin guide and the only Essex restaurant to be listed in The Sunday Times Britain’s Top 130 Restaurants Under £50.
Where to stay in Southend on Sea
There’s soon to be an influx of hotels in Southend - two local landmarks are being redeveloped into hotels, The Esplanade pub along Southend seafront and The Grand, led by none other than Mick Norcross (of The Only Way Is Essex fame). For now, try Roslin Beach Hotel, The Camelia or Hamilton’s Boutique B&B.