The Ultimate Guide To Things To Do With Children In Essex

The more I write about places to go in Essex with children the more I realise just how much there is to see and do. There is simply too much to cover in one blog post so on this page I have pulled together reviews of the places I have visited and linked to my many round up guides. Most of the content is focused on going out with children, but the guides should be useful who ever you are visiting with. Whether you live in Essex or you are on holiday here this guide should provide you with inspiration of places to go all year round.

Feeding birds at Colchester Zoo
There are hundreds of places to visit with children in Essex

Where To Go In Essex With Children

Indoor Places To Go In Essex

Whether it's cold, raining or even too hot to be outside then you will find lots of places to go in Essex that are inside in this guide. From information on where to go bowling, to the cinema, craft cafés and soft plays this is a bumper guide to indoor activities in Essex with over 150 locations.

Free Places To Go In Essex

If you are looking to have a budget day out then check out this guide of some of the places you can visit for free in Essex. All of them are free entry, but some having parking charges. Make sure to bring snacks and drinks with you. 

Best Playgrounds In Essex

In this guide you will find the most recommended playgrounds in the County. There are plenty of places to get your children running around and active. A few of the playgrounds have an entry charge, but most are free.  I also have a more local guide to playgrounds in around Loughton.

Farms, Zoos and Other Places To See Animals

This guide is worth checking out if you and your family want to go visit animals from cute and cuddly to scaly and wriggly. It covers mini zoos, farms and attractions that focus on animals in Essex.

Where To Go With Older Children

If your children are 8 plus they might be losing interest in some of the activities in this post, but there are plenty of places to go in this guide to go which tweens and teenagers will love.

Spa Days In Essex

While few of these locations allow children, I love a spa day to recharge so pulled together a place of where you can relax in Essex, contains information about Spas with and without swimming pools.

Seasonal Guides

Looking for ideas of what to do this weekend? Check this post out.
Days out and ideas of places to go in Essex in the spring
The largest guide to places to go in Essex in the Easter holidays with egg trails, Easter theming and generally fun activities for children.
All the best places to find large areas of beautiful Bluebells in Essex.
Whether you fancy swimming at an outdoor Lido or your children want to cool off in water fountains, find out the best places to go.
Where to go in Essex to pick a pumpkin from farms to Instagram worthy pop ups. 
There are lots of light trails you can visit from November to March. Find out which are nearest to you in this post.
All the outdoor ice rinks in Essex and others worth travelling to.
Go choose your Christmas tree from the growers for the freshest tree.

You might also be interested in looking at my reviews for places to go in London and Hertfordshire.

Reviews of Places To Go With Children In Essex

Entrance costs 
To give a rough indication of the price I have used a 5 point scale. The price is based on a peak time visit for 1 adult and 1 child age 6 paying on the day. There are normally savings available with advance ticket purchasing or visiting off peak. Special event days often cost more.  

£ Completely free
££ Just parking
£££ under £15
££££ under £30
£££££ over £30

In alphabetical order.

Audley End House and Gardens, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden, CB11 4JF
An English Heritage Jacobean mansion with grounds including a play area. Most of the house will be of minimal interest to children, but there are some interactive activities and a dolls house in the nursery (top floor). Pushchairs aren't allowed in the house, but they do have carriers you can borrow while you leave your pushchair at the entrance.
There is a play area in the grounds and some dressing up clothes and wooden horses to play with in the stables. Free for English Heritage, Art Pass members and under 5s.

A toddler holding 2 horse brushes with a hat and clothcap on her head standing in a stables with a wooden horse next to her
Pretending to look after horses in the stables at Audley End House

Audley End Miniature Railway - Audley End Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4JB
A fun place to visit for train fans, but these are miniature unlike at the Epping Ongar Railway or East Anglian Railway Museum. Audley End Miniature Railway's main season runs from Easter to September, opening weekends and every day during school holidays. They also have special events running for Halloween and Christmas, but book early as they sell out. They have done a lot of work in recent years including updating the playground and the Enchanted Fairy and Elf Walk.
Weekends and event days are busy and must be prebooked, but the website says you can buy admission on arrival on quiet days. 
££££ (normal visits) £££££ (special events eg Easter and Halloween)

A girl dressed as a fairy sat on a log surrounded by fake flowers at Audley End Miniature railway
The Enchanted Fairy and Elf Walk at Audley End Miniature Railway

Ashlyns Play Barn and Farm Park - 5 High Road, North Weald Bassett, Epping CM16 6RZ
We went to Ashlyns soft play a lot when my eldest was little and enjoyed it, but I haven't visited for a few years. The farm and outside play areas have been improved since we visited and they have a splash park in the summer too. 
The farm doesn't require prebooking, but for soft play you need to book into one of their 3 number limited time slots: 9 to 11, 11.30 to 1.30 and 2 to 4. Call on 01922 523118 to book.

A medium size indoor soft play frame at Ashlyns
Ashlyns Softplay

Barleylands, Barleylands Road, Billericay CM11 2UD
This educational farm has lots of animals for children to meet and play areas too (including a soft play, sand pit and ball cannons). You can feed the farm animals, meet reptiles in their large reptile house and hold rabbits and guinea pigs. Check out my review of Barleylands Farm Park for full details. 

Child on blue toy tractor at Barleylands
At Barleylands we had fun riding the tractors around the site

Boydells Dairy Farm - Braintree Road, Braintree, CM7 4AQ
This is a small working farm with very limited opening times, but it is a really lovely place to go. We went to a birthday party and we were taken around by the owners and got to handle lots of the animals. A lovely little place to visit to get a better understanding of animals and how farms work. The open season runs from around May to end of August during which it is open Friday to Sunday every week and every day in most school holidays. Running 2 sessions: 10am to 1pm and 2pm until 5pm. It can be very popular so keep an eye on their social media for updates.

A farmer walking a cow at Boydells farm
Boydells is a working farm which provides a real insight into farming

Cammas Hall Farm - Needham Green, Hatfield Broad Oak CM22 7JT
A Pick your own farm (June to October) with a nice play area, café, nature trail and maize maze (August to October). If you plan to pick fruit check the website or Facebook page to find our what is currently available. Closed on Mondays. They have events running throughout the year which you need to prebook eg Easter and Halloween.
£ - No parking charge or entrance fee apart from events, but there is a minimum spend if you do PYO and you are not allowed to bring picnics so you will have to spend some money.

A toddler sat on a red tractor outside Cammas Hall PYI farm
Cammas Hall Farm is more than just a pick your own farm with lots of activities for children

Capel Manor Gardens, Bullsmoor Lane, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 4RQ
There are 30 acres of gardens looked after by the college. They are really interesting and range in styles as they are mainly used for educational purposes. There is also a small "zoo" and a café. Read more in our review here.

Chelmsford Museum, Oaklands Park, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 9AQ
A free museum about the local history from prehistoric times to the modern day.  There are interactive exhibits for children and a lovely cafe. The museum is at the entrance to Oaklands Park which has a nice play area. Read more in our reviews of Chelmsford Museum and Oaklands Park

Colchester Zoo - Maldon Road, Colchester CO3 0SL
We love Colchester Zoo and there is so much to see and do. They have all the animals you expect to see at a zoo and you can even feed the elephants and giraffes. There are lots of playgrounds (although most of these are best for 4 years and up) and a soft play which we haven't yet made it in despite 7 visits. Colchester Zoo is open every day except Christmas Day.

A toddler pointing at a wallaby visiting Colchester zoo
There are so many animals to get close to at Colchester zoo and most of it is outside

Danbury Country Park, Woodhill Road, Danbury, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 4AW
Danbury Country Park has woodland, ponds where you can feed fish and ducks and streams to paddle in. Free entry, but parking is chargeable. Read more in our review.

East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel Station, Colchester, Essex CO6 2DS
The railway museum has a wide collection of trains including steam and diesel. Unless you really really love trains I think the museum is best enjoyed on one of the popular Day Out With Thomas & Friends events days (read our review to find out why). There is also a playground and cafe.  
£££ (normal days) - £££££ (Thomas event days)

Epping Ongar Railway - Ongar and North Weald
Running most weekends and with a few special events throughout the year this is a great place to go for children who love trains. We take the Central line train to Epping station where you can get an old fashioned bus run to the heritage stations (it runs from Shenfield Station too). The train line itself is run by volunteers and include steam and diesel powered trains.  

A toddler in an old fashioned train carriage with wooden seats on Epping Ongar railway
Epping Ongar railway is great for train lovers young and old

Epping Forest and Visitors Centre - High Beach/ Beech, Loughton IG10 4AF
Epping Forest (the forest as opposed to the district) is a long thin strip of forest running from Forest Gate though to Epping with a few small breaks. The easiest bit to explore is probably High Beach where there is the small visitors centre, a good amount of parking and the Kings Oak Pub. The pub also runs an ice cream van and kiosk. There are lots of trees to climb on and over, ponds and general woodland fun.
The Visitors Centre is open Friday to Sundays and Bank holidays. Most car parks have parking charges payable via RingGo or card (High Beach only). They costs £1.50 for 1 hour going up to £6 for a maximum 6 hour stay. 
There aren't many toilets available in Epping Forest, we generally use pubs/ cafes, but these are for customers only so a good excuse to stop for a drink.

A toddler looking out into a pond in epping forest
There is so much to explore in Epping Forest

Essex Police Museum, Essex Police Headquarters, Chelmsford CM2 6DN
This small museum tells the story of the police in Essex from Victorian times to the modern day. You can go in a victorian cell, have your finger prints taken and dress up in police uniform. Open most Saturdays  and Wednesdays during the school holidays.  Free, but there small charge for special events. Read our review here.

Get To Know Animals, Forest Lodge Commercial Complex, Epping Road, Epping, CM16 5HW. 
This indoor mini zoo opened in a new Epping location in February 2023. It's small, but has lots of small animals to see. They offer animal handling experiences too. Read more in our review.

Great Notley Country Park, Braintree, Essex, CM77 7FS
Great Notley Country Park is home to Sky Ropes (a high ropes experience which includes a Sky Ropes Junior suitable for age 2 upwards) and a 1.2km play trail which includes play equipment and good size sandpit. The water play area is permanently closed, but they are looking to replace it. There is also currently work to replace the "climbing forest area". 
The Discovery Centre includes a café and toilets, but toilets are some distance from the sand pit at the far end of the trail so it might be worth taking a travel potty if you have a recently toilet trained child. 
Parking costs £2.50 for up to 1 hour ranging to £6.30 for all day.

Sand pit with wooden play frames at Great Notley Park near braintree in Essex
There is enough to entertain children at Great Notley Park for hours

Hadleigh Castle, Chapel Lane, Hadleigh, Essex, SS7 2PP
Explore the ruins of a royal castle. It is free entry, but there are no toilets or services available. You can read more about visiting Hadleigh Castle here.

Hanningfield Reservoir Visitor Centre, Hawkswood Road, Downham, Billericay CM11 1WT
Home of the Wind in the Willows trail with carved wooden characters and a Visitors Centre with toilets, café etc. You can buy a trail map for £1 and borrow a crayon to do a brass rubbing of the characters found next to the carving. There is also plenty of mature woodland to explore.
It's a nice walk to see the trail, but you can't really see much of the reservoir in the summer because of the trees and greenery in the way. It's worth combining with a visit to the Hanningfield Waterside Park which is a short drive (or long walk) away where there is a nice playground.
£ Parking free, but donations encouraged.

2 young children looking at Wind in the Willows hedgehog character carvings
The trail and brass rubbings at Hanningfield Reservoir will appeal even if children don't know The Wind In The Willows stories

Harlow Leisurezone - Second Avenue, Harlow CM20 3DT
As well as the swimming pool and gym at Harlow Leisurezone there is an indoor climbing area, good size soft play, trampolines and indoor golf simulation. M had her 7th birthday party at VertiGo (the climbing area) and it's suitable for age 6 plus. Sessions last 90 minutes and I would recommend pre-booking.
Kidzz Kingdom softplay has a separate section for toddlers and a small seating area for adults with a cafe. It's meant to be suitable for up to age 10 and my 7 year old enjoys it.
Make sure you ask for a car park token when you pay so you don't have to pay for the car park.
Climbing ££££ 
Softplay £££ 
Trampolining ££££

Harlow Vertigo climbing walls
Climbing walls at Harlow Leisure Zone

Hockley Woods, Main Road, Hockley, Essex SS5 4RN
An ancient woodland managed by Rockford council. It has a large playground and bike trails. Read more about visiting in our review.

Harlow Pets' Corner and Town Park, Harlow, Essex, CM20 2QG
Harlow Town Park has a lot of free activities including a great large playground, a smaller new inclusive play area, Pets' Corner (a small free farm) and paddling pools (summer only).
Pets' Corner is open every day in the afternoons. 
The nearest car parks are pay and display.

A toddler looking in a fish tank at Pet's Corner Harlow
Pets' Corner is a great way to see some cute animals for free

Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, Sawyers Hall Lane, Brentwood, Essex, CM15 9BZ
Open Fridays to Mondays and everyday during school holidays. This animal sanctuary is opened to the public to help fund it's continued work looking after animals which need rescuing. There is a small picnic and play area and free grass based car park. They often have events days with extra activities. Find out what you can expect from your visit in this post.

Looking at some information about an owl at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary
Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood

Hylands House and Park, Chelmsford, CM2 8FS (Use the Hylands Park entrance for playground)
The grounds of Hylands House are large and used for many festivals during the summer months, but visiting outside of festival time means you get to enjoy the award winning castle themed playground. The playground gets very busy in Summer so arrive early. Lots of people use the grounds for picnics and meeting with friends. After children have exhausted themselves playing you might be able to persuade them to walk towards the house so you can enjoy the beautiful formal victorian gardens. The parkland has woodland and a visitor's centre as well as 3 cafes (including one next to the playground). The House is open on occasional Sundays. Toilets available next to the playground and near the house.
££ - Parking charges apply

Stunning Wisteria tunnel at Hylands house in June
Visit Hylands Park in late May/ early June to enjoy the stunning wisteria, if your children let you leave the brilliant playground

Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park- Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey EN9 2EF 
Lee Valley Farms was taken over by the Partyman company which owns Marsh Farm around 2020. The new owners are slowly investing in the site which had become run down and they are adding their special touch of magic so event days in particular are a lot of fun. Changes since they were Lee Valley Farms includes turning the soft play into a theatre and you can no longer visit the dairy farms. Most activities are outside so visiting on a dry day is best. We visited in 2022 for their Christmas event which you can read about here.

A girl feeding a white goat at Lee Valley Farms Essex
We easily manage to spend a day at Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park, but the play areas appeal more than the animals

Markshall EstateCoggeshall, Essex CO6 1TG
Markshall Estate has 200 acres of arboretum and woodland to explore. It has some natural play areas that will appeal to children and a lovely restaurant, but what I like best is they always have some form of trail on for children which will encourage them to walk much further around the arboretum than they otherwise might. Read about our visit here.

Marsh Farm - Marsh Farm Rd, South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford CM3 5WP
With animals, soft play, crazy golf, an adventure play area and more this is a fun place to go with children and it's all included in the entry price. They also have regular special themed events which are fun to visit. Read our review from multiple visits here.

A children's playground at Marsh Farm Essex
One of the play areas at Marsh Farm

Mountfitchet Castle -Stansted Mountfitchet CM24 8SP (for Sat Nav use CM24 8LY)
A reconstructed medieval Motte and Bailey Castle that brings history to life. There are free roaming goats, deer and chickens that you can feed. Entrance also includes entry to the toy museum which you get to by walking up a very steep path past a few dinosaurs, but I found the toy museum had limited interest for my children. There are quite a few old fashioned slot machines near the entrance you can play with which could get expensive, luckily my children didn't realise this.

Sharpening tools the medieval way at Mountfitchet Castle
Mountfitchet castle is a really interesting introduction to Medieval England

Nickelodeon Adventure, 612 The Quay, Thurrock intu Lakeside Shopping Centre, West Thurrock, Grays, Essex RM20 2AD
Fans of Paw Patrol, SpongeBob SquarePants or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aged roughly 3 to 6 will enjoy this inside soft play/ adventure park. There is enough to entertain children for an hour or two making it a great way to break up a days shopping or just something to do on a cold day. Read my full review of Nickelodeon Adventure here.

Nickelodeon Adventure outside of building
A good indoor place to go with preschoolers

North Weald Airfield Wings CafeNorth Weald Airfield, North Weald, Epping CM16 6DD
Younger aeroplane fans will love a visit to Wings cafe at North Weald Airfield (go left when you go through the airfield gates and then drive around the airfield to the cafe). You can see small planes and helicopters take off and land while they enjoy the play area and you have a coffee or food. There are lots of ambulances based at the airfield too so they will get to see all of those on the way to the café.
Generally open 7 days a week 9am to 4.30pm. You can contact them on 01992 523588.
£ (free but as it's a café you do need to buy something)

Play area at Wings cafe at North Weald Airport includes a climbing frame and trampolines
Wings Cafe is a must visit for children who love aeroplanes 

Pelican Playground - Grange Farm Lane (off High Rd), Chigwell IG7 6DP
If you live near by this is a lovely little sand based park for young children. The toilets are a short distance away in the Grange Farm Centre and across the road from the playground there is a nature reserve with a duck pond. 
This has recently reopened after being closed for 2 years due to misuse and it is only open weekdays. If you visit please ensure your children don't damage any of the plants of this charity run playground and please don't leave litter. It is such a lovely playground and it would be a shame if they had to close it again.
£ Free

Children playing in a playground with lots of sand a climbing equipment at Pelican Playground Chigwell
Pelican playground 

Peter Rabbit Trail at Langdon Nature Reserve - Lower Dunton Road, Basildon SS16 6EJ
With free parking this is a great place to visit for a walk with children. You can buy a map from the Visitors Centre to follow the Peter Rabbit trail and there is also a play area and plenty more to explore across the Nature Reserve. Read more about the Peter Rabbit Trail here.

Mrs Tiggywinkle carving at Peter Rabbit Trail Essex
The Peter Rabbit Trail has lovely wooden carvings of Beatrix Potter's best loved characters

Rock Up Lakeside - intu Lakeside, Thurrock Way, Grays RM20 2ZP 
This climbing centre inside Lakeside shopping centre has climbing walls for age 4 and upwards and a softplay for 8 and under. This is a great place to go with the family. Read my review from our visit.
£££ Assuming adult is supervising and not climbing 

Sealife Adventure Zooquarium, Eastern Esplanade, Southend on Sea, Essex SS1 2ER
Claiming to be the South Easts premier aquatic attraction there are over 40 sea life displays as well as otters, penguins and meerkats. Read a review of Sealife Adventure here.

Southend Central Museum & Planetarium, Victoria Avenue, Southend-On-Sea, Essex SS2 6EW
Great for a rainy weekend the Central Museum contains a number of exhibitions linked to local history and it's free. On weekends and Wednesday to Sunday in school holidays you can see a show in the Planetarium. Find out more about the cost, how to book and who will enjoy it in our Southend planetarium review.
Central Museum £
Southend Planetarium £££

Stickman Trail - Weald Country Park, Brentwood, Essex CM14 5QS
The update Stickman trail consists of a number of wooden carvings based on characters in Julia Donaldson's book which can be found around the lake. There are also 2 play areas, deer and ducks you can feed and a visitors centre with cafe and toilets. Park entry is free, but parking is chargeable.

The older children's wooden play area at the Stickman Trail Weald Park Essex
The Stickman Trail is a natural playground with a reasonable amount of walking

Thurrock Thameside Nature Park, Mucking Wharf Road, Mucking, Stanford-Le-Hope SS17 0RN
This nature reserve managed by Essex Wildlife Trust over looks the Thames Estuary. It has a great play area and Hare trail. Read about our visit here.
£ but donations encouraged

Thorndon Country Park and Gruffalo Trail - The Avenue, Brentwood CM13 3RZ
A lovely wooden sculpture trail based on the Gruffalo and Gruffalo Child's books. You can buy a map to help you find the characters from the visitor centre when it's open. There is also plenty more to explore in this large park. Entry to the trail is free. Read our review of the Gruffalo Trail at Thorndon here. 
Parking is £2.50 for 1 hour going up to £6.30 for all day. There are toilets and a café on site.
The sculptures get replaced every couple of years due to damage so if you haven't been for a while their location and what they look like may have changed.

A girl creeping up on a wooden carving of a fox at the Gruffalos trail essex
The Gruffalo Trail is a manageable length for preschoolers and suitable for pushchairs

Wat Tyler Country Park, Pitsea Hall Lane, Pitsea, Basildon, Essex, SS16 4UH 
This country park has several trails to follow and plenty of wildlife, but the biggest attraction for children will be the playground which has lots of different play equipment. Find out more about what to expect in this post.

White Elm Petting Farm, White Elm Road, Bicknacre, Chelmsford, Essex, CM3 4LR
White Elm Petting Farm has an indoor soft play (toddler area and area for under 8 year olds), outdoor play area with sand pit and sit on diggers and a John Deere tractor track as well as a farm area. This is a lovely place to visit with preschoolers and young children, my 2 year old didn't want to leave and my 5 year old loved it too. Located within the grounds of White Elm Garden Centre. The soft play frame is fairly small, but surrounded by loads of other toys for role play etc and it is a lot of fun.
There is a small cafe inside the soft play, but outside the farm the Garden Centre has a larger informal restaurant serving full meals. Read more about visiting here.

the soft play area at White elm petting farm

360 Play - Festival Leisure Park, Festival Way, Basildon SS14 3WB
A large soft play and play street with some other activities. Every time we visited we had a great time, but a few people who I know who have been recently said it was in need of a good clean. Read about my visit with a toddler in my review of 360 Play Basildon
Prebooking required at weekends and school holidays, but not always required during the week.

View towards a large soft play frame at 360 play Basildon
A huge softplay that is lots of fun for toddlers to tweens

The Ultimate list of places to go with children in Essex

All information as accurate as possible at time of publishing. Please let me know if you notice any errors or out of date information. Always check attractions websites or social media before visiting incase of closures etc.


  1. Great reviews. Thank you! I can’t believe they’ve closed the pelican park. People are so careless. Really want to try Stansted Mountfichet.

    Of the ones you are yet to do, massive thumbs up for Hylands House. My two year old loved it and he was too little for half the playground. Chelmsford museum was nearby and it is surprisingly interactive. We had a great hour there. Thanks for a fab post.

    1. Thank you. Yes it's so frustrating about Pelican Park, hopefully they will reopen it next year.
      I'll probably spend a few days out in Chelmsford in the spring, there is so much I want to do over there. I've driven through the Hylands House playground before a couple of festivals and it looks fab, but never when it's open


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