Review: Visiting Hylands Park, Essex with Children

Hylands Estate in Chelmsford, Essex (also referred to as Hylands Park) is 574 acres of historic parkland surrounding a large Grade 2 listed house. Now owned and managed by Chelmsford City Council the you can see inside the house on open days or events, but it is otherwise closed to the public. The parklands consist of formal gardens, ancient woodlands, open grassland (which is often used for events and festivals), but the best part is the popular and well designed playground.

Hylands Estate is a great place to visit as there’s so much to explore. The playground will be the main appeal for children, but there are lots more adventures to be enjoyed on the rest of the estate including streams to paddle in, trees to climb, grass to run around in, enjoying the flowers in the formal Pleasure Gardens, browsing the local artists work at The Stables, enjoying a coffee (or maybe some juice for children) and a bite to eat at one of the cafés and looking around the house when it is open.

The front of Hylands House in Chelmsford
Hylands Estate is 574 acres of parkland surrounding Hylands House

Visiting Hylands Park Estate

Why Hylands Estate Is A Good Place To Visit With Children

  • Children will love the castle themed adventure playground.
  • Venture further afield and there is a large park to explore including streams, woodlands and open grassland.
  • The beautiful grounds include formal gardens with pretty flowers and a large fish pond with ducks.
  • You can browse local artists work at The Stables.
  • Enjoy ice cream, cake or drinks from the cafés.
  • The house is open to visit on open days which take place most months.

What Is There To Do At Hylands Estate?

Enjoy The Adventure Castle Playground

Hylands Estate has a large wooden adventure playground with a castle theming. There is a large main area suitable for age 6 plus and a smaller area off to one side, called the castle hamlet, designed for children 6 and under. Some of the main area is designed to be "accessible" and will be fine for accompanied younger children too. As well as the castle walls that you can climb and slide down there are various types of swings, a roundabout, willow tunnels to run through and a wooden horse and cart to sit on. There is grass around the playground (bring a blanket to sit on), a few benches and lots of picnic tables. However due to the size of the playground there is no where you can sit and have visibility of the whole area.

Nearby the playground, on the other side of the café, there is often an inflatable bouncy castle type thing on weekends and holidays. This is a paid for activity, but one children will spot a mile off.

View in one direction of the castle adventure playground at Hylands Park
There is a large playground at Hylands Park which is themed as a castle

The wooden castle hamlet play area for younger children at Hylands Park
On one side, the Castle Hamlet, is a play area designed for younger children

Stroll The Pleasure Gardens

The formal gardens date back to the early 1900s and they are a lovely area to explore. You will often see couples on their wedding day having their photos taken in the beautiful gardens. There are pretty flowers (including wisteria over oak arbours in May/ June), a duck pond, a smaller pond and some skittle shape bushes. The One World Garden, located on the far side of the pleasure gardens to the playground, is also worth a visit. It was opened in 2007 and designed as a children’s garden. There is a small path of blue water that goes round the garden and my children enjoyed running around and using one area as a stage. The paths in the Pleasure Garden are surfaced and suitable for pushchairs.  Keep an eye out for the witch tree near the main house! It’s stunning to look at and the children love the story behind it. 

A wide path and part of the formal pleasure gardens of Hylands House
The Victorian formal gardens of Hylands House are particularly beautiful in Spring and Summer

An oak arbour with wisteria on (not in bloom) and a small pond
There are two ponds with fish in the Pleasure Gardens

The entrance to The One World Garden at Hylands Estate
The entrance to The One World Garden and magical blue water

Explore The Parkland

You are welcome to walk around the acres of parkland when there aren’t events on, or you can follow one of the walks around the Estate. These range from about 3.5km to a 6.3kms Estate Boundary walk with way markers to show the route. You can download a leaflet with details of the walks here or pick one up from the Information Point at The Stables.  

Woodland covers about a quarter of the estate with the largest; South Wood on the west side of the estate and a 10 minute walk from the playground. The Lower Estate Walk and Estate Boundary Walk both go by this woodland. There is also a large lake, The Serpentine Lake, which the Repton’s Walk and Jubilee Walk go past. In May there are bluebells in Writtle Wood which is a small area of woodland just off the main path between the playground and house.

children standing on a path between 2 patches of bluebells at Hylands Estate Writtle Woods
In May there are bluebells in the smaller woodland, Writtle Woods

Discover Hylands House

The house as it stands today is a striking white neoclassical Georgian villa. The house was originally a red brick Queen Anne style house built around 1730, the white facade visible today was added in the 19th century. The stable block (see The Stables below) is still in the original red brick style. The house of Hylands Estate is generally closed to the public, but if you want to see inside it is worth visiting on an Open Estate Day which are on the 3rd Sunday of most months. There are also stands outside including food stalls and independent craft stalls on these days. Otherwise the house is mostly used for private events and is a popular wedding venue.  

Hylands House with food stalls outside
At the monthly Estate Open Days there are food and craft stalls

A beautifully styled georgian room with gold and red at Hylands House
If you want to see inside Hylands House make sure you visit on the monthly Open Days

Browse and Buy At The Stables

The Stables area has a café (The Deli) with seating inside and out, as well as Artists Studios, a volunteer run second-hand bookshop and an exhibition space.

The front of the Deli cafe at Hylands showing indoor and outdoor seating
The Deli cafe opened in The Stables at Hylands Estate April 2023

Learn From The Multimedia Tour 

There is a new Multimedia Tour where you can learn about the Estate, it’s history and the people that work there. Handsets are available to borrow from The Stables Information Point or you can scan the QR codes around the Estate using your phone and listen that way. You can start the tour at any point, but it is designed to start at The Stables.

Events at Hylands Estate

There are plenty of events throughout the year from open air cinema evenings and concerts in the summer and the Enlightened Light Trail in the winter. Events may need to be pre-booked and are payable so check the website for the list of seasonal events. 

Events can mean that areas of the Estate are closed to the public, usually this is kept to a minimum, but for the larger festivals like Creamfields (26th to 28th May 2023) it is worth checking on the Hylands Estate website or social media which areas are closed. Very occasionally this can include the playground and for popular events the traffic in the area is massively increased.

Bushes lit up in different colours as part of Enlightened Light Trail at Hylands Estate
See the grounds in a whole new light by going on the Enlightened Light Trail in November and December

Food & Drink At Hylands Estate

You are welcome to bring your own food and drink when visiting Hylands Estate, but there are several choices if you want to buy food too. 

A new cafe opened at the beginning of April in The Stables. The Deli sells a variety of food and drink from cakes and ice cream to meals. The food is deli style quality food rather than mass produced.  Open 8am to 5pm.

The Dog House is on the outside of The Stables and is also managed by The Deli. Dogs aren't allowed in the courtyard area so this window allows dog owners to grab a drink and bite to eat. 

Mauro’s Kiosk near the playground has snacks, ice creams, sandwiches and hot and cold drinks. In winter months it is open 9am to 3pm (and 4pm weekends) and they have longer opening hours in Summer. 

There are lots of places to set up your picnic around the Estate. Bring a blanket or you can use one of the many benches or picnic tables on the Estate. In nice weather lots of people come to Hylands to meet with friends so the tables get taken early on and occupied for long periods of time. 

On the monthly Open Estate Days where there are plenty of food vendors offering a wide variety of food, drinks and treats. These are normally the third Sunday of the month, although there isn't one in May 2023.

A photograph of a board with a Hylands Estate map on
It is easy to explore Hylands Estate thanks to the maps and way markers

What You Need To Know Before Visiting

  • Hylands Park is open every day. The gates open at 7.30am and close at dusk (between 5pm and 10pm depending on the time of year). Do check their Facebook page or website before visiting though because events can mean some areas are closed.
  • As a public park it is free to visit, but there is a charge for parking. 
  • There are toilets and baby changing facilities. These are available at both the playground car park and The Stables near the main house. There are also disabled toilets which can be accessed using a radar key. 

What age children will enjoy visiting Hylands Estate?

Hylands Park is good for all ages. When they are younger you will probably want to stick to the playground and the main paths. Older children can be more adventurous and explore all the parkland has to offer including the lake and woodland but also really enjoy the different formal gardens. A favourite is always the One World Garden which has a bright blue stream linking the paths which makes it fun to discover. 

Is it suitable for pushchairs?

The car parks and main paths are suitable for pushchairs. The playground floor is mostly wood chip (especially around the equipment) which can be challenging with a pushchair, but there are paths through this with a firmer material.

Is It Dog Friendly?

Yes, Hylands Estate is really popular with dog walkers, but they aren't allowed everywhere. Dogs can be off lead in the parkland, in the formal gardens dogs need to be on lead. Dogs are not allowed in The Stables, the castle playground or the main house. 

A dog running around off lead in the parkland at Hylands Estate with Hylands House in the background
Hylands Estate is popular with dog walkers, but they are not allowed in The Stables or Playground

What To Take With You When Visiting

Depending on how long you stay you might want to bring a picnic and drinks to reduce costs. During the summer months it is the perfect place to stay all day and you will see people with footballs and cricket sets so feel free to bring extra bits to entertain the children for a full day out. 

How to get to Hylands Estate and Where To Park

Address: Hylands House, Hylands Estate, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 8WQ

Hylands Estate is easy to find and well signposted, but make sure you are heading to the right part.

There are three car parks with entrances at different sides of the estate so if you are using a Sat Nav use the postcode for the right one. 

The Hylands Park car park (CM2 8FS) is next to the Adventure Playground, toilets and Mauro’s Kiosk. This is good if you want your main focus to be the play area.  The entrance is off Greenbury Way.

If you want to explore before children get distracted by the playground I would recommend parking at the Hylands House car park (CM2 8WQ) although this is smaller. It is a comfortable walking distance to the playground, but you can go via the pleasure gardens and enjoy those too. The entrance is off London Road as you head towards Chelmsford. The first gate to the park is normally closed, it's the second gate you want (Google Maps tries to take you in the first gate).

There is also a third car park (London Road car park) which is just on your right as you head in the Hylands House entrance. This is best if you are coming for a dog walk or just to explore the parkland.

The car parks are pay and display. Charges apply between 9am and 6pm. Machines are card only or you can pay by phone, online, via app or text message. Chelmsford residents can get a discount when paying via MiPermit (more info here). Parking costs £3.35 for 1 hour and £5 for all day.

Wisteria over an oak frame at Hylands Estate
See stunning wisteria in May in the Pleasure Gardens

What To Do Nearby Hylands Estate

Hylands Park makes for a great day out in itself when the weather is good, but if you are looking for places nearby then it is a short distance from Chelmsford city centre which is great for shopping, food or the cinema.

Chelmsford Museum and next door Oaklands Park is about about 5 minutes drive away.

Lathcoats Farm is about 10 minutes drive away.

Writtle Sunflowers is 10 minutes drive away. This is only open in the summer months and must be prebooked.

Recommendation made by and some photographs contributed by Charlotte who can be found on Instagram here.

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