Things To Do In Colchester With Children

Colchester claims to be England’s oldest recorded town. Once known as Camulodunum it was the capital of Roman Britain with a history dating back over 2000 years and was awarded City status in 2022. You can see this history around every corner with the remains of roman walls and ancient buildings side by side with modern developments.  the city is far from old news though and there is plenty on offer for children and families. Whether you are planning a holiday to Colchester or you live there this post will give you lots of ideas for days out and places to go.


Days Out and Activities For Families in Colchester

Lots of the best things to do and big attractions, like the brilliant Colchester Zoo are several miles outside the city centre while still geographically Colchester. To avoid confusion I have divided this post into places to go centrally, many of which you can walk between, and those that are a little further out.


A child looking at animals through a class screen in Colchester Zoo
There is so much to explore in Colchester from history and parks to animals and soft play


What to do in Colchester City Centre With Children 


Unless I mention otherwise the following locations do not have their own parking. If driving into Colchester it is easiest to park at one of the large car parks and walk to your destination. 


Colchester Castle 

Website Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1TJ 

Colchester castle was built over 1000 years ago on the ruins of a Roman Temple. The large Norman keep is still standing today although there have been various additions and repairs to it over the years. The castle became a museum over 160 years ago and today it has plenty of interactive displays and exhibitions to entertain and educate children about the rich history of Britain's oldest town. There are normally additional fun activities for children running in school holidays.  

Colchester castle museum is open all year round and there is no need to prebook. Tickets are £12.50 for adults, £6.95 for children (age 4 to 16).


Castle Park

Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1TJ

This large park in the City Centre has lots of activities taking place throughout the year including a Roman Festival complete with reenactments in the Summer. The park is divided into 2 areas by the Roman city wall with Upper Park nearest to the Castle and Town Centre. Upper Park has a playground and cafe (Cafe in the Park) while Lower Park has a boating lake, crazy golf (Putt in the Park) and the River Colne running through it. 


Hollytrees Museum

Website Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1UG

Located on the edge of Castle Park, Hollytrees Museum is a Georgian townhouse open Monday to Saturday with free entry. The museum aims to provide an understanding on family life for the rich and poor with lots of interactive exhibits targeted at children. 


Natural History Museum

Website High Street, Colchester CO1 1DN

The Natural History Museum is another free Colchester museum. It focuses on the natural history of Colchester and the surrounding Essex area. Find out lots of interesting things about the animals that used to roam the area as well as wildlife and local geology. Housed in a former church the museum opened in 1958. It is small and could do with updating, but as it’s free it is worth popping in if nearby.


Walk The Roman Walls 

Colchester has the earliest and best preserved Roman town wall in Britain. A circuit of the remaining structures is nearly 3km and makes an interesting walk to explore Roman Colchester with older children, you can download a suggested route map here.

You might want to take a detour en route into St Botolph’s Priory an English Heritage site which was one of the first Augustinian priories in England (Priory Street, CO2 7EE)  It’s free to visit and open day light hours.


Firstsite Art Museum 

Website Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester CO1 1JH

A free art gallery focussing on visual art from the East of England. It has exhibitions, films, workshops and events throughout the year. Highlights include the Berryfield Mosaic from AD200. Some exhibitions are definitely more child friendly than others so check their website for what is on.


Leisure World Swimming Pool 

Website Cowdray Avenue, Colchester CO1 1YH

Essex doesn’t have any water parks, but Colchester’s Leisure World is probably the best we have to offer. With 2 flumes, rapids (outdoor rapids currently closed for maintenance), waves, tipper buckets and interactive features it is a great family leisure pool. It is online booking only. Tickets cost £9.80 for adults and £8.80 for children over 3, sessions last 90 minutes. Free parking available, register your number plate on arrival.


AirHop Colchester Trampoline Park (previously Jump Street Trampoline Parks)

Website 21 Mason Road, Colchester CO1 1BX

This trampoline park has a large trampolining area, dodge ball court, sweeper, reaction walls and more.  There is parking around the outside of the venue. 


The outside of Mercury Theatre in Colchester at night
Mercury Theatre has regular shows suitable for children


Mercury Theatre 

Website Balkerne Gate, Colchester CO1 1PT

The theatre was fully refurbished and reopened in 2021 with a large cafe bar area, accessible theatre and studios. They have a wide range of events throughout the year including a popular pantomime. In 2024 shows for children include a live Peppa Pig show (6th/7th April), King Arthur - a comedy for 7+ (28th to 30th May) and Charlie Cook’s Favourite book (31st May to 2nd June).

Just outside the theatre you can see the Jumbo Water Tower, a tall brick structure which use to provide water to the City, and Balkerne Gate, the remains of what was at one point the main entrance to the city via the walls. Only one of the pedestrian archways and the guardroom survive.

Also in Colchester City Centre families can enjoy:

  • Bowling at Tenpin Colchester with 20 lanes for bowling, arcade games and pool tables. Free onsite parking. Cowdray Avenue, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1YH
  • Curzon Cinema, Roman House, 19 Queen St, Colchester CO1 2PH 
  • Odeon Cinema, Head Street, Colchester CO1 1NH 
  • Go Bananas soft play, Cowdray Centre, Mason Road, CO1 1BX. A 3 storey soft play for children up to age 12 
  • Plenty of well know shops and restaurants in the High Street and shopping centres.


Great Places To Go In The Colchester Area With Children 


Colchester Zoo

Website Maldon Road, Stanway, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL
This is the largest zoo in Essex and it celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. It has the big crowd pleaser animals like elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, lions and chimpanzees as well as a children’s zoo and small creatures like insects and reptiles. It has 4 different play areas as well as a soft play, discovery den and land train. It’s so big that we have never  managed to see everything in one visit and due to the layout it is easy to miss things so make sure you look at the map. New for 2024 (opening around Easter) is a dinosaur exhibit. Colchester Zoo is open all year round.
Read more about Colchester Zoo in this review.


A child hand feeding goats at Colchester Zoo
Feeding the goats at Colchester Zoo


Wyvernwood 

Website St. Osyth Road, Alresford, Colchester CO7 8AP

Wyvernwood is a mythical world of dragons, fairies and wizards and goblins in a woodland setting. It is a perfect place to go with children on a sunny day, but it is all outside so dress for the weather. There are play areas including a castle climbing frame, peddle go karts and giant trampoline,  but what really makes this place special is the storytelling and actors. 


2 children looking at a character playing the Captain at Wyvernwood Colchester
Fully focused on what the Captain has to say at Wyvernwood


East Anglian Railway Museum 

Website Station Road, Wakes Colne, Colchester CO6 2DS

This museum in Wakes Colne Railway station is ideal for train lovers young and old. It’s open Wednesdays, Weekends and Bank Holidays. On a standard day you can visit the station building, the signal box, look at the engines and carriages being restored by volunteers and enjoy the playground. On event days you can also go on train rides. The most exciting (and busiest) time to visit is during the Day Out With Thomas events when there is plenty of Thomas the Tank Engine themed fun, you can read more about our visit on one of these days here.  Entry costs vary depending on the event. 

If visiting the EARM it’s also worth a visit to Chapel Viaduct just down the road. This impressive arched structure has the railway running across the top of it. If you walk from the museum children may be motivated by the playground behind the Swan Inn and adults might enjoy a refreshment at the pub.


Day out with Thomas the tank engine event in Colchester
EARM is particularly fun on one of the Day Out With Thomas event days


High Woods Country Park

174 Turner Road, Colchester CO4 5JR

The large Country Park has a lake with ducks, marked trails, toilet, visitor centre and cafe. A new playground opened in 2023 with several climbing structures, swings, seesaw and toddler play area. There is also a small bouldering rock area. 

There are 2 car parks: The main one next to the visitor centre is on Turner Road and a second car park is on the Highwoods Estate off the A1232 (Chanterelle car park).


Abberton Reservoir Nature Discovery Park

Website. Church Road, Layer-de-la-Haye, Colchester, Essex, CO2 0EU

This wetland is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust and it claims to be one of Europe’s top wetland sites due to the number and variety of ducks, swans and birds which visit each year. There is a large free car park, bird hides, cafe, toilets, picnic area, play area and a Bramley Hedge Trail with 7 characters to spot (you can get a trail map from the Visitors Centre). 


Markshall Estate  

Website Coggeshall, Colchester CO6 1TG

Markshall Estate is 200 acres of arboretum and garden surrounded by a further 2000 acres of ancient woodlands. They have a lovely cafe (Orchard Kitchen Cafe) open Friday to Sunday and a food truck, Percy’s Pantry, open Tuesday to Thursday. Markshall is normally closed on Mondays, except Bank Holidays and warmer Essex school holidays. There are also reduced opening hours over Winter so check their website.

They have a small playground which will appeal to children, but as this is near the entrance if your children are reluctant to go for walks it’s worth visiting in school holidays when they have a trail running. At Easter, Halloween and normally in the summer there are trails where children can try and cross off all off the items on their list, combined with the natural play areas, peacock and lake this should be enough to motivate them for a long walk. We visited a few years ago for a Halloween trail (read about our review visit here) and I was impressed how far we walked without complaint. Entrance currently costs £9 for adults, £5.30 for children, family tickets offering good savings.


A few over some of the arboretum at Markshall Estate
Markshall Estate is a beautiful day out with natural play areas and a trail for children


Beth Chatto Gardens 

Website Clacton Road, Elmstead Market, Colchester C07 7DB

If your children enjoy walking round beautiful gardens then Beth Chatto is another one to explore. The 7.5 acre garden is based on ecological planting and created by Beth Chatto who won 10 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower show in the 70s and 80s. The gardens are pretty and interesting to explore, but nothing is specifically target towards children. In the past they have had an Easter trail, but this doesn’t seem to have run the last few years. 

Opening days and hours vary through out the year, but they are always closed Sundays and Mondays (except Bank Holidays). Currently tickets are £6.75 adults, £2.25 children with discounts if prebooked. Price expected to increase in February.


Bourne Mill 

Website Bourne Road, Colchester, Essex CO2 8RT

A picturesque watermill owned by the National Trust. It is only open on a few dates each year, generally Easter weekend and Saturdays in the Summer holidays. Free entry for National Trust members otherwise £6 adults and £3 children which includes an optional guided tour. Disabled and on street parking only.


Layer Marney Tower 

Website Layer Marney Tower, Near Colchester, Essex CO5 9US

Layer Marney Tower is England's tallest Tudor Gatehouse. When open you can explore the gatehouse, church and grounds. You can also see some animals on the farm and enjoy the play area. Open Sunday and Wednesdays between Mid April and September with additional days in the Summer holidays. Check out their events page for special events including at Easter when you can normally bottle feed the lambs. Also see below for information on staying at Layer Marney. 


Paycocke’s House and Garden 

Website. 25 West Street, Coggeshall, Colchester, CO6 1NS

This is a Tudor merchant’s house managed by the National Trust. Open from late March to November, Friday to Mondays and every day in the summer. You can explore the house, garden and visit the tea room. Free entry to garden, tea room and bookshop. Entry to the house is by guided tour with an admission fee (free for National Trust members). Free parking available in the village car park.


Where To Stay In Colchester With Children

With so much to do in and around Colchester it makes a great place to have a holiday with children, but where are the best places to stay? Here are some of the accommodation options.


Best Luxury Family Accommodation 

Wivenhoe House Hotel. This 4 star hotel hotel offers a number of rooms which can accommodate up to 2 adults and 2 children as well as interconnecting rooms for larger families. 


Best Family Accomodation To Get Off The Grid And Relax (Affiliate link)

What about glamping within the grounds of Layer Marney Tower? Book with Feather Down for a canvas hideaway in one of the 6 luxury tents. Each lodge has a fire pit and private outdoor shower. You can also book use of a hot tub and pizza oven. There is no electricity, but the glamping visit will be made extra special with the opportunity to meet and help feed the animals each morning. Access to the playground also included. The accommodation is impressive with multiple rooms, furniture and log burner to keep you warm on colder days. Each lodge can accommodate 2 adult and 4 children so ideal for larger families.


Best Family Accommodation For A Budget Stay

There are 3 Premier Inns in the Colchester area, with the Colchester Town hotel near Colchester Castle Park and less than 10 minutes walk to most of the attractions in the City Centre. 

Travelodge have a new hotel opening in March 2024: Colchester Northern Gateway which is to the north of the city.

Both hotels can accommodate up to 2 adults and 2 children per room 


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