The Best Free Things To Do In Southend, Essex With Children

Guest post:
There are so many fun free things to do with children in Southend-on-Sea and the surrounding areas. I’ve lived here with my two daughters for almost five years and during that time we’ve explored lots of the free things to do! I have shared our favourite free things to do as a family in Southend in this post.

Children on Southend beach in winter playing with shells and stones
Free things to do in Southend with children

The City Beach, Marine Parade, SS1 2EJ

Southend’s best asset is it's beach, which is of course free to use. I often take the girls down to the beach for a free day out. Take your bucket and spade along for paddling and a picnic for a completely free day out. There are two small playgrounds located on the sand of the beach within the City Beach Golden Mile area. One of which has the splash fountains located opposite, which are very fun in the summer. There is also a paddling pool area, the Lagoon, at the Three Shells playground (you can find this at the western end of Adventure Island). Go up the beach (East) towards Shoeburyness for a quieter beach or down (West) towards Chalkwell for a bigger paddling pool where you can also go crabbing.

A family on Southend city beach
Southend has plenty of coastline to enjoy

The Fountains, City Beach, Marine Parade, SS1 2EJ

I already touched upon the Splash Fountains on Southend seafront but they are a fantastic free place to take children in the summer. My two never tire of running through them and they’re also handily located near the playground and also the loos.

A girl running through the water fountains by the beach in Southend
Cool down in the water fountains 

The Playgrounds

We are blessed in Southend with so many playgrounds to choose from (you can read all about our favourite playgrounds in this post). We regularly head to the two little beach playgrounds along the Golden Mile (Poodles Play Park, City Beach, Marine Parade, SS1 2EJ & Three Shells Beach Playground Western Esplanade, SS1 1EE). We also often visit the small new wooden playground opposite Southend Central Library which is a great place to burn off some energy when in town. For a bigger playground we usually head to Chalkwell Park, where there are two playgrounds - a large playground suitable for younger children and additionally a more challenging adventure playground. Other good larger sized playgrounds can be found in Priory Park and Southchurch Park.

A girl on a hopscotch at Priory Park playground in Southend
Hop, skip and jump to Priory Park

The Parks

We love to visit the local parks not only for their playgrounds but for a walk around or a picnic. It’s fun to spot the flora and fauna or feed the ducks. Our favourite parks in Southend include:

Chalkwell Park (Chalkwell Avenue, Westcliff-on-Sea, SS0 8NL)

This park has two large playgrounds, a rose garden, cafe and ice cream kiosk.

A family sitting on a bench in the rose garden at Chalkwell Park
Take time to stop and smell the roses in Chalkwell Park

Priory Park (Victoria Avenue, SS2 6NB)

Priory Park has a large playground and lots of open space to explore including a beautiful walled garden, a cafe, bandstand and Prittlewell Priory.

A girl sitting on the wall in the walled garden in Priory Park Southend
The walled gardens in Priory Park

Southchurch Park (35 Northumberland Crescent, SS1 2XB)

Southchurch Park has a large playground, a wildflower meadow, cafe, rose gardens and a large pond where you can feed the ducks.

A baby looking at the camera looking confused in front of a duck pond in Southchurch Park
Where did the ducks go?

Shoebury Common Park (Shoebury Common Rd, SS3 9HQ)

This is another beautiful place to visit in the Southend area. This common has a new playground which was built a couple of years ago and is great fun for children of all ages. Across the road is a nice stretch of beach with toilets and disabled access. We also love to visit the Uncle Tom's Cabin café for ice creams.

Shoebury Common Playground
Combine a visit to Shoebury Common playground with a walk along the beach

Free Attractions

Southend Central Library, The Forum, Elmer Ave, SS1 1NS

Southend Central Library is another simple and free way to spend time in Southend with children, especially as the central library has a lovely large dedicated space for children’s books. You can while away hours in the children’s library at the central library. With hundreds of books to choose from and lot of cute reading books, it’s a lovely free place to enjoy. There is also a weekly rhyme time for preschoolers and other children’s events which are advertised on their website. Directly opposite the library is a small, new wooden playground.

Children on a bucket swing in a playground next to Southend Library at the Forum
Swing by this new playground after a visit to Southend Central Library

Southend Central Museum, Victoria Avenue, SS2 6EW

Southend Central Museum is free and a great place to visit. Children and adults alike can learn more about the city of Southend. The girls love to come here and explore. The highlight for them is the exhibition about the former EKCO factory in Southend where you can see so many old radios and household items. The volunteers are always so friendly and happy to tell children about local history. Also, on site is a planetarium which does charge a small fee but has shows suitable for children every so often. These need to be booked in advance. The museum is quite small but is located next door to the Beecroft Gallery, which is another great free place to visit with children.

Art Galleries

We are lucky to have two art galleries in Southend, both of which are free to enter.

Beecroft Art Gallery, Victoria Avenue, SS2 6EX

Beecroft Art Gallery is the larger free art gallery in Southend. They frequently change their exhibitions and it’s a great place to learn about local artists. Spend some time relaxing in the calm atmosphere and have a go at the worksheets with art projects and colouring ideas which they always have available. 

Focal Point Art Gallery, Elmer Avenue, SS1 1NS

This small art gallery has fun free exhibitions to browse. It’s located next door to Southend Central Library. The current exhibition is called “S for Southend” (running until 9th March) and exhibits art by local residents. 

Also In The Southend Area

Although Southend-on-Sea is a city, we are lucky to have lots of green spaces nearby that are free to visit. Some of our favourite places to visit in the Southend area include:

Belfairs Park Nature Reserve, Eastwood Road North, Leigh On Sea, SS9 4LR

This beautiful woodland is managed by Essex Woodlands Trust. There is free parking available and the Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre has all the facilities required to enjoy the woodlands in comfort including information, toilets, a cafe, picnic area and outdoor play area.
It’s so beautiful to stroll through the ancient woodland, much of which is over 1000 years old. The girls always enjoy searching for bugs while we are there!

A family sitting on the ground in Belfairs Nature Reserve
Belfairs Nature Reserve is beautiful to explore

Rayleigh Windmill, Bellingham Lane, Rayleigh, SS6 7ED

Rayleigh Windmill is such a beautiful local landmark. The windmill is free to visit and the volunteers are so enthusiastic to show you around and tell you about the local history. There is an exhibition space on the second floor which changes seasonally. You can also visit the Rayleigh Mount park right next to the windmill which is the site of an old castle.

A family standing in front of Rayleigh Windmill near Southend
Rayleigh Windmill is free to visit

Hadleigh Castle, Castle Lane, Hadleigh, Benfleet SS7 2AP

Another beautiful spot to visit in the Southend area that is free to visit is the ruins of Hadleigh Castle. This former royal castle was built in 1215 and is a beautiful spot for a picnic and a walk. There is beautiful countryside all around for walks and the area is also great for mountain biking as it was the site of the London 2012 Olympics mountain biking event. Nearby is the Salvation Army Hadleigh Farm Rare Breeds Centre which is quite inexpensive to visit and we really enjoy it.

A preschooler running around with Hadleigh Castle ruins in the background
Exploring at Hadleigh Castle

Parking For Free In Southend 

If you are travelling to Southend by car then ideally you will want to park for free. There is free street parking on roads further away from the beach, High Street and stations, but this might involve too much walking to be an option when visiting with children.  The council car parks charge Monday to Sunday 8am to 6pm, which are the main hours you are likely to want to visit with children so you will probably need to pay to park, but you can save money by choosing carefully. The council car parks are divided into 4 zones with the parking in Zone 1A by far the most expensive (£16.50 for up to 6 hours), this includes most of the parking along the central seafront. Parking around the High Street is significantly cheaper (£7.30 for up to 6 hours) and nearer to the museums.

Outside of the city centre there is limited free car parking at the parks and locations listed above, other than Rayleigh Windmill, where you can park for free Saturdays after 1pm and Sundays.

You might also want to check out this post for other free things to do with children in Essex.

About the author: Sarah has been living in Southend with her two young children for nearly five years. She is sharing her thoughts about the Southend experience including the best things to do in Southend with children in a series of guest posts on Counting To Ten. You can also find Sarah on Instagram as @The.Southend.Mummy where she has honest and relatable posts about fashion, toys and family life in London and Essex. 

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