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University of Essex students socialising while walking on campusUniversity of Essex students socialising while walking on campus

Things to do on a budget in Essex

Essex is a historic county on England’s pretty south-east coast. It’s home to sandy beaches, large parks and ancient castles, meaning there’s plenty for you to enjoy. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money either — here is our guide to things to do on a budget in Essex.

1. Follow in John Constable’s footsteps

John Constable was a famous artist in the 19th Century. One of his most notable works, Wivenhoe Park, is displayed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in the USA.

However, you don’t have to go there to see the scenic landscape Constable painted, as the real thing is in Essex!

The University of Essex‘s Colchester campus is in the grounds of Wivenhoe Park and it’s just as beautiful as it is in the painting. It costs nothing to explore the 220-acre park, which has three lakes and 2,800 trees, some of which date back to medieval times.

In fact, you can even take a self-guided tour of some of the park’s best trees! You can download it here.

2. Spend the day at the seaside

Essex has many beaches to explore, but one of the most iconic is in the town of Southend-on-Sea. It was a popular holiday resort in Victorian England and still attracts lots of visitors today.

Here, you can explore the world’s longest pleasure pier, either on foot or by taking the electric train that runs from the shore to the end of the pier every 30 minutes.

You can also visit Adventure Island theme park, which is free to enter. It has a host of exciting rides and rollercoasters, food stalls and an adventure golf course, which is only £6.50 for one round.

Another option is to visit one of the many arcades along the seafront. There are a variety of different games inside, some of which cost just pennies to play.

Finally, it’s fun simply to stroll down the promenade, or sit on the pebble beach with a hot doughnut or some fish and chips.

Beach at West Mersea at sunset
3. Visit Colchester Castle Park

Colchester Castle is the biggest Norman keep in Europe and dates all the way back to 1079. Inside, you can learn all about its fascinating history and see exhibits like the Colchester Vase, which dates to 175 AD, and a real hoard of Roman treasure.

A student ticket costs £7.95, and for a few pounds more you can add a guided tour of the ancient vaults of the castle, built on the Roman Temple of Claudius. You’ll also get fantastic views over all of Colchester from the castle roof.

When you’ve seen the castle, you can explore the landscaped grounds of Colchester Castle Park outside. It has won awards for its colourful flowers and plants, and it’s even been designated a Grade II-listed historic park. Plus, entry to the park is free, even if you don’t go to the castle.

Colchester Castle Park is easy to get to from the University of Essex as it’s located inside Colchester city centre.

Exterior of Colchester Castle
4. Enjoy a coffee, a cake…and a cat!

Essex is full of friendly cafés where you can have a drink or something to eat. However, if you want to try something a bit different, why not visit a cat café?

At a cat café you can enjoy a hot drink or some food, all while surrounded by cats! It’s a great way to spend quality time with some furry friends, even when you’re not allowed to have pets in your student room.

Essex currently has two cat cafés. The Meow Cat Café is just outside Colchester in the town of Halstead, which you can get to from the University by bus. Another branch is due to open in Colchester city centre in 2024.

Or, you can take a trip to Southend to visit Kittea Cakes, where you can sample a range of delicious desserts while playing with their 12 cats.

A visit to the cat café won’t break the bank, costing between £6 and £7 for an hour with the cats, excluding any food or drink (or cat treats!) that you buy.

5. Explore Essex’s live music scene

Essex has a thriving live music scene, with a variety of smaller venues that are great for catching up-and-coming artists at wallet-friendly prices.

For example, Chinnerys in Southend is an iconic local music venue that has hosted many bands who later went on to chart success. You can also see current stars there too — award-winning singer Sam Ryder, who represented the UK in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest, played a sold-out show at the venue in 2023.

Meanwhile, Three Wise Monkeys in Colchester has been called one of the best places to discover new acts. They hold regular gigs in their cosy events room, including open mic nights. So, if you’re a budding musician, it could be a great place to build an audience!

If you prefer the atmosphere of a big event, artists play to crowds of thousands at Colchester Castle Park in the summertime. Acts such as Steps, Olly Murs and the legendary Tom Jones have played there in recent years.

6. Browse the stalls at Colchester Market

A market is often the best place to go for a bargain. If you head to Colchester city centre, you’ll find a market there seven days a week.

There’s a range of stalls for you to browse, including fresh groceries, street food to takeaway, clothing, jewellery and gifts.

There are also a variety of pop-up markets and festivals throughout the year, such as the community market. This is where locals sell cakes, handmade goods and sustainable products.

7. Take a guided tour

Colchester is believed to be England’s oldest recorded city, having been mentioned in official documents as far back as 79 AD. However, some people believe it was more likely to have been founded even earlier, in around 20–10 BC!

With so much history to explore, a guided tour is a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything.

For example, the ‘From Camulodunum to Colchester’ walking tour takes you through 2,000 years of history, telling you exciting stories about events and battles that have taken place in the city. You will also see the Roman wall, the oldest and best-preserved ancient city wall in Great Britain.

You can also take the ‘Victorian Colchester Tour‘ to learn about the city’s rapid development in the 1800s, and see some of the most important landmarks and cultural sites of the era.

A guided tour costs approximately £8–10.

University of Essex students at St. Botoloph's Priory
8. Attend the Soapbox Rally

The Soapbox Rally was first held in Colchester in 2023, and will return in September 2024. It’s a fun community event where entrants take part in races around the city centre in handmade go-karts! People compete to build the best and fastest karts, and get very creative with their decorations.

The race track runs along the high street, with ramps and obstacles for drivers to navigate along the way. You can cheer along your favourite racers from the side of the street, or at one of the large viewing screens erected around the area.

It’s completely free to watch the races, or if you’re feeling creative, you can enter a team kart yourself for a small fee.

9. Go on an outing to London

There is so much to see and do in Essex, but if you want to travel a bit further afield, London is less than an hour away by train.

In the UK’s exciting capital city, you can view famous works or art and fascinating exhibits completely for free at the National Gallery and renowned museums like the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.

Alternatively, you could go to see world-famous landmarks like the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, or visit one of London’s eight Royal Parks, which often host live a mixture of free and paid events in summer, like live music and educational talks.

Finally, you can simply enjoy the the buzzing atmosphere at popular meeting spots like Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden to watch the buskers and street performers who gather there to entertain the crowds.

Study in Essex

Not only is Essex a fun place to explore, it’s also great place to study! It’s home to the University of Essex, a welcoming destination for international students, with campuses in Colchester and Southend.

If you’re interested in studying there, Kaplan can help. We offer Foundation Certificates and International Year One courses which allow you to gain entry to an undergraduate degree, and Pre-Master’s courses for entry to a postgraduate degree.

You’ll study your chosen course on campus at the University of Essex International College. It will help you to raise your grades and English language level to meet the University’s entry requirements, all while settling into life in the UK.

If you’d like to know more, explore the links below or get in touch to speak to one of our friendly Student Advisors.

UEIC students in a park
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