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For other places with the same name, see Colchester (disambiguation).

Colchester is a city in Essex, East Anglia. Home to the University of Essex, the Colchester Institute and an Army Garrison, and with its attractive old buildings, Roman wall, castle and proximity to Constable country, Colchester is an interesting place to visit.


Colchester Castle

Colchester is a picturesque provincial city in the county of Essex, and the geographical region of East Anglia. It is commonly regarded as the "oldest recorded town" in England (due to being mentioned by Roman author Pliny).

It was the capital of the Celtic tribe Trinovantes until it was conquered by Claudius's army in 43 AD and became the first Roman capital - and Britain's first city. Known as Camulodunum, it was burned to the ground by Boudicca's Iceni tribe approximately two decades later.

Boudicca and her 100,000-strong army were soon defeated, but Colchester never returned to prominence in Roman Britain, becoming instead a settlement for ex-legionaries.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Colchester then passed through the hands of the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans and was home to the royalists during the month-long siege of the English Civil War. Some modern historians often speculate that "Camelot" could actually be a misspelling of "Camulod(unum)" by an early chronicler unaware of the name change to "Colchester".

The city's main attraction is the Norman castle, founded by William the Conqueror himself, on the foundations of the earlier Roman Temple of Divine Emperor Claudius. It bears similarities to the Tower of London, which was built at the same time.

The city also boasts Roman walls, Saxon and Norman churches, countless timber-framed houses, buildings still showing bullet-holes and scars from the Civil War, and also the oldest Victorian water tower in Britain, known locally as Jumbo.

Visitor information[edit]

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Get in[edit]

By train[edit]

Town Station

Colchester is served by 5 train stations.

  • 1 Colchester Station, Station Approach Road, CO1 1XD. Known locally as North Station (local buses call it North Station on the schedules) is about 1 mile north of the city centre and is Colchester's main rail hub. It has approximately 5 services an hour to London (Liverpool Street) taking 50 minutes to 1 hour. Half-hourly expresses between London Liverpool St and Norwich cover the 50-mile trip in around 50 minutes with 1 or 2 intermediate stops. Commuter trains take a bit longer and make many intermediate stops and are less comfortable, although tickets are valid on either service. There are also services to/from Norwich (50 minutes), Lowestoft, Ipswich, Colchester Town, Harwich, Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze. The station has two entrances the north entrance has a ticket office, self-service machines, ATMs, a taxi stand, long-stay parking and a bus station. The south entrance is smaller and has bicycle parking and self-service ticketing but no staffed ticket booths. You need a ticket to enter and exit the station as it has automatic ticket barriers. To get to the city centre, buses 61 and 62 run from right outside the north exit to Colchester High Street, although most local services depart from North Station Road go through the south exit and walk down to the main road. Colchester railway station (Q2750618) on Wikidata Colchester railway station on Wikipedia
  • 2 Colchester Town Station, St. Botolphs Circus, CO2 7EF. At the St. Botolphs road junction in the south-east of the city centre, it has a half-hourly shuttle to Colchester North as well as hourly services to Walton-on-the-Naze. You can get direct services to London during off-peak. Colchester Town railway station (Q4489756) on Wikidata Colchester Town railway station on Wikipedia
  • 3 Hythe, Station Rd, Hythe, CO2 8JR. A small, unstaffed station in the eastern suburb of Hythe, close to the large Tesco superstore and within walking distance of the University of Essex. There are hourly services between Colchester and Walton, and rush hour services between London and Clacton. Avoid this station after dark as it's often too quiet and isolated. Hythe railway station (Q2552020) on Wikidata Hythe (Essex) railway station on Wikipedia
  • 4 Wivenhoe, Station Rd, Wivenhoe, CO7 9DJ. Serves the attractive riverside town of Wivenhoe and the University of Essex; it has hourly services to London and Clacton, and a local hourly service between Colchester and Walton. Wivenhoe railway station (Q2873893) on Wikidata Wivenhoe railway station on Wikipedia
  • 5 Marks Tey, Station Rd, Marks Tey, CO6 1EE. In the western village and suburb of Marks Tey, it is the interchange for the local line to Sudbury. It has regular connections from Colchester and London, Clacton and Ipswich, and hourly services to Sudbury. Marks Tey railway station (Q2025932) on Wikidata Marks Tey railway station on Wikipedia

By bus[edit]

The two main operators in the city are First Essex and Network Colchester, with Chambers (services from Sudbury), Hedingham Omnibuses (services from surrounding areas), Beestons (services from Dedham), and New Horizon[dead link] (services from Great Bentley). Most services run from the Temporary Bus Station on Queen Street but will pick up at other stops around the city centre.

By coach[edit]

National Express coaches serve the bus station (and various other stops) on route 484 between London Victoria and Clacton-on-Sea (three journeys daily), 350 between Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Peterborough, Cambridge (and other towns and cities) and Clacton (1 journey daily) and route 250 between Ipswich, Stansted and Heathrow Airports (every two hours round-the-clock daily).

Network Colchester[dead link] (airportbybus) operates limited-stop bus service 133 from Colchester Bus Station, the University of Essex and Colchester North Rail Station to Braintree and Stansted Airport (every hour daily).

By car[edit]

Colchester can be reached by car either via the A12, which links up with the M25 from the south, the A14, which links up with the M1/M6 from the North or the A120, which connects to the M11.

By bicycle[edit]

The city is on National Cycle Route 1 from Ipswich, Norwich and on to the Shetland Islands to the north and to Chelmsford, London and on to Dover to the south.

Get around[edit]

On foot[edit]

The city centre is easily walkable and much of it is pedestrianised. The city core is encircled by High Street, Queen Street, Osbourne Street, St Johns Street and Head Street. Castle Park covers much of the north-eastern city centre and makes for a pleasant traffic-free stroll out of the city centre.

By car[edit]

Driving around Colchester isn't too much hassle, although traffic tends to come to a standstill during the rush-hours. Within the city-centre, parking on the street is illegal, or at least limited to short-stay (i.e. no more than 20 minutes) meaning that you will need to use a public car park. When approaching the city centre, digital displays on the road-side will tell you the availability of parking spaces in each parking building, saving you from having to search hard for a space. Generally, surface car parks such as Vineyard Street or the Britannia Building are the cheapest (about £1.50 per hour), Colchester City Council multi-storey parking buildings are a little more expensive (about £2.20 an hour) and are open 24 hours, whilst NCP parking buildings are the most expensive. In most cases you will be given a ticket upon entry from the automatic barrier, and the fee should be paid at the payment machine before returning to your car in order to exit the car park. Parking on residential streets close to the city centre requires a residents parking permit, so it's not advisable to park there as you may incur a parking penalty.

By bus[edit]

Local buses have limited use to the average visitor as almost everything is within walking distance, although they can be useful to reach further-afield attractions such as Wivenhoe, the university, Highwoods Country Park, and Colchester Zoo. All buses serve the city centre via the inner one-way system, which can be confusing, e.g. if you enter the city centre from the rail station, you will alight on High Street (this is the first stop in the city centre), however to return to the station you have to board in Head Street. It's advisable to always check the schedule (available from the bus information centre on Queen Street) to make sure you don't board in the wrong place and head off in the opposite direction.

Most routes run at 10-30 minute intervals from 5AM–6PM and run less frequently in the evening up to 11PM. Fares start at around £1.50 for a single ticket (or £2.50 for a return) although if you plan to make more than a couple of journeys, a £3 day rover ticket is a useful investment as it gives you unlimited journeys for 1 day. Change is usually available but drivers will usually be reluctant to change anything bigger than a £5 bill. Useful routes are:

  • 61/62: which serve the University and Wivenhoe
  • 75: which goes to Colchester Zoo
  • 65: which goes to Highwoods Country Park
  • 67/67A: which goes to West Mersea

By bicycle[edit]

Colchester is an attractive place to cycle, and 2 National Cycle Routes pass through the city. Due to heavy traffic and narrow roads, cycling in the city centre is a little hairy and there are few cycle-lanes, however there are plenty of cycle-paths away from the main roads when you get away from the city centre. Some bike stores such as Colchester Cycle Stores on St John's Street may allow you to rent a bicycle. Many National Cycle Routes run off-road and are not suitable for certain bicycle types, e.g. road bikes.

By taxi[edit]

Metered taxis are a little hard to find although they can usually be picked up from taxi ranks on the High Street or outside North Station (north exit). However, it's usually cheaper and more convenient to call for a minicab. The most useful operators include:


  • War Memorial
    1 Colchester Castle. The largest Norman keep in Britain, build on the foundations of the Roman temple to Claudius it has the city centre on one side and landscaped gardens on the other. The museum covers the extensive history of Britain's oldest recorded town, from pre-Roman times, Boudicca's rebellion, the Norman invasion, medieval witch hunts, the civil war and up to the present day. Guided tours of the Roman foundations and Norman roof take place at set times throughout the day for a small fee. There is a restaurant and gift shop. Colchester Castle (Q198287) on Wikidata Colchester Castle on Wikipedia
  • 2 Castle Park (main entrance east end of Colchester High Street next to the castle). Daily 7:30AM-evening (locked overnight). A fairly large park in the grounds of Colchester castle. Annual events held there include cricket matches (there is a cricket week every year when Essex CC play visiting counties), music festivals and a fireworks display in November.
  • 3 Balkerne Water Tower (Jumbo), Balkerne Gate, CO1 1PT (follow the road to the right of the Centurion pub). 40 m (130 ft) high square imposing victorian water tower Jumbo Water Tower (Q12060917) on Wikidata Jumbo Water Tower on Wikipedia

Museums and galleries[edit]

Colchester is home to 3 museums, each one housed in a different beautiful old building and offering a different insight into the history behind Colchester. It is also home to 2 galleries, each offering a distinct approach to the presentation of art and housed in beautiful neighbouring buildings, one contemporary and one historic:

  • 4 The Castle Museum, Castle Park, CO1 1TJ, +44 1206 282939. M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM, last admission 4:30PM. Colchester Castle is the largest Norman Keep in Europe. Archaeological collections of international quality covering 2,500 years of history are beautifully showcased, including some of the most important Roman finds in Britain. Adult £7.75 children (4-16) or concessions £4.80, family ticket (2 adults 2 children) £21.00. Colchester Castle (Q198287) on Wikidata Colchester Castle on Wikipedia
  • 5 The Hollytrees Museum, Castle Park, CO1 1UG, +44 1206 282940. M-Sa 10AM-5PM, closed on Sundays. A beautiful Georgian building presenting domestic life and childhood in Colchester over the past 300 years. Find out about the origin of the famous nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", which was written in Colchester! Free admission. Hollytrees Museum (Q5882457) on Wikidata Hollytrees Museum on Wikipedia
  • 6 The Natural History Museum, High St, Colchester, CO1 1DN, +44 1206 282941. Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. A fascinating chance to get closer to nature. Find out about wildlife habitats, biodiversity and climate change. Free.
  • 7 The Minories, 74 High Street, CO1 1UE, +44 1206 612428, . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, closed on Sundays. The Minories is Colchester's oldest art gallery, opening its doors to the public in 1956. It shows a diverse range of contemporary art and design by artists and makers from the eastern region as well as historic work that relates to Colchester. It has a beautiful walled garden (perhaps Colchester's best kept secret) and a cafe serving good quality homemade local produce. Free. The Minories (Q15979563) on Wikidata The Minories, Colchester on Wikipedia
  • 8 Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street, CO1 1JH, +44 1206 577067. 10AM-5PM. Contemporary visual arts centre with exhibitions and workshops located in a new building. Also a restaurant. Firstsite (Q5454287) on Wikidata Firstsite on Wikipedia

Out of the city[edit]

  • 9 Colchester Zoo, Maldon Road, Stanway, CO3 0SL. Makes an interesting day out for the family. With some of the best cat and primate collections in Europe. It was once named the 'Large Visitor Attraction of the Year' by Visit Britain. It's well worth a visit. Colchester Zoo (Q5142118) on Wikidata Colchester Zoo on Wikipedia
  • 10 Bourne Mill, Bourne Road, CO2 8RT, +44 1206 549799, . Late Mar to Oct: W-Su Bank Holidays 11AM-5PM. Picturesque watermill with working waterwheel. A delightful piece of late Elizabethan playfulness. Built for banquets and converted into a mill in the 19th century. Just a mile south of Colchester sits Bourne Mill, a grade 1 listed building steeped in history. It was built as a fishing lodge in 1591, converted to a fulling mill around 1640 and then converted to a corn mill in about 1840, which continued working until the 1930s. It is well worth a visit for all the family. Bourne Mill is set in tranquil grounds, next to a millpond and babbling stream. The mill still has a working waterwheel and the grounds give plenty of scope for family fun. The grounds have a pond, wetlands and woods and are home to a variety of wildlife including birds, bats, waterfowl, bugs and beetles. Refreshments, shop, limited on-site parking Adults £3.75, children £1.90.
  • 11 Beth Chatto's Gardens, Clacton Rd, Elmstead CO7 7DB, +44 1206 822007. Mar-Nov: W-Sa 10AM-5PM. On one level it's simply a large garden centre, but the draw is the extensive show gardens, inspiration for all sorts of tricky corners and habitats. One neat example is the gravel garden, which never needs watering. Adult £10, child £2.
  • 12 Green Island Gardens, Park Road, Ardleigh CO7 7SP, +44 1206 230455. Jan-Nov: Tu-Su 10AM-5PM. A series of structured gardens over 20 acres: seaside, Japanese, woodland, gravel. Adult £8, child £2.50.

Mersea Island[edit]

Mersea Causeway The Strood

A small island in the estuary of the River Blackwater. The northern end of the island is mostly made up of marshland but there are three settlements on the southern half - Barrow Hill (which consists of several houses along a road), East Mersea (a small collection of farms, a post office, a pub, a couple of holiday parks and an outdoor youth centre) and West Mersea, a small fishing town most notable for it's seafood, fish and chips, countless pubs, a few small independent shops and a Co-op supermarket. It is quite a pleasant place to wander around with many miles of beaches. The island can be reached by car along the B1025 from Colchester (approx 9 miles) and crossing the Strood causeway (which was built by the Romans) onto the island.

During high tides, the causeway is likely to flood which effectively cuts off the island from the rest of society as it is the only road access. Only spring tides (as opposed to neap tides [1]) will flood the Strood and these normally occur when high tide is midday/early afternoon though weather conditions can affect the times, height and duration of the access being flooded. Bus service 67 runs every 30 minutes from Colchester Bus Station to West Mersea High Street. Journey time is roughly 30–40 minutes depending on the route taken and the time of day.

The island is also known for its oyster beds and local oysters are served several specialist restaurants on Coast Road, West Mersea.

  • 1 West Mersea Oyster Bar, Coast Road, West Mersea, CO5 8LT (at junction of Coast Rd and Victory Rd), +44 1206 381600. Opening times vary through year; check web site. £12.
  • The Company Shed is another close by, W-Su 10AM-5PM.


Once a small fishing town on the River Colne to the south of Colchester, Wivenhoe is separated from Colchester by the University of Essex. It has grown considerably over the last few years as it has become a popular place for London commuters to live because of the good rail links. However, the waterfront area and the High Street are still very traditional with lots of small independent shops, restaurants, pubs, a fish and chip shop and a Co-op supermarket. Wivenhoe can be reached in about 20 minutes by car by taking the A133 out of town past the university and then taking the Wivenhoe exit. There is free parking just off of the High Street and outside the Co-op supermarket, as well as long-stay Pay and Display parking at the train station. (Note that cars cannot use Boundary Road at the University as a shortcut as barriers restrict access to buses and university traffic). Trains run every 30 minutes from Colchester North to Wivenhoe, and every hour from Colchester Town. Buses 61 and 62 run every 10 minutes from Colchester High Street to Wivenhoe. Service 61 takes a very indirect route. Wivenhoe can also be easily reached by foot or cycle along the Wivenhoe Cycle Trail which starts from Colchester Castle Park, runs through the Hythe and along the river, ending up at Wivenhoe Station.


Colchester is served by two cinemas; the Odeon on Head Street and the newer Curzon on Queen Street. The Odeon is usually cheaper, but the Curzon is superior in terms of comfort, service, and variety of films.

There is also a theatre, the Mercury, which puts on shows throughout the year.

Colchester is also home to a large number of important historic and archaeological sites, including Britain's oldest Roman city walls; the ruins of St. Botolph's Priory and St. John's Abbey; the oldest Roman gateway in the country, and Britain's only discovered Roman Circus (chariot race track).

For an overview of the city, you can pick up a hop-on-hop-off tour with the Colchester City Sightseeing open-top bus, which can be found at the gates of Castle Park.

Colchester Arts Centre


Colchester has a large selection of shops, ranging from those you would find in any large town (Marks & Spencer, Debenhams etc.) to many small individual shops. The High Street is the place to start: it is here you will find a large and modern Fenwicks department store (formerly Williams & Griffin). However, if you take one of the small turnings on the right as you go down the High Street you will find yourself in a warren of small semi-pedestrianised roads full of interesting things to buy. You can create and dress your own teddy bear at Build-a-Bear in Culver Square or treat yourself to some chocolates from Godiva in Eld Lane. There are some lovely old buildings and plenty of cafes to refresh the heavy-laden shopper.

On weekends there is a market along the High Street, and on the first Sunday of every month there is a farmers' market in the grounds of the Mercury Theatre.

If you are looking for appropriate souvenirs of your stay, the shop in the Castle Museum has plenty to buy with a Roman theme.

  • 1 Waterstones Bookshop, 12-13 High St, CO1 1DA. 9AM=5:30PM. behind 6 high classical columns


  • 2 Waitrose (Supermarket), St Andrews Av, CO4 3BQ (, +44 1206 861230. M-Th Sa 8AM-8PM, F 8AM-9PM, Su 10AM-4PM. Cafe.
  • 3 Asda (Supermarket), Turner Rise, CO4 5TU (close to town railway station.), +44 1206 543159. M 7AM-midnight, Tu-F 24 hr, Sa midnight-10PM, Su 10AM-4PM. Petrol station (different hours). Pharmacy (different hours).
  • 4 Sainsbury's (Supermarket), 1 Western Approach, Stanway, CO3 8AA (W side of city), +44 1206 748440. M-Sa 6AM-midnight, Su 10AM-4PM.


Outside of the eateries listed above, Colchester boasts an impressive range and variety of independent restaurants and cafes including the Three Wise Monkeys microbrewery & restaurant.



  • 13 Cafe Nero, 152 High St, CO1 1PN (On the 1st floor of Fenwicks at the front), +44 1206 548 186. 9AM-5PM.


Stay safe[edit]

Proclaimed by some as the safest town in the UK, Colchester is safe and you should take the usual precautions. Petty crime is quite rare. Be careful where you leave your car, particularly after dark, as car theft can be a problem. Several downtown multi-storey car parks are open 24 hours and are much safer than the surface lots around the edge of the city centre (which are unstaffed and often meeting points for illegal street racers). The 'loop' road around the city centre (Cowdray Avenue, East Hill, Southway and Balkerne hill) becomes an impromptu race-track for illegal street racers at night; be on the lookout for people driving dangerously. The city centre can become rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights around pub-closing time so try to avoid getting into fights and stay in big groups. Fortunately taxis are cheap and easy to find at this time. There are a couple of areas that can be dangerous, particularly after dark. Most notable are Greenstead (a large council housing development in the east), the area around Harwich Road known as 'White City', and the Monkwick estate near the Army Garrisson in the south; however these areas have little to offer for tourists.


As of Feb 2023, Colchester has 5G with EE, O2 and Three, and 4G with Vodafone.

Go next[edit]

Routes through Colchester
LondonWitham  SW  NE  → Dedham Vale → Ipswich

This city travel guide to Colchester is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.