Colchester is a town 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 is a picturesque provincial town 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 misspeling of "Camulod(unum)" by an early chronicler unaware of the name change to "Colchester".
The town'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 town 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.
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Rail and coach timetables into and around Colchester can be found on the County Council's website.
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 town 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 1-2 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 town 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.
- 2 Colchester Town Station, St. Botolphs Circus, CO2 7EF. At the St. Botolphs road junction in the south-east of the town 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.
- 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.
- 4 Wivenhoe, Station Rd, Wivenhoe, CO7 9DJ. Serves the attractive riverside suburb/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.
- 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.
The two main operators in the town are First Essex and Network Colchester, with Chambers (services from Sudbury), Hedingham Omnibuses (services from surrounding areas), Beestons (services from Dedham), New Horizon (services from Great Bentley) and Regal (evening and Sunday journeys on routes normally provided by other operators). Most services run from the Temporary Bus Station on Queen Street but will pick up at other stops around the town centre.
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 (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).
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.
The town centre is easily walkable and much of it is pedestrianised. The town core is encircled by High Street, Queen Street, Osbourne Street, St Johns Street and Head Street. Castle Park covers much of the north-eastern town centre and makes for a pleasant traffic-free stroll out of the town centre.
Driving around Colchester isn't too much hassle, although traffic tends to come to a standstill during the rush-hours. Within the town-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 town 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 Borough 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 town centre requires a residents parking permit, so it's not advisable to park there as you may incur a parking penalty.
Local buses have limited use to the average visitor as almost everything is whithin 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 town centre via the inner one-way system, which can be confusing, e.g. if you enter the town centre from the rail station, you will alight on High-Street (this is the first stop in the town 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
Colchester is an attractive place to cycle, and 2 National Cycle Routes pass through the town. Due to heavy traffic and narrow roads, cycling in the town 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 town 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.
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:
- 1 Colchester Castle. The largest Norman keep in Britain, build on the foundations of the Roman temple to Claudius it has the town 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.
- 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 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, and recent winner of the 'Large Visitor Attraction of the Year' Award, it's well worth a visit.
Museums and galleries
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, ☏ . 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.
- 5 The Hollytrees Museum, Castle Park, CO1 1UG, ☏ . 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.
- 6 The Natural History Museum, High St, Colchester, CO1 1DN, ☏ . 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, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
- 8 Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street, CO1 1JH, ☏ . 10AM-5PM. Contemporary visual arts centre with exhibitions and workshops located in a new building. Also a restaurant.
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 tacky 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 ) 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 (some peak hour services also pick up/drop off at Colchester North rail station), although as it is the only public transport option the fare is very high (roughly £4 single, £6 return), meaning that it is cheaper to travel to Chelmsford from Colchester by bus, which is roughly 3 times as far. Journey time is roughly 30–40 minutes depending on the route taken and the time of day. There are no buses to East Mersea other than school services. During the summer there is a ferry service from East Mersea to Point Clear and Brightlingsea on the Tendring peninsular.
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), ☏ . Opening times vary through year; check web site. £12.
Once a small fishing town on the River Colne to the south of Colchester, Wivenhoe is now a suburb separated from the rest of the town 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.
- 9 Bourne Mill, Bourne Road, CO2 8RT, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Late March 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.
The only cinema in Colchester is the multiplex Odeon on Head Street which has 8 screens and shows all of the big blockbuster movies. It occasionally puts on alternative and foreign films. The prices are on the expensive side so take your own snacks.
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 town, 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.
- 1 Colchester Arts Centre, Church St, Colchester, CO1 1NF, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Box office M-Sa 10:30AM-5:30PM. Full and varied program of mainly performances (music, drama)
- 2 Rollerworld (Roller Skating Rink), Eastgates, Colchester CO1 2TJ, ☏ .
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 Williams and Griffin's, which is an awarding-winning department store and part of the Fenwick group (with great views from the top-floor restaurant). 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.
If you are looking for appropriate souvenirs of your stay, the shop in the Castle Museum has plenty to buy with a Roman theme.
The Colchester discount voucher scheme can save you money at your local business. Townvoucher.com offers great bargains from your shops, pubs restaurant and events.
- 1 Waitrose (Supermarket), St Andrews Av, Colchester, CO4 3BQ (http://www.waitrose.com/bf_home/bf/455.html), ☏ . M-Th Sa 8AM-8PM, F 8AM-9PM, Su 10AM-4PM. Cafe.
- 2 Asda (Supermarket), Turner Rise, Colchester, CO4 5TU (close to town railway station.), ☏ . M 7AM-midnight, Tu-F 24 hr, Sa midnight-10PM, Su 10AM-4PM. Petrol station (different hours). Pharmacy (different hours).
- 3 Sainsbury's (Supermarket), 1 Western Approach, Stanway, CO3 8AA (W side of town), ☏ . M-Sa 6AM-midnight, Su 10AM-4PM.
- 2 Peldon Rose, Peldon, C05 7QJ (7 miles S of Colchester), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Fine dining. Accepts reservations.
- 3 Naka Thai (Restaurant), 35 East Hill, Colchester CO1 2QX, ☏ . M 6-11PM, Tu-Su noon-2PM & 6-11PM. Free Wi-Fi.
- 4 Ask Italian (Restaurant), 16 North Hill, Colchester, CO1 1DZ, ☏ . Su-Th 11AM-10PM, F Sa 11AM-11PM. Free Wi-Fi.
- 5 Zizzi (Pizza & Pasta Restaurant & Take-away), 12 Headgate, Colchester, CO3 3BT, ☏ . M-W 11:30AM-11PM, Th-Sa 11:30AM-11:30PM, Su 11:30AM-10:30PM. Free Wi-Fi.
- 6 Alishan Indian Tandori (Restaurant & Take-away), 19 Osbourne St, Colchester, CO2 7DP, ☏ . Su-Th 6AM-10:30PM, F Sa 6AM-11PM.
- 7 Bills Restaurant, 135 -137 High St, Colchester, CO1 1SP, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Th 8AM-10PM, F Sa 8AM-11PM, Su 9AM-10PM. Free Wi-Fi.
- 1 The Abbey Arms, 4-5 St Johns Green, Colchester, CO2 7HA, ☏ .
- 2 The Goat & Boot, 70 East Hill, Colchester, CO1 2QW, ☏ . M-Th noon-midnight, F Sa noon-1AM, Su noon-11PM, Food daily noon-7PM. Free Wi-Fi.
- 3 The Forester's Arms (Pub & Food), 1-2 Castle Rd, Colchester, CO1 1UW, ☏ .
- 4 The Fox & Fiddler, 1 St Johns St, Colchester, CO3 3AN, ☏ . M-Sa 11:30AM-11PM, Su 11AM-11PM.
- 5 [dead link] The Hole in the Wall, Balkerne Hill, Colchester, CO3 3AA, ☏ . Daily 11AM-midnight.
- 6 The Hospital Arms, Crouch St, Colchester, CO3 3HA, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Provides excellent real ale.
- 7 The Odd One Out, 28 Mersea Rd, Colchester, CO2 7ET, ☏ . Provides excellent real ale.
- 8 The Playhouse, 4 St John's St, Colchester, CO2 7AA, ☏ . M-Th 8AM-midnight, F Sa 8AM-1AM, Su 8AM-midnight. A Wetherspoon pub.
- 9 Wig and Pen, 156 High St, Colchester, CO1 1PG, ☏ .
- 1 The George Hotel, 116 High St, Colchester, CO1 1TD, ☏ .
- 2 The Riverside Hotel, 2 North Station Rd, Colchester, CO1 1RB, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 3 Dragonfly Hotel (formerly Ramada), A12/A120 Ardleigh Junction, CO7 7QY, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon. Ramada hotel with 50 non-smoking rooms and 100 on-site parking spaces. Each room includes bath and/or shower, work desk, flat screen freeview TV and complimentary Wi-Fi. Some rooms have been adapted to allow for easier access.
- 4 Pescara House (B&B), 88 Manor Rd, Colchester, CO3 3LY, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Min 3 nights. No weekends only. Free Wi-Fi. from £30 per night per person.
- 5 Four Sevens (B&B/Guest House), 28 Inglis Rd, Colchester, CO3 3HU, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Free Wi-Fi. No children under 5.
- 6 Hideaway Retreat (B&B), 53 Anthony Close, St Johns, Colchester, CO4 0LD, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Single occupancy £55 per night; double occupancy £65-75 per night.
Proclaimed by some as the safest town in the UK, by others as a run-down, crime-infested dump, generally 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 town centre (which are unstaffed and often meeting points for illegal street racers). The 'loop' road around the town 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 town 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 no-go 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. Try to avoid drinking in the so-called 'Squaddy' pubs near the Army Garrisson in South Colchester as they can be very rowdy and fights involving members of the military can be common. Avoid taking trains from Hythe Station after dark as the station is poorly lit, isolated and has no staff and little CCTV. If you do have to take a train from here, wait by the level crossing on the street and don't enter the platform until the train pulls in - don't wait on the platform.
- Ipswich - gateway to Suffolk
- Lavenham - picturesque medieval town
- Frinton-on-Sea - quiet sea side town
- London - trains to London Liverpool Street depart frequently
|Routes through Colchester|
|London ← Witham ←||SW NE||→ Dedham Vale → Ipswich|