Plan your day out in Colchester

Britain's oldest recorded town has much more to offer than a couple of millennia of history. It's also loaded with shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as some of the region's best cultural and entertainment venues.​

Colchester's main shopping area is located on and around the long, wide High Street. You'll find most of your favourite big name brands there, many of which are housed in the three modern shopping malls: Lion Walk, Culver Square and St John's Walk. On the High Street itself, there's also the long-established Fenwick department store (formerly Williams & Griffin), featuring everything from fashion to furniture displayed over six floors.

The colourful stalls of Colchester's street market line up in the High Street every Friday and Saturday, with a wide variety of goods on offers, from fresh produce to clothes and homewares. During the summer, there is a farmers' market every Sunday morning on the Town Green.

Built on the foundations of a Roman temple, Colchester's impressive Norman castle is one of the largest and best-preserved in Europe. Inside you'll find archaeological collections spanning 2,500 years, including some of the most important Roman finds in the country. There are also interactive displays and dressing up boxes for kids.

Find out more about Colchester Castle

Colchester's only Saxon building is now home to the GO4 café and vintage indoor market. In the churchyard, you'll find the grave of William Gilberd, most famous for being Queen Elizabeth I's doctor and the man who discovered electro-magnetism.

Find out more about Holy Trinity Church

Visit this handsome Georgian house to explore domestic history and childhood in Colchester over the last 300 years through displays of toys, costumes and decorative arts. You'll meet many characters from the past and discover what family life was like for both rich and poor.

Find out more about Hollytrees Museum

A short walk south of the High Street you'll find the remains of this 12th century Augustinian priory church, the first of its kind in England. It may be a ruin, but you can still appreciate the magnificence of one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the country.

Find out more about St Botolph's Priory

Another Colchester first, this is the oldest town wall in Britain. Built following Boudica's rather easy ransacking of the town in AD60, it includes the Balkerne Gate, which was upgraded to a triumphal arch to honour the emperor Claudius.

Find out more about Colchester's roman wall

Close to the Town Hall, this beautiful medieval church is an early example of up-cycling, with many Roman bricks re-used to build its walls and soaring tower. Interior treasures include a wagon roof, Jacobean woodwork and a green man carving.

Find out more about St Martin's Church

You may be lucky enough to catch a craft fair or exhibition in this magnificent neo-Baroque Victorian architectural masterpiece, designed by John Belcher and opened by the Earl of Rosebery in 1902. The Council Chamber's ceiling has an amazing classical fresco depicting the twelve months of the year.

Find out more about Colchester Town Hall

The Natural History Museum enables families to really get close to nature. Explore wildlife habitats and learn about stag beetles – a Colchester success story and discover the secrets of the drowned world underneath the North Sea. Throughout the year Colchester Museums put on a programme of engaging and fun-packed activities.

Find out more about Colchester Natural History Msueum

Featuring a wonderfully eclectic mix of events, this enterprising, award-winning arts centre is based in a deconsecrated church. The programme ranges from poetry, performance art and fringe theatre to folk, jazz, rock, world music, children's shows and big names on the comedy circuit.

Visit the Colchester Arts Centre website

Colchester's most iconic contemporary building is an amazing golden, crescent-shaped structure, designed by world-famous architect Rafael Vinoly. It's the home of East Anglia's contemporary visual arts organisation, which presents exhibitions, commissions, residencies and film screenings there.

Visit the Firstsite website

One of the country's most respected regional theatres, the Mercury has been an important part of Colchester's cultural life since the early 1970s. It's the most active producing theatre in East Anglia and features an exciting programme of touring events, including West End shows, music and comedy.

Visit the Mercury Theatre website

Run by the Colchester School of Art, this elegant contemporary art space is housed in a listed Georgian building close to the town centre and next door to Firstsite. There's also a shop selling local arts and crafts and a popular café in the walled garden.

Find out more about the Minories Galleries

Offering a state-of-the-art contemporary cinema experience, with both 2D and 3D, this eight-screen multiplex also has a Costa coffee bar and a Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlour. For a touch of luxury choose the premier seat ticket option.

Visit the Colchester Odeon Cinema website

Originally an Elizabethan fishing lodge, this charming little National Trust property was converted into a water mill in 1640. It still has a working waterwheel and the lovely grounds include a mill pond (perfect for pond dipping) and woodland walks.

Find out more about Bourne Mill

With the town's stunning Norman fortress as its centrepiece, Castle Park is a delightful green space where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the town. Created in the Victorian era, it reflects the town's rich heritage, as well as serving as a hub of modern-day community life. Wander through the award-winning gardens, play games or simply chill out for a while.

Find out more about Castle Park

Just a mile or so from Colchester North station, High Woods is a bona fide country retreat with woodland, parkland and wildflower meadows. It's the perfect place for a picnic and there are some excellent play areas, incorporating natural elements such as wood, rock and trees. The award-winning park also provides places to live for an array of wildlife.

Find out more about High Woods Country Park

Whether you're a fan of chains like Costa and Starbucks or you prefer somewhere that offers a more home-made experience, Colchester has your kind of café. Head for Trinity Street and you'll find two excellent establishments close to each other. The GO4 Market Café in Holy Trinity Church is at the centre of a busy indoor vintage market. The Art Café across the road is part café, part exhibition space, showing original paintings, etchings, linocuts, ceramics, jewellery and photography. Other distinctive places to relax and enjoy some light refreshments include Café Salsa in Eld Lane and the Batte-Lay Tea Room at the Minories Galleries, run by the world-famous Tiptree-based preserves company Wilkin & Sons.

The range of eateries in Colchester is extensive. There's everything your tastebuds could wish for, including the ever-popular pizza and pasta parlours, traditional pub grub and a world of ethnic specialities such as Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese. National brands pepper the High Street and surrounding areas, including branches of Zizzi, Pizza Express and Nando's. As for the independents, the choice is huge, ranging from well-established favourites such as the Maharani Indian Restaurant on the High Street to relative newcomers such as Mussi's (just around the corner), which serves English and Continental cooking with a Mediterranean twist. For fine dining in a stylish setting, there's Memoirs, housed in a Grade 1 listed former library.

As with any big town, Colchester has the fast food market all wrapped up. Unsurprisingly, the big brands in the town centre are mostly on or close to the High Street, ranging from McDonalds and Subway to Greggs and KFC. On North Hill and other thoroughfares or side streets you'll find lots of choice from the independent sector, including fish and chip shops, sandwich bars and kebab houses.

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