10 things to love about Southend
Words by Helen Dorritt
Southend has something to offer all year round, but this seaside resort really comes into its own in the summer. Check out our mini guide to the town and tick off the top 10 things to do on your next visit.
1 The beaches
Let’s start with the obvious attraction: Southend has over seven miles of beaches to explore. City Beach is on the central seafront and right next to Adventure Island and Sealife Adventure (more on them below).
Three Shells, Shoebury Common and Thorpe Bay all have prestigious Blue Flag status, meaning that their water quality and facilities are among the best in the country. And if you want a glimpse of working maritime life, head to Bell Wharf to watch local fishermen bring in their catch.
2 The pier
At 1.34 miles (2.6km), Southend’s pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world and is Grade II-listed. And on this long expanse, stretching into the Thames estuary, there’s plenty to amuse the whole family.
Check out the Royal Pavilion, a venue built in 2012 that has a regularly changing programme of exhibitions, and the RNLI Lifeboat Station, one of the busiest in the country. Challenge Olga the Octopus when you play a game of watery themed mini golf, then refuel with an ice cream or two at the Salt Cafe. And once you’ve walked down the length of the pier, why not get the pier train back to the shore?
3 The carnival
This annual event fills the seafront with illuminated floats, dancing, music and more, watched by over 20,000 people. It’s also an opportunity to support local charities, who collect money from the crowd – last year they raised nearly £8,000.
This year the carnival is taking place on Saturday 17 August, starting at 6.45pm from Southchurch Park, going past City Beach around 7.30pm and finishing at Shorefield Road around 9pm.
4 Sealife Adventure
Learn more about fish, marine creatures and other animals with a trip to Sealife Adventure. Originally an aquarium, Sealife Adventure has recently been expanded to include areas with meerkats, otters, reptiles, insects and penguins alongside sharks, rays, seahorses, crocodiles and many more.
Take advantage of our great offer, where you can get £2 off adult and child tickets.
5 The festivals
Southend has a packed schedule of festivals and this isn’t just restricted to the summer months. From 7–12 October Southend hosts an autumn jazz festival, culminating with the Big Jazz Blowout in which the Park Inn Palace Hotel is hosting a selection of the biggest names in British Jazz on three stages over the course of one day. For fans of the big screen and big screams, don’t miss the Horror on Sea film festival from 11–20 January at the same venue, with enough screenings to keep even the most devoted horror aficionado happy.
If horror isn’t your thing, then the Southend Film Festival from 23–27 May has something for everyone, with films from all genres, talks and more.
6 Adventure Island
Set right in the heart of the seafront, Adventure Island is the UK’s number one free admission theme park. Once inside, you use a wristband system to go on the rides – and we’ve got a great money-saving offer that will make a great day out even cheaper.
Rides include rollercoasters for all ages, water slides, trains, carousels and much, much more. Rain doesn’t need to stop the fun, either, as there’s also a huge indoor entertainment centre with more rides and soft play.
7 The galleries and museums
While you can’t guarantee sunshine, even in the summer, you can use rainy days to check out Southend’s excellent collection of galleries and museums. Focal Point Gallery is a contemporary visual arts organisation based in the central library and which also curates exhibitions and projects around the town. Beecroft Art Gallery has an impressive collection of art, including paintings by Constable, as well as clothing through the ages – and if you visit the gallery, be sure to claim your free book.
Central Museum describes the history of the local area, while the Southend Planetarium explores the night sky. And if you love historical buildings, check out the medieval Prittlewell Priory and Southchurch Hall, which features a series of period rooms.
8 The Cliff Lift
One of Southend’s more quirky attractions is the Cliff Lift, an amazing contraption that lifts you up 40m at a 43% gradient – and all for the bargain price of 50p! Once you’re at the top, you get amazing views of the pier and the Thames estuary.
Opened in 1912, the lift underwent a £3 million restoration in 2010, ensuring this heritage attraction will keep running for many years to come.
9 The skatepark
Designed in collaboration with the skating, scooter and BMX community, the skatepark will be accessible for all ages and abilities with a combi-pool and multi-level facilities.
10 The architecture
Southend has some gorgeous historical buildings to enjoy exploring, many of which have listed status. Drop into the Royal Hotel, built in 1791, and have a look at its stunning period architecture (don’t miss the ballroom) while partaking in afternoon tea, a cocktail or a meal. The Palace Theatre is a delightful red brick Edwardian musical hall that still retains many of its original features, including domed boxes, ornate frames and a sweeping staircase.
Another highlight is the Kursaal, a Grade II-listed building with a distinctive glass dome, and which is one of the oldest purpose-built amusement parks in the world. Going further back in time, Southchurch Hall dates to the 13th century, as does Foxhall Farmhouse.