Britain’s First Capital: Interesting things to do in Colchester

Colchester Castle

Although small, Colchester is home to many sights including its unique Roman ruins, an old Norman castle and plenty of history. Check out what to find in friendly Colchester. (Prices checked in 2022).

What to do in Colchester

Colchester city is relatively small and, therefore, it is possible to visit all the places on foot, for a pleasant walk. Without further ado, here are our top 5 suggestions of places to visit in Colchester.

1. Roman theater

In a semi-hidden house next to Castle Park is the site of an ancient Roman theater that was built in Colchester and was discovered during excavations carried out between 1981-82. The first time I passed by there, I hadn’t found the place, but I looked more carefully, walking calmly down the street and, finally, I found it. In this place, it is possible to see the ruins of the old theater that had a capacity of 3 thousand seats. It was built in 49 A.D. in the shape of a “D” and was used for performances of plays, speeches and also a place to worship their gods. Today, at the site of the ruins, there is also a model showing what the architecture of the building would look like.

  • Address:  Maidenburgh St, Colchester CO1 1TT, England
  • Opening hours: not informed
  • Entrance:  free

2. Firstsite Art Gallery

Firstsite is a contemporary art gallery that opened in 2011. Even before entering the gallery, I was impressed by the super modern architecture of the building, which seems to float! With several temporary exhibitions, Firstsite seeks to bring the transformative power of art to everyone. The gallery prides itself on being “a national leader in commissioning new works of art, providing innovative learning opportunities and supporting the professional development of local and regional artists”.

  • Address:  Lewis Gardens, High St, Colchester CO1 1JH, England
  • Hours:  daily from 10 am to 5 pm
  • Entrance:  free

3. Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle was one of the first castles built after the Norman invasion in 1066, at the request of William the Conqueror, being built over an ancient Roman temple from the 6th century. The building is the largest Norman keep in Europe. The castle has had many uses since it ceased to be a royal castle and, for a long time, was a prison. It was only in the 1920s that it was acquired by the city of Colchester and became a museum, with several exhibits with objects found by archaeologists on the site, as well as historical information from the city’s medieval times.

  • Address:  Castle Park, Colchester CO1 1TJ, UK
  • Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm / Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm
  • Admission:  £7.75 / Tours: £3 + admission

4. Hollytrees museum

The Hollytrees Museum is housed in a large house built between 1718-19 at the request of Elizabeth Cornelisen as her private residence. However, Elizabeth died before the estate was completed and never came to live there. It was her niece Sarah Creffeild who inherited the house. She was married to Charles Gray, a lawyer, deputy and administrator of the British Museum. The name Hollytrees is due to Charles Gray’s effort to plant holly trees and landscape the surrounding land. The building was used as a family residence until 1920, when it was sold to the City of Colchester. In 1929, the site opened to the public as a museum of medieval antiquities.

  • Address:  Castle Rd, Colchester CO1 1UG, UK
  • Hours:  Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm / Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm
  • Entrance:  free

5. Castle park

Castle Park is a huge 11-hectare public park that sits on the grounds of Colchester Castle. Right at the main entrance you will see a War Memorial and the gates to access the park.

It is divided into two parts (Upper Park and Lower Park) by a Roman wall that crosses it. In this wall, the Duncan’s Gate stands out, an ancient Roman gate built on the site to give access to the River Colne, which also cuts through the park. The gate was named after Dr. PM Duncan, who excavated the site in 1853. 

Inside the park you find the Colchester Castle, the Hollytrees Museum, as well as many green areas, a golf course, cricket, amusement park, a bandstand, a Café, a lake for boating. On summer days, many families gather to have picnics in the grassy areas, sit on benches to enjoy the scenery. A great place to relax and recover energy.

If you have a few days to explore the region, and especially if you are visiting from outside of Essex, you can use it as a base to discover all of Essex’s main sights and sounds.

If you are interested in horse racing, then you must make a visit to one of the UK’s newest racecourses, Chelmsford Racecourse. Just down the A120, which takes you through beautiful Coggleshall, you will find Chelmsford Racecourse, which is to the North of Chelmsford.

If you always have to visit a casino on a holiday, then you will need to head south to Southend-on-Sea, but most people in Colchester choose to play lottery online instead, which gives more time to enjoy all the delights of the historic town.

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