The 15 best city breaks, seaside holidays and country retreats within two hours of Essex – Essex Live
2020 has become the year of the staycation.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that far less people have been travelling abroad for holidays.
Closed borders and strict quarantine rules have made people look for places to stay closer to home.
In Essex we have some beautiful towns and villages, but if you want to travel a little bit further we are really spoilt for choice.
There are so many options available, from big city breaks, to seaside holidays and county retreats, there is something for everyone.
Here are the 15 best places for a staycation, within a two hour drive from Essex.
London really isn’t that far away (Image: PA)
If you want a city break, then London is the most obvious choice.
There are countless hotels available.
It’s not always cheap, but there are so many places to choose from.
If you would like to stick to a tighter budget, it’s a good idea to find somewhere to stay outside of the city centre.
However, if money isn’t a problem, you can find some of the UK’s and even the world’s best hotels in the capital.
Despite many places still being closed because of the pandemic, London still has some amazing attractions you can visit.
It is also amazing for shopping, with several shopping centres, and some of the best high streets you will find.
You can also visit some of the UK’s most famous landmarks, such as the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
London really isn’t far from Essex.
Even for the furthest towns, you can get to the city in less than two hours.
Cambridge is a beautiful place for a staycation (Image: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
Another great city break for people who live in Essex is a trip to Cambridge.
This city is packed full of history and things to see.
Museum lovers will fit right in here, with plenty of exhibitions open to visit.
It is also a lovely place for a romantic get-away with the famous punting tours available to book.
Cambridge is also a popular place for those who are good with a camera.
The beautiful university buildings and the River Cam both make amazing photo shoot locations.
You won’t be short for somewhere to stay in this city, with plenty of hotels available to suit all budgets.
There are also lots of restaurants and cafés for all tastes.
You can get to the centre of Cambridge in just over an hour from Chelmsford, an hour and 20 minutes from Colchester and in an hour and 40 minutes from Southend-on-Sea.
Norwich Castle (Image: Cambridge News)
Norwich can be reached in less than two hours from most Essex towns.
It is great city to visit if you have a love of shopping.
As well as having some beautiful streets filled with both High Street and independent shops, Norwich also has an amazing market.
With around 200 stalls, the permanent market takes centre stage next to the St Peter Mancroft church in the centre of the city.
Norwich is also home to a castle.
Norwich Castle is a medieval royal fortification in the city centre.
Dating back to the rule of William the Conquerer, the castle is now a museum.
Visitors can learn all about Norwich’s history, as well as getting great views over the city centre from the castle.
From Colchester, you can get to Norwich in an hour and a half, from Chelmsford in an hour and 50 and from Harlow in an hour and 50 minutes.
Peterborough Cathedral (Image: Keith Jones)
Peterborough is another city that can be reached within two hours of many Essex towns.
It is very well known for its cathedral.
The 900-year-old Norman cathedral is very popular with visitors who are interested in local history.
There are also a number of beautiful walks in the city, perfect for anyone who likes to be outdoors.
Peterborough also hosts a number of big events each year, including the Heritage Festival, the Italian Festival, Diwali Festival, Peterborough CAMRA Beer Festival and the Perkins Great Eastern Run.
There are also some great shopping opportunities in the city, including the Queensgate Shopping Centre and the city market.
Theatre lovers will find plenty to do, with three theatres offering drama, ballet and concerts.
Peterborough has four sports centres and a number of bars and nightclubs for those looking for a night out.
You can get to the city in an hour and 40 minutes from Chelmsford, an hour and a half from Braintree and an hour and 50 minutes from Colchester.
Canterbury Cathedral (Image: Tony Netone)
Canterbury is a popular holiday destination for a number of reasons.
It is recommended to spend at least a few days in the city to really make the most of what it has to offer.
The annual Canterbury Festival is a real highlight, showcasing performances in dance, music as well as science and family events.
Canterbury is a cathedral city, with the stunning cathedral being the top voted attraction.
Visitors can also enjoy a whole variety of other historical sites, such as St Augustine’s Abbey, Westgate Towers and Christ Church Gate.
There are plenty of tours you can book to take you around the city to see all of the landmarks.
From Basildon you can get to Canterbury in one hour and 15 minutes, from Colchester it takes an hour and 45 and from Southend-on-Sea it will take around an hour and a half.
Hastings Pier (Image: britainonview/ Sheradon Dublin)
Hastings is a great holiday destination for the whole family.
With stunning views across the sea, this coastal town has a lot to offer.
For families there is a fun park at the sea front, with lots of games, rides and attractions and there is also a pier.
Of course, the town has a lot of history and is most famous for the 1066 Norman conquest.
There are plenty of places nearby to learn some more about the history.
Hastings is also great for shopping – there are lots of independent shops in the old town, as well as a modern High Street nearby.
You won’t struggle to find somewhere to eat, with pubs, restaurants and cafés everywhere you look.
Accommodation is available for all budgets, with the seafront hotels suiting those who want luxury and the small b&bs that are perfect for a less expensive holiday.
You can get to Hastings in just an hour and a half from Grays, and in two hours from Chelmsford.
Margate is a very popular holiday destination (Image: Isle of Thanet Gazette)
Margate is one of the UK’s most famous seaside destinations.
It was once of of the most popular holiday destination for Brits, before foreign holidays took off.
This town has stayed true to its traditional English seaside resort roots.
You can find sandy beaches, plenty of fish and chip shops, and funfair rides.
One of the highlights is Dreamland, an amusement park that opened 100 years ago which is home to the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster.
However, Margate has also got a modern twist.
There are art galleries full of contemporary work and plenty of trendy cafés and bars with a retro feel.
People in Grays can get to Margate in just one hour and 20 minutes, whilst anyone in Chelmsford can make the trip in around an hour and 40.
Great Yarmouth (Image: Handout)
Great Yarmouth is another classic British seaside that you can get to within two hours from some Essex towns.
This Norfolk town has some beautiful beaches perfect for relaxing on.
It is great for wildlife lovers, with grey seals often spotted on Winterton-on-Sea Beach.
Another highlight of Great Yarmouth is the Hippodrome Circus, the UK’s only surviving total circus building, and only one of three worldwide.
You can see amazing shows here, and it has even been voted as one of the seven wonders of the British seaside.
Elsewhere, Great Yarmouth is also great for food lovers, especially at the market where you will find some local specials.
You can get to Great Yarmouth in around an hour and 50 minutes from Colchester.
Southwold beach huts (Image: Martin Casey)
Southwold is a small seaside town in Sufolk.
It is perfect for anyone looking for a relaxing break to the coast.
Southwold is known for its beautiful beaches and is part of the Suffolk Heritage Coast.
There is only one road in and out of the town, and it is almost like an island.
It has many attractions, such as a lighthouse, an award-winning pier and a busy harbour, but the beaches are the main attraction.
Southwold is a great holiday destination for those wanting a peaceful break.
There are plenty of self catering cottages available to hire, as well as b&bs and camp sites around the town.
Southwold isn’t too far from Essex, with it taking just an hour and 20 from Colchester, an hour and 40 from Chelmsford and just under two hours from Brentwood.
Eastbourne (Image: Getty Images)
Eastbourne is another very popular seaside holiday destination.
It is one on Britain’s best known coastal towns.
There is accommodation in Eastbourne to suit all budgets, from luxury hotels with swimming pools and spas, to small, locally run b&bs.
In Eastbourne you can find theme parks, zoos, castles, museums and art galleries to name just a few.
It is perfect for a longer holiday with plenty of activities to do to fill a week or two.
Anyone who wants to relax can try one of the many beaches, South Downs National Park or even a vineyard tour.
Eastbourne also has plenty of choice when it comes to restaurants, pubs and wine bars.
It is a one hour 40 minute drive from Grays, and around two hours from Chelmsford.
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Towns and villages
Leeds Castle in Maidstone (Image: Getty Images)
Maidstone is a town in Kent that is packed full of history and culture.
It is less than an hour away from some Essex towns, so a great place for a holiday close to home.
The town has a lot to do, including river cruises, museums and plenty of walking and cycling routes.
One of the highlights of a trip to Maidstone is a visit to Leeds Castle.
The castle is stunning to look at, and has more than 900 years of history to learn about.
It has beautiful gardens, and is often home to some big events, including the annual classic concert by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
Visitors can taste authentic Kent food in the abundance of restaurants across the town.
You can get to Maidstone in less than 50 minutes from Grays, in an hour and 15 from Southend-on-Sea and from Harwich in an hour and 45 minutes.
Bury St Edmunds
The Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds (Image: Cambridge News)
Bury St Edmunds is a historical town full of things to do.
Just 30 miles away from Colchester, it would really suit anyone wanting a short journey for their holiday.
The town is great for an Autumnal get-away as it has plenty of cosy b&bs and pubs to warm up in after a day out.
It has over 1000 years of history and is known as Suffolk’s ‘foodie town’.
The cathedral is perfect for those wanting to learn some history, whilst the local brewery tours are perfect for anyone who loves a pint.
It’s great for all budgets, with accommodation available at a range of different prices.
Bury St Edmunds is one hour and 20 minutes away from Chelmsford and Bentwood and just an hour from Colchester.
The Silent Pool, Albury, near Shere (Image: Surrey Advertiser)
Shere is a small village in Surrey.
It is best known for appearing in both The Holiday and Bridget Jones.
It is very picturesque and perfect for keen photographers.
Shere is great for a romantic getaway, or just for those wanting a chilled out, relaxing break.
It has a couple of pubs, a beautiful stream that runs through the village and quaint tearooms and cafés.
Shere is easily described as a traditional English village, and looks just like something you would find on a postcard.
It is surrounded by beautiful countryside, and is actually in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
You won’t find many large hotels nearby, but there will be plenty of b&bs to book into.
From Grays, Shere is around a one hour, 10 minute journey, and from Colchester it is just under two hours away.
Rye is full of medieval history
Just 20 minutes from Hastings you will find the historic town of Rye.
The cobbled streets of Rye show how full of history the small town really is.
It was once a medieval citadel, and signs of that remain.
From the edge of the old town you can get amazing views across the local landscape.
There are plenty of cosy pubs and cafés to get something to eat or drink around Rye.
Rye also has a great selection of boutique shops around the town.
Walking around, you never know what you might find as you take one of the many small streets.
You can get to Rye in an hour and a half from Chelmsford, in an hour and a half from Basildon and in an hour and a half from Grays.
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KCC Country Parks (Image: Dover Express Series)
Sandwich is a small historic town in Kent.
There is plenty to do in the town and nearby.
It is particularly popular with golfers as there are a number of courses nearby including championship courses such as Royal St. Georges, Princes and the Royal Cinqueports.
Sandwich is also great for nature lovers, with the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust and the Gazen Salts Nature Reserve both providing great spaces to relax and look out for animals.
There are also a number of museums and churches in the town which are good for anyone who likes history.
Sandwich is around an hour and a half drive from Brentwood, and just an hour and 20 from Grays.