Colchester (England)

Colchester is a town in Essex, East Anglia. Home to the University of Essex, the 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.

Understand

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).

Originally the capital of the Celtic tribe Trinovantes, it was conquered by Claudius's army in ad43 and became the first Roman capital - and Britain's first-ever 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-legionnaires

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.

The town's main attraction is the Norman castle, founded by William the Conqueror himself bearing similarities to the Tower of London, built at the same time. The building it situated on the foundations of the earlier Roman Temple of Claudius.

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.

Get in

The easiest way to get in/out of Colchester is either by Rail or Coach. All travel timetables both into and around Colchester can be found from the County Council

By train

Colchester is served by 5 train stations.

By bus

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), Cedric's (services from Brightlingsea), New Horizon (services from Great Bentley), Carters (services from Ipswich) 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.

By coach

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).

By car

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.

Get around

On foot

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.

By car

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 GBP1.50 per hour), Colchester Borough Council multi-storey parking buildings are a little more expensive (about GBP2.20 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.

By bus

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, Colchester Zoo etc. 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 GBP1.50 for a single ticket (or GBP2.50 for a return) although if you plan to make more than a couple of journeys, a GBP3.00 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 GBP5.00 bill. Useful routes are:- 61/62: Both serve the University and Wivenhoe. 75: Goes to Colchester Zoo. 65: Goes to Highwoods Country Park 67/67A: Goes to West Mersea.

By bicycle

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 is little in the way of 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. Note that many National Cycle Routes run off-road and are not suitable for certain bicycle types e.g. road bikes.

By taxi

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:- Five Sevens:- +44 1206 577777 Hawaii 5-0 Taxis:- +44 1206 543210 Towncar Minicabs:- +44 1206 515515

See

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 both housed in beautiful neighbouring buildings, one contemporary and one historic:

Mersea Island

A small island located on 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 (originally built by the Romans) onto the island - note that 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. 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 unfortunately as it is the only public transport option the fare is very high (roughly £4 single, £6 return), meaning that it is actually 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.

Wivenhoe

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 - note that 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.

Do

The only cinema in Colchester is the multiplex Odeon on Head Street which comprises eight screens and shows all of the big blockbuster movies as well as occasionally putting on alternative and foreign films. The prices are on the expensive side so take your own snacks.

There is also a theatre, the Mercury, for the theatrically inclined, which puts on shows throughout the year.

Colchester is also home to a large number of important historic and archaeological sites, inclduing 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.

Buy

Colchester has a large selection of shops, ranging from those you would find in any large town (Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, British Home Stores 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 new Colchester discount voucher scheme can save you money at your local business. Townvoucher.com offers great bargains from your shops, pubs restaurant and events.

Eat

Drink

Sleep

Stay safe

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.

Go next

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