In and around Colchester

Not just the oldest town

Sure, we’re Britain’s oldest recorded town, but we’re definitely no old timer. With everything from arts and culture to water sports, Colchester Zoo, vintage shopping to high tea in country estates, and the hottest gigs to ghost walks, the hardest bit will be fitting it all in.

Every town has its share of shopping centres and high street stores, and Colchester is no different, but what makes our town really distinctive are all of the specialist and unique shops on offer. You’ll find a mixture of retro clothing boutiques, old-school sweet shops (just imagine, all the sweets from your childhood in one place – heaven!), jewellers and independent health food stores (just in case all those ready meals start to take their toll…).

After all that shopping, you’ll no doubt be feeling peckish. Treat yourself to something from one of the many deli's and coffee shops, visit one of the global food stores or pick up some great local produce from the market, held every Friday and Saturday.

What our students say

  • Arts and culture

    What our students say

    Emily Armstrong

    Emily Armstrong

    Third year BSc Genetics

    Even after two years I haven’t managed to fit everything in

    Arts and culture are two things synonymous with Colchester and the surrounding area. Even after two years I haven’t managed to fit in everything on offer! Centred around East Hill (just a 30-minute stroll into town or a 10-minute bus ride) are firstsite, The Minories, and The Waiting Room.

    Colchester also plays host to a variety of seasonal events, such as free entry to Colchester Castle near Christmas, the Oyster Festival (which also included jousting!), the Food and Drink Festival, a Beer Festival at the Colchester Arts Centre, and a vegan fair, all of which are immensely popular. If all of this isn’t enough for you, you can always hop on a fast train to London and be at Stratford Station in under an hour, which is great for the O2 Arena, as well as everything else the city has to offer.


    firstsite is a huge (and free!) contemporary visual arts gallery, and offers artistic support programmes ranging from art workshops to peer-led critique, collaborative relationships with other artists and more. The exhibitions rotate on about a six month basis, so there’s always a lot to see.

    The Minories

    The Minories is co-funded by the Colchester Institute, a partner of the University of Essex, showcasing local talent and local students’ work, alongside running lots of workshops, from embroidery to lino-cut print-making. Alongside this, they have a fantastic café, which is student budget-friendly, and uses only locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.

    The Waiting Room

    Next door is The Waiting Room (aptly named as it is a former bus station), which is an open space, completely run by volunteers. It’s really easy to put something of your own on there. For Women’s Week in 2014, we ran live music and an art gallery, and later in the year, a photography exhibition, which was open to the public. If you have an idea, you can voice it and they’ll put it on – simple as that! They also serve amazing local food and drink (try the pear juice, it’s liquid heaven!), at very reasonable prices.

    Colchester Arts Centre

    A little further into town is the Colchester Arts Centre – a comedy, spoken word, and live music venue, at an old converted church. The last act I saw there was Lee Scratch Perry, the ‘father’ of dub music, who also produced a lot of Bob Marley’s albums.

    Mercury Theatre

    Situated just next to the Arts Centre is the Mercury Theatre, seating a combined total of 580 people, and playing host to anything from Grease to Macbeth, to comedy nights and dance shows. Although tickets generally aren’t very expensive, they do also offer student discounts.

  • Eating out

    What our students say


    Third year BSc Biological Sciences

    There are all sorts of restaurants in town

    There are all sorts of restaurants in town; from Italian to Greek, Spanish to Mexican. My favourite place to eat in Colchester is Bella Pais. It’s a little Greek restaurant, which isn’t the cheapest, but you’ll have the best steak you’ve ever eaten in there – I guarantee it! I also love Valentino’s in Wivenhoe – an Italian restaurant which serves great food at cheap prices. The service is brilliant, the people are really friendly, and the food is awesome. Try their garlic bread and their homemade ice cream.

    If you’re on a tight student budget, I’d recommend buying a Taste Card, or check out NUS Extra for some great deals at places like Prezzo and Pizza Express. There are all sorts of food festivals and markets running throughout the year, from the Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find great local produce, to the Oyster Festival (rumour has it that the Romans came to Colchester because of our oysters), and of course the Christmas Fair, which is on the first Sunday of November.

  • Nightlife

    What our students say


    Third year BSc Biological Sciences

    A night on the town

    My ideal night in town would start in the Playhouse (it’s really cheap in there) and would end in either Missoula or Liquid, which is where the party really gets started!

    One of my best, completely sober nights out, was in Liquid. The clocks were going back, so we spent even longer than normal in there, were given free pirate hats and sunglasses, and ended up in McDonalds until, like, 4am.

    In my opinion, Missoula plays the best music, but normally the later you stay, the better it gets, so make this the last stop on your night out. It’s without a doubt the most popular place with students, probably because of the variety of music they play.

    Thursday nights in Colchester are buzzing with students and great deals – they’re always cheaper in terms of entrance fees and drinks. Try Twisters if you’re willing to gamble for the price of your drink (it’s called Toss the Boss), and if you fancy drinking cocktails out of teapots!

    If you’re after something a bit different, hop on the train to Chelmsford and try Evoke, or wander to the Rose and Crown down by the quay in Wivenhoe, which is the perfect place to go for a quiet drink with friends. You can sit outside by the water and it’s really chilled out.

    For anyone who doesn’t drink, there’s still loads to do in the evenings. Rollerworld and Quasar are two options in town, which are great fun with a big group of friends, or scare yourself on a Colchester ghost tour.

  • Out and about

    What our students say

    Emily Armstrong

    Emily Armstrong

    Third year BSc Genetics

    A veritable hotbed for stuff to do

    Coaawl-chezz-starr (as it’s sometimes referred to in local Essex dialect) is a veritable hotbed for ‘stuff-to-do’. As Britain’s oldest town, it gives us Colchester Castle (inventively named and pretty well priced – you can dress up like soldiers and learn about Colchester’s rich and bloody history), and Castle Park, a great place for a picnic.

    It also boasts two other museums, both of which are free to enter, Hollytrees Museum and the Natural History Museum, alongside a very impressive (and ever-so-slightly confusing) shopping district, stocked with everything you’d expect from a high street, along with a worryingly great collection of charity shops (they’re a lifesaver on a budget!).

    There’s plenty of historical delights tucked away everywhere – a Roman Wall (adjoined to a fantastic pub), Jumbo the water tower and the Town Hall (which you can spot from a few of the Towers’ windows!) and St. Botolph’s Priory ruins.

    Moving away from central, historic Colchester, we’ve got the zoo, which is a short bus ride from the town centre.

    If you really fancy pushing the boat out (quite literally), Flatford Mill dear Dedham (as made famous by John Constable) is not far away.

    We’ve also got Aqua Springs and Leisure World (they’ve got great flumes), and Rollerworld, which is apparently the biggest indoor roller disco in Europe (however that still remains to be substantiated!).

    If you want to get involved in some sailing, get yourself down to Ardleigh Reservoir on a nice sunny day too.

    A little closer to the University is Wivenhoe, where lots of our students choose to live after their first year. A quick bike ride or walk down the Wivenhoe Trail next to the River Colne (you can join it straight from campus), will land you right at the waterfront which is a perfect place for a lazy pint.

    There’s also a fantastic independent bookshop and Wivenhoe Funny Farm – great comedy at outstandingly good prices. However, if you don’t make it all the way down to the end of the trail, there’s always Wivenhoe Park, which is yet another great picnic spot.

    But don’t just listen to me, go out and find even better stuff to do that nobody even knows about yet!

    What our students say

    Jennifer Tranham

    Jennifer Tranham

    Third year BA English and United States Literature

    Colchester is surrounded by lovely countryside

    There’s loads to see and do in and around Colchester. The University of Essex is situated in a beautiful location, and is surrounded by lovely countryside. There are walks and bicycle trails to nearby Wivenhoe, or if you fancy exploring a bit further afield, there’s Abberton Reservoir, where it’s really tranquil and pretty.

    The best view has to be the riverfront in Wivenhoe. It’s beautiful. The boats bobbing up and down and the sun setting on the water makes it a magical place to go.

    We’ve also got some great beaches nearby – Brightlingsea and Clacton-on-Sea are both easily accessible by bus and have won awards for the quality of the beaches. Brightlingsea is smaller and quieter, whilst Clacton is a traditional British seaside town, complete with a pier and arcades!

    Colchester Leisure World is a short bus ride from campus, and has everything you could wish for from a leisure centre, from a fun pool with flumes and wave machines to a gym and even an on-site spa, called Aqua Springs. Aqua Springs is really affordable, whilst still feeling luxurious, and is a great place to unwind and chill out in the jacuzzi.

    When it comes to travelling, Colchester’s situated in a really great part of the country. We are on a major train line, and you’re able to get into London within an hour, and up to Norwich in under two hours. It’s even better if you get your hands on a 16-25 railcard, which gives you a third of ticket prices, making it affordable too.

    Travelling abroad from Colchester is really easy. There’s a bus that leaves campus every two hours, and goes straight to Stansted Airport, and there are also National Express coaches to Heathrow and Gatwick. Alternatively, catch a train to London and then jump on the Eurostar and you could be soaking up the culture on the continent in a matter of hours!

    What our students say


    Third year BSc Biological Sciences

    So much to see and do around Colchester

    The area that surrounds Colchester is lovely. Go to Dedham on a sunny day and take a walk along the river – better yet, hire a rowing boat! Take a picnic and a couple of ciders, and you’ll have a great day.

    If you’re feeling adventurous, go for a hike at Highwoods Country Park, have a go at kayaking down the River Colne, or jump on the number 78 bus from campus and head to the beach at Brightlingsea to try your hand at sailing.

    Colchester Zoo is one of the best in Europe. There’s so much to see there – definitely check out the tigers at feeding time! It’s even better if you find a deal online and then head there for the day.

    Tenpin Bowling offers 50% off drinks on a Tuesday, and Quasar have student deals every now and again, so look out for them if you’re after something fun and cheap to do with a group of friends.

    London is under an hour away on the train. I love going when the Christmas markets are on at the Southbank. Just hop on a tube to Embankment and walk down the Thames, and then head over to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Perfect!

    If you want to travel a little further afield, there’s a bus that goes directly to Stanstead Airport from campus, and also National Express coaches to Gatwick and Heathrow. From there, the world is your oyster!