Located about 40 miles east of London at the mouth of the River Thames, Southend On Sea has long been a favourite seaside day-trip destination for Londoners. Today, it's a mixture of antique Victorian charm and vibrant modern life. Alongside 19th-century arcades, historic amusement parks, and the world's longest pleasure pier, Southend On Sea boasts a buzzing nightlife and a burgeoning arts scene that has seen many trendy folk set up residence in recent years. In short, Southend On Sea deserves much more than a mere day trip.
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As Southend On Sea's name suggests, its main attraction is its seafront. The town's Southend Pier, the world's longest pleasure pier, is an absolute must for any visitor to Southend On Sea. Stretching 1.3 miles into sea from the shore, the pier has everything, from arcade games and cafés to an artists' studio and the Pier Museum. The best way to get out is by taking the old train to the end. For a classic beachside amusement park experience, visit the Kursaal, which has updated its antique arcade games, fruit machines, and bingo halls to include UV-light bowling, pool tables, and a fully licensed bar.
For a different side to Southend On Sea, don't miss visiting Old Leigh. In this old-fishing-village-like area, with plenty of friendly pubs and quality restaurants, you can buy fresh-as-you'll-ever-find Thames cockles, winkles by the pint, and a range of other delicious local seafood. Hadleigh Castle, near Leigh-On-Sea station, is a popular historical site also worth a visit. Although just ruins remain of the castle, the site evokes Southend's long history and offers great views from the hillside. Prittlewell, the original town centre, offers another side to Southend On Sea. Famous for its priory, which you can still visit at Priory Park today, Prittlewell is the reason Southend On Sea's coat of arms features a monk.
For an out-and-out beach holiday, look for Southend On Sea hotels toward Westcliff along the Western Esplanade, which is loaded with sandy beaches, yacht clubs, and ice cream parlours, and backed by the beautiful Southend Cliff Gardens. To be in the heart of old Southend On Sea, with views straight onto the pier and along the seafront, book a hotel around Pier Hill and Royal Terrace, between the bottom end of Chichester Road and Southend Pier. And if you're looking for nightlife, book a cheap but cheerful hotel somewhere along Marine Parade and Eastern Esplanade, where you'll be within walking distance of dozens of bars and clubs.
To be central but away from the beach, historic Prittlewell is well located for getting around. For something a bit quieter and more relaxed, find accommodations in sleepy Southchurch, just a bit further along the coast. The area has its own beach, esplanade, and huge public park with sports grounds. If you want to explore the great outdoors or play a round of golf, look for hotels in the west of Southend On Sea around Westcliff, which will give you easy access to Belfairs Golf Course and Hockley Woods, the largest woodland area in Essex.