Explore Essex: 8 Things to Do in Chelmsford
Looking for a UK break within easy reach of London? Here are our travel experts' top things to do in Chelmsford
Let’s get this out of the way: Essex doesn’t necessarily have the classiest reputation. But stereotypes are just that, and this little part of the South East has a lot going for it - from tranquil gardens and fancy stately homes to a decent racecourse and restaurants with Bib Gourmand accolades doled out by Michelin. If you’re looking for an alternative UK break within easy reach of London, you could do a lot worse than Chelmsford. The city itself has pretty parkland, while the surrounding villages and countryside that also make up the Chelmsford district will really make you smile (this is especially true if you make it out to the local vineyard). Look no further for Plum Guide’s definitive list of things to do in Chelmsford. We are experts in this kind of thing after all, and go above and beyond to provide you with the perfect advice, so all you have to do is follow this guide and you're guaranteed to find the perfect holiday spot.
Visit RHS Garden Hyde Hall
The manicured lawns, primped flowerbeds and preened hedges at RHS Garden Hyde Hall will make you green with envy. Highlights here include: the grid-like Modern Country Garden, with its geometric yews and curated, minimal colour palette; the sloping, textured Australia and New Zealand Garden; and the trend-setting Rope Rose Walk that kicked off a craze for climbing rose walkways after opening in the 1960s. Don’t skip the woodland, reservoir and bird hide, either.
Try some wine at New Hall Vineyard
If you needed a good reason to take a day trip from London, make it wine. At family-run New Hall Vineyard, they take care of every aspect of wine-making: from growing to pressing, crushing, fermenting and finally (yep, you guessed it) bottling. Explore New Hall Vineyard’s 100 acres of vines on a tour, which ends up in the tasting shed (no prizes for guessing what happens in there). They make everything from rosés to a ‘Baron’s Red’ blend of pinot noir, acolon and rhondo grapes, and a sparkling bacchus. These bottles are local celebrities too: New Hall Vineyard is renowned in East Anglia for winning awards.
Book a table at The Windmill Chatham Green
With a Michelin Bib Gourmand to its name, The Windmill Chatham Green deserves your attention. If dishes like roast North Sea cod, hispi cabbage, capers, sorrel and brown butter, or roast rump of Essex lamb with crushed potato, samphire and wild garlic won’t whet your appetite, then - frankly - we’re not sure what will. The setting is brushed-up foodie pub, with low-ceilinged, exposed-brick cosiness. Well, we must eat, after all.
Fine-dine at Galvin Green Man
Another Chelmsford spot that the Michelin inspectors deemed Bib-worthy is Galvin Green Man - yes that Galvin, of At Windows/Mayfair fame. Expect a similar but more laid-back feel, with the city views swapped for Essex countryside in this 14th-century building. Expect British fine-dining that focuses on local, seasonal fare (think trussed-up ingredients like English buffalo mozzarellas, Norfolk tomatoes, sugar-snap peas and Suffolk chicken), while the drinks list that champions English wine and nearby breweries such as Adnams Southwold.
Watch the horses at Chelmsford City Racecourse
Chelmsford’s answer to Ascot provides a day at the races on the edge of the city. Expect showiness: champagne flute-shaped light fittings (and champagne flutes in hands, naturally), dress codes and ladies in their hats (as if you needed an excuse to dress up). But Chelmsford City Racecourse also puts horse welfare first, with an improved racing surface and support for The Horse Comes First equine welfare campaign.
Take a trip to Hylands Estate
Grade II-listed building? Check (this one’s neo-classical). Perfectly preened gardens to wander around? Check (take your pick from woodland, parkland and a Victorian pleasure garden). Cosy café? Check (this one serves scones, banana bread and it’s dog friendly). Hylands Estate has all the hallmarks of an excellent visit to a stately home. Regular farmers’ markets and artists’ studios in the stables elevate it to the next level.
Head down to the Essex Police Museum
As things to do in Chelmsford go, this is one of the more niche (and we're assuming it’s the closest you’re going to get to a run-in with the law). Essex Police Museum offers a glimpse into the history of policing in the region since the Victorians. In it you’ll find a Victorian police cell, a 1960s Velocette motorcycle (also known as the Noddy Bike), and black-and-white and sepia photos of policemen in hats that should raise a smile. The museum started as a charity to house all the artefacts belonging to Essex Police, of which there are 25,000 and counting (they have been busy).
Enjoy a walk through Central Park
Rounding off our list of things to do in Chelmsford, we have Central Park. Make for Chelmsford’s Central Park to see the impressive 18-arch Victorian railway viaduct, spot a pretty lake with fountains, and explore the nature reserve. The River Can skirts along the edges of the park - follow it westwards for more greenery, eventually leading to equally leafy Admirals Park and Tower Gardens.