The Top Things to Do in Southend-on-Sea
Oh, we do like to be at the seaside... in lovely Southend-on-Sea.
Its name is a little misleading, actually. It would suggest it sits at the southern end of England and overlooks the sea. In reality, it reaches out into the eastern rump of the country, in Essex, peering into the River Thames Estuary. But it’s basically the sea, so let’s not be too harsh on whoever named the place.
It has one of the many London airports that are absolutely nowhere near London, and the longest leisure pier in the world (apparently - we haven’t measured). It’s an absolute dream for families, with all sorts of seaside activity and events, as well as an aquarium and an amusement park.
For the adults, the city is adorned with theatres, galleries and museums. The boring stuff, as the kids would probably say, as they force you to stick to the Cliff Lift, the carnival and the pier. Don’t worry, there’s enough for both adults and kids; just make sure you do accompany the little ones to the children’s parts. We’ve had a big Plum Guide think about how you can achieve something for everyone, with our list of things to do in Southend-on-Sea.
Southend Pleasure Pier
So the first thing to learn is not to call this place Southend-on-Sea. You’ll sound like an absolute American. Nothing wrong with that, in essence, but you’ll be labelled Johnny Foreigner. It’s Southend. Now, that we’ve gotten the name right, it’s time to find the Southend Pleasure Pier – one of the unmissable things to do in Southend-on-Sea. ‘The Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier,’ said English poet John Betjeman, but then he said a lot of things. You can’t really miss this great stonking big pier, said to be the longest pleasure pier in the world. You can’t even see the end.
Apparently a man discovered a small fire on the pier in 2018 and put it out by urinating on it. Men; always thinking with their appendages. Anyway, being as absurdly large as it is (the pier, not the appendage), the pier even has its own train transporting people to each end, and it is dotted with all sorts of attractions.
Check out a concert or exhibition at the Royal Pavilion. Relax at the Salt Café with a drink and some snacks, while enjoying views of the sea. Let your kids play a round at the Southend Pier Mini Golf and snack on cakes in the Pier Tearoom. By the way, everyone just calls it the Southend Pier, dropping the pleasure, as is the English custom.
Wander along the high street
Walk straight back down the pier to find yourself back on land and at the south end of the Southend High Street. It’s the main avenue that runs through the heart of the city, from the pier to the railway station and beyond. Try the Escape Rooms with your kids, where you solve a bunch of riddles to get out of the rooms. Presumably, if your family are simply…unable…they won’t just leave you there to rot. On a rainy day, the Royals Shopping Centre is packed full of restaurants and stores. It’s also full of those same shops on non-rainy days, of course, but we were just suggesting… oh, never mind. Explore the rest of the city centre for its many cafés and restaurants.
Now we’re talking. Right at the south end of Southend (we’ll keep playing on the south end of South End repetition, don’t you worry), lies the Adventure Island. It’s at the entrance to the pier. ‘Enough about where it is,’ we hear you scream, ‘what’s it got?’
Well, you get yourself some colourful wristbands and then tackle all the rollercoasters and rides and whatnot on Adventure Island. There’s the Rage Rollercoaster that’ll channel the rage of your adolescents, there’s the inside section with a carousel and there’s the pink Flying Jumbos for your little ones. Adventure Island is definitely one of the best places in Essex to visit if you have kids.
It’s not all about rides and things that make you throw up everywhere. And after projectile vomiting your way around the rollercoasters, it’s time for a re-fill with some fish and chips in The Britannia pub. For more of an all-round restaurant experience, try the Clarence Yard. Stop for cakes and other sweet things afterwards in the Sands by the Sea.
Disclaimer: Adventure Island doesn’t appear to be an island.
Ride the Cliff Lift
It’s time to ride the Cliff Lift (yes, we know, it says that in the title). A little west of the Pleasure Pier and the Adventure Island stands a funicular that’ll grant you spectacular views of those hubs of entertainment from way up high. Get to the top and enjoy the views of the water and the coast. Note that the lift dates back to 1912 and is an elegant (and easier) way of bypassing the stairs.
Parks and beaches
On a lovely sunny day, one of the best things to do in Southend-on-Sea is simply to wander around the leafy spots of this bucolic town. Put together a picnic and enjoy the serenity in the Priory Park or the Chalkwell Park. Lay down a blanket and sunbathe at the Shoebury East Beach. Take your kids on the Sea Life Adventure and go for a walk on the trails of the Belfairs Wood, Park and Nature Reserve.