Southend-on-Sea is a coastal city in the southeastern part of Essex. Home to the longest pier in the world, it was granted city status in 2021 as a memorial to the Member of Parliament for Southend West, Sir David Amess, a long-time supporter of city status for the borough.
In modern day, it is an extremely popular tourist destination, with many things to do in Southend, but this was not alway the case. In its early days it was a poor farming and fishing area. The late 1700s saw the arrival of the high street but tourism did not really pick up until the arrival of the railway in the 19th century.
Within this article we are going to tell you about all the things to do in Southend that have helped it become the popular tourist destination we know it to be today.
Southend Pier and Railway: A Historic Landmark
With the arrival of the railway in Southend, it was now much easier for people from London to visit the city and many did as, in the 19th century, it was believed that being near the sea was good for your health. However, the Southend coastline consists of vast mudflats, which means the water is never very deep, even at high tide, and it recedes over a mile at low tide.
Because of this, larger passenger boats weren’t able to dock near the shore at high tide, and no boats at all were able to dock at low tide. This meant that many potential visitors would sail past Southend and go on to other resorts where docking facilities were better and so in 1829 the foundation stone for the pier was laid, to allow boats to reach Southend at all tides.
To begin it was only 600 ft but this was too short to be usable at low tides so it was extended to 1,800 ft. In 1846, a further extension was added making the pier 1.3 miles long. The many visitors who visited took its toll on the wooden pier and 1887 work began on the new iron pier.
In 1890, a single track railway was added which was the first pier railway in the country. In the 1930s the railway was extended to a double track and had four, severn carriage trains running on it.
Within modern day Southend, the pier is still an excellent place to visit and should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Southend. There is a RNLI gift shop, the Pier Museum (it is only open at certain times so please check the website), pier fishing and wildlife watches.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.15am to 6pm, it is definitely a top place to visit in Southend.
Adventure Island: Thrills and Fun for the Family
If you want to get your adrenaline pumping a little more, Adventure Island will be the perfect thing to do in Southend. Famed for its incredible rides, attractions and events, Adventure Island is a theme park with something for everyone.
There is adventure golf and hook a duck and roller coasters and big wheels. This theme park will be the perfect place to visit for all the family.
Check out their website to see opening times and the events they have on.
The Sea Life Adventure Aquarium: An Underwater Journey
The Sea Life Adventure Aquarium is a place in which you can immerse yourself in the wonders of the sea and planet Earth as you journey through the different zones.
There are sharks, rays, clownfish, krabs and so much more marine life on display. And there are also otters, butterflies, meerkats and monkeys! Nobody will leave The Sea LIfe Adventure Aquarium disappointed.
Open daily from 10am to 5pm, you can have a whole day of fun here.
The Kursaal: A Nostalgic Entertainment Experience
The Kursaal should be top of things to do in Southend for any history lovers. Opened in 1901, it was one of the world’s first purpose built amusement parks.
Founded as a Marine Park, this beautiful building has been home to circuses, ballrooms, roller coasters and much more.
Sadly, in modern day it is not used in as grand a fashion with it currently only housing a Tesco within its historic walls. Nevertheless, it is still a beautiful Grade II listed building and well worth a visit.
Southend’s Beaches: Sun, Sand, and Sea
With nine beaches to choose from, any sun and sand lovers will be spoilt for choice of things to do in Southend in the summertime.
There are secluded quiet spots, fun, family friendly beaches and wide open spaces ideal for kitesurfing, you will find a beach that suits you.
The Cliffs Pavilion: A Hub for Arts and Entertainment
Cliffs Pavilion first opened in 1964 but work actually began on the theatre in the 1930s. World War II put a halt to the building work and it did not get its grand opening until 30 years later.
It now has events year round from music, to dancing and pantomimes, it is a wonderful place to visit in Southend.
You can book tickets to all their events via their website.
Old Leigh: A Glimpse into Southend’s Maritime History
Old Leigh is a small fishing village with a great deal of history, which is within walking distance of Southend Pier, is full of character.
This place is, and particularly the High Street, is picturesque with old cottages, pubs, cockle sheds and excellent seafood restaurants, running alongside the water’s edge. This ancient fishing village is regarded as the centre for the supply of the world’s best cockles. Family fishing businesses still operate along the waters of the Thames Estuary and eighty percent of the harvest is exported to discerning restaurants around the world.
It is definitely one of the top things to do in Southend for any history lovers and foodies.
Shopping and Dining in Southend: A Culinary and Retail Adventure
There are many different shopping districts within Southend. For unique, independent shops, you need to head to Leigh Broadway or Hamlet Court Road. For big retail names, Southend High Street will be the perfect place.
When it comes to food, you must make a visit to Old Leigh and try the cockles. A coastal area, you cannot come to Southend and not eat some fish. And you will be spoilt for choice with options.
Outdoor Activities: Parks and Gardens
If you are a nature lover, you will find many things to do in Southend. There are many parks, nature reserves, woods and gardens in Southend and the surrounding areas.
Nature enthusiasts will really love Barling Magna Wildlife Reserve. It is an oasis of peace and tranquillity situated in Barling. A small yet beautiful haven for nature and wildlife, it is also full of trees, bushes and wildflowers.
Southend’s Cultural Festivals and Events
There are many cultural events throughout the year. Southend is a hub for cultural activities and events and, with its close proximity to London, it is a perfect place for artistic endeavours.
The Essex Art Exhibition is a must visit. 2023 sees it entering its 59th year. It is the longest running and largest open exhibition.
The Top Things To In Southend
There is so much to see and so many things to do in Southend, you will be completely spoilt for choice.
Whether you are visiting or local, take some time to explore and enjoy all Southend has on offer.