Colchester’s secret attraction

PUBLISHED: 10:52 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:09 20 February 2013

Hollytrees Museum

Hollytrees Museum

Nearly five million visitors flocked to Colchester last year and the town's tourism office is ready for another busy summer, reports Nicky Adams

WE ALL know Colchester is famed as Britain's oldest recorded town, but it might come as a bit more of a shock to you to learn that Colchester is a top tourist attraction. Visitors have been descending upon the town in their millions and Colchester is already buzzing with preparations for what promises to be a very busy year ahead. '2008 is very exciting for Colchester,' says Karen Turnbull, Colchester Council's tourism and visitor development officer. 'We're looking forward to the opening of the new firstsite visual art gallery and the Community Stadium, which will be the new home of Colchester United FC, and all of the town's many other attractions are set to be as popular as ever.'

Award winning
There may be a lot to do, but the staff of the town's tourist office is more than capable. Now settled into the VisitColchester Information Centre, in Queen Street, just opposite the town's famous castle, the team are still basking in the glow of the prestigious award they won last year - Official Partner status presented by EnjoyEngland, the national body responsible for tourism.

'Naturally we were delighted to receive this accolade, which was developed by Enjoy England in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics,' says Karen. 'Being an Official Partner means that Colchester will be represented in national and international promotional activities, which are sure to raise Colchester's profile in time for the games.'

The new headquarters certainly makes co-ordinating tourist services much more straightforward for Karen and her colleagues, and the website, successfully launched four years ago and recently revamped, has made it even easier for visitors to the town to find out where to go and what to do.

'The website is visited by around 40,000 users every month,' says Karen. 'It lists 250 attractions in and around Colchester, 66 places to stay and more than 400 events, so people can use the site to plan time with the children over the school holidays, days out with visiting friends and relatives as well as longer stays for those who are touring the area. Really, it's a one-stop shop in that people can plan their visit and reserve accommodation at the same time.'

When the planned new e-shop launches later in the year, visitors will also have the chance to buy maps and guidebooks in advance to help them get the best out of their trip to the town. But, even in this digital age, there is no substitute for a human contact, in Karen's eyes. 'The friendly and knowledgeable people who work in the VisitColchester Information Centre are equally delighted to help people who prefer to talk to a real person,' she explains.

And there's certainly plenty to talk about in Colchester. 'Our visitors love the mix of history and contemporary attractions in the town,' reports Karen. 'Colchester is, of course, Britain's oldest recorded town, but it also has some fantastic modern attractions too. From a visit to Colchester Castle or a walking tour of Colchester with a qualified guide, to browsing in Williams & Griffin or mooching along Colchester's lanes of small specialist shops, that mix is really attractive and we know from research that once people have visited Colchester, they're keen to come back time and again.'

Coming to Colchester?
The VisitColchester office is in Queen Street and is open between 9.30am and 6pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saurdays, 10am to 6pm on Wednesdays and 11am to 4pm on Sundays. Call 01206 282920 or click on

Colchester's Top Attractions

Colchester Castle Museum
Colchester's most important landmark, Colchester Castle, was the largest keep ever built by the Normans and was erected on the Roman temple of Claudius. The museum houses collections of important historical artifacts and fun hands-on displays. There's also the chance to journey into Colchester's murkier past with a tour of the spooky castle prisons
For more information visit their website

Colchester Zoo
One of the finest in the country and an award-winner for its modern enclosures, Colchester Zoo is home to more than 250 species from around the world, many of which are on endangered breeding programmes
For more information visit their website

Castle Park
Whether for a stroll or to amuse the children, this town centre oasis has something for everyone. Open from dawn until dusk every day, the gardens are stunning at any time of year and the play area, crazy golf, putting green, boating lake and café are firm local favourites. Dogs are welcome in the Lower Castle Park, but not in the Upper Castle Park
For more information click here

Hollytrees Museum
This free-to-enter museum is set in Castle Park and is a must for anyone interested in Colchester life over the past 300 years. There's a whole room dedicated to childhood, with snakes and ladders on the floor, a crawling tunnel, a toddler area, and displays celebrating Colchester's famous nursery rhymes, Old King Cole and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
For more information click here

Get your skates on at Colchester's roller rink, which runs supervised 'have-a-go' sessions for all ages and abilities
For more information visit the website

Colchester Leisure World
One of East Anglia's largest recreation and entertainment centres, this is the place for year-round family fun. The leisure pool has an outside rapids ride and there are also spa pools, water cannons, waves and two flumes
Click here to visit the website

Wilkin & Sons Tiptree Jam Visitor Centre
Treat yourself to a taste of the world-famous jams and find out how they have been made over the generations at the Tiptree factory. There's a tearoom and a gift shop full of jams and other goodies to take home
For more information visit their website

Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum, Dedham
Visit the home, studios and grounds where the renowned painter Sir Alfred Munnings lived and worked for 40 years
Click here for more information

East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel
Take an old-fashioned train ride at this carefully-preserved station. Steam days take place throughout the year and there is a standing exhibition of artifacts from 150 years of railway history
For more information visit the website

The Mercury Theatre
A past winner of the Barclay's Stage Award for Special Achievement in Regional Theatre, the Mercury stages an exciting and varied programme of work all year round
For more information visit the website

firstsite @ the Minories Art Gallery
Be among the first to experience Colchester's hotly-anticipated new arts centre when it opens towards the end of this year. There will be regular events and workshops as well as a changing programme of contemporary visual art
For more information visit the website

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