7 Unique Things to Do in Southend-on-Sea

by Paul Joseph  |  Published July 9, 2024

The small coastal city of Southend-on-Sea offers all the trappings of a quintessential UK seaside resort – and plenty more besides.

A view over Adventure Island (Photo: Jim Linwood via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

In 2021, Southend and its many advocates fulfilled a long-standing ambition to gain official city status. Nestled on the Thames Estuary in Essex, southeast England, it has always attracted sizeable numbers of visitors thanks to its classic seaside setting and a myriad of attractions, and its new-found city standing only adds to that appeal. If you’re coming to Southend-on-Sea and would like to plan how to spend your time, check out our list below of seven unique things to see and do.

Test your mettle at a theme park

When you think of rides at the beach, you might imagine nothing more exciting than a bouncy castle and trampolines. But in Southend, you can stretch the imagination a little further as the city boasts its very own all-singing, all-dancing theme park. Situated directly on the beachfront overlooking the Thames Estuary, Adventure Island packs in over 30 rides and attractions, with something for every age and courage levels. Daring visitors invariably make a bee-line for a roller coaster called Rage, which sends you on a 75-foot drop and 360-degree barrel roll. There’s no shortage of food options either, with everything from sit-down eateries serving full meals to crepe and candy stalls.

Western Esplanade / Times vary daily

Head to the beach

There’s no finer time to be by the coast in the UK than when the weather gods decide to smile. Part of the long Southend-on-Sea seafront, on such blessed days as this the mixed sand and shingle beach known as Thorpe Bay Beach throngs with sun-seekers keen to make the most of the occasion. Backed by a long promenade and colourful wooden beach huts , the beach becomes the main hub of activity, drawing everyone from water sports enthusiasts to families with its tidal paddling pool, picnic spots and other amenities including toilets, cafes and restaurants.

Colourful beach huts along Thorpe Bay Beach (Photo: Jon Stow via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Traverse the world’s longest pleasure pier

Jutting some 1.3 miles out into the estuary, Southend Pier lays claim to being the longest pleasure pier anywhere in the world. If you don’t fancy walking its full length, you can take a ride on the narrow gauge railway that runs for 1.25 miles, where passengers can disembark and traverse the final stretch on foot. Special trips on the train also take place throughout the year, including Ghost Trains and Santa on the Pier during the festive season. As well as scenic views across the estuary, the end of the pier also features a crazy golf course, two prime fishing spots, and several food outlets serving up classic seaside fare.

Western Esplanade / Mon-Sun 10.15am-8pm

Marvel at an array of exotic marine life

If you’re in Southend on a rainy day and the beach isn’t an option, but you still want to get your fill of aquatic action, then Sealife Adventure is the place to head. The attraction is home to dozens of exotic marine species, including sharks, otters, penguins, lionfish, porcupine puffer fish, stingrays, crabs and more. Highlights include an underwater glass tunnel that lets you walk along with sharks hovering overhead and there are also regular demonstrations and talks that shed light on the magic and mystery of life under the ocean.

Western Esplanade / 10am-5pm or 8pm depending on season

Resident penguins at Sealife Adventure (Photo: Sealife Adventure)

Take in some culture at a museum

Another popular indoor attraction, Southend Central Museum & Planetarium houses an impressive collection of artefacts spanning everything from natural history to domestic design that together tell the story of the town-cum-city’s evolution. Perhaps most notable is the museum’s internationally significant archaeology, which includes a permanent display of the extraordinary and still shrouded in mystery  Anglo Saxon Prittlewell Princely Burial that was only discovered in 2003. As the name suggests, the museum is also accompanied by a planetarium which provides visitors with the chance to explore the night sky.

Victoria Avenue / Weds-Sun 11am-5pm

Peruse a local art studio

After opening its doors back in 1991, Old Leigh Art Studios rapidly gained popularity for its wide range of handcrafted ceramics and contemporary artwork sold at affordable prices. Situated in Old Leigh, a brisk coastal walk west of Southend Pier, the gallery and studio space is a great spot for picking up gifts and souvenirs, as well as offering the chance to see local potters and painters at work, with the on-site artists are happy to engage with customers about their creative endeavours.

61 High Street, Leigh-on-Sea, Old Leigh / Thurs-Sun 12pm-5pm Closed Mon-Weds

Handmade stoneware on display at Old Leigh Art Studios (Photo: Old Leigh Art Studios)

Venture deep into ancient woodlands

The rural areas found just outside of Southend boast some of the UK’s finest ancient woodlands and visitors can learn more about them at the Belfairs Woodland Centre. Featuring a wide variety of flora and fauna, the more than 1,000-years-old woodlands serve as a crucial green lung for the surrounding urban areas such as Southend, and are enjoyed by local residents and outsiders alike who come to partake in walking, cycling and horse riding. Constructed sympathetically to its environment, the wooden-clad centre itself houses an education hall, shop, information displays and refreshments zone.

Belfairs Park