When I was growing up, going to Southend was the ULTIMATE treat! Me and my sister absolutely loved it. Even as adults we still love visiting. Did you know that Rossi Ice Cream has been made in Southend since the 1930’s?! So being at the seaside, it would be rude not to enjoy an ice cream (or two!). Here are some of my favourite things to do in Southend.
Things To Do In Southend-On-Sea
Adventure Island is an amusement park right on Southend seafront. The park is free to walk around but the rides obviously cost money to go on. Rides and wristbands are categorised by colour. So younger visitors pay less but would be restricted to the smaller rides.
The unlimited wristbands are cheaper if purchased online in advance. We also used to cash in on the half price wristbands after 6pm! You could buy individual tickets for rides but it’s not mentioned online anymore. As soon as I can confirm if they are still available, I’ll update!
There are over 30 rides at Adventure Island. My favourite is ‘Rage’, a looping rollercoaster. I do still have a big soft spot for the ‘American Whip’. It’s a kids ride that’s been there for YEAR but it’s great.
Adventure Island is seasonal, however ‘Adventure Inside’ is open year round. The inside attraction is aimed at younger visitors, with an indoor soft play area and some small rides.
Although technically part of Adventure Island, I love ‘Adventure Golf‘. It is a pay to play attraction (not included in the wristbands). There are two 9 hole courses. One goes through the cave and the other goes on top of it. That’s the only real major difference! You can pay for them separately (£5) or get a discount for playing all 18 holes (£7.50).
Sea Life Adventure
Despite the name, Sea Life Adventure, isn’t actually affiliated with the SEALIFE global chain. It is still a fairly large aquarium though! Unlike Clacton’s ‘Seaquarium’, Sea Life Adventure showcases marine life and animals that can be found around the world, as well as those native to the UK.
Some of the species you can see include: Macaque monkeys, meerkats, otters, penguins, turtles, sharks, rays and of course tropical fish. Tickets cost £12.50 at the entrance or £10 online in advance.
Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, at a length of 1.34 miles. It was first built in the early 1800s and was only 600ft. The pier was extended several times, with the full extension being completed in 1929. During my lifetime I’ve known boats to have crashed into the pier and part of it caught on fire! But it’s always bounced back and kept hold of its record breaking title.
Although it’s called a ‘pleasure pier’, it may not be what you would consider a pleasure pier. In comparison to Clacton or Walton Pier which has various arcades and attractions on, Southend Pier isn’t quite so thrilling!
It does however have a railway. A feature that has been part of the pier since the 1800s! Visitors can either choose to walk the length of the pier (£2), take a return trip on the train (adults: £5.60 | children: £2.80), or a single and walk one direction (adults: £5.10 | children: £2.60).
At the end of the pier is a small crazy golf course, a cafe and a tearoom and the RNLI lifeboat station.
Beaches in Southend
The tides at Southend are crazy. One minute the sea will be there, then at low tide it’s literally completely disappeared. (Hence why the pier needed to be so long back in the day!).
The largest beach which is closest to everything is Jubilee Beach. This is to the left of Adventure Island, heading up towards Sea Life Adventure. It is a shingle beach but you can rent deck chairs during the summer and it’s near to public toilets and cafes.
Next to Jubilee Beach, on the errr path, is City Beach. This is actually pretty cool, it has a large area of Splash Fountains. These are popular with kids that like to run through them on a warm day!
On the far side of Adventure Island is Three Shells Beach and Lagoon. This is a tiny little sandy beach area with a playground and a lagoon/tidal pool. Good if you are worried about young kids going into the sea.
Walking along the seawall towards Chalkwall, there are small sections of beach. However these aren’t THAT great as you’re going further into the Thames Estuary, rather than out to sea.
(Beach near Chalkwall)
Southend is currently home to four out of Essex’s six Blue Flag beaches. Three Shells Beach is one and the other three are Thorpe Bay Beach, Shoebury Common and East Beach (in Shoeburyness). Thorpe Bay Beach is the only large sandy beach.
The Arcades (& the Kursaal)
If you’re looking for things to do in Southend on a rainy day, Sea Life Adventure is a good option, but there’s also plenty of arcades along the seafront.
Along Marine Parade you’ll find several different ones including: Sunspot Amusements, Electric Avenue, New York New York, Monte Carlo and Las Vegas.
Although it is closed at the moment, the Kursaal is worth a mention. It’s a Grade II listed building, recognised by the big dome over the entrance. It opened in 1901 as a ballroom and arcade. Over its lifespan it had over 40 rides and attractions. In its early days it was the largest amusement park in the South of England. More recently it was a bowling alley and music venue.
Much of the property is now housing but for the time being, the main entrance building is still standing.
The Cliff Lift
The Southend Cliff Lift is a 130m funicular railway that opened in 1912. It’s the shortest funicular railway in Britain! A single journey is 50p. The cliff railway is manned by volunteers so opening hours vary.
It’s not the only way to get up the ‘hill’ though. If you can’t be bothered to walk up all the stairs or along the road, a free normal lift is located near the pier. Pier Hill Lift also has an observation platform.
Shopping In Southend
Overlooking Southend seafront is the Royals Shopping Centre. This indoor shopping centre has shops such as: Primark, Pandora, TK Maxx, Debehams and more. The pedestrianised High Street has a whole range of other shops too! If you’re coming to Southend via Southend Victoria or Southend Central train station, the High Street is the most direct route to the seafront.
Also along the High Street you’ll find Escape Live, Southend’s escape room. There are 3 themed rooms and visitors have 60 minutes to solve clues and escape! One room has a storyline about a pirate ship that crashed into Southend Pier!
I also want to visit Caddies, which is an indoor crazy golf restaurant and bar! They have two 9 hole themed courses and their menu includes: pizzas, burgers, cocktails and more. Chelmsford also has a similar crazy golf bar too!
Cliffs Pavilion Theatre
The Cliffs Pavilion theatre is actually in Westcliff-on-Sea but is still within walking distance from Southend seafront. The theatre pulls in some pretty big names. McFly have played there. I’ve seen Dara O’Brien the comedian there.
Some other names that currently have (potential) tour dates at the Cliffs include: Russell Howard, Jack Dee, John Bishop, Alan Carr and Al Murray.
Every year the Cliffs Pavilion has a pantomime. There’s usually a couple of famous people playing the main characters. In the 2019-2020 season, the dance group ‘Diversity’ were in the production of ‘Robin Hood and the Merry Men’!
The smaller Palace Theatre is good too. I saw a performance of children’s story ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. So whether you are an adult or a family, between the different theatres in Southend, there’s something for everyone.
Rossi Ice Cream
While up near the Cliffs Pavilion, make sure to swing into the Rossi Ice Cream parlour. Rossi ice cream as been made in Southend since 1932! The location of the factory has since moved from its original location but it’s still produced in Southend today! The parlour along Western Esplanade is the largest, with both indoor and outdoor seating, however there are a couple of other smaller places to buy Rossi along the seafront. The vanilla is their classic flavour, but they also offer a large range of other flavours, such as: honeycomb, salted caramel and coffee latte.
Southend Cliff Gardens
Along the ‘cliffs’ between Adventure Island, and you guessed it, the Cliffs Pavilion, is the Cliff Gardens. This is an alternative to walking along the seawall, however it is obviously a little steeper in places! There are paths and benches where you can sit and people watch!
Once upon a time, part of the Cliff Gardens was home to ‘Never Never Land’. This was a little like a fairy/fantasy style model village. The attraction closed in 2001, but now a couple of pieces have been restored (a fairy castle and waterfall and a giant sleeping under the grass).
A cool concept, with several Essex locations, is ‘Treasure Trails’. These are self guided walks, where you have to look for clues on various monuments and buildings. Southend has two Treasure Trails. The Seafront and Cliffs route is approximately 2.5 miles long, starting and finishing at Southend Central train station.
How To Get To Southend
Parking in Southend-on-Sea
Whenever I’ve visited Southend-on-Sea I’ve either parked at the Seaway Carpark, which is just behind a row of the arcades along the seafront. Or along the Esplanade. The Esplanade does get quite busy though. You could park up by the Cliffs Pavilion and then walk along the seawall towards Adventure Island. The car parks are pay and display.
Southend by Train
If travelling by train, if you’re coming from somewhere in Essex you’re likely to arrive into Southend Victoria. For example, if you are in Braintree, Colchester, Chelmsford, Clacton, you’ll need to change at Shenfield (Greater Anglia service). From London, London Liverpool Street will take you on the same Greater Anglia service into Southend Victoria. This line also goes by Southend Airport.
Or from Fenchurch the C2C service will go via Basildon or Tilbury into Southend Central. (You can also continue on to Thorpe Bay or Shoeburyness on this line).
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