Southend-on-Sea, Essex is one of the closest beach resorts to London and offers a lot more than just a beach with the classic British arcades. It is famous for the world’s longest pleasure pier, which is an impressive 1.33 miles long, and the location of filming for Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast Recipes.
A favourite for British holidaymakers for decades, the city has benefited from a lot of investment in recent years and is perfect for a relaxing weekend away from it all.
I just got back from a weekend in Southend and am feeling refreshed, as well as pleased to have discovered a new part of the UK. Here’s my guide on how to get there, where to stay and what to do. If you’ve got a question, send me a Tweet to @GetJaunty for more information.
How to get to Southend-on-Sea
Take the train
From London take c2c Rail from London Fenchurch Street to Southend Central train station. This journey takes less than an hour and the services run regularly during the week and each weekend.
I’d recommend getting a train in the morning to make the most of your time in the city and to arrive for lunch with a sea view. Fish and chips is a classic but you’ll also find jellied eels on offer!
The nearest tube to London Fenchurch Street is Tower Hill on the District and Circle line.
Where to stay
There are a huge range of accommodation types, from budget to luxury, many with sea views. Whether you choose a hotel or a B&B, it’s best to stay centrally and in walking distance from the train station, so keep that in mind when researching.
On the seafront there is a large Park Inn by Radisson Palace and Southend Central Hotel is only a ten minute walk from the train station.
For my visit I stayed at the Seven Hotel – a luxury boutique hotel adjacent to the Cliff Lift. Our stay here was comfortable and the room size was very generous, whilst the food and service was exceptional. Our room faced the back and was quiet, so it was a relaxing place for a night’s stay.
What to do in Southend-on-Sea
The Cliff Lift
The Cliff Lift originally opened in 1912 and was reopened as recently as 2010. It runs between the Western Esplanade and Clifton Terrace. The funicular has one 12 person carriage which travels 130ft down the cliff edge on a single track.
Even if you don’t ride it, it’s a good photo opportunity and a beautiful piece of history, lovingly restored. Next to the line are steps leading down the cliff edge to the sea if you don’t want to wait.
This is the main attraction that will come to mind when most people think of what to do in Southend, and with good reason – it’s the longest pleasure pier in the world!
At 1.33 miles you can walk up and down the pier, or take the train. If it isn’t impressive enough that this pier has an actual train line running along it, at the end you’ll find food and activity huts, a bar and cafe and an RNLI centre, as well as crazy golf depending on the time of year.
As you walk the pier (or take the train), look back towards Southend-on-Sea for some wonderful views.
You can’t really visit the UK coastline without going into an arcade or two. Southend has a few more than that on offer, many named like the top casinos you find in Las Vegas, like the Monte Carlo and New York.
Lining the promenade, one of the best is probably the Happidrome Arcade with amusements like crane machines, table football and 2p, 5p and 10p coin games. You don’t have to spend a fortune and it’s great for all ages.
This square is a stunning garden landscape set amongst gorgeous terraced houses that wouldn’t look out of place in the heart of London. Featuring a gated entrance, water fountain and seasonal flowers, it’s the perfect place to take a break.
Adventure Island dominates the coastline here and is an impressive array of bright colours, sounds and food. It’s ‘the UK’s best free entry theme park’ and has everything from rollercoasters to dodgems. Located just off the pier, it’s worth a visit and if I didn’t mention, it’s free entry!
The atmosphere is pretty relaxed and many families visit during the day. For the perfect view of the park, take a walk or use the lift from the Western Esplanade to Pier Hill and stand on the viewing deck.
Other activities: Sealife Adventure, Southend Cliff Gardens, Southchurch Park.
Food and drink
This restaurant may look rather unassuming from the outside, perched on the cliff-face as you head for Adventure Island. However, the fresh fish and chips is absolutely delicious and great fuel for your walk along the pier. Portions are generous and there’s both indoor and outdoor seating available. In addition to classic British fair, you can also order a number of Thai dishes, all with that desirable sea view.
Pipe of Port
Just off of the main high street you find Pipe of Port, a basement bar serving craft beer, gin and wine, as well as food, which you can enjoy by candlelight. Around since the 1970s, it’s a local favourite.
Seven Hotel Bar
Guest or not, the Seven Hotel Bar is a relaxed and ambient place to order a drink or snack and chat as you enjoy background music. The bar also has that sea view – luckily it seems like there’s no getting away from it in Southend! – and you can sit inside or venture out to the terrace which is lit up beautifully at night.
If you dine here, try the charcuterie and cheese or roast beef sandwich.
My guide map
Follow the map I used during my stay and easily make the most of your time in Southend:
Whilst my trip just explored Southend-on-Sea, you’re also close enough to visit Leigh-on-Sea, Thorpe Bay, and Shoeburyness. At the mouth of the Thames Estuary, Shoreburyness has a nature conservation area and many points of military interest, due to its involvement in the Second World War.
In nearby Hadleigh you can visit Hadleigh Castle, a ruin from the 1200s which was painted by the critically acclaimed artist John Constable in the early part of the 19th century.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions, just leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
Note: c2c Rail paid for my weekend in Southend-on-Sea, but as always, all opinions are my own.