There's nothing like a visit to the seaside to blow away the cobwebs – and there are countless ways of making the most of the fresh air in Southend-on-Sea. Add to that a wide range of indoor activities from pottery to cinema and there is truly is something for everyone.
Activities in Southend
Most coastal towns in the UK can be pretty breezy – but while that doesn't always make ideal conditions for sunbathing, it does give you a great opportunity to try your hand at the adventurous sports such as kitesurfing or power kiting.
Located next to Uncle Tom's Cabin just 20 yards from the beach, Southend Kitesurfing offers tuition at various levels, from introductory and taster sessions to lessons for improvers. You can even learn to be an instructor yourself. There are changing rooms on-site, as well as parking and toilets. Some say you'd need the patience of a saint to teach kitesurfing to a complete novice but fortunately, that's exactly what customers say owner Steve Davison has in abundance!
If you prefer to be on the water with a paddle in your hand, you might like to try kayaking at Perfect Day Watersports, which is just down the road in Leigh-on-Sea and less than a mile from our Southend Airport hotel. As well as running courses in learning how to kayak, there are lessons in powerboating and dinghy sailing. You can even stay on dry land if you're interested in one of the centre's theory courses. These include skippering a yacht, VHF radio and first aid.
No day out in Southend would be complete without a visit to Adventure Island, the popular fun park located on the Western Esplanade on Southend-on-Sea's iconic seafront. There are more than 40 rides and attractions to choose from – and the good news is that admission to the park is free. Thrillseekers pay for an all-day colour-coded wristband to go on the rides, which include the Rage rollercoaster, Mighty Mini Mega, Green Scream and Archelon. Plus, you can save money by booking online.
There's also a soft play area for those with children too young to go on the rides and plenty of places to eat, such as the prehistoric-themed Dining-Saurs restaurant. On your way to or from Adventure Island, you'd be well advised to enjoy a stroll on the town's world-famous pier. It has so much to offer that we've created our own dedicated Southend Pier page.
If you want to get away from the seafront, Garon Park Golf Complex could be for you. A couple of miles inland but still only 10 minutes' drive away from any of our Southend hotels, it offers a 27-hole golf course, plus a floodlit driving range in case you want to practise your tee shots after dark. Not only that but the Garon Park clubhouse boasts two restaurants, as well as bars, function suites and a discount golf shop. You can pay a daily fee to play at Garon Park and there are five resident professionals available for individual or group golf tuition.
Our video guide to Southend activities
What can you do when you're at the seaside but the weather's too miserable to let you anywhere near the water? Heaven forbid that the sun might actually stop shining in scorching Southend-on-Sea, but it's fair to say that the town does attract plenty of visitors outside the summer months when it might be too wet or chilly for the beach.
A great place to go if you still want to experience the wonders of marine life is Sea Life Adventure. First opened as an aquarium in 1993, it's now operated by the same owners as nearby Adventure Island. Situated a stone's throw from our Eastern Esplanade hotel, it recently underwent a major refurbishment, which saw the addition of new exhibits including otters. New for 2018 is Sea Life Adventure Wild, where newly arrived meerkats and African spurred tortoises are housed, joining existing attractions which can be viewed in the many themed areas. These include Deepwater World, Crocs and Frogs, the Crawl Wall, HMS Subtropical and the Caribbean Sea tank.
Close to Garon Park Golf Complex is the award-winning indoor play and children's party venue Kids Kingdom. So, if your kids fancy letting off some steam, you might be able to combine a visit with a chance to practise your golf swing. Due to reopen in June 2018 after a major refurbishment, Kids Kingdom offers a wide range of high-octane and boisterous indoor play, including laser tag games in its Alien Maze. When it's time to refuel, there's an on-site café which promises healthy options such as salads as well as the usual favourites like sandwiches, paninis, jacket potatoes, pasta and pizza.
If the younger members of your family still have the energy, why not get your skates on and take a trip to RollaCity, which is further inland at nearby Rochford, but still only a 10-minute drive for our Airport hotel. Of course, if you don't have your own skates, you can hire them here. The disco lights and latest chart music are sure to make youngsters feel at home, but there's no reason why grown-ups can't join in too. There are under 18s sessions, adults-only evenings and plenty of open skate slots, not to mention skating lessons. The cast and crew of The Only Way is Essex spent a day at RollaCity in 2013 filming an episode, and there's no higher recommendation in these parts!
Of course, not every indoor activity in Southend has to be exhausting, and if you're looking for a gentler way to while away a couple of hours, you'd do well to consider Made By You pottery painting studio in Leigh-on-Sea. You can book two-hour sessions, choose an item and then paint your very own personalised work of art before the professionals then glaze your masterpiece and fire it in their kiln. Pottery painting is suitable for all ages and Made By You can cater for children's birthdays and even hen parties!
You simply can't leave Southend-on-Sea without having sampled at least one of its beaches – and there are five to choose from! Away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre, you'll find Westcliff Beach. It’s fairly flat and sandy with some splendid sunsets and views across to the cranes at Canvey Island. You'll find a bit more room here for making sandcastles than at the main City Beach and there are still several cafés within easy reaching distance.
City Beach is the handiest for the town centre, as you'd expect, and Southend's main attractions such as Sea Life Adventure, Adventure Island and Southend Pier are also nearby.
Bell Wharf Beach is the closest beach to Leigh-on-Sea and boasts the best of both worlds if you fancy the tranquillity of the coastline, as well as exploring boutique shops and art shops of Old Leigh. But if you want to avoid the crowds, you'd be better off heading for Chalkwell Beach, which is between Bell Wharf and Westcliff and probably rates as the quietest stretch of beach in Southend-on-Sea. It's a favourite haunt of people looking for a little peace and quiet and there's a popular walk from Chalkwell Beach to Old Leigh via the cinder path. In the other direction, you’ll find another relatively quiet sport at Thorpe Bay Beach, which is ideal for families and a short walk from our Thorpe Bay hotel.
If you like cycling and you're up for a challenge, you simply must visit Hadleigh Park to try its mountain biking trails. A 20-minute drive from the centre of Southend-on-Sea, this was where the mountain bike events were held for the 2012 London Olympics, so it's not necessarily for the faint-hearted. Having said that, the course has been adapted since then so lots of trails are suitable for all abilities, with just a few hair-raising features such as Triple Trouble, Oak Tree Drop and Leap of Faith being recommended only for expert riders.
As well as the 5km sandstone Olympic course – which features a climb of nearly 1.7km of climb per lap – there is also a Skills Area, where cyclists can practise their bike handling and work on their general riding skills. There’s also a 9km multi-user trail where pedestrians have priority and horse riders are also allowed on some sections.
If you'd prefer something slightly less challenging, then there are two other great cycling opportunities which are ideal even for inexperienced riders. You can take the Seafront Cycle Route, which begins at Chalkwell Beach and goes six and a half miles along the coast to Shoebury East Beach. There are numerous stopping-off points where you can have an ice cream or some other treat to make up for all those calories you're burning off! Or there's the scenic Prittle Brook Cycle Path. This is a traffic-free route of about two and a half miles that goes from Belfairs Park to Priory Park, with the old priory and the new Woodlands Centre being ideal places to stop on the way.
There's no better way to learn about the intriguing history of Southend-on-Sea than by taking part in one of the regular Seafront Walks organised in the peak summer months by Southend Libraries and Museums. Allow two hours for the event and meet outside the Cliffs Pavilion to discover the story of the Cliffs Pavilion, the Golden Mile and plenty more besides. You should ideally book online in advance to reserve a place but it may also be possible to secure a spot on the day by arriving at 2pm prompt and paying the tour guide directly in cash. The Seafront Walks are not suitable for children under the age of seven.
Further afield is Hadleigh Park, only a few miles to the west of Southend and easily accessible by car from all our Southend hotels. Although it’s most famous for having hosted mountain biking at the London Olympics in 2012, its 9km multi-user trail welcomes walkers as well as cyclists and offers splendid views of Hadleigh Castle.