Colchester means 'The fortress by the River Colne'. Strategically located on the river, just 10 miles from the coast, it became the Roman capital of Britain just after their conquest in 44 AD. The area was initially the stronghold of the Celtic King Cunobelinus, who was defeated by the Romans. However, the history of the area actually dates back much further to around 1000 BC.

Colchester Town Street

Town Hall from Trinity Street © MJ Reilly

The town was famously ransacked and destroyed by the local chieftess Boadicea, as part of the English uprising against the Romans in AD 60. During the Middle Ages the town grew rich from the wool trade and later, Dutch refugees settled here establishing a thriving textile industry.

Colchester is a pleasant place to visit, with wide tree lines streets and an ancient castle set in a large large park that gently slopes down to the river. The current fortification is Norman (circa 1076). Said to be the largest surviving keep in Northern Europe, and the first royal castle to be built outside of London. The castle keep was built over the remains of a roman temple and Britain's earliest known Christian chapel.

The town walls were originally laid by the Romans, using alternating courses of brick, stone and tiles. Much of these defences still stand, including the largest Roman Gateway in Britain, the "Balkerne Gate" - originally the western entrance to the town. Near to this is an unusual, square Victorian water tower, nicknamed Jumbo after the famous elephant from London Zoo.

The impressive castle keep is now a museum dedicated to the history of Colchester; housing one of the finest collections of Roman artifacts in the country. Other museums in the town include the Natural History Museum on High Street and Hollytrees Museum in Castle Road. To the northwest of the castle lies the old Dutch quarter, where Flemish Weavers made their homes in the 16th-c. The only surviving Saxon building in Colchester is Holy Trinity Church, built with materials taken from the Roman fort. William Gilberd, physician to the Queen Elizabeth I, is buried within the churchyard.

Colchester has a variety of other attractions and facilities to suit all age groups. The Mercury Theatre hosts a wide range of performances and original plays. The fine Italianate Town Hall was designed by John Belcher (1902). With a statue of Helena (mother of Constantine) towering above the roof. The recently refurbished Fenwick shopping centre is the perfect place to browse through all your favourite shops. The town has an excellent choice of accommodation from small guest houses to large hotels, and makes a splendid base for touring the Essex and the East Anglia area.

Colchester is an open spacious city, with park areas, green corridors and tree lined roads. Castle Park is the hub of the community, with spectacular floral displays, a boating lake, mature trees, children's play amenities, putting greens and a boating lake.

Just to the north of Colchester lies Constable country. An area of outstanding natural beauty that has inspired many great English painters, including John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. A great place to explore on foot or by cycle, with quaint little villages of thatched cottages and water mills. The most famous of which is Flatford Bridge, a delightful 16th-c cottage, often painted by Constable. Managed by the National Trust, it houses an art exhibition, tea room and gift shop.

Places of Interest to Visit in Colchester

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

One of England's most important Heritage sites, built on the foundations of the Roman temple dedicated to the emperor Claudius. The current fortification was built by William the Conqueror and boasts the largest Norman keep in the whole of Europe. It currently houses the town museum, which has outstanding collections of romano-british antiques.

Opening times: daily from 10am to 5pm (11am Sun) - Admission Charge
Location: Colchester CO1 1TJ

Hollytrees Museum

A beautiful Georgian building which reiterates domestic and social life in the town over the past 300 years. Within are displays of old Victorian toys, costume and art. Outside there is a children's play area and sensory garden.

Opening times: daily 10am to 5pm (closed Sun) - Free Entry
Location: Castle Rd, Colchester CO1 1UG
Tel: 01206 282940

Natural History Museum

Sited in an old converted Norman church (formerly All Saints), it contains a collection of rare fossils, plus a number of interactive displays covering local nature and the environment, from the ice age to present day.

Opening times: daily from 10am to 5pm (11am Sun) - Free Entry
Location: 66 High St, Colchester CO1 1DN
Tel: 01206 282941

Roman Circus Visitor Centre

The circus was an area used for horse and chariot racing during the Roman occupation. The site at Colchester is the only Roman Circus ever found in Britain. Dating back to 200 AD, it would have provided seating for around 8000 spectators.

Opening times: Summer: open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11.00am to 4.00pm
Location: Roman Circus Walk, Colchester CO2 7GZ
Tel: 01206 501785

St Botolph's Priory

The impressive ruins of a magnificent medieval Augustine Priory, founded in the 11th-c. All that remains standing today is the west front and part of the nave.

Opening times: times vary see website for details - Managed by English Heritage
Location: St Botolph's Church Walk, Colchester CO2 7EE
Tel: 0370 333 1181

ChimpColchester Zoo

One of Europe's finest zoos, housing over 260 animal species. Exhibits include interactive displays, a tropical walk through area and animal petting zone. Animal feeding times for elephants and giraffes.

Opening times: all year, daily from 9.30 (exc. Xmas). Admission Charge
Location: Maldon Road, Colchester, Essex CO3 0SL
Tel: 01206 331292 -

Map of Colchester


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