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When in...Colchester
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When in...Colchester

Neptune Colchester opened at the beginning of 2015 and sits just on the edge of this historic town. It’s this corner of Essex’s architecture, its art and its countryside that we love the best, and you’ll find just some of our recommendations below. Alongside these, we’ve also pulled together a few of our favourite places to eat and shop, as no daytrip (or longer visit) would be complete without either.

To do

Flatford

Any admirer of the artist John Constable will likely have heard of Flatford. This small hamlet provided the inspiration for many of his most famous paintings, including The Hay Wain. It’s about half an hour’s drive from Colchester, in the Dedham Vale, but the quintessential beauty of Flatford and the surrounding walks makes the journey completely worthwhile.

The Beth Chatto Gardens

Created by plantswoman Beth Chatto and her husband Andrew in 1960, these gardens grew out of what was really just wasteland. In the process, they overcame the various problems of this challenging site – in places boggy and in others incredibly dry – to create a series of gardens containing plants perfectly suited to their conditions, that are now well-regarded all over the world. There’s also a plant nursery that’s handily organised according to where each plant best likes to grow.

The Munnings Art Museum

This gallery, open from the beginning of April until the end of October each year, sits within the former house of the artist Sir Alfred Munnings. His paintings, which centre around equestrian and rural scenes, are hung alongside many of his personal possessions. You can also visit Munnings’ studio in the garden, which has been kept much as the artist would’ve left it.

Firstsite

As Colchester’s cultural centre, Firstsite plays host to a continually evolving programme of events and exhibitions – from screenings of National Theatre performances, to ‘Exhibition on Screen’ films that shed light on major art exhibitions, to drawing classes and art-themed reading groups. Even if you’re not planning on staying long, the striking, golden building is reason enough to stop by.

To eat

Tymperleys

This tearoom is housed in a 15th century house, tucked away just a few steps from Colchester’s bustling shopping streets, and set within a calm and pretty walled garden. They serve breakfast and lunch, but it’s their traditional afternoon tea that they’re most known for. On a sunny day, there’s no better place to take it than on the lawn. 

Church Street Tavern

Whether for lunch or dinner, for a morning coffee or for relaxed drinks in the evening, this is one of our favourite spots (it’s a good all-rounder). Downstairs, the bar serves quick lunches as well as environmentally-conscious wines, while the slightly more formal restaurant lives upstairs. Both are comfy and eclectically decorated, with murals and artworks by local artists and close friends. We also recommend The Sun Inn: Church Street’s cosy, atmospheric sister pub in nearby Dedham.

Le Talbooth

Sitting on the banks of the River Stour, this restaurant has the twin advantages of classic, elegant food and a beautiful setting in which to enjoy it. Weather permitting, you’ll want to sit out on the terrace, but even when it’s raining, a spot by the window can afford wonderful views.

To shop

The Minories Shop

The Minories is another of Colchester’s contemporary gallery spaces, this time run by the Colchester School of Art from a listed Georgian building, just around the corner from Firstsite. We particularly like their shop, which is one of the best places in this area to find pieces by local artists and craftspeople.

GfB at The Colchester Bookshop

This second hand and rare bookshop (formerly known as Greyfriars Books before it moved to its current, town centre location) can be found at the entrance to the secluded courtyard that’s also home to Tymperleys. While the shelves of this quirky building are stocked with all sorts of books, it’s tomes on local history, art, philosophy and science as well as literature that are the focus here.