I have to say, three sunny UK days in Southend-on-sea by the wonderful Essex coast really surprised me in a good way. What a cool place, and great atmosphere with a little bit of something for everyone.
People and vibes
Wow. I cannot even describe the crowds, it seemed like the entire world had decided to come down to Southend for the bank holiday weekend. The beach front and surrounding areas were absolutely swarming and the most beautiful thing was seeing so many different kinds of people from all generations all out for the same unifying reasons – to lap up the Southend vibe and enjoy the sunshine.
The graffiti wall
I’ts very long and far reaching. Why most people huddle together in the most crowded area of the beach I’ll never know, but I’d recommend you have a good long walk in both directions and you’ll find some lovely little beach spots with different views.
The part of the beach closest to the high street and direction of Southend Central Station was consistently the most overcrowded and congested beach front I’ve ever seen in my life, but nobody seemed unhappy about it – in fact everyone seemed to relish in it with picnics and feasts of every imagination, tents, marques, you name it!
This might just be the best fish and chip shop I’ve ever been to. The queues in this place were beyond ridiculous but testament to the reputation and quality of the food. If ever you’re in Southend you really must sample this place – there are many other fish and chips shops that I didn’t try but I’m pretty sure you’ll want to go back to Neptunes for more.
This place ‘De Olde Chippy’ also had a super long queue – must be another good one!
These took me back to my childhood; the excitement I’d get at the thought of trying to win on the sliding coin machines or win a teddy with the ‘claw’.
Take a ride or stop and relax
There are plenty of theme park areas and rides along the beach front – roller coasters, bumper cars etc amidst countless places to eat. There’s a bowling alley, pubs, souvenir shops, and plenty of hang-out spots to people watch and soak up the views.
There’s a steep grassy bank near the high street with benches, thick shady trees and pretty flowers – another great spot for the views and some shade!
The High Street is where you’ll find all your shopping needs if you fancy some retail therapy – Debenhams, H&M etc…all await you.
As you’d expect, fish and chips are the order of the day in good old fashioned British sea side style. There are lots of places to eat, ‘loads’ of junk food, seafood, doughnuts and candy floss (but not candy floss on a stick like they used to – it’s in plastic buckets for £4!!!).
There was one place (not Neptunes) that I bought some chips from and I had to put them straight in the bin – without even tasting them, the smell of the grease/oil left me so nauseous that they had to go.
I noticed lots of people with Tesco bags – there must be a Tesco around the High Street where people were grabbing supplies for the beach.
I found a great place to get ice-cream, Italian ice-cream to be precise – it’s the opposite direction to the pier – a bit of a walk down past the Premier Inn Eastern Esplanade branch. The two scoop coconut was dee-lish, with little pieces of coconut mixed in.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this though – can’t pensioners manage adult sized scoops then?
The Longest in the world
Yep, Southend-on-sea boasts the longest pier in the world!!!
Places to stay
There seemed to be no end to the number of B&Bs and hotels along the sea front so if you try and book somewhere well in advance you should be ok.
For me, the trusty Premier Inn did just the trick (the Eastern Esplanade branch – which is a bit closer to the main hub of seafront action, a 5 min walk).
It looks like it’s right on the beach, but it’s actually across the road from the beach.
Just a thought – wouldn’t it be great if the Premier Inn went Global!!!
Toward the end of each day you will probably have the pleasure of encountering a lot of ‘very social’ bugs and other flying insects that decide to come and join you as the sun begins to go down. I wasn’t expecting this.
Insect repellent was the last thing on my mind when packing for a UK seaside holiday, I’ve had less issues in some tropical destinations – I’ll know better for next time.
Funny, or not!
As with any beach trip, there’s usually something worthy of a smirk, curious eyebrow arch or laugh to entertain us, as with Southend:
- People wearing coats in 28C temperatures on the beach under the hot sun
- People wearing six inch super thin stiletto heels to the beach
- Interesting tan patches (of which I’ve had my fair share)
- The fabulous and not so fabulous posers (well they’re all fabulous really)
- People screaming and shivering violently after they fling themselves into the sea
- Crazy queues for everything
- The woman trying to charge through the thick easygoing, hot strolling beach crowd with a pushchair at about 80mph like she’s in Kings Cross Station racing to catch the last train
…and of course there’s a shop that sells guns and knives (as well as fridge magnets) right in the thick of the tourist hustle and bustle opposite the seaside.
The UK’s favourite topic of small talk….
We were very lucky indeed for this trip with the hottest days of the year so far the whole time – not far off the 30 celsius mark. Apparently, six years ago the same May Day bank holiday had recorded subzero temperatures, go figure!
Seriously, if you’re a driver you might want to ditch the car or at least try and travel when it’s quieter. The amount of traffic crawling up and down the main road on the seafront was painful to watch, especially on the Bank Holiday Monday. The last thing you need in baking hot weather is to be stuck in a car when you could be out relaxing in the sun. Beat the crowds if you can.
I must say though, it was quite nice to get a good look at some of the lamborghinis and beautiful Harley Davidson’s cruising up and down.
Southend-on sea is a very worthy beach strip, it’s lively with lots to do, see, and eat. There are plenty of rides and amusements and equally great for just strolling, people watching or topping up your tan (if they weather’s right).
If you hate crowds, you can escape to the quieter stretches of the beach, and if you love the crowds you’ll be in your element in the thick of it.
From London it’s a quick and thrifty day out (you can bag some dirt cheap train tickets), but I would strongly recommend trying to stay over for at least a couple of nights in order to get the most out of it, if you can.