Attractions of Southend
Certainly, Southend’s biggest attraction has to be Southend Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world. But there is so much more to Southend than just its pier. The following is a run-down of the town’s biggest attractions.
Located on the Southend seafront, the Southend Pier has been thrilling patrons from all over the UK and the world for over a century. On the far end of the pier is constant deep water, but on the so-called dry end of the pier is where the fun really starts.
The dry end boasts of the Kursaal Amusement Park, which has been a great tourist attraction for quite some time now, especially during the 1950s and 1960s when it enjoyed its heyday. Visitors tend to spend the entire day at the amusement park, soaking up everything it has to offer. The amusement arcades offer everything from video games to bingo as well as pool tables and fruit machines.
Summer is the best time to visit as the seafront is teeming with activity. The Kursaal and nearby arcades are open from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Sundays to Thursdays, and from 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. When the tourists get tired of fun and games, they can lounge on the beach and reflect while they watch the tide come and go.
In October 2005, a fire severely damaged the pier head, which has since then undergone a major revamp. Parts of the pier are still off-limits, but that doesn’t stop tourists from all over from visiting Southend Pier in droves.
Another special attraction at the pier are the fascinating Thames Barges, which make an appearance at the end of the pier every summer.
From September to November 5 (Guy Fawkes Night), Saturdays are fireworks night at the pier, and the dazzling displays of fire and light never seem to grow old. During fireworks night, festivities begin as early as 7 p.m. when fireworks are lit at the foot of the pier for everyone to admire. The entire show is free of charge.
The Sea Life Centre on the Eastern Esplanade is another popular attraction and features tropical fish as well as all kinds of marine life that can be found at the Thames Estuary. Right across Kursaal Amusement Park, Sea Life Centre is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays to Sundays.
If all those marine displays move you to get closer to the water, there’s a Waverley Boat Excursion at the Southend Pier Head. The Waverley boat runs and up and down river, from the pier to the Thames and back. Boat trips are available all year round, day and night. If you still want more, there’s also the Old Leigh Regatta every weekend in September, featuring sailing and host of water-based activities as well as live bands, bars and market stalls. Admission is free.
Getting tired of all that water? Perhaps it’s time for a little aeronautical action. If you’re visiting in May, time your visit during the second May Bank Holiday weekend when the Southend Air show takes to the air on Sunday and Monday. This annual event is the largest free air show in Europe and boasts of a wide array of different aeroplanes as well as acrobatics displays, sea rescues and fireworks. You won’t even have to worry about going hungry as dozens of stalls and eateries are open at the seafront at this time. The weekend’s main event is the aerial exhibition of the Red Arrows, the RAF’s elite aerobatic team, which never fails to wow everyone in the audience, both young and old alike.
For nature lovers, the Westcliff Gardens on the Western Esplanade showcase rows upon rows of award-winning gardens. Open all year round, Westcliff Gardens is a perennial winner at the Chelsea Flower Show. It’s an excellent place for a stroll or for a leisurely lunch surrounded by cliff gardens. Admission is free.
For the more cultured set, Southend boasts of the Beecroft Art Gallery, The Cliffs Pavilion and The Palace Theatre. The Beercroft Art Gallery, located on Station Road in Westcliff, has a large collection of artworks by local and international artists. The occasional exhibitions that the gallery hosts are quite impressive.
Located on Station Road, The Cliffs Pavilion is a prestigious theatre that always has something good in store. It’s a regular venue for nationally famous music, comedy and theatre acts. Meanwhile, The Palace Theatre on London Road is a sister venue of Cliffs and features plays and musicals with a distinctly alternative flavour.
For a taste of history, there’s the "Old Town," also known as Old Leigh, near the Leigh-on-Sea bus station. It’s a good place to stroll near the Chalkwell Railway Station for an excellent view of the sea. Lovers enjoy this romantic walk, all the way to the sandy beach beside the Bell Wharf. While you’re there, drop by the nearby Lynn Tait Gallery and the bird sanctuary on Two-Tree Island.
For more history, there’s also the Hadleigh Castle in Hadleigh, one of the most popular historic attractions around. While the site currently consists only of ruins, with no shop or guide around, the atmosphere oozes a strong sense of the past. Oh, if the walls could only speak.