48 hours in Colchester: a family getaway

Exterior view of Colchester Castle

The O'Hallorans

The OHallorans

We’re made up of Lyndsey, John and Erin, who all love a new adventure. We try to get away as much as possible, especially during school holidays and variety is a must for us. That means staying anywhere from a luxury hotel to a hostel and it’s not often we go to the same place twice. 

Are you looking to book your next short break as a family? Colchester would be a great choice if you’re travelling with kids. Find you how you can spend 48 hours in Colchester, and what to do with your time in this post.

Where to stay

There are so many places to stay when visiting Colchester. The town center is full of well-known hotel chains, as well as boutique B&B options.

We found that hotels just outside of Colchester to be more reasonably priced. For this reason, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Colchester. This hotel was a 15 minute drive from the town center and perfectly situated for a trip to the zoo the next day (another 15 minute drive).

The hotel was clean and quiet, which is the most important for us. We also had free breakfast included with our booking which helped us to keep costs down. It might not have been the best hotel we’ve ever stayed in, but it was perfectly okay for 1 night. 

Day 1

Morning (Old ruins and Natural History Museum)

If you’ve driven to Colchester, Britannia Car Park is a good option for all day parking, which doesn’t cost a fortune, It’s just behind Colchester Town train station and an easy walk into the town centre.

St. Botolph’s Priory ruins

Just behind Britannia Car Park, you’ll find St. Botolph’s Priory ruins. This was a real surprise for us as it wasn’t something we expected to see in Colchester. This area is free to visit and open as long as it’s light outside. There’s a little board where you can learn about some of the history of the ruins and what they once were.

An 8 year old girl and her 40 year old Dad stood near the ruins in Colchester

Natural History Museum

A hidden gem in Colchester is the Natural History Museum. You’ll find it in an old church close to Colchester Castle and Castle Park. As a free to enter museum, it is a great choice if you’re trying to keep the costs down.

The museum has quite a lot to see, considering how small it is inside. We found scenes from regular houses with animals such as cats and birds, as well as others from the North Sea and sand dunes. There are some great hands on displays where children can learn more about what’s on show!

Domestic house and garden Natural History Display

The museum is only small, so don’t plan to spend all day here. We stayed for around an hour and it was possible to see and read a lot of the information in this time. There are toilets on site, which can be an important factor if you’re planning to visit with smaller children!

Visit the Colchester Natural History Museum website for more information.

Lunch (Picnic at Castle Park)

Just across the road from the Natural History Museum you’ll find Castle Park. This is home to Colchester Castle, which you can pay to go into. We were trying to do our day as cheaply as possible so we decided not to go on this occasion.

The park though, is the perfect place for children to blow off some steam and for you to have a lunch break. There are plenty of green, grassy areas in the park where you can sit and eat, as well as benches and picnic tables dotted around. We visited on a busy day in the school holidays and there was plenty of space.

Castle Park Colchester play equipment

The play area is incredible, with something for all ages. With a mix of slides, climbing equipment and sand play, you might have a hard time getting children to leave. There are toilets located at the play area too which will make your day easier!

If you don’t fancy a picnic, just near the play area is a cafe which served both hot and cold food. There is indoor and outdoor seating here as well.

Afternoon (Contemporary Art Gallery)

A 5 minute from from Castle Park is Firstsite, a free contemporary art gallery. We had to change our plans quickly after lunch but a quick Google gave us this as an option. If you’re trying to keep costs down like I was, it’s a great choice.

Exterior view of First Site Colchester

As a contemporary art gallery, exhibits will change over time and therefore, your experience might be different to ours. At the time of our visit, there was a great exhibition about Lucy Harwood. This was a great choice when visiting with children, as there was lots to talk about and some interactive areas. Children were able to copy some drawings and then have their own art work put on the wall.

There was a lot of interesting things to see in this area of the museum and Erin really enjoyed looking at all of the paintings. 

8 year old girl stood underneath a huge image of a man in a suit.

Plan to spend around an hour at Firstsite. As it’s not huge, once you’ve seen the exhibits, there isn’t anything else to do. During school holidays, look out for events as there is usually something going on for children, but you might need to book.

Visit the Firstsite website for more information.

Dinner (Colchester High Street)

For dinner, a good choice would be to go to the main road, or high street and surrounding area. Here, you’ll find a really diverse range of eateries, such as fast food, quick pizza places and sit down restaurants. If you haven’t got somewhere pre-booked, it’s a good idea to talk a walk down the street to see what your options are. There are plenty of places suitable for families, and something to suit most budgets. 

Carbonara at Ask Italian Colchester

Although there was a lot of great places to choose from, we ate at Ask Italian, as we had vouchers to use. We had a really lovely meal, where the food was fresh and delicious. We had never eaten at this chain before but we certainly would again. 

Day 2

Morning (Colchester Zoo)

If you’re a fan of animals then a day trip to Colchester Zoo is a must. It’s one of the biggest (and best) zoos we’ve ever been to and it was definitely the highlight of our trip.

The zoo opens at 9:30am and I really advise getting there for this time. If it’s a weekend or the school holidays, it’s likely to be quite busy already with people waiting to get in. There’s a huge car park though and once you’ve scanned your ticket, you’ll be in the zoo in no time at all.

As the zoo is big, it’s a good idea to have a look at the map and plan out some of the things you’re looking to see the most. Colchester Zoo has a great app too, which can tell you when any experiences and talks are happening throughout the day.

Erin stood near the map at Colchester Zoo

Feed the lorikeets

At the top of our list for the morning was to feed the lorikeets in the Australian Rainbows exhibit. For a small fee (£1 at the time of writing), you can buy a pot of nectar and feed the birds inside this free-flying enclosure. There’s a good chance that birds will land on you and maybe even preen your hair! There’s a limit to how much the birds can be fed though, which is why it’s important to go in the morning if you want to do this.

Mother and daughter in the Australian Rainbow exhibit at Colchester Zoo. The mother has a lorikeet sat on top of her head.

Ride the land train

Colchester Zoo has a land train which take a short journey around part of the zoo, and it’s free of charge. The train stops at the lemur enclosure, where you can get out and walk around with the animals. You only get a short time though if you want to get back on the train.


Something that we really loved about Colchester Zoo was the fact that there are so many places to eat. Everywhere you turn there seems to be another choice. However, some of these only seem to be open during weekends and school holidays.

What we did find is that there are more ‘speciality’ places to eat that only serve a few different options such as wraps, or sausages etc. Menus are not available online or on the app so it can be a bit tricky to know where to go.

We chose to eat at the Chip n’ Mix Stop and found it to be very reasonable. For 2 potions of cheesy chips, a portion of chicken goujons and a children’s chicken and chips, we paid just over £15. The food was delicious too!

Children's chicken goujons and chips, a tray of chicken goujons and 2 trays of cheesy chips on a green food tray.


After having a reset during lunch, it’s time to get going again and discover more animals at the zoo. There’s so much to do and see here and on a regular day, you will struggle to see everything.

Play areas

Colchester Zoo has quite a few play areas dotted around. This is a great way to break up the day for younger children so try and make time to visit at least one play area. There’s also a free indoor soft play that you can book a slot for when you buy your tickets.

Kids' Safari play area at Colchester Zoo

Feed the giraffes

For only £20 (At the time of writing), you can feed the giraffes at Colchester Zoo. This has to be booked when using your tickets and slots do sell out quite quickly, especially during weekends and school holidays.

Giraffes at Colchester Zoo

Visit the gift shop

The gift shop at this zoo is huge and definitely worth visiting before you head home. There’s really something for everyone, with a range of products at different prices. I always like to pick up a postcard and a magnet when I visit somewhere like this.

Colchester Zoo closes at around 5pm, depending on the time of year and if there are any late night openings.

Colchester Zoo website: http://colchester-zoo.com/

Discover more to do in Colchester

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