Chelmsford – from staging post to Diamond Jubilee city. Visit Essex and Chelmsford For You gives us a guided tour
Two thousand years ago Chelmsford was simply a staging post into East Anglia, but over the centuries it’s become so much more than that. From historic county town of Essex to city status for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Chelmsford has built a cosmopolitan presence that offers something for everyone.
Whether it’s the famously abundant parks and open spaces, its flourishing leisure scene with lots of interesting restaurants for food fans, or its popular shopping, it’s an attractive destination throughout the year.
Central Park is a gem in the heart of the city. It’s a great space for youngsters and families, just off the main shopping area and High Chelmer precinct. Take a break to stroll among colourful flower beds to the lovely fountain, then stop at the café for drinks and cakes. Youngsters will have fun in the play areas or watching riverside wildlife.
For a touch of heritage in our countryside, visit Hylands Estate, which includes 574-acres of historic parkland, and the neo-classical Hylands House. Roam through Hylands Park with views of the city in the distance, bring the family along to enjoy the fully accessible Adventure Castle Playground or take a look around the creative hub that is The Stables – an exciting historic courtyard with a café, artist studios, second-hand bookshop and shop with items made especially at Hylands Estate.
The ornate Victorian Pleasure Gardens have several period garden styles to explore, and with planting restoration taking place. There’s always something new to see, including resident wildlife. Hylands Estate is fully open every third Sunday of the month, with a bustling Farmers’ and Crafts Market, and a chance to discover the history of Hylands House.
There’s also an exciting programme of events at Hylands Park. As well as workshops at The Stables and a variety of visiting markets, there will be special events during the summer – and some treats for younger visitors. An outdoor theatre production of Rapunzel on Monday 15 August will offer a brand-new musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale, and for fans of the prehistoric there are the thrills of Dinosaurs in the Park from 18 August to 4 September.
Meanwhile, The Stables courtyard will host a summer series of events in July and August, showcasing some of the best upcoming musical talent, with acts such as Sunchaser and Black Pines.
With history in mind, there’s no better place to discover the city’s story than Chelmsford Museum in the beautiful surroundings of Oaklands Park. You can see, smell, touch and hear Chelmsford’s past as you walk from the Ice Age, right through to the present day. Discover the remains of a woolly mammoth, watch a princely Anglo-Saxon burial, and see stunning art by a Turner Prize winner. Open from 10am to 5pm every day (including bank holidays) in the summer season to 30 September.
Oaklands Park also features the award-winning Hive café in the museum’s stunning Victorian house. It’s in the original drawing room where the sun streams in throughout the day, allowing for breath-taking views of the surrounding park and Rose Gardens. It’s open Monday to Sunday from 8am to 5pm and has the occasional late opening and special pop ups too.
On the outskirts of Chelmsford you will discover RHS Garden Hyde Hall. For a county not known for its contours, Hyde Hall’s hilltop setting provides visitors with unexpected sweeping panoramas of the undulating countryside that surrounds it.
A far cry from its humble beginnings as a farm, the 365-acre garden and estate is now a major tourist attraction in the East of England, However, even on a busy day you’ll still find a shady spot where you can lie back on lush green lawns, listen to the wonderful birdsong and gaze up at big open skies.
With such an eclectic mix of plants, and planting styles from traditional to modern, gardeners and day-trippers alike will be enchanted by the exciting spaces, colourful blooms and natural beauty. The quintessential Hilltop Garden with its Rose Garden and Herbaceous Border is full of English charm, but venture a little further and you will be transported to distant shores with a visit to the Mediterranean-inspired Dry Garden. Children are also well catered for with the spectacular Higgledy Hyde play tower and explorer trails.
When visiting the gardens, why not treat you taste buds too? Enjoy fresh, seasonal produce in the Gardeners Rest restaurant or pop into the Clover Café for an informal breakfast or lunch. And don’t forget to leave time to browse the garden centre and gift shop.
Chelmsford’s High Street offers an array of well-known stores, including John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Next, Superdry and H&M. But it is not just the large brands; Chelmsford is also home to award-winning independents and family businesses providing the perfect mix for your retail therapy.
Step inside the covered market in the centre of Chelmsford, boasting an array of local family run stalls catering for every need, from fruit and veg to stationery, housewares and clothing. Want to sample some local produce? Cheese, meat and vegetables are among foods to cater for all tastes.
And when you get hungry you can travel the world under one roof for a bite to eat. There’s Lek’s Thai Food, Baah Noodle, Damascus Mediterranean food, Curry in a Hurry or Maura’s Italian Bakery to choose from.
The undercover market is open Tuesday to Saturday. There is also an outdoor market on Chelmsford High Street which is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and a special independent pop up market the first Sunday of the month.
You’ll never be short of options to eat in and around Chelmsford. Taste cuisines from around the world across the city or venture into some of our charming villages. Galvin Green Man is an award-winning British pub and modern restaurant, set in the beautiful Essex countryside, close to Great Waltham in a building dating back to 1341. It’s owned by Michelin Star chef brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin. The Stores, also in Great Waltham, is a lovely café that does pizza at the weekends.
Stock to the south of the city centre also has a great range of gastropubs. The Hoop (with an AA rosette) regularly makes it into best pub listings. There’s also The Bear, The Baker’s Arms and The Harvard Inn to choose from.
Within the city centre there is a host of amazing eateries to tempt you. Fete Grays Yard is a relaxed independent eatery serving brunch, lunch and weekend small plates. Moto Pizza is billed as no ordinary pizzeria, with their dough made on site every morning with Italian flour, and don’t forget one of Chelmsford’s most loved independent venues, Acanteen. Chelmsford also has an amazing selection of cafes, ranging from familiar brands to artisan coffee providers such as Mr Cavendish and Driink.