Though a bit of a has-been seaside resort off to the east of London, Southend on Sea makes for a fun visit for families and is well within reach of London for daytrips. It sits on the Thames Estuary, about 40 miles east of the UK capital, and is noted for its super-long Victorian pier, family entertainment and shingle beaches. Once you’ve done Southend Pier, Adventure Island and nearby parks and gardens, be sure to take a drive down to Canterbury.
Who to Book With
Car rental is right in the town, or if coming by way of Stansted Airport (the nearest main airport to Southend), it has all the major rental firms such as National, Budget and Alamo. Use a comparator website to pre-book for the best value and to avoid dealing directly. The drive to Southend on Sea is straightforward and bypasses London, going via the M11, M25 and A127. There are also car hire depots near the train station and drop-offs can be done at hotels in town.
Best Time to Go
‘Sunny Southend’ is among the warmest, driest, sunniest places in the United Kingdom. Best weather is between May and September, but it remains fairly mild from early spring through to late autumn. School holidays are definitely worth avoiding, however, as the town really fills out with locals and visiting families. Summer weekends and bank holidays are also busy and rates for hotels and cars are hiked up as they are in July and August.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents need to be shown when collecting your hire car:
- A UK driving licence or an International Driving Permit
- Valid photo identification, such as a passport or license (with photo)
- The same credit card which was used to reserve the car
- The confirmed reservation printed out
For more info read our FAQs.
Southend on Sea is spread out so it’s worth having a car for getting about. The road system is good, with easy access to the coastal road from the M25 (via the A127). There’s also plenty of parking in the town, including at the Seaway car park—not far from Southend Pier—as well as along Western Esplanade.
Our Guide to the United Kingdom contains more detailed driving information.
Southend on Sea is quite large, though you can walk to the beach and pier from most hotels. It takes 10 or 15 minutes to walk from Victoria train station and the main shopping area to the pier, for example. Buses and taxis are the mainstay of public transport, but it is worth having a car as the roads are good and usually not busy, plus there’s a lot to see nearby.
The town is well served by trains from London, with two lines: one coming into the north of the town at Southend Victoria and the other from the west at Southend Central. These are served from London’s Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street stations respectively with regular trains throughout the week. There are also two other stations near town, though these are mainly used by commuters.
Arriva Buses and First Buses are the main providers in Southend on Sea, with regular services all along Western Esplanade and between suburbs and neighbouring towns. There are no night buses, however. Stephensons of Essex is a lesser service, with routings to Rochford and Shoeburyness being popular. Buses go from the Travel Centre off Queensway, behind Southend Pier and Adventure Island.
Taxis are quite pricey, but widely available. As there are few London-style black cabs here, which are typically easy to hail in London, most people head to a taxi rank or phone ahead. Distances can be fairly long so it’s best to use car rental, or have a hotel close to the action if you like a drink at night.
There are historic towns and okay beaches within easy driving distance of Southend on Sea, though the real treat is the proximity of the UK capital city, just a 45-minute drive away by car hire. Canterbury also makes for a fun daytrip, while popular seaside destinations go all up and down this region of the southeast.
Shoeburyness – This fairly unremarkable suburb of Southend is worth a drive for its quieter beaches. It’s just five miles to the east and also comes with pleasant open spaces. You could the head on to Foulness Island or head back to town and take in Rochford, which is just north of Southend on Sea.
Canterbury – Home to the most important church in the Anglican world, Canterbury, of Thomas Becket and Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) fame, is a steady 90-minute drive from Southend. Undeterred by Luftwaffe bombs, Canterbury Cathedral remains the undisputed highlight, plus the town features striking buildings all around and pleasurable walking.
London – The English and UK capital is a 40-minute trip to the west of Southend on Sea via the A127. Though it may be more prudent to head in by train, an easy alternative is to drive to one of the outer Tube stations and park up. You can then pick up an all-day ticket and explore London’s world famous attractions and museums.