It’s no surprise that more and more people are looking at Essex as an alternative to living in London. Its affordability, easy access to London and overall charm make it a very tempting option. If you’re thinking about moving to Essex, it’s worth doing a bit of extra research and becoming familiar with its different areas and what makes them unique. To make your life a little bit easier, we’re spoken to Stacey, a local guide from This Is Your Essex to make a list of the best places to live in Essex in 2021.
Regardless of where in the UK you live, you’ve probably heard Essex being mentioned quite a bit – whether it’s on TV (The Only Way Is Essex anyone?), in casual conversation or more recently, in a list of best places to move to in the UK. But how much do you really know about Essex? What exactly makes Essex such as a great place to live and why can’t people stop talking about it?
Despite its somewhat flamboyant reputation perpetuated by the media, Essex is not all about fake tans and rousing parties. If you look beyond this, you’ll find a charming county with countless attractions and a population of some of the most welcoming and life-loving people in the South of England. It’s this that makes Essex one of the best places to live in the UK.
What makes Essex is one of the best places to live in England:
- Overall affordability
- Beautiful beaches right on your doorstep
- Rich, interesting history
- Friendly locals
- A heaven for commuters, with easy access to London
- Lush countryside and natural parks
- Amazing pubs and restaurants
- A booming nightlife
- Countless shopping opportunities
- Great schools and colleges
A brief history of Essex
Essex has a rich history influenced by many peoples and cultures who have inhabited the county through the ages. It was ruled by the Celts before eventually, the Roman Empire set their sights on the land due to its arable soil and access to the rest of England – which would help them keep the region under control. The Romans managed to consolidate their control over Essex around 43 AD and made Camulodunum (Colchester) the capital of Roman Britain.
Control over Essex changed multiple times since then with the Kingdom of Essex (where the name comes from) ruling for a period of time, before being handed over to the Kingdom of Wessex, which would eventually become England as we know it today.
The county is absolutely littered with remnants of its past including forts, castles, walls, roads as well as various small artefacts which the people of Essex would have used in their everyday lives. Even back then it was arguably the best place to live in all of the British Isles.
What are the best places to live in Essex?
So, now that you know a little more about the region it’s time to dive right in and find out what the best places to live in Essex are and what exactly makes them so special. They each have something different to offer and how much you like each area will depend on your individual tastes and needs – that’s why rather than ranking them in order, we’ve decided to present an unnumbered list for you to check out.
Perfect for: Commuters
There is no better way to describe Basildon than calling it a ‘commuter town’ and that’s exactly what makes it one of the best places to live in Essex. Basildon is already large and continues to expand as more and more people see it as a better, more affordable alternative to London. In fact, it’s becoming so popular that it’s enveloped smaller towns such as Pitsea!
It takes just over 30 minutes to reach central London by train or just over an hour if you’re getting there by car. Its ‘central’ location also means convenient access to the rest of Essex, which is perfect if you’re planning a day out by the sea. Southend-on-Sea is right around the corner and you’re only ever a 20-minute journey away from sipping a delicious cocktail on the beach.
Property prices are another factor which makes Basildon such a great place to live. According to Zoopla, the average house cost in Basildon is £268,402 (as of Jan 2021), compared to the London average of £660,754. Not only that, but the town being less crowded than London also means bigger gardens and more room to breathe!
Perfect for: Families
Did you know Colchester was actually the first town, as well as the first capital in Britain? The Romans made it so in 43 AD when they came to conquer the British Isles. Today, the town is absolutely brimming with history – but don’t worry, its also kept up with recent trends and exists as a modern town with a history you can’t compare to any other place in Essex.
Colchester is one of the best places to live in Essex if you have a family and want to ensure a safe, nurturing environment for your children. There’s plenty to do and you could enjoy a day out at Colchester Zoo, the Colchester Castle Museum or the Firstsite Art Gallery to help spark your children’s creativity and wonder for the natural world. There are also many great public and private schools to ensure your children get a first-class education.
Commuting to London is straightforward and although it is not as close as some of the other places on this list, it still only takes under 50 minutes to travel to Liverpool Street by train.
Property prices are another thing to be excited about as the average cost of a home in Colchester is only £314,019. Buying a property here seems to be a safe investment too, with prices increasing 3.15% over the past 12 months. https://www.zoopla.co.uk/house-prices/browse/colchester
Perfect for: Commuters, families, nature-lovers
Chelmsford is without a doubt one of the best places to live in Essex and many would argue that it is hands-down the best – and they might have a point! The Sunday Times named it as the best place to live in 2018 and it managed to retain a place in the top 10 in 2019 too! It is officially the only city in Essex after it was granted city status to mark the Queen’s 2012 diamond jubilee.
If you’re looking for a quick way into London, then a train to Liverpool Street will take less than 35 minutes. This is a huge part of the reason it’s so popular among commuters.
There’s no shortage of fun and exciting things to do in Chelmsford. Shoppers looking to get their fix can enjoy the retail hub that is Bond Street, which has been recently renovated to make your shopping experience even better. There are many green spaces to enjoy if you’re a nature-lover, the highlight being Hylands Park, with its 574 acres of green space!
All of this comes at a cost, however, as the average price of a property in Chelmsford is £396,586 – making it one of the more expensive places to live in Essex. This may seem like a lot until you compare it with London, which is 65% more expensive.
Perfect for: Commuters
If you’re looking for all the perks and benefits of living in a city like London but wish to avoid the noise and exorbitant prices, then Purfleet is the answer! Purfleet is just a stone’s throw away from London and a journey to the centre of the city takes only around 30 minutes, making it one of the best commuter towns you’ll find.
You’ll find plenty of activities to partake in here, such as the Essex Laser Tag or the Arena Essex Raceway. And if shopping is your thing then you’ll be glad to hear that Purfleet is the home of the Lakeside Shopping Centre, which boasts 2,600,000 square feet of shopping space over a 200-acre site – making it one of the largest shopping locations in Europe.
The average price of a property here is only £208,703 and you’ll be getting plenty of bang for your buck if you do decide to settle here.
Perfect for: Commuters
You may know of this town from the popular show ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ which used Brentwood as it’s filming location. But don’t let what you saw on the show fool you into thinking that living here won’t be as gratifying as living anywhere else in Essex.
Brentwood is without a doubt one of the best places to live in Essex if you’re a commuter and is one of the best know commuter towns. It takes, on average 23 minutes to catch a train from Brentwood to Shenfield with trains running every 10 minutes.
The only downside is that property here is not as affordable as some of the other places on this list. The average price of a home here is £556,039, with some truly extravagant properties in the area.
Perfect for: Families, nature-lovers
What image comes to mind when you hear ‘beautiful countryside town’? Well, what you imagined is probably not too far off what you would see in Saffron Walden. It’s a rural haven with lush greenery as far as the eye can see and friendly locals who will make you feel right at home from day one.
This is the best place in Essex to raise a family, with a number of highly-rated schools and colleges which regularly receive an ’outstanding’ evaluation from Ofsted. Despite it being a rural town there’s still plenty of buzz with large and small businesses alike.
Property here may seem expensive with an average price tag of £509,061 but we promise you that a home in Saffron Walden is worth every penny.
Perfect for: Commuters, nature-lovers
Epping is located in the Epping Forest district, just 17 miles from the centre of London, making it a much sought after area for anyone looking for easy access to the city. Looking out of the train window at the wonderful Essex countryside is a great way to unwind after a hard day’s work in the city.
Those looking to get away from the concrete jungle feel right at home here and the endless acres of green space will you get back in touch with nature. Taking a weekend stroll through Epping Forest, going mountain biking or working on your handicap at the Epping Golf Course are all great options for those looking to enjoy the beauty of Epping.
The average property here goes for £619,395 making it one of the less affordable places to live in Essex, but the close proximity to the capital makes it very attractive despite the price tag.
Perfect for: Commuters, nature-lovers
Right down the road from Epping is another small Essex town called Harlow. It’s another highly-desirable commuter town and one of the most sought after locations in all of the county.
Harlow offers convenient transportation options to London, with a train journey taking just over 30 minutes as well as many roads and motorways connecting to the capital as well as other major nearby towns. Nature-lovers will love their life here and have plenty of picturesque countryside to look forward to.
Purchasing a property here is also more affordable than the neighbouring Epping, with the average home in Harlow going for £310,397 as of January 2021.