Essex is blessed with a whole host of beautiful parks, nature and green spaces.

And with lockdown restrictions easing allowing family and friends to once again meet outside, there's a wide variety of sites you could choose to visit for an afternoon or two.

To help you decide where to go, we've compiled a list of Essex attractions selected by the highest ranking customer reviews on Trip Advisor.

Here are the website's top five best-ranked nature spots and parks, according to visitors, in the county.

1) Imperial Bird of Prey Academy


Address: Barleylands Farm park, Barleylands Road, Billericay, CM11 2UD

What visitors say: "My husband thoroughly enjoyed his belated 60th birthday present of a half day experience. He was able to handle and learn about a wide variety of birds of prey. The experience was great value for money and he would recommend to all."

"We booked a one-hour experience for my birthday and we enjoyed an absolutely fabulous time thanks to Matt. We were fortunate to meet Pip the Harris Hawk and Milo the Barn Owl. The birds were very well-cared for and Matt’s knowledge, friendliness and enthusiasm was inspirational. We were cautious venturing out due to Covid but both Imperial and Barleylands felt safe, well-managed and organised and it was a very good trip out."

2) Bridge End Garden

Address: 17-22 Castle Street, Saffron Walden, CB10 1BE

What visitors say: "A well cared for quite space to wander or sit in, besed very close to the town. Water fountains, well cared for gardens....Lovely place."

"What a wonderful park- lots of little areas to walk around, walled gardens, a mini maze, etc, our dog and we ourselves had a lovely morning here despite the coldness of the winter's day. This park almost has the feel of a stately home garden with lots of architectual quirks and statues and on a summer's day you could easily spend the all day here with a picnic."

3) Green Island Gardens


Address: Green Island Park Road, Ardleigh, Colchester, CO7 7SP

What visitors say: "This place is a gem. We had a very warm welcome from Fiona and spent several tranquil hours wandering and marvelling at the colourful beauty of the plants and the clever way it is all laid out. There is so much to see in all the different island areas, including a stunning Japanese garden and delightful woodland.

"The atmosphere is very calm and peaceful. We finished the day with delicious home made cake and treated ourselves to a selection of very reasonably priced plants from the nursery."

4) Castle Park


Address: High Street, Colchester, CO1 1UG 

What visitors say: "I live close to this park so I am very lucky. I visit all year round so I experience it through every season. It has a wonderful array of beautiful trees and a river at the bottom where I have spotted Kingfishers, small Egretts and even an otter.

"The upper park is separated by the Roman Wall and is delightfull with its artful flower planting displays, band stand, cafe and well equipped play park and large sandpit. It is well worth a visit."

5) Hopefield Animal Sanctuary

Address: Sawyers Hall Farm, Sawyers Hall Lane, Brentwood, CM15 9BZ

What visitors say: "Hopefield is a great place to visit. I took my teenage daughter and she loved it! I hadn't been here for a while but since there has been so much done to improve the grounds and increase the number of rescued animals, many with great characters. The place is suitable for all, and there were many different age groups attending.

"The site has been made up perfectly for the Covid-19 situation with clear signs and plenty of space for people to spread out and there's also a great picnic area with a mobile café. Definitely recommended as a morning/afternoon out and hopefully you will be as impressed as we were. On top of the low entry fee offer a donation on your way out to such a worthy cause."

While other nature hotspots in the top ten also include...

High Woods Country Park


Address: Turner Road, Colchester, CO4 5JR 

What visitors say: "Beautiful place, lovely and clean- I am so lucky to have this on my doorstep. I used to go here when I was a little girl, and I still love it 20 odd years on!"

"Beautiful relaxing walks can be had here. Plenty of parking and a visitors centre available with picnic tables. This will keep the children amused too with lovely safe play areas and spaces to build dens. A wildlife pond is accessible and various walks/trails to keep you busy for a couple of hours.

"There is also a huge lake where you can usually find fishermen eagerly awaiting "a bite"(permits are needed to fish I think). Overall a lovely place to stroll with family or friends or have a picnic."

Promenade Park


Address: Park Drive, Maldon, CM9 5JQ

What visitors say: "Really nice walk along the quay.. A little bit of crabbing...nice costa coffee and fish and chips..and a kick about.. fun day out with family and friends."

"A wonderful place to have a wander during this pandemic. Being able to, once in a while, remove that mask and breath in the sea air. So much space that the chances of picking up the infection from someone was minimal. But we kept them close for when entering the shops, ice cream parlours and cafes.

"Plenty to do if you have ankle biters and, like us, are older a nice stroll along the prom. Checking out the boats and finally finding a wonderful pub for lunch. Perfect late morning and early afternoon."

Heybridge Basin

Address: Heybridge, Maldon

What visitors say: "We stayed at a cottage near the lock at the Heybridge Basin. There are two pubs across the canal and there is also a cafe. There is a wide variety of vessels tied up in the basin and also along part of the canal. You can gain a good view of them when you take a boat tour along to Maldon. Throughout the day there are walkers enjoying the coastal paths."

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