The 5 best places to live in Essex
By Helen Wright
The best places to live in Essex offer lush countryside, transport links into London, work/life balance and good schools. In contrast to the tacky TOWIE image the county gets burdened with, three beautiful towns in Essex have now topped a prestigious list of the best places to live in the UK by The Sunday Times in 2020.
It’s easy to see why everyone is seeking out the best areas in Essex to move to. Essex is surrounded by beautiful countryside and forest, has a host of celebrated and successful independent restaurants and businesses, and the sunniest coastline in the UK. Plus, Essex to London is only a half-hour train journey from some areas, making them perfect for commuting to the city.
Cover image: Martin Pettitt
Where to find the best places to live in Essex
Everyone is moving to Essex! Michelle Keegan and Mark Wright have just bought a £1.3m country house, just around the corner to their mate Olly Murs. Stacey Solomon and Mrs Hinch have the cleanest homes in town and even Rod Stewart fled Los Angeles to his £5million Essex estate to see out the pandemic.
After Covid-19 forced many to begin working from home, there was a surge of Londoners looking for a suburban location with more space to work and play, and easy access to the city. Essex ticks all the boxes and people are starting to cotton on. The Office for National Statistics revealed that almost 100 people a day have moved from London to Essex since 2019.
The best of both worlds
Ingatestone, Epping and West Mersea were highlighted as the best places to live in Essex in 2020 and in the top 10 desirable towns to live in the UK by The Times. Rightmove’s property expert, Miles Shipside, said city-dwellers had begun craving ‘a new lifestyle, that is quieter and has an abundance of beautiful countryside and more outdoor space,’ he explains. ‘Home-hunters likely to keep their current job can have the flexibility to commute less often and set up their working space at home’. In fact, some areas of Essex are actually in London Boroughs and the county is served by three London Underground lines (Central, Victoria and District line), as well as the London Overground and mainline services.
Being from Essex myself, I can confirm it’s very lovely and one of these best places to live in Essex was at the top of our list when we sold our home in north London during the initial 2020 lockdown. Buying in Essex can be a great investment, offering the perks of suburbia on the edge of the city. Based upon a mix of easy commuting into London, quality of life, investment and family priorities, these are the five best places to live in Essex:
5 of the best places in Essex to live:
Maldon is a historic market town situated on the Blackwater estuary, near (ish) Chelmsford. Until now, the town is best known for its biggest export – Maldon Sea Salt – which has become a cult product around the world, selling 50 million boxes a year. However, the quaint Essex town is back on the map and has been ranked the fifth best place to live in the UK for quality of life. It’s quiet, with a high street of higgledy piggledy local businesses and charity shops, and very few big chains. Gradually, coffee houses and trendy delis have started popping up between the fruit and veg vendors and tea houses, signalling a more modern change for the area.
For anyone commuting to London, Maldon might not be the perfect location because it doesn’t have its own station. Trains to the city run from nearby Witham and take 45 minutes. But, with more professional workers opting to work from home, Maldon could be the unpolished retreat you are looking for. If you like period properties, there are 80+ Georgian and Victorian listed buildings here, offering the chance to renovate some very Instagrammable homes. Maldon used to have a reputation for offering more of a ‘retirement’ lifestyle, but with young couples and families flocking to the area, that won’t be the case for much longer.
The average price for a 3-bedroom, semi-detached house in Maldon is around £300k.
Dedham Vale is ‘Constable Country’. The area was made famous by 19th century painter, John Constable and remains as picture-perfect as it was 200 years ago. It was declared an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1970, but Dedham Vale has always been a stunner. In our post on the best days out in Essex, we highlight Dedham Vale as a beautiful place to visit, but the town has become a hot spot to move to as well.
The Guardian describes Dedham Vale as ‘just about commutable if the job at one end, and the paradise at the other, are worth the slog’ and that’s about as accurate as it gets. The nearest station is Manningtree and trains to London Liverpool Street take 60 minutes.
If you want to spend the weekend roaming the serene riverside and enjoying the luxury of life in the lower Stour valley, it’s worth every minute of hurtling into the city. And if circumstances have changed and you’re working from home more than you did before, Dedham Vale has a lot going for it as one of the best places to live in Essex. These include two Michelin Star restaurants, the famed Tiptree Tea Room, the sixteenth-century Marlborough pub and some top investment potential (if you act fast). Oh, and it’s so nice, people like to pretend it’s in Suffolk. Well, it’s NOT, so there. Essex for the win.
The average price for a 3-bedroom house in Dedham Vale is around £400,000.
Want to eat out in Essex? We have a definitive list of the best Essex restaurants that everyone wants to eat at
The best places to live in Essex
Theydon Bois, Epping
Living in a leafy country village, yet being able to hop on the Tube to work sounds like the stuff of fantasy, but the reality exists and you can find it at the end of the Central Line. Theydon Bois is a friendly village, surrounded by Epping Forest’s 6,000 acres of ancient woodland. Forest walks, horse riding, tree swings and mountain biking are the weekend activities of choice. Stop at the local bagel bar on the way home, which appears to serve hot lunches to the whole village and always has a line. In the summer there are lots of events held on the picturesque village green, including a wacky donkey derby, which is the highlight of the community calendar.
Theydon Bois (pronounced ‘boys’) is part of Epping, which was just voted one of the top 10 places to live in the UK by The Times. Epping itself, is one tube stop down at the end of the line and has a busy high street, populated with independent shops and cafes and a lively weekly market. The village of Theydon is a five-minute drive or a ten-minute cycle from Epping, meaning residents can embrace the village life with all the benefits of a small town just down the road. The village is also just 25-minutes from Stratford Westfield on the London Underground, meaning this place really does have it all. However, as these things tend to be, having the best of all worlds comes at a premium, with homes selling for much more than the other ‘best places to live in Essex’ on the list. Homeowners here are commonly looking for less of an investment property, and more of a forever home.
The average cost for a three-bedroom, semi-detached house in Theydon Bois is £850,000.
Related post: The best places to go strawberry picking in Essex
West Mersea (Mersea Island)
If natural, unspoiled beaches and candy-coloured beach huts is a dream scenario, wake up to the joys of Mersea Island. Only 8 miles squared, and set on the Blackwater and Colne estuaries, south-east of Colchester, this little town on the water has a lot to offer.
Community is a big deal here with local groups, events, supper clubs and festivals happening year-round. Tourists tend to take over during the Mersea Island Food, Drink & Leisure Festival, a feast of local oysters and wine. But mostly, the island is an otherwise laid-back little seaside town with plenty of good pubs. Getting out on the water is the primary activity, with sailing and fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking and wild swimming the most-popular past times.
There is no question this ‘London island’ is a potential paradise to live, but anyone commuting into the city should be prepared for a trek. Colchester is the nearest station, which is a 20-minute drive in rush hour. Then, it’s a 45-minute train journey to London Liverpool Street. In high tide, cars cannot travel over the Strood, which is the only road onto the island. Usually, this only lasts for an hour or so a day, but still an inconvenience if you just want to get home and put your feet up. Likewise, Mersea Island does have a primary school, but seniors have to take a 45 minute bus to school in Colchester, so it’s not for everyone.
Living on lovely West Mersea would suit a couple who work locally (or from home) or a young family who want a slice of the beach life, with the odd trip into the city when required. The average house price for a three-bedroom detached house in West Mersea is around £400,000 and a two-bed apartment with a sea view would be around £450,000
With neighbours Brentwood and Chelmsford often getting all the attention, it would be easy to forget the parish of Ingatestone and Fryerning was even there. However, this Saxon-era village is a hidden gem and one of the best places to live in Essex for work/life balance.
As well as being pretty as a picture with historic homes and cottages, there is always a lot going on in this area with community events at the forefront of most activities. Where other towns and villages (ahem, Brentwood) sold out to the showy TOWIE lifestyle, Ingatestone invested in grassroots sports and organisations, supported its own and became an enviable spot on the Essex property map. The high street celebrates local businesses, shops, cafes and restaurants and there is always someone around for a friendly chat. Nearby, there are fields ideal for dog-walking and picnics, a 900-year-old church and a scattering of working windmills, originally built in the 1800s. There isn’t loads to do, but for nightlife and shopping, locals can head to trendy Billericay (3 miles away).
As far as travel into London goes, the town has its own station and is only 30 minutes to Liverpool Street by train, so it’s perfect for commuters. A three-bed detached house in Ingatestone is around £700,000
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