Best hotels in Essex 2022: Where to stay for harbour views, seaside bling and budget style

Poor old Essex. If you listened to the media you’d never go there. Yet it’s one of the UK’s most historic counties, with a collection of wanderable old towns and villages, one of the country’s longest coastlines (despite its relatively small size) and all sorts of ancient and intriguing corners. It’s also home to a surprising number of terrific places to stay and to eat – gastropubs with rooms, fine dining restaurants and blingy boutique hotels.

The best hotels in Essex are:

Best for backstreet maritime charm: The Alma Inn

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Harwich

A block back from the Harwich harbourfront, opposite the former home of the captain of The Mayflower, it would be hard to come up with a saltier location than that of the Alma Inn & Dining Rooms (to give it its full name). Harwich is just un-gentrified enough for a pub like The Alma to exist, indeed it’s that rare thing – a pub for drinkers that also serves terrific food and has a set of 6 guest rooms so you can stay overnight. The rooms are very comfortable and have all been renovated with the character of the building in mind, re-purposed ships’ timbers matching the beams and creaky floors, and exposed brick walls and sea-faring charts reminding you where you are. And the food is a perfect complement – mussels, oysters and lobsters in season, plus locally sourced steaks, all priced by weight and chalked up on the blackboard.

Price: Double rooms from ?115 a night, B&B.

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Horndon-on-the-Hill

Back in the 1980s, long before anyone in Britain thought about the food you ate in a pub much at all, let alone whether it was local or seasonal, this old inn, high up on one of Essex’s few hills, started serving high quality pub food, and the family are still doing the same today. They have also added 26 guest rooms, some (more traditional) in the main building, others (more contemporary) a few doors up the street, which are generously sized and have larger bathrooms with walk-in showers and separate baths. All the rooms have good wifi, some have Smart TVs, complimentary water and tea- and coffee-making facilities with homemade biscuits.

Price: Doubles from ?90, B&B

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Best for hospitality heritage: The Cricketers

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Clavering

Essex is the original home of the gastropub, and this well-known inn is one reason why – run until quite recently by Jamie Oliver’s parents when it was taken over by the East Anglian Chestnut group, which has performed the delicate balancing act of maintaining The Cricketers’ long-established reputation for food and hospitality while doing a spot of future-proofing. One thing they have done really well is spruced up the pub’s 22 rooms, which spread between the pub itself, two buildings next door and a bungalow across the road, and have been furnished with flair and a cool, funky style. Divided between ‘Good’, ‘Better’ and ‘Best’, they all have Freeview TVs, tea, coffee and water, and homemade biscuits, and the ‘best have super-king-size beds and spacious bathrooms with walk-in showers and separate baths.

Price: Doubles from ?133, B&B.

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Little Dunmow

Situated just a few miles from Stansted Airport, you may not care whether your flight is delayed or even cancelled at this stylish revamped old pub, which is not only a destination place to eat but also has 3 individually decorated rooms upstairs that come with everything you need for a comfy overnight stay. Chef-patron Paul Croasdale’s tasting menu of 6-8 carefully chosen dishes (with extras thrown in at the beginning and end) will help to get your holiday started before you’ve even left, with an emphasis on great British produce, from salt-aged Cumbrian duck to Cornish truffles. You could stay at the airport for slightly less money, but why would you?

Price: Doubles from ?120, B&B.

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Colchester

An elegant Georgian building in the centre of Colchester, Greyfriars is probably Colchester’s most upmarket place to stay. A contemporary hotel yet partly fashioned out of a medieval monastery, it has a good range of comfortable rooms, a really good restaurant in the former chapel and the cosy ‘Baroque’ bar in the original heart of the monastery building. The restaurant serves great food, and the bar has the clubby sort of vibe all good hotel bars should aspire to, serving a wide selection of cocktails which you can enjoy with a choice of local oysters and lots of other yummy bar snacks, and during summer opening onto the hotel’s expansive rear terrace.

Price: Doubles from ?140, B&B.

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Chelmsford

Another great example of what to do with an ancient pub that has reached the end of its sell-by date, this village boozer on the outskirts of Chelmsford was transformed into a buzzing restaurant, hotel and wedding venue a few years ago, and has never looked back. Its 23 rooms are decorated in a crisp, no-nonsense style that knocks the socks off similarly priced chain hotels, and its large bar and restaurant, from the beamed rooms of the original pub into the large and airy space of the new extension, is a buzzy, cool space that serves high quality yet down-to-earth food, with a menu of pubby staples and more adventurous specials. Good breakfasts too.

Price: Doubles from ?138, B&B.

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Best for laid-back style: Milsoms

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(Milsoms)

Neighbourhood: Dedham

Situated just outside the picturesque Essex village of Dedham and very handy for Constable Country, Milsoms is the epitome of a comfortably elegant yet relaxed boutique hotel. Part of a small local chain, which also owns the high-end Talbooth House spa hotel and fine dining restaurant nearby, its 15 rooms are stylish, quirky and very well equipped, with satellite TV, mini bars with complimentary soft drinks, and indulgent en-suite bathrooms. They’re dog-friendly too, service is confident and efficient, and their unpretentious ground floor restaurant serves great crowd-pleasing dishes all day long, with tables spreading out into lovely shady gardens in summer.

Price: Doubles from ?170, B&B.

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Best for harbour views: The Pier

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Harwich

Everyone knows about the harbours of Sydney and Hong Kong, but the expansive harbour at Harwich really is a marvel too, and the rooms at this stylish seafront hotel have a front-row seat on the action. There are 14 rooms in all, divided between the main building and a former pub next door, and from the best ones it’s easy to lose a few hours watching the comings and goings in the harbour. Make time to eat, though: not only at the first-floor restaurant but also in the downstairs, Scandinavia-themed bar. They serve great local fish and seafood, and on sunny days you can eat outside on the terrace or restaurant’s first-floor balcony.

Price: Doubles from ?140, B&B.

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Best for seaside bling: Seven

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Southend-on-Sea

Blink and you could fancy yourself in a fancy hotel in Dubai at Seven, which opened a few years ago in a bid to nudge the hotel offering in Southend-on-Sea up a notch or two. The hotel’s slick, boutiquey rooms, crisp service and excellent restaurant make no bones about Seven’s aspirations to be Southend’s best place to stay, and 5 of the 37 bedrooms have lovely sea-facing balconies. There is not much they can do about the colour of the sea, but inside at least the rooms are all dark wood and brass and fancy bespoke headboards; bathrooms have decent walk-in showers and underfloor heating and all the rooms have air-conditioning and mini bars.

Price: Doubles from ?117

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Dedham

Right on the main street of one of the region’s most desirable villages, in the heart of Constable Country on the Essex-Suffolk border, this ancient coaching inn is made up of oak beams and creaky floors, and has seven rooms, each with a name significant in some way to the region and each different, with shapes and bathrooms designed around the constraints of the building. Furnished with a tasteful mix-and-match of antique and contemporary, they are all good sizes, most with super-king-size beds, and all with fairly recently re-furbished bathrooms, flatscreen TVs, tea and coffee, complimentary water and biscuits. Not only that, the restaurant downstairs serves excellent pub food with an Italian twist, and always includes a good choice of pasta dishes – for example homemade papardelle with beef shin or lamb rag or linguini with clams or anchovies.

Price: Doubles from ?175, B&B.

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(Martin Dunford)

Neighbourhood: Colchester

Home to Britain’s only hotel-based school of hospitality, Wivenhoe House is part of the University of Essex and has a lovely location in a park on the outskirts of Colchester. It has 40 guest rooms, which range from the more traditional accommodation of the main 18th-century country house to more contemporary rooms in the slick modern wing, many of which have floor-to-ceiling windows and big balconies overlooking the park. The hotel is marketed like any other hotel but uniquely it is partly staffed by students and many of the rooms sponsored by well-known chains, so you can choose between a top end ‘Hilton’, ‘Marriott’ or ‘Exclusive’ room, among others. Unsurprisingly, all are good sizes, with big bathrooms White Company toiletries, tea and coffee-making facilities, complimentary water, robes and slippers.

Price: Doubles from ?105

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Read more on Essex:

Why Essex is England’s best county for cyclists

Cool place of the day: The Pier at Harwich, Essex

Famous for it’s salt harvesting and mud battles, Maldon district has now been crowned the UK’s best outdoor sleep

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