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The underrated commuter town that used to be England's capital instead of London

NewsThe underrated commuter town that used to be England's capital instead of London

Colchester probably isn’t the place you’d think used to be the capital of England, but it was.

In 49 AD, more than 2,000 years ago, the little settlement was named the first Roman Colonia in Britain.

Known as Camulodunum, it soon transformed into a major trading hub, often the first point of contact for many arriving from the European continent.

Roman military guards sauntered through the settlement, as did traders, merchants and even retired veteran soldiers who had become citizens of Rome upon discharge.

Colchester as a result became a thriving centre of Roman culture and activity, a point from which that culture spread throughout Britain.

It bears little of those Roman influences in 2023 and is instead is listed as one of the country’s best commuter towns to the present-day capital, London.

Around just 50 minutes between the main station and London Liverpool Street, Colchester has become a quaint getaway for those who work in the city and those looking for a quick break alike. 

Around 120,000 people live there, and only recently in 2022 did it become a city, one of only eight towns awarded city status during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last year. 

Of all the things that make this city famous, you’d be forgiven for not guessing a zoo.

But that’s exactly what Colchester has in at least part built its reputation on — in 2020 winning a Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Award in 2020, putting it in the top 10 per cent of all attractions worldwide.

It hosts a whopping 180 species, from aardvarks to zebras, and even has lions.

Divided into several different zones, revellers can walk through a lemur enclosure, edge their way through a taste of Africa, as well as mosey about the gift shop and 16 cafes and restaurants.

Reviews for the zoo are all enthusiastic and visitors often rave about their time there.

One wrote: “Very good value for money, helpful staff and volunteers. Good range of animals and they all looked happy and healthy and all had nice big enclosures.” Another said: “Today we took part in the extraordinary full day experience! We left absolutely thrilled and with smiles from cheek to cheek.”

And that’s not all. Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens are world-renowned, a plant nursery carefully curated by the award-winning plantswoman, Beth Chatto OBE.

Guests can walk through the gardens that are often otherworldly and magical, with plants, flowers, and trees from the UK and around the world.

Colchester wouldn’t be a British city without a castle and in its centre, that’s exactly what it has.

Built in 1076, some ten years after the Norman conquest of Britain, many of the foundations inside are left over from Roman times.

The castle museum is filled with Roman and Norman history, and the spacious Castle Park itself is split into a lower and upper part by Colchester’s very own ancient Roman wall.

Serene and beautiful, the park has a koi pond, flower gardens, a boating lake and plenty of green space to stroll around.

On top of all of this history and culture are myriad bars, cafes, and restaurants, all perfect for a night of fine dining and luxury.

While Colchester is touted as among the best London commuter towns, it is equally a place worth journeying out to for a packed day trip.

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