The oldest recorded town in Britain certainly lives up to its billing. Over the years, Queen Boadicea, the Romans, William the Conqueror and Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins and 90's Britpop kings, Blur have all written history in Colchester, and the town's Norman castle and extensive Roman walls still stand strong. Today, a wander through the narrow streets, lined with high-street names and independent shops in stunning architecture, makes it clear Colchester continues to write its own history.
Grab your knight's armour and head over to England's largest surviving Norman fort. Built-in 1076 on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester Castle is even bigger than the Tower of London, and with a recent £4-million restoration, inside its 11th-century walls is now state-of-the-art 21st-century technology telling the castle's history through mobile phone apps that initiate augmented reality. If you've ever wanted to time travel, this is the place to be.
Despite a rich cultural past, Colchester remains very much in the present. The curved glass-and-copper arts centre of the first site is a stunning, prominent addition to the town, with regular installations and temporary visual-art exhibitions set alongside historical artefacts such as the majestic Berryfield Mosaic of Roman origin. A homage to the 16th-century Protestant weavers who escaped to Colchester from persecution in their native Netherlands to the north of the High Street, the Dutch Quarter houses the town's most breath-taking architecture, with half-timbered houses and off-centre roof lines transporting visitors back to Tudor times.
In the mood to monkey about? Take a bus ride to Colchester Zoo, one of the best in Europe; with over 60 acres of parkland and 270 species, it's a treat to see.