A picturesque harbour, lively brunch scene and a clutch of galleries: no wonder Leigh-on-Sea in Essex is attracting new residents. WORDS: SARAH RICHES

Nestled at the mouth of the Thames estuary in Essex, Leigh-on-Sea has bags of seaside charm that attracts day trippers and commuters from London.

Mentioned as Legra in the Domesday book in 1086, Leigh-on-Sea’s geographical location to the east of the capital meant it flourished as a trading hub and naval base between the 14th and 18th centuries.

The village continued to prosper in the 19th century thanks to its thriving oyster and shrimp trade, evidence of which can still be seen in Old Leigh, which hugs the coast. Here you can stop for fresh cockles on a cobbled lane, while away an afternoon painting clapboard housing and wooden fishing boats bobbing on the water or peruse Leigh Heritage Centre, a former blacksmith’s cottage that depicts daily life in the 1900s.

While Old Leigh retains a traditional ambience, the town centre feels more modern. Perched upon a hill with coastal views, it’s a blend of contemporary flats, 1950s semis and Victorian terraces. The main thoroughfare, Broadway, is dotted with fashionable brunch spots and independent boutiques. It may only be three stops from Southend Central, but the travel hubs are poles apart: if Southend is a gaudy Tik Tok star, Leigh-on-Sea is its cultured sister.

Tranquil yet dynamic, Leigh-on-Sea’s blend of old and new encouraged local artist Helle Johansen-Baker to move to the town from Dorset in 2010 – and she’s never looked back. “The town has a village feel,” she says. “There are a lot of dog walkers here, and you always meet someone you know when you’re out walking your dog. It’s a close knit community. People are friendly and easy to chat to.”

It’s little surprise then, that in 2023 the women’s lifestyle website Muddy Stilettos voted Leigh-on-Sea as the best place to live in Essex, and the fifth best place in the UK.


Leigh-on-Sea has a good mix of housing stock to suit various budgets, and it is significantly cheaper than London despite its proximity to the capital. Commuters and ramblers might want to focus your search around Leigh-on-Sea station, which has Belton Hills Nature Reserve on its doorstep. Here you’ll find grand four- or five-bedroom detached and semi-detached houses with large windows and expansive gardens, as well as one- and two-bedroom flats.

Further inland, the leafy streets off London Road and Manchester Drive are lined with three- and four-bedroom homes built in the 1940s, some of which have been converted into flats. This area is desirable because of Bonchurch Park, Chalkwell Park and Prittle Brook, which meanders along allotments.


According to Rightmove, most of the properties that were sold in Leigh-on-Sea in 2023 were semi-detached homes with an average price of £468,526. Flats typically sold at around £262,384, while terraced properties fetched £418,194, giving an overall average price of £444,507.

If you’re lucky enough to have a multi-million-pound budget, you could splash out on a five-bedroom home for around £2 million within walking distance of a station, particularly in neighbouring Chalkwell. At the lower end of the scale, one-bedroom flats near the train line start at around £100,000.


Leigh-on-Sea is easily accessible by public transport from London and the towns situated along the estuary, as the c2c train line connects 26 stations between Fenchurch Street in the capital and Shoeburyness in Essex. London to Leigh-on-Sea takes around 50 minutes. Arriva bus services meanwhile cover the estuary area between Benfleet to the west and Great Wakering further east, as well as inland to London Southend Airport and Ashingdon.

Pedestrians can easily explore the old town and its surrounds on foot, as paths stretch from Leigh-on-Sea station west to Benfleet and east along the coast to Chalkwell Beach and train station in 28 minutes.

The A127 is the main road that leads west towards Romford, connecting with the A12 into London.


Ofsted rated West Leigh Junior School, which is walking distance from Leigh-on-Sea station, and Blenheim Primary School, three kilometres inland, as Outstanding. The best local secondary schools meanwhile are The Eastwood Academy near London Southend Airport, Southend High School for Boys and its female equivalent. Belfairs Academy north of Leigh-on-Sea station and the independent Estuary High School on London Road near Chalkwell Park are both rated Good.


Leigh-on-Sea’s growing popularity and narrow roads has increased traffic, making finding parking a challenge – most locals advise buying a property with a drive or parking space. If you don’t move close to Leigh-on-Sea station then you’ll need to budget for parking as well as a season ticket. Crowded commuter trains make it difficult to bag a seat, while noise pollution from London Southend Airport is something to think about.


Old Leigh is a lovely place to while away an afternoon. After exploring Leigh Heritage Centre, pop into Richard Baxter Pottery Studio or sit by the water in The Peterboat’s beer garden. Grab a bite to eat beneath bunting in Sara’s Tea Garden or in a vintage train carriage at The Hatch, or order fish and chips to eat on the sand at Bell Wharf Beach.

Want to stretch your legs? Then head to Two Tree Island Nature Reserve south of Leigh-on-Sea station – a patch of reclaimed land with bird hides scattered along six kilometres of trails. Cows graze in the meadows between June and November, while in winter it’s a refuge for wildfowl.

Further west, meet rare breeds at Hadleigh Farm, explore Hadleigh Castle – a ruin protected by English Heritage – and hike across Benfleet Downs. Inland, Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre is hidden within 1,000-year-old woodland, while a path between Leigh Cliffs East and the water runs east of the station.

So you can have an outdoor adventure in all directions. Helle adds: “We have a few woods so there are lots of cyclists, runners and wild swimmers here. A group of women in their fifties, the Blue Tits, swim several times a week. People kayak and paddleboard all year round too.”

From the coast, Church Hill is a steep, cobbled lane crowned by St Clement’s Church. From there, amble along Broadway, dipping into The Brunch Co or Stop the World cafe, Hype Gallery and 70 the Broadway, which displays works by local artists such as the muralist Scott Irving.

Diversity Studio, a former church in Chalkwell that now hosts dance classes, is further east. It’s named after its founders, the British street dance troupe that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009.



Treat yourself to a stay, dinner and cocktails at this four-star seafront hotel, which is walking distance from Southend. Orlando Bloom, Gary Barlow and Jamie Oliver are all fans. One night in a Classic room with breakfast starts at £199 (April 2024) and £239 (May 2024). roslinhotel.com


Smart and stylish, the best rooms in this Edwardian B&B have sea views. Duck feather pillows, plush carpets and free parking are nice touches. Singles start at £95, standard doubles from £125 with breakfast for two (April 2024). beachesguesthouse.co.uk


Here are some of our favourite Leigh-on-Sea properties for sale:


This two-bedroom flat on the ground floor of a contemporary building sits just off Broadway, a few minutes’ walk from Leigh-on-Sea’s best restaurants and cafes. It’s south facing, so it bursts with light during the day, while underfloor heating keeps things cosy in cooler months. rightmove.co.uk/properties/86356275#/?channel=RES_BUY


This semi-detached bungalow near Chalkwell Park is a 15-minute amble from Chalkwell Station and beach. As well as a spacious lounge and two large double bedrooms, it features a beautiful rear garden and patio. rightmove.co.uk/properties/142446479#/?channel=RES_BUY


Just across the road from Leigh Heritage Centre in the centre of Old Leigh, this semi-detached three-bedroom house has a good-sized rear courtyard garden. The main bedroom features two double glazed doors opening onto a south-facing balcony that has sweeping views of the estuary. rightmove.co.uk/properties/132732290#/?channel=RES_BUY


Equal distance between Bonchurch Park and Belfairs Park Wood – both just a stroll away – this delightful four-bedroom detached home is ideal for a family. The kitchen features a marble island, quartz working surfaces and tri-folding doors that open on to a deck and rear garden. rightmove.co.uk/properties/140876294#/?channel=RES_BUY

For more information visit www.visitessex.com