Blackpool… For many, just the name of the UK’s most famous seaside resort is enough to make them cringe, conjuring up images of run-down games arcades and seedy bars packed full of binge-drinking teenagers. For me, it has always brought to mind the historic Pleasure Beach, one of Britain’s oldest amusement parks and still one of its most popular. Yet the town’s original success was built on its expansive coastline and long, sandy beaches – features that are still present today. With significant investments being made to try and rejuvenate Blackpool’s seafront, how do the man-made attractions stack up against the natural elements? And is either aspect enough to justify a visit?
I’ve dreamed of visiting the town ever since I was a small child, but being on the opposite side of the UK to our Ipswich home it fell into the category of “so close, yet so far”. Earlier this year, we decided to compile a list of all the places in our country that we’d neglected to visit. Blackpool was right at the top, and so it was that we spent two days exploring it this summer.
Natural attractions in Blackpool
While the artificial aspects of the resort are hard to miss (a 65 metre tall roller coaster and 158 metre tall clone of the Eiffel Tower are never going to blend into the landscape), it was the extensive coastline that grabbed our attention immediately. Stretching on for over seven miles, it’s easy to see why trainload after trainload of working class tourists headed to the town following the construction of the first rail link in 1846. Few beaches could cope with the sheer number of visitors (tens of thousands every summer weekend in the 1920s) that descended upon Blackpool’s shores, but these ones could.
Of course, it was perhaps inevitable that the urban grime the workers were seeking to escape from would eventually follow them to the coast. A multi-lane road runs in parallel to the seafront, although there is at least a large promenade and a tram line to separate it from the sand itself. Row after row of bed and breakfasts and hotels clamour for the sea views on offer, and many are badly in need of restoration after years of battering from the sea breeze. There are some pretty buildings around, but Blackpool is never going to be famous for its architecture.
Does this detract from the seafront? I don’t think so. The lure of the seaside is as strong as ever, and the features that have attracted tourists to Blackpool for the last century-and-a-half are still very prominent. Whether it’s a family day out with bucket and spade in tow, or a just a relaxing stroll along sand that doesn’t seem to end, most people will find something to enjoy here. Even those most disapproving of the way the resort has evolved may not be able to resist a quick ice cream and a paddle in the surf.
Top natural attractions to visit in Blackpool include:
- Central Beach – the heart and soul of the town, Central Beach is an expansive tract of golden sand located right in the heart of Blackpool. For families, this is the place to go for sunbathing, sand-castle building and donkey rides.
- St Annes Beach – if you’re looking for a more relaxing spot away from the noise and bustle of Central Beach, St Annes offers a quieter alternative. Located a few miles down the coast, it’s a great place for a walk or a swim.
Man-made attractions in Blackpool
Of course, the variable weather conditions that ultimately led to British tourists heading to Spain and Portugal will still have a huge impact on your ability to linger outdoors. That’s where Blackpool’s range of man-made distractions come into play – and there are a huge number of them. From major attractions such as the iconic Blackpool Tower (which we were unable to visit due to recently-completed refurbishment work), Madame Tussaud’s waxworks and the Sea Life Centre (all operated by a single firm, Merlin Entertainments Group) to the dozens of arcades, tea rooms and pubs, almost everywhere you look someone is trying to extract some of your hard-earned cash.
I’ll be honest – for me, there is only one game in town. Having remained in family ownership for years, Blackpool Pleasure Beach still draws visitors to the South Shore like a magnet. First opened in 1896, it has outlasted the vast majority of seaside parks from its era by continuing to invest and improve. Several major rides have been added in the past two decades, while 2011 saw the opening of the £10 million Nickelodeon Land. The park is also home to the UK’s tallest rollercoaster, the Pepsi Max Big One.
While I am an unapologetically huge fan of amusement parks, it is not Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s modern rides that interest me. Instead, it is the vast array of classic attractions on offer, some of which date back to the early 20th century. This gives the park the feel of a living, working museum, rather than a simple tourist trap. The River Caves was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, while the Big Dipper roller-coaster was among the forerunners to today’s major thrill rides. It is the 1904 Flying Machines, though, that really caught my imagination. Still a great attraction today, it is difficult to comprehend how amazed visitors of that era must have been by this stunning piece of engineering.
Outside of Pleasure Beach, some of the best man-made attractions in Blackpool’s bewildering line-up include:
- Blackpool Tower – visible from all over the town, the Tower has recently undergone a major renovation which added the somewhat out-of-place Blackpool Tower Dungeons walk-through horror exhibit. Besides the stunning views from the top, though, the biggest draw remains the famous Tower Ballroom. Dominated by enormous crystal chandeliers, it still plays host to ballroom dancing nights on a frequent basis.
- Sandcastle Water Park – kids will demand a visit to Britain’s most famous indoor water park. Highlights include the world’s first (and longest) water slide featuring an uphill section, the Master Blaster.
- Grand Theatre – having opened in 1894, the Grand Theatre has shown impressive staying power and now features the official title of Britain’s National Theatre of Variety. The performances won’t always be to everyone’s taste, but the building itself is still worth a look.
- Blackpool Illuminations – introduced in 1879 as a way of extending the holiday season, the Illuminations sees over a million lights used to decorate six miles of Blackpool promenade.
Overall, then, I would recommend a visit to Blackpool to a diverse range of people from lovers of the sea air, to casual history buffs, right through to hardened thrill-seekers. The town still has some way to go to fully clean itself up, and it’s hard to see it ever returning to its glory days. But as a nostalgia-inducing reminder of how the natural and artificial combined to offer fun-packed seaside holidays in years gone by, it still has plenty to offer.
Thanks for this guest post to Nick Sim from Theme Park Tourist, your guide to theme parks and amusement parks , featuring news, guides and reviews for parks all over the world
More delights up North
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey