Sea, sand and historic thrills in Blackpool

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?

Pier in Blackpool Photo: stinksoup of Flickr

Pier in Blackpool

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

Blackpool Beach and Tower Photo: diamond geezer of Flickr

Blackpool beach and tower

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.

The Pepsi Max Big One Photo: Ingy The Wingy of Flickr

The Pepsi Max Big One

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.

Nickelodeon Land at Blackpool Pleasure Beach Photo: Nick Sim

Nickelodeon Land at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

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.
Flying Machines at Blackpool Pleasure Beach Photo: Nick Sim

Flying Machines at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

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

Photo credits: Blackpool beach and tower by diamond geezer,  The Pepsi Max Big One by Ingy The Wingy and Pier by stinksoup   Other photos by Nick Sim.

More delights up North

Getting to know LS Lowry at the Lowry in Manchester
Snowdrops at Lytham Hall in Lancashire England
The must see sights of Leeds

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  • Reply
    January 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Hope this doesn’t sound too geeky, but I’d go for the trams alone … although the Illuminations and Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls are attractions also!

    • Reply
      January 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      @Keith Now I’m wondering what those Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls are

  • Reply
    January 6, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Nothing is too geeky 🙂 After all, historians want to know and experience every single thing about important historical phenomena. My favourite places in Blackpool are the tower, of course, and the Grand Theatre. Plus eating fish and chips out of rolled up paper bags.

    • Reply
      January 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm

      @Hel The Great British seaside wouldn’t be anything without fish & chips

  • Reply
    Barbara Weibel
    January 6, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Interesting. While I’m definitely not a fan of places that are really touristy – where you feel like everyone is lined up to take a dollar out of your pocket – I rather like places that are a bit worn around the edges. I lived for 10 years on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, barrier islands just off the coast on our Atlantic Seaboard. When I moved there the beach was lines with old Nags Head style cottages with shingled exteriors, clapboard shutters and cupolas. They were all weathered and grey; in my opinion they were loaded with character. Then the real estate boom came and almost every one was bought and torn down to make way for huge vacation rental homes that were cookie-cutter mini-hotels. Blackpool sounds like it has evaded the developers and retained its charm.
    Barbara Weibel´s last blog post ..PHOTO: Indigenous Quichua Vendors in San Francisco Plaza, Cuenca, Ecuador

    • Reply
      January 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm

      @Barbara I’ve not been to Blackpool but It seems like a place that had it’s heyday but is still very popular if you love the pleasure beach thing

  • Reply
    Sherry Ott
    January 9, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Wow – it really reminds me of Coney Island – and it seems to have a bit of similar history. I love the pictures though!
    Sherry Ott´s last blog post ..Hawaii From Above Photography

    • Reply
      January 9, 2012 at 8:24 am

      @Sherry Never been to Coney island but I believe it has a similar history

  • Reply
    Ross Corbett
    January 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Lovely post.

    Yes Blackpool is a little rough and it is very tacky, however, I love it!

    It is real, it does not try to be something it is not. It is a genuine working class type of place full of people having a great time.

    I have travelled all over the world and yet one of my fondest travel memoires is of a weekend with my friends in Blackpool.
    Ross Corbett´s last blog post ..The Real Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle (Video)

  • Reply
    January 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I think Blackpool is a prime example of:

    My parents thought it was the in thing
    I think it’s tawdy and tacky
    My children think it’s kitsch.

  • Reply
    September 5, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    health,basketball,sport,soccer,football,golf,forex,investing,investment,money,travel,tour,holiday,health,culinary,recipe,love,parenting,insurance,venture,dropshiping,hosting,serve keep up the good work on the blog. I kinda like it! Could use some mor…

    keep up the good work on the blog. I kinda like it! Could use some more frequent updates, but im sure you got more or better stuff to do , hehe….

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 10:22 am

    loving the tits out on the picture of the pipsi max ride 😉

  • Reply
    January 24, 2013 at 10:22 am

    @ross do you?;)

  • Reply
    chloe kayes
    November 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    blackpool is dead af

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