When it comes to visiting the seaside, sometimes you want something a little more than just sand and splashing in the sea. But the combination of beach and pier brings something different to the trip and there are some classic piers spread around the UK all worthy of a visit.
Brief history of the pier
The pleasure pier we are all familiar with today has its roots in the more practical working pier. These were built to get passengers and cargo on and off ships and were either long to compensate for areas with high tides or smaller ones, called finger piers, where the tidal range was smaller. As shipping grew in scale, the pier became obsolete for its original use but by then, the pleasure pier had begun to evolve.
The first pleasure piers were seen in England in the early 19th century with Ryde Pier (1813), Leith Trinity Chain Pier (1821) and Brighton Chain Pier (1823) being the first three. Of these, only Ryde still exists. This was the time when the development of the railways saw tourism take a new form and people travelled to dedicate seaside resorts for days out and holidays. Because the tide took water away for much of the day, something else was needed to keep tourists occupied, so the pleasure pier was created.
Today, piers are found around the world, thought the longest is still here in the UK, at Southend-on-Sea in Essex. It stretches some 1.3 miles into the Thames Estuary while the longest in the US is the Santa Cruz Wharf while the Galveston Island Historical Pleasure Pier in Galveston has two decks. It includes 15 rides, a roller coaster, carnival games and, of course souvenir shops.
Top 10 UK piers
There are around 50 surviving pleasure piers left in the UK so most areas of the country have one within a travelling distance. Two of these are grade I listed buildings and one, at Weston-Super-Mare is the only one in the world to be linked to an island. But what do these piers have to offer visitors of the modern era?
Blackpool Central Pier
There are three piers at Blackpool and the Central Pier is often called the ‘fun’ one. It opened in 1868 and became famous in the 1940s for the open-air dancing competitions held there. Today it is a great spot to visit with the kids due to the various fairground rides on offer, most notably the 108-foot big wheel, visible for miles around.
Clevedon Pier, Somerset
Clevedon Pier is the only remaining Grade I listed pier in the UK and was voted Pier of the Year in 2013 by the National pier Society. It is just eight miles from Weston-Super-Mare in the car and was opened in 1869. The pier was built using discarded railway track from the famous Great Western Railway Track designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Today it remains a landing place for steamers and is a popular tourist spot as well as for those who enjoy a spot of angling.
Brighton Marine Palace and Pier
The Brighton Pier is the only remaining intact pier in Brighton and was originally opened in 1899. The pier offers a range of different rides and attractions to keep the kids occupied including traditional rides such as the dodgems and waltzer as well as a spooky Ghost Train. Thrilling rides include one that throws passengers 38 metres into the air, not ideal after an ice cream! There is also a famous fish and chip restaurant and three bars.
The Southend Pier opened in 1830 but was replaced by a modern iron pier in 1889. As well as its role as a tourist attraction, it even served the Royal Navy during World War II as a mustering point for convoys and for the navy to control the Thames estuary. The pier was badly damaged by fire in 1976 and by the early 1980s, was facing closure. Protests led to the Historic Buildings Committee doing the repair work needed and in recent times, more work has been done to bring it to modern standards. The pier has a railway running its length operating every fifteen minutes and it is still used as a lifeboat station as well as having a brand-new cultural centre.
Southport Pier, Merseyside
Southport Pier is the 2nd longest in the UK. It has seen a great modernisation project in recent years that saw a shopping centre added to the traditional pier amusement. There is also a tram service running the length of the pier and a café to enjoy the views.
Cromer Pier, Norfolk
Cromer Pier was first opened in 1822 but only lasted 24 years before it was destroyed in a storm then the wooden pier that replaced it was rammed by a coal boat in 1897. The pier that stands today was opened in 1902 and is home to the Pavilion Theatre as well as a Lifeboat Station.
Llandudno Pier is the longest pier in Wales and the 5th longest in the UK. The pier has a theatre on it called the Pier Pavilion where musical performances have been held since the 1940s, when an admission fee was first charged and music was performed to compensate for this. It is unusual for having two entrances, with the Grand Hotel standing between the two.
Ryde Pier, Isle of Wight
Ryde Pier is the oldest pier in the UK and started out as a working pier before pleasure piers were created. An additional tramway pier was added in 1864 with first horse drawn trams then trains running the length. Today it is a grade II listed building with many of the original buildings having been restored.
Grand Pier, Weston-Super-Mare
The Grand Pier dates back to the early 1900s and is over 1300 feet long. It has been damaged by fire on two occasions, giving it the tag of the unluckiest pier in the UK with the 2008 fire completely destroying the pavilion. It reopened after a £39 million rebuilding project in October 2010.
Gravesend Pier, Kent
Gravesend Pier was built in 1834 and saw a major restoration project in 2000 that saw it returned to its former glory. It is the oldest intact cast iron pier in the world and is a grade II listed building. It is currently being adapted for new use as a base for water taxis and a cross-river ferry service.