The queen of British seaside resorts, Blackpool (pop. 142,000) is not so much a city as a giant amusement park with airs of Las Vegas. Blackpool is fun, tacky, extravagant and crazy, all at the same time. Although it started as a beach resort, the beach has turned into a side attraction, leaving the centre stage to Ferris wheels, illuminations, theatres, casinos, theme parks and cabaret clubs. Blackpool provides merriment and distraction for everyone's taste and age, whether you prefer to dance a waltz under the chandeliers of the Empress Ballroom, raise your adrenaline on one of world's fastest roller-coasters, relax at the spa, or spend your money in the countless shops in town.
Blackpool is a very recent city by European standards. There was nothing more than a few farmsteads in the area in medieval times. The first village of any substance appeared toward the end of the 17th century, but it is only in the 19th century that Blackpool grew into a town with the advent of curative sea bathing among the upper classes. The opening of the Preston and Wyre Joint Railway via Blackpool in 1846 caused a small population boom, passing from under 500 inhabitants in the early 1800's to over 2500 in 1851.
The North Pier was completed in 1863, the Central Pier in 1868 and the South Pier in 1893. Blackpool thus became the only town in the United Kingdom with three piers. In 1878, the Winter Gardens complex opened, incorporating ten years later the Opera House, said to be the largest in Britain outside of London. 1894 saw the construction of two local landmarks, the Grand Theatre on Church Street, and Blackpool Tower on the Promenade. By the 1890s, the town had a population of 35,000, and could accommodate 250,000 holidaymakers. Blackpool was elevated to the rank of municipal borough in 1876, and county borough in 1904.
In the first half of the 20th century, Blackpool thrived as the factory workers of northern England took their annual holidays there en masse. Nowadays the city is still the most popular seaside resort in the UK, with over 10 million annual visitors. Blackpool is said to have more hotel and B&B beds than the whole of Portugal.
The resort's iconic landmark is the 158m tall Blackpool Tower. It opened in 1894, and was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built only 5 years earlier. There is an observation platform on the tower top. At the bottom of the tower is a complex of leisure facilities, entertainment venues and restaurants, including the popular Tower Ballroom and Tower Circus.
Pleasure Beach Blackpool, an amusement park with rides including the Pepsi Max Big One, which was the world's fastest and tallest complete circuit rollercoaster between 1994 and 1996.
Each of three piers along the beach have their own attractions. The North Pier features a shopping arcade, a small tramway and a theatre, while the Central Pier boasts a large Ferris wheel, and the South Pier a theme park.
If you are looking for more cultural distractions, the Winter Gardens is the place to go. Its 12 venues include the Opera House Theatre, Empress Ballroom, Pavilion Theatre, the Olympia exhibition hall and numerous banqueting halls. It has hosted the main annual conferences for all three major British political parties, and the owners claim that every British Prime Minister since the Second World War has addressed an audience at the venue.
Louis Tussaud, great-grandson of madame Marie Tussaud, created his own waxwork museum in Blackpool, featuring models of celebrities, musicians, sports personalities and the famous Chamber of Horrors. Branch museums have since opened in the USA, Canada, Denmark, India and Thailand.
For a change of mood from all the hustle and bustle of amusement parks and entertainment venues, have a stroll at the Blackpool Zoo. Opened in 1972, it now has over 1,500 animals from all over the world, including elephants, giraffes, lions, red pandas, kangaroos, camels, sea lions, and numerous species of monkeys.
How to get there
Blackpool is located 20 km west of the M6 motorway (Birmingham-Glasgow), approximately 60 km north of Liverpool (85 km by the road) and 40 km south-west of Lancaster (60 km using the motorway).
Trains from London Euston take 2h50min (from £57.50) with a change at Preston. Trains from Birmingham (2h20min, £40.50) and Lancaster (1 hour, £11.90) also require a change at Preston. The only direct trains are from Liverpool (1h25min, £14.60).
There are few direct National Express coaches from Liverpool (1h30min, £9.70). The coach ride is only interesting for long distance journeys from London (6 to 8 hours, from £15).
Blackpool has its own international airport, with flights to/from Dublin, Belfast, Geneva, and most of the beach resorts of southern Spain and Portugal. The airport is destined more for locals travelling to the Mediterranean than for overseas tourists to reach Blackpool. If you are coming directly from the continent the easiest option is to fly to Liverpool's John Lennon Airport, which has connections to most of the European capitals.