The best Great British piers: plan a day out at the seaside

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Best British piers: Llandudno, Conwy, food stalls

Follow our guide to the most beautiful and impressive piers in the UK, with stunning views over beaches and out to sea

Piers can take you back to bygone times – tread the boards this summer with a visit to one of these seaside icons.

Clevedon, Somerset

Britain’s only still-intact Grade I-listed pier seems little changed since it opened in 1869. Clevedon’s elegant arches – made from wrought iron from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s South Wales Railway – still cut a striking figure against sea and sky. An engaging heritage centre tells the history of both the edifice and town, and during the first week of September there’s a chance to relive its glory days as the Waverley, the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer, sets sail from the pier. Summer sees the opening of the café in the Japanese-style pagoda at the decking’s end. Alternatively, Tiffin, the glass-fronted restaurant specialising in seafood at the pier’s entrance, is open year-round and makes a special setting for a candlelit sunset dinner.

How to get there: Five minutes from the M5, J20

Opening times: Daily 10am-9pm July-September (check the website for other times of year)

Price: £3 adult/£2 child

Best British piers: Clevedon in Somerset, Grade 1 listed

Clevedon’s elegant arches are made with iron from Brunel’s South Wales Railway. Image © Getty.

Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

Having survived a fire that burned for three days in 1931, and collisions with steamships in 1947 and 1966, Penarth’s 19th-century pier almost didn’t make it to the end of the 20th century. By the 1990s, planks were missing and rotted through but a rousing local campaign, followed by lottery funding, restored the pier and the Art Deco pavilion, returning both to their former glory. Now run by local volunteers, the pavilion hosts art exhibitions, film screenings and theatre. New for 2018 is a branch of Waterloo Tea, a highly popular local teahouse group that serves finely blended brews alongside classic afternoon teas on three-tier cake stands. It sounds like a winning formula.

How to get there: 20 minutes south of Cardiff on the A4160

Opening times: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm

Price: Free

Will Dunn Volunteer, Penarth Pier

“My first memory of the pier is visiting with my grandparents in the 1970s. During the summer carnival, thousands came to the esplanade. But by the 1980s it had stagnated and for years it was a semi-derelict eyesore; it felt like our younger lives had been taken away. Now it’s like we’re back to the old days. Even the festival is back with the classic car rallies.”

Best British piers: Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, art deco pier

Image © Francesca Jones.

North Pier Blackpool, Lancashire

Perhaps the most iconic of all of Britain’s seaside resorts, Blackpool boasts not just one pier but three. While the other two are chock-full of theme park rides and flashing lights, Blackpool's North Pier is a rather more genteel affair. Restored to its former Victorian look in 2011, this grande dame has all the elements needed to take a trip down memory lane, from the traditional sweet shop and the fish and chippy, to the carousel and fortune teller. Other reasons to linger include the pier’s theatre, where the likes of the Rat Pack tribute band perform; the Sunset Lounge – a semi-open-air spot to take in the waves – and Blackpool’s famous Eiffel-like tower.

How to get there: 20 minutes west of the M6, J32

Opening times: Daily 10am-7pm

Price: Free

Best British piers: Blackpool North Pier, theatre Sunset Lounge

Image © Getty.

South Parade, Southsea, Hampshire

Pier of the Year for 2018, South Parade in Southsea has, according to the National Pier Society, been brought ‘beautifully back from the brink’. Closed to the public for five years and at one time deemed at risk of collapsing, the 110-year-old pier reopened last year to much acclaim. The Gaiety Bar, which once hosted the likes of David Bowie and was the setting for filming The Who’s rock opera Tommy, has been restored and now runs regular tea dances and comedy nights. Another highlight is stylish new restaurant Deep Blue, which offers views of the Isle of Wight and dishes ranging from traditional battered fish and chips to more creative options such as crab en croute.

How to get there: Ten minutes south of the A3 and M275

Opening times: Daily 8am-10pm

Price: Free

Best British piers: South Parade, Southsea, 2018 Pier of the Year

Hampshire’s South Parade: ‘beautifully back from the brink’. Image © Getty.

Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Jutting out over 1.3 miles into the Thames Estuary, the pier at Southend-on-Sea claims the title of the longest pleasure pier in the world. So long that it even has its own half-hourly train, trundling visitors to the end of the boardwalk. It’s worth strolling at least some of the planks to take in the rich bird life. Telescopes offer a close look at the oystercatchers wading in the mudflats and the terns diving into the waves. Once you’ve walked up an appetite you can reward yourself with a clotted cream tea at Salt Café throughout the year, while summer marks the return of the fish and chip shack, the mini golf course and the Tall Ship Mercedes.

How to get there: 25 miles east of M25 (J29), off the A127

Opening times: Pier open weekdays 8.15am-6pm, Saturdays 9.15am-8pm, Sundays 8:15am-8pm

Price: In summer £2 adult/£1 child

Best British piers: Southend-on-Sea, Essex, world's longest pier

Image © Alamy.

Llandudno, Conwy

Marking a boundary between the pastel-fronted Victorian terraces of the seafront parade and the hulking limestone headland of Great Orme, Llandudno’s pier is perhaps the most handsomely situated in Britain. And with its heritage blue and white lattice railings, it adds to the scenery. Not content, however, to rest on its good looks, the pier is also packed with stalls selling fine foods. Highlights include fresh local oysters and smoked mussels, a traditional sweet shop, the Great British Cheese Company, a freshly baked pie stall and the Pier Bar, which serves up local craft beers accompanied by live music in summer. The pier also incorporates a fishing platform if you prefer to catch your own supper.

How to get there: Five miles from J19 of the A55

Opening times: Open daily 10am-10pm in summer (see the website for other times of year)

Price: Free

Best British piers: Llandudno, Conwy, food stalls

Image © Alamy.

Cromer, Norfolk

Although relatively short at just under 500ft, the pier at Cromer packs a lot in, including an RNLI lifeboat launch, a bar and restaurant. But the star of the show is the 500-seat Pavilion Theatre. Events run through the year, but the ‘Seaside Special’, a variety production featuring comedians, dancers, singers and magicians, has been running here for some 40 years and returns for the summer season from late June to early September. Last year’s show won rave reviews from audiences and press alike. A lack of any modern-day arcades and the sight of visitors casting buckets on strings (available to rent from the gift shop) over the pier’s side to catch some of Cromer’s renowned crabs all add to the timeless charm.

How to get there: 20 miles north of Norwich, off the A140

Opening times: Pier open daily 10am-5pm, see website for restaurant and show times

Price: Free

John Lee, RNLI volunteer, Cromer

“Like my father and grandfather before me, I volunteer at Cromer’s lifeboat station at the end of the pier. In the old days, maroons went up and the whole town knew a boat was in distress. Now volunteers are privately paged. All of a sudden a dozen men are sprinting along the pier. In summer, it can be difficult with the crowds. You get strange looks until people realise you’re the lifeboat crew. By the time you reach the lifeboat station, people are packing on the pier’s side, trying to get a glimpse of the launch.”

Best British piers: Cromer, Norfolk, Pavilion Theatre

Image © Mike Harrington.

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