From the caw of the wheeling gulls and the spinning pink drums of candy floss to the waft of fish and chips and the rattle of coins in the penny falls, these Victorian wonders are as British as it comes.
Often built to accommodate ferry or steam passengers, now they’re a national treasure and still very much a national pleasure.
Take a deep breath of that beautiful clean air and join the jetty set on our pick of the peerless piers…
BLACKPOOL CENTRAL, LANCS
Length: Originally 1,518ft now 1,118ft Opened: 1868 Status: Unlisted
Originally founded as the South Pier, it changed its name when the Victoria (now South) Pier opened. The overall length was reduced when a jetty was demolished in the 1970s.
Known as the People’s Pier, it was renowned for its entertainment, particularly open-air dancing and theatre.
Today’s boisterous offering is a little less highbrow but it has a Ferris wheel, funfair and tribute show, plus a pirate-themed family bar where there’s “avast” amount of swashbuckling mayhem. blackpoolpiers.co.uk
Length: 500ft Opened: 1901 Status: Grade II
The North Sea has not been kind to Cromer’s piers. A 210ft jetty was built in 1822 and washed away in 1843 to be replaced, two years later, with a 240ft structure which lasted until 1890 when the waves struck again.
Today’s iron pier has been damaged by storms in 1949, 1953, 1976, 1978, 1990 and 2013 but still stands proud and its Pavilion Theatre hosts the only full-season end-of-the-pier show in the world, playing to delighted full houses.
Reputedly, there are ghosts too – of an impresario and a murdered actress.
Don’t take our word for how fine this pier is. TV star Bradley Walsh started his career working on summer shows here in the 80s and last year described it as the “greatest place on the planet”. cromerpier.co.uk
BRIGHTON PALACE, SUSSEX
Length: 1,760ft Opened: 1899 Status: Grade II*
Britain’s answer to LA’s iconic Santa Monica pier? Quite possibly so. It started out in a typical genteel Victorian way with a 1,500-seat theatre at the seaward end, with smaller pavilions for dining, smoking and reading.
A winter garden was added before the First World War followed a year later by a steamer landing stage. Little happened until 1973, when a barge being used during demolition of the unused landing stage hit the pier, causing much damage.
New owners in the 1980s dismantled the theatre and added a Ferris wheel, with a fire in 2000 destroying some rides. By 2007 it was thriving, with new thrill rides and a food court.
In 2016 it changed hands again, with the new owners reverting the name to Brighton Palace Pier from the unpopular Brighton Pier.
Today it’s rated as one of the UK’s top 10 Instagram spots and a vibrant success. brightonpier.co.uk
Length: Initially 810ft now 623ft Opened: 1900 Status: Unlisted
Like Southend, something of an eventful history with a 1934 storm destroying the T-shaped head, a Second World War mine causing damage, and a 1955 gale isolating the seaward end, which washed away. Another storm in 1979 reduced the length to 150ft.
A major refurbishment started in 1999 and by 2002 the T-shaped end was returned, making it 623ft and allowing steamers to visit.
Today’s highlights include the Pier View bar for, well, fab pier views and the highly rated, unique and eccentric Under the Pier Show, which features the weird and wonderful interactive inventions from genius engineer Tim Hunkin. southwoldpier.co.uk
DUNOON, ARGYLL AND BUTE
Length: 400ft Opened: 1835 Status: Category B
A charming Highlands resort town on the Cowal Peninsula has an equally charming pier.
Originally constructed to handle paddle-steamer traffic from Glasgow, it has a striking entrance building with red-tiled roofs and detailed timber in chocolate, cream and yellow.
By early 2010, the condition of the pier buildings had deteriorated badly and locals feared it would have to be demolished. However, the council owners committed to its restoration and now it’s back to its former glory and a popular tourist attraction. argyll-bute.gov.uk/home
Length: Initially 3,600ft now 3,633ft Opened: 1860 Status: Grade II
The second-longest pier in Britain after Southend, it’s also the oldest iron pier in the country and one of the first with a tram.
Like its Essex cousin, there have been difficult moments with storm and fire damage over the decades, and it fell into disrepair and subsequently shut. Now it’s been refurbished for the 21st century with a “funland” at the entrance and more entertainment facilities planned, including underwater webcams to view marine life.
What’s not changed over the last 160 years are the grand views of the North Wales coast. visitsouthport.com
BANGOR GARTH, GWYNEDD
Length: Originally 1,550ft Now 1,500ft Opened: 1896 Status: Grade II
You’ll take a shine to this silvery sliver in the Menai Strait which originally served steamers from Liverpool, Blackpool and the Isle of Man. It was saved from demolition in the 1970s and reopened in 1988. More financial difficulties in the 2010s have now been overcome and a four-year major refurbishment is nearing completion.
There’s a handful of good local food and drink stalls and great views of the Strait walking out, and Snowdonia’s peaks on the skyline walking back. bangorcitycouncil.com
RYDE, ISLE OF WIGHT
Length: Initially 1,740ft now 2,305ft Opened: 1814 Status: Grade II
Britain’s oldest pier has been growing since 1814 with several extensions and expansions, including a tramway pier in 1864 and then a railway pier in 1880.
The 20th century saw the wooden piles gradually replaced with iron, then a rebuilding in concrete followed by closure of the tramway. As any rail aficionado will tell you, the trains are 1938 London Underground rolling stock – though they are due to be replaced with more modern units. visitisleofwight.co.uk
WESTON-SUPER-MARE, NORTH SOMERSET
Length: Initially 1,080ft Now 1,200ft Opened: 1904 Status: Grade II
The builders of Weston’s second pier had grand ideas with a 2,000-seat pavilion that staged opera, music hall, Shakespearean plays, ballet and… boxing.
A 1,500ft low-water extension with a landing stage was added in the early 20th century but was little used because of dangerous Bristol Channel conditions and it was demolished during the First World War.
Amusements were added in 1926 but destroyed by fire soon after. The 90s saw the addition of a bowling alley and Ferris wheel, but again a fire broke out in 2008. The current pier reopened in 2011 and has been a popular filming location. grandpier.co.uk
Length: 7,080ft Opened: 1890 Status: Grade II
The world’s longest pleasure pier has a colourful 190-year history with various fires, wartime military service and being split in two after being hit by a ship.
The first wooden section opened in 1830, with the current iron replacement debuting in 1890 and featuring an electric railway. An extension opened in 1898, giving it the global status.
Much improved in the 21st century with new and refurbished facilities, it draws more than 320,000 visitors a year for a stroll or clanking rail trip deep into the gaping maw of the Thames Estuary. Further investment is planned. southend.gov.uk