We check out Britain's best coastal theme parks, from thrill-packed pleasure piers to classic carousels overlooking the sea. Words: Alex Reece

FOR A VINTAGE COMEBACK
Dreamland, Margate, Kent

After an 11-year campaign to save it from redevelopment, Dreamland – dating back to the 1860s – finally reopened in June 2015. Restored with the help of creative director Wayne Hemingway, the park features traditional rides re-imagined with a witty edge. Go for a ride on the Waltzer, Scrambler Twist or Gallopers, or book for one of the hip events happening this season. Food is old school (fish and chips, candy-floss and Morelli's ice cream), and to top it off the Grade II-listed Scenic Railway rollercoaster is back in action. Open daily, free to enter and pay per ride (wristbands for unlimited rides £9-£15 online). dreamland.co.uk

FOR THE BIG ONE
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire

Blackpool Pleasure Beach needs little introduction –  and with more than 125 rides and attractions packed into its 42 acres, boredom isn’t really an option. Famous for its 235ft Big One rollercoaster – the tallest in the country – the Pleasure Beach also has the world's first Red Arrows Ride, where you can step into the cockpit of your very own ‘plane’ and steer your way through an aerobatic display. Opening times vary; online prices for wristbands from £22 adult, £20 child. blackpoolpleasurebeach.com

FOR YOUNG FAMILIES
Woodlands, Nr Dartmouth, Devon

This family-oriented theme park, between Dartmouth and Totnes, is the largest in Devon, and is packed with rides and activities ideally suited to young children. Chief among them are the 500-metre Tornado Toboggan run and a Sea Dragon swing ship. Kids will delight in the extensive play areas here for them to explore. Check out the flying displays at the Falconry Centre, and the animals at Zoo Farm. And if you want to make a holiday out of it, there’s camping and a caravan park, too. Advance tickets from £13.68 per person, children under 92cm free. woodlandspark.com

Read next 10 Best Devon Attractions 

FOR AN ATLANTIC SETTING
Curry's Fun Park, Portrush, Co Antrim

Founded in 1927 near to the harbour at Portrush, Barry’s Amusements had remained in the same family throughout its history, and was popular with visitors who enjoy its small scale and views over the Causeway Coast from the 15 rides. The park was closed and sold in September 2021 however is due to reopen in Easter 2022 under the new name Curry's Fun Park.  Opening times vary seasonally; free entry, rides cost between 1 and 4 tokens (a token is 50p or less if bought in packs of 24 or 50). 

FOR A SEASIDE ICON
Brighton Pier, East Sussex

The enduring popularity of Brighton Pier – welcoming 6.2 million visitors  a year – lies in its multi-generational appeal and the classic British seaside experience it offers. Fish and chips, sticks of rock, a ghost train and a helter-skelter are all present and correct. And it’s free to enter, if you simply fancy a promenade over the Channel or an eyeful of the Grade II-listed Victorian architecture from a freely available deckchair. Of course, there are more recent, stomach-turning additions: try The Booster, which is 130ft tall and rotates you 360 degrees in the air. Or have your coppers at the ready for the amusement arcade. Open daily; free entry, rides priced individually. brightonpier.co.uk

FOR ADVENTURE PLAY
Codona’s, Aberdeen

Top rides and amusments you will find at this family-owned seafront park in northeast Scotland include a Dino-Safari 4D motion ride (complete with ferocious T-Rex) and the indoor Smugglers Cove play area for small children – now one of the largest in the UK. Little ones will love the role-play facilities here, such as the fire station, supermarket and DJ booth they can operate themselves. Among the outdoor attractions are a Ferris wheel and adventure golf, plus a swinging galleon and vertiginous aerial assault course. Opening times vary seasonally (see online for details); from £12.99 per person with a family ticket, £14.99 per person standard. codonas.com

Read next Best Family Adventure Holidays by the Sea

FOR GOING WILD
GreenWood Forest Park, Y Felinheli, Gwynedd

Close to the Menai Strait in North Wales, this 17-acre park has an emphasis on outdoor adventure play – and all rides have been designed to have a low environmental impact. The family-friendly pursuits include the world’s first people-powered rollercoaster, the longest sledge run in Wales, and woodland activities, such as den-building and a barefoot trail. The Forest Theatre has a rolling programme of entertainment throughout the school holidays – and there are craft activities, too, which follow the seasons. Open daily, 10am-5.30pm in summer; peak season £15.50 for an adult and £14.95 for a child/senior. greenwoodforestpark.co.uk

FOR TIMELESS FUN
Blackgang Chine, Isle of Wight

The oldest theme park in Britain, opened in 1843 by Alexander Dabell, Blackgang Chine is still owned and run by the fifth generation of his family. Located on the south coast of the Isle of Wight, where Jurassic reptile remains are often found, ‘Restricted Area 5’ harbours moving dinosaurs, such as a family of triceratops and the biggest animatronic T-Rex in the country. In addition to the well-loved rides and slides – there is a Wild West-themed Cowboy Town – during the summer holidays, there are also Dino Night events and Wednesday evening firework displays. In 2017, the park welcomed a new theme world: Underwater Kingdom. Open daily, times vary (peak season); £19.50 (off peak) and £22 (peak) per person, saver ticket from £74 for 4, under-4s free. blackgangchine.com

FOR THRILLS & SPILLS
Fantasy Island, Skegness, Lincolnshire

Fantasy Island offers a mix of white-knuckle rides and traditional funfair fixtures from its beach-side base in Ingoldmells. Here you'll find Tree Top Climb, or a thrilling ride on its two main rollercoasters (The Millennium and The Odyssey), with views out to sea and across the Lincolnshire Wolds. Gentler diversions take the shape of a log flume, mini dodgems, hook-a-duck and soft play. Also on site is Europe’s largest seven-day market, plus regular cabaret performances. Open daily, free entry, wristbands from £20 standard, £10 junior. fantasyisland.co.uk

Read next Discover our 10 Best Coastal Thrills

FOR RAINY DAYS
Adventure Island,  Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Running along the seafront, either side of Southend Pier, Adventure Island unveiled a brand-new £5 million indoor centre (Adventure Inside) in 2015. An all-weather continuation of the free-entry amusement park, it has a Pirate Plunge ride, a carousel, soft play area for toddlers, plus restaurants and arcade games. Many of the rides at the park are designed and made by Adventure Island’s own team, such as the high-speed 4.2G Time Machine (for adrenaline junkies only). But younger visitors are well catered for with a Kiddi-Koasta, Flying Jumbos, a Crooked House and more. Opening times vary seasonally (see online for details); free entry, wristband cost varies with person’s height from £15.20. adventureisland.co.uk

To get more exciting round-ups check out our 10 best walking holidays by the sea or child-friendly beaches. Keep up to date with our latest 10 Best features in the magazine.

To get more exciting round-ups check out our 10 best walking holidays by the sea or child-friendly beaches. Keep up to date with our latest 10 Best features in the magazine.