The UK may not have a climate to match that of theme park hotspots such as Florida and California, but thrill-seeking residents and visitors are still spoilt for choice. Nearly 30 amusement parks have survived the economic gloom of recent years, with visitor numbers at the most popular parks on the rise. With a number of major new attractions due to be installed in the near future, the industry looks set to flourish for many years to come. The top parks are on a par with those anywhere else in the world – and 5 of the best are highlighted below.
5. Legoland Windsor
Aimed at families with children aged 2-12, Legoland Windsor features the least intense selection of attractions of any park on the list. Kids will be in their element here, able to fulfil dreams such as driving a car (Driving School), captaining a boat (Boating School) and dousing flames (Fire Academy). For older visitors, the Atlantis Submarine Voyage ride offers the chance to view a wide range of aquatic creatures from an underwater vantage point, and The Dragon roller coaster is fun for all ages.
- Miniland – famous landmarks from all over the world are recreated in miniature using millions of Lego bricks. A new Star Wars-themed section will open in 2012.
4. Chessington World of Adventures
Located close to Legoland Windsor, Chessington World of Adventures caters for a slightly older age group. While several of its thrill rides were moved to sister park Thorpe Park after the two were brought under the same ownership, it still offers a diverse line-up of attractions. This includes curiosities such as the Bubbleworks indoor boat ride, which sees guests travel through a soap factory, and the surreal walk-through Hocus Pocus Hall attraction. For those after white-knuckle thrills, the Vampire and Dragon’s Fury roller coasters fit the bill without crossing the boundary into pure terror. The park is also home to a zoo and a Sea Life centre, both of which house a variety of exotic creatures.
- Tomb Blasters – few laser gun rides can match the setting of Chessington’s, which sees riders battling the undead in a stunningly detailed “tomb”.
3. Flamingo Land
While parts of Flamingo Land resemble an old-fashioned caravan park (and indeed, its camping site is still a major part of its business), the park has developed into one of the UK’s leading visitor attractions. Like Chessington, it is home to a zoo, in this case one so expansive that it is worth a full day’s visit in itself. It also has an impressive line-up of rides and shows, including roller coasters Mumbo Jumbo (which briefly held the record for being the world’s steepest coaster) and Kumali (a twisting, turning suspended coaster).
- Velocity – the UK’s only motorbike launch coaster sees guests straddling bike-style vehicles, and is the tallest and fastest ride of its kind in the world.
2. Thorpe Park
Thorpe Park’s owners, Merlin Entertainments Group, have billed the park in recent years as “the nation’s thrill capital” and this is an increasingly fair description. Almost every ride aimed at young children has been stripped out of the park, and its line-up is now packed full of roller coasters, thrill rides and water rides. The coasters are some of the best in the UK, including the heavily-themed Saw – The Ride (based on the horror movie franchise), Nemesis Inferno (based around a steamy volcano) and Stealth (which sees riders blasted up a near-vertical slope). Bring a change of clothes if you plan to try out the water rides – the Tidal Wave attraction, in particular, more than lives up to its name.
- The Swarm – Thorpe Park’s new attraction for 2012 is the first “Wing Rider” coaster in the UK, with guests dangling over either side of the track as they swoop through a post-apocalyptic landscape.
1. Alton Towers
Far and away the most popular theme park in the UK, Alton Towers is well worthy of its status. Built around a genuine gothic mansion which provides a stunning visual focal point, it is spread across an enormous 800 acre site that also houses extensive gardens. It features a wide range of attractions for every age group, and it is near-impossible to see everything in a single day. If you’re short on time, be sure to check out the innovative roller coasters Air, Oblivion, Thirteen and Rita, and don’t miss the underrated Hex: The Legend of the Towers, housed in the mansion itself.
- Nemesis – opened in 1994, Europe first’s inverted roller coaster still regularly features at the top of “best ride” lists all over the world.
Wherever you are based in the UK, there is almost certainly at least one theme park in the near vicinity. With Alton Towers plotting a new roller coaster for 2013, and other parks likely to follow suit, the excitement on offer should only continue to grow.
Nick Sim covers theme park news, reviews and guides for his own website, where you can find a range of money-saving deals including Alton Towers 2-for-1 vouchers.