English seaside town with a little-known theme park that’s become UK’s best

Southend: Crowds gather on beach as lockdown restrictions ease

Drama momentarily hit Southend-on-Sea’s famous Adventure Island last weekend after riders of the “biggest and best” attraction were evacuated.

When the ride broke down, they became stuck at a 90-degree angle facing skywards on the 72-foot high rollercoaster.

A rescue operation was launched and those aboard were evacuated and returned to the ground within 40 minutes.

While scary, the rare mishap likely won’t stop thrill-seekers flocking to the park.

It has put Southend on the map and attracted people from far and wide for well over 100 years.

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The small city has got a bad rap, recently named among the worst places in the UK for a night out and among the worst places for anti-social behaviour. Residents even named it the “worst place on Earth”.

But there’s more to Southend than meets the eye.

It has held on to the traditional British seaside ambience that many have lost over the years.

It boasts award-winning beaches and family attractions like the world-famous pier and its mile-long railway, the top-rated aquarium Sealife Adventure, and of course Adventure Island.

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The park originally started way back in 1918 as the Sunken Gardens, a seaside garden that in the 1920s set up a few children’s rides.

It wasn’t until 1976 that the area was redeveloped and drastically expanded, and later in 1995 it was expanded to the east of the pier.

Southend Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world, compliments the park, extending more than a mile and running the entire length to the Lifeboat Museum.

In all, it contains a whopping 36 rides, including 5 rollercoasters and 2 water rides, as well as numerous retail outlets and cafes and restaurants, meaning you can spend an entire day there without getting bored.

Today, it regularly ranks top among lists of the best theme parks in the UK, alongside the likes of commercial giants Alton Towers and Oakwood, its hallmark ‘Rage’ ride among the stand-out attractions.

Adventure Island isn’t only what Southend has to offer, however.

There’s a thriving cultural scene in the city with countless museums and historic houses offering insights into the area’s past, like the 13th-century Hadleigh Castle and the 12th-century Prittlewell Priory.

Art spaces adorn the city, and you can size up old masters and exhibitions at the Beecroft Art Gallery or contemporary art at Focal Point Gallery.

Events and festivals run right throughout the year in Southend, with music, dance, ships, and puppets popping up in the city’s many venues.

And for those who are more about the finger things in life, Southend is seeing an increasing amount of wining and dining packages hit its quality restaurants and theatres — not to mention two casinos if you’re feeling lucky and ready to splash the cash.

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