Detailed review by micksheff
Sheffield, United Kingdom
Seaside piers seem to be a very British tradition and there are many different examples to be found in England and Wales, although oddly none exist north of the border in Scotland. Brighton's pier is one of the most famous of them all. Officially known as The Brighton Marine Palace Pier or the Palace Pier for short it officially opened in the May of 1899. By this date the Victorians and their predecessors had already built many other piers, including two earlier ones at Brighton.
Brighton's first pier was constructed in 1823. This was known as The Royal Suspension Chain Pier and still existed in 1891 when construction of the Palace Pier began. At this time the Chain Pier was considered to be unsafe and was in a state of disrepair so one of the conditions attached to the construction of the new pier was that this old one was demolished. By the time the Palace Pier was completed it had cost £137,000, a new record for the cost of a British Pier.
Today the pier is a hub of activity with an impressive dome shaped amusement arcade and several roller coaster rides. Unlike many other piers it is possible to walk down it without having to walk through the amusement arcades, as there are walkways down both the left and right hand side of the pier. Since it is perfectly flat and these walkways are quite wide it is especially suited for wheelchair users and pushchairs and for there are plenty of benches to sit on too along the way as well as free deck chairs.
Since 2000 the pier has been owned by the Noble Organisation who unofficially renamed the pier "Brighton Pier" adding a sign at the entrance. This name is not however recognised by the National Piers Association and the town's local newspaper, The Argus still refer to it as the Palace Pier.
Having walked along about a dozen different piers in the last year it would be easy to become complacent and think that they are all pretty much the same. In some respects this is true but I must say that I was rather impressed with The Palace Pier. It is very clean and whilst there are numerous gift shops and ice cream parlours it didn't feel cheap and tacky. I visited here during the Easter Bank Holiday weekend and the place was heaving, yet despite the miserable wet weather it is the sort of place that still manages to put a smile on everyone's face. The outdoor thrill rides might not have been nearly as much fun in the rain as they would have been in the sunshine but people were still queuing to get on them.
One of the best things about this pier is that there is plenty to do undercover so when it is raining, everyone it seems heads for the pier. Around the entrance to the pier there are gift shops and food stalls that line both sides and when I visited there was a balloon seller here too, selling helium balloons of all shapes and sizes. The pier isn't accessible 24 hours a day and just beyond this point there is a set of gates that restrict entrance onto the pier when it is closed. At Easter it was open from 10am until 10pm but remained illuminated until midnight. I understand that during the summer months it is open from 9am until midnight and that during the month of August a firework display takes place each Saturday evening.
Just beyond the entrance gates there is the first of two large amusement arcades. Entry is free but the philosophy of course is that few people will be able to resist dropping a few pennies into one of the shove penny machines or resisting the noisy, flashing lights of the other slot machines as they walk by. As I mentioned earlier it is possible to avoid this arcade completely and enter the pier via either side of it but the main route on to the pier does tend to try and channel you into the arcade, through its wide doors and into the warmth inside. It's not all fruit machines and shove penny machines though there are a range of things for all ages inside, including ten pin bowling and video machines and there are food outlets too selling burgers, hot dogs, crepes etc and I even spotted a noodle bar. At the far end of this arcade another set of doors takes you on to the main part of the pier where there are more gift shops and stalls selling rock and other sweets including of course candy floss.
The pier has two different family oriented bars on it each of which allow children up until 7pm and they both have outdoor terrace areas for when the weather is fine too. There's also a restaurant, a fish and chip outlet and an adult only karaoke bar.
The very end of the pier is set aside as an amusement park with roller coaster rides, waltzes and dodgem cars. Some of the rides will catapult you high into the sky where I am sure you will have a wonderful bird's eye view of Brighton whilst others will suspend you precariously over the sea. I watched with interest but decided to give them a miss. For the less adventurous there are things like a log flume and carousels. Tokens need to be purchased from one of the kiosks on the pier to go on the rides. These cost £1 a time with most rides costing between one and three tokens a time although the main rides can set you back as much as a whopping 7 tokens so it's not a cheap day out for the family.
All along the pier there are placards that tell the visitor about interesting facts and trivia relating to the pier. For example did you know that the pier holds a licence for weddings and civil partnerships and is now a popular venue for such things.
Personally I thought the Palace Pier was great fun. If you wish to participate in all of the fun then you will need to have plenty of money in your wallet but I was happy enough just to watch others having fun and making fools of themselves. No pleasure pier would be complete without a coconut shy or hook a duck and this one doesn't disappoint. However there seemed to be plenty more on offer too like face painting for children or stalls where you could have your portrait drawn or a photo taken that was then superimposed in front of some world famous landmark like the Great Pyramid or the Taj Mahal.
In summary this is a great place and if you are are in Brighton then its a place you really cant miss.