by Leo Owen
Aside from the usual seaside tat, Blackpool's annual illuminations are the town's main draw in the run-up to Christmas, attracting 3.5 million visitors from across the world between early September to November. The lights date back as far as 1879 when Dr Siemens conducted an experiment with electric lighting along the promenade.
Of course, today they're somewhat more impressive than the eight arc lamps Siemens illuminated with nearly six miles of lights stretching the entire length of the promenade from Starr Gate at the south end to Bispham. In excess of a million light bulbs are used to create colourful eye-catching displays that can be seen from the comfort of a car, from an equally dazzling themed open-top tram or better still, examined close-up by taking a leisurely stroll along the promenade walkway.
It takes five months to prepare this spectacular temporary display, combining floodlights, searchlights, fibre optics, neon and laser lights. Although some of the more breathtaking illuminated panel scenes are updated and additions occasionally made, some of the favourites include Doctor Who, The Windmill and The Palace of Fountains.
Impressive as they may be, it's not the illuminations that light the way for visiting tourists but the tower's searchlight, visible thirty miles away from the town. Affectionately known as the “Queen of the Lights”, Blackpool's grade one listed Victorian tower was clearly inspired by the Eiffel Tower and opened in 1894. During the illuminations the 158 metre tower is covered with strings of up to 10,000 lights, making it a prominent Blackpool landmark from afar.
Those brave enough to ascend the lift and climb the remaining three levels to the top and take the “Walk of Faith”, are rewarded with fantastic views across Blackpool's seafront and three piers. Aside from impressive panoramas, the tower offers an array of entertainment inside, perfectly balancing educational displays with circus shows and child-friendly fun.
The tower's ornate chandeliered ballroom is arguably its most famous attraction, having frequently hosted Strictly Come Dancing over the years. Getting a drink in the Tower Bar and watching couples twirl from the ballroom's perimeter is a nostalgic return to the days of Reginald Dixon playing “Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” on his Wurlitzer organ.
Like the tower, Blackpool's Pleasure Beach has also celebrated its centenary, having first begun back in 1896 with just one ride. Today over 125 attractions spread across 42 acres, making it a popular weekend destination and a great place to catch an ice show. Sadly although the park was once free to enter, these days wristbands are required.
Beyond the town's three main attractions, there's still plenty to do. The Grundy Art Gallery boasts ever-changing fascinating free exhibitions while Blackpool's markets offer a cheaper alternative to seafront shops for tacky souvenirs.
Blackpool is a popular hen and stag destination so people-watching from a fairytale horse drawn carriage is a must. As the sun sets, groups of ponies are escorted across the road after a hard day’s work giving rides along the beach while screeching singletons in fancy dress begin a hedonistic night.
As Blackpool has an almost year-round draw, many of its museums and sights have conveniently late opening hours. Walking between South Pier and the more traditional Victorian looking North Pier with its wreaths for those who've drowned, it's possible to tour around Madame Tussaud's, Alien Base or Ripley's Believe It Or Not between shop closing and dinner. And golfers will be pleased to know that Golden Isle offers a twelve hole indoor adventure golf course that's also open late.
If you've already taken in the Illuminations, visited the tower and shed all your coppers in the amusement arcades, the magnificent 19th centuryWinter Gardens complex and Grand Theatre will keep you busy with an array of shows, events and concerts. And of course visiting Blackpool in the summer months when the sun is shining is a completely different experience too and might just prompt a refreshing trip to the Water Park.
Tip – look out for ticket deals, offering discounts for visiting several attractions