While Merlin Entertainments is a huge player in the UK’s theme parks industry, overseeing top attractions such as Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Legoland Windsor and Chessington, there are also several family-run favourites in our list. For instance, Flamingo Land, Paultons Park and Blackpool Pleasure Beach. These continue to attract visitors with a mixture of thrilling coasters and family rides.
Keep reading for blooloop’s selection of the best theme parks in the UK, in no particular order.
1 Alton Towers Resort
Located in the Staffordshire countryside, Alton Towers Resort is home to three themed hotels, as well as Stargazing Pods and an Enchanted Village. Alton Towers is the largest theme park in the UK, with 10 themed areas across 910 acres. The attraction boasts more than 40 rides and attractions, including 10 record-breaking coasters and 20 family-friendly offerings.
Alton Towers recently opened Gangsta Granny: The Ride, which is part of the World of David Walliams. The dark ride features state-of-the-art special effects and cutting-edge animation inspired by the artwork of Tony Ross.
As well as Gangsta Granny: The Ride, the park’s David Walliams land includes Raj’s Shop, the Royal Carousel and Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp. “What I really wanted was the ride to be truthful to the book and the characters,” Walliams said. “I’m thrilled there’s going to be a Gangsta Granny ride at Alton Towers.
Alton Towers reopened in April with three retro pop-up rides called Mixtape, Roller Disco and Funk’n’Fly. The 80s-themed rides, known as the Retro Squad, are fairground-inspired attractions rather than the coasters usually found at Alton Towers. Roller Disco is a “totally rad” spinning ride, Mixtape is a bouncy ride offering “major retrotastic laughs”, and Funk’n’Fly takes guests on a “thrillingly funktastic flight”.
2 Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Additional thrill rides include Valhalla, The Big One, Revolution, Ice Blast and The Big Dipper. As well as the UK’s only Nickelodeon Land, family-friendly offerings at Blackpool Pleasure Beach comprise Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic, an Alice in Wonderland-themed ride and the Flying Machines.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s second hotel opened in July 2019. BLVD sits to the left of the Big Blue Hotel, which launched at the UK amusement park in 2003.
Earlier this year, it was rumoured that Take That star Robbie Williams was considering buying Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Williams is reportedly friends with Amanda Thompson, managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, who tweeted that it was “fab fun fake news”.
3 Chessington World of Adventures Resort
Chessington World of Adventures Resort, also part of Merlin Entertainments, opened in Surrey as Chessington Zoo in 1931 before launching as a theme park and zoo in 1987.
The destination in Greater London boasts more than 40 rides and attractions, more than 1,000 animals, and a SEA LIFE attraction. It is also home to two themed hotels, a glamping site and Go Ape. Chessington World of Adventures recently opened a new rainforest-themed land with three new rides – Jungle Rangers, River Rafts and Treetop Hoppers.
Earlier this year, Chessington launched a multi-million-pound drop tower ride called Croc Drop – the park’s first new ride since 2013. Croc Drop plunges riders 25m into the jaws of a giant crocodile named Sobek.
Tim Harrison-Jones, divisional director at Chessington, previously said Croc Drop will be “a great addition to our theme park”, adding: “The one-of-a-kind drop tower has been over two years in the making and is nearing final construction in our land, Forbidden Kingdom – just at the sight of it, let alone the thrilling ride itself, guests’ jaws will drop.”
4 Drayton Manor Theme Park
Drayton Manor is a theme park and zoo, located on the grounds of the former Drayton Manor in Staffordshire, UK. The attraction covers 180 acres and hosts approximately 1.5 million visitors annually.
Drayton Manor is owned by the Looping Group. The Bryan family, who had owned and run Drayton Manor Park since it opened in 1950, went into administration before selling the destination. The Looping Group also operates West Midlands Safari Park and Pleasurewood Hills in the UK.
Drayton Manor rides include family favourites such as Flying Dutchman and Accelerator, thrill rides such as Maelstrom and Apocalypse, and coasters including Shockwave and Stormforce 10. The 15-acre zoo is home to many animals, from meerkats to Sumatran tigers. In addition, Thomas Land boasts more than 25 rides and attractions following an expansion in 2015.
This year, Drayton Manor is opening a new nautical-themed area called Adventure Cove, which will be brimming with barrels, boats and steering wheels. It will also boast the new seafaring-style River Rapids ride. Adventure Cove is the first investment phase from the park’s new owners.
“We’ve been busy behind the scenes while the park has been closed, and we’re really pleased with how the new area is looking already and can’t wait to see it finished,” said William Bryan, managing director at Drayton Manor.
5 Fantasy Island
Fantasy Island is located in Ingoldmells in Lincolnshire, close to Skegness. Following the purchase by Mellors Group in March 2016, Fantasy Island has made substantial investment in new attractions.
The attraction boasts a wealth of rides, from roller coasters such as the Odyssey and Millennium to family-friendly offerings including Glowworm and Firebowl. The park also houses Europe’s largest seven-day market, as well as various F&B outlets.
“Since acquiring Fantasy Island in 2016, we have introduced a whole range of attractions from children’s rides to family and extreme, as well as enhancing our all-weather indoor family entertainment centre, uplifting our market and introducing new accommodation services back in 2019,” said James Mellors, director of Mellors Group.
“Our aim as owners is to continually improve our customer offering and revitalise Fantasy Island, putting lngoldmells firmly back on the map.”
Earlier this year, Mellors Group purchased Skegness Pier for £3m. “It is a very exciting time for our family,” said James Mellors Snr, managing director of the Mellors Group. “We pride ourselves on delivering the highest standard of attractions and we have some fantastic investment plans to elevate Skegness Pier and propel it to the next level, immediately.
“Since the purchase of Fantasy Island, Skegness has become a second home to my family, and we look forward to delivering new experiences to residents and visitors of Lincolnshire alike,” he added. Skegness Pier went on the open market in September 2020. It features an entertainment centre, bowling, Laser Quest, escape rooms and soft play.
6 Flamingo Land Resort
Flamingo Land Resort is a theme park, zoo, and resort located in the small village of Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire. CEO Gordon Gibb’s late father Robert Gibb purchased the 375-acre property in 1978, four years after it expanded from a zoo.
The family-run business hopes to develop two new attractions at Loch Lomond in Scotland and in Scarborough. Plans were submitted for Flamingo Land Coast on the Scarborough seaside in 2019, and plans for the £30m Loch Lomond development were recently resurrected.
Flamingo Land thrill rides include Flip Flop and Cliff Hanger, while family-friendly rides on offer include Twistosaurus and Rotataur. The park boasts attractions for children, such as Dino Roller and Vortex, and coasters include Mumbo Jumbo and Kumali.
Flamingo Land also has a zoo that attracts more visitors than ZSL London Zoo. After enjoying the park, guests can spend the night in resort accommodation, from lodges and cottages to farmhouses.
Flamingo Land is “one of the last of the dinosaurs”, Gibb told blooloop in 2018. “Privately-owned parks used to be the bedrock of the industry in the UK. But we have to face facts. We are now competing for the small share of the market after Merlin have had their slice. However, through hard work and making the right decisions at the right time, we’ve been able to outmanoeuvre a battleship.”
7 Legoland Windsor Resort
Another attraction operated by Merlin Entertainments is Legoland Windsor Resort in Berkshire. Offering more than 55 rides and attractions, Legoland Windsor also features accommodation – the Legoland Resort Hotel and Legoland Castle Hotel.
Earlier this year, the theme park opened the £20m Lego Mythica: World of Mythical Creatures, an immersive land with rides, attractions and experiences, including the UK’s first flying theatre ride – Flight of the Sky Lion. Lego Mythica is the biggest investment in Legoland Windsor since it opened 25 years ago.
“We are so excited to welcome children and their families into the incredible world of Lego Mythica – the first and only land of its kind on earth,” said Helen Bull, divisional director at Legoland Windsor.
“Guests can build, create, and let their imaginations run wild, whilst making incredible memories together as a family once again. We are really proud to launch Lego Mythica during our 25th anniversary year, which is a huge achievement for all of the team who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to bring this magnificent world to life.”
8 Paultons Park
Opened in 1983, Paultons Park is located within 140 acres of parkland on the edge of the New Forest National Park in Hampshire, England. The theme park is home to more than 70 rides and attractions, including coasters, thrill rides, family rides, play areas, splash areas and entertainment.
It also features the UK’s only Peppa Pig World, which includes 9 Peppa-themed rides for children.The park has been owned and run by the Mancey family since it first opened.
Paultons Park recently launched its multi-million-pound themed world Tornado Springs, which is inspired by an American Midwest desert resort town in the 1950s.
Tornado Springs features 8 rides and experiences, including the Cyclonator, Windmill Towers, Buffalo Falls and the Trekking Tractors. Storm Chaser is the only free-spinning roller coaster of its kind in the UK, Al’s Auto Academy includes 30 themed cars based on the Hudson Hornet, and themed memorabilia is available at Al’s Shop and Service.
“Theme parks are all about creating different environments,” Richard Mancey, the park’s managing director, told blooloop. “We went through all the usual themes: pirates, castles, Vikings, the Wild West. But we wanted something that’s going to be unique to us. What else is there? So we took the iconic Route 66 with Tornado Alley and just built on this theme.”
9 Oakwood Theme Park
Oakwood Theme Park is located in Canaston Bridge in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. The amusement park opened as a small family attraction in the late 1980s with a handful of attractions and is now the biggest theme park in Wales.
Its offerings include family-friendly attractions, thrill rides, exciting events and F&B. Megafobia was voted the UK’s top wooden roller coaster, while the Speed coaster is the fastest ride in Wales. Until 2008, Oakwood was owned and developed by the McNamara family. It is now owned by Aspro Parks.
10 Lightwater Valley Theme Park
Lightwater Valley is an amusement park covering 175 acres in Ripon, North Yorkshire. It features rides, crazy golf, indoor and outdoor play, retail and F&B. The park reopened earlier this year with new attractions including the Go Safari area, Hot Air Balloon ride and Treetop Trails.
Lightwater Valley was founded by Robert Staveley in 1969, and is now owned and operated by the Brighton Pier Group.
The Brighton Pier Group recently acquired the entire share capital of Lightwater Valley Attractions Limited for a consideration of up to £5m in cash. “I am delighted to welcome all the team at Lightwater Valley to the Brighton Pier Group,” said Anne Ackord, CEO of the Brighton Pier Group.
“I believe that, together, we can develop Lightwater Valley into the premier amusement destination across Yorkshire and the surrounding areas.”
The Brighton Pier Group plans to expand and develop the North Yorkshire attraction’s extensive space. “The booming ‘staycation’ market is going to significantly grow UK tourism over the coming months as international travel restrictions remain in place, this provides a great opportunity over the summer for all the group’s operations,” Ackord added.
11 Adventure Island
Adventure Island started life way back in 1918 as the Sunken Garden, a seaside haven in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. The Miller family purchased additional land in 1976 and transformed the family offering into an amusement park called Peter Pan’s Playground.
In 1995, the park was expanded once again and became Adventure Island. Classic attractions at the amusement park include the Crooked House and Helter Skelter, while coasters include Rage and Green Scream. Adventure Island is part of the Stockvale Group, which also owns the Sealife Adventure Aquarium, as well as a host of local restaurants and radio stations.
12 Gulliver’s Theme Park Resorts
Gulliver’s Theme Park Resorts are located across the UK. Gulliver’s Kingdom is the original and smallest Gulliver’s park, founded in the Derbyshire tourist town of Matlock Bath in 1978. Gulliver’s World in Warrington is the UK’s largest Gulliver’s attraction, while Gulliver’s Land and Gulliver’s Dino & Farm Park can be found in Milton Keynes. Gulliver’s Valley launched just last year in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
Gulliver’s Kingdom includes the Explorers Retreat accommodation, while Gulliver’s World and Gulliver’s Land are home to Splash Zone indoor water parks. Gulliver’s Valley in Rotherham boasts a 15-acre theme park and themed accommodation including Lilliput Castle suites. Last year, Gulliver’s World got the green light for a £5.6m extension with themed accommodation and woodland lodges.
“Long term, Gulliver’s Valley Resort has the potential to be bigger than our Warrington site,” managing director Julie Dalton told blooloop.
“As well as Splash Zone, there’s another park scheduled. It will be a farm park with a gears driving experience and a museum. Then there will be an ecology centre by the lakes. The new accommodation will fit in between the two.”
13 Thorpe Park Resort
Thorpe Park Resort in Surrey is operated and owned by Merlin Entertainments. Opened to the public in 1979, Thorpe Park is home to more than 30 exhilarating rides, including the UK’s fastest roller coaster, Stealth.
Major attractions at Thorpe Park include the UK’s first virtual reality (VR) dark ride, as well as coasters based on The Walking Dead and SAW. The park also hosts live events and recently launched the UK’s first live Black Mirror experience with Black Mirror Labyrinth.