I visited seaside town named UK’s worst but had best day and for less than £5 | Travel News | Travel

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Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Blackpool, with its iconic tower, expansive beaches, and three piers, is undoubtedly one of the nation’s favourite seaside resorts.

A single adult train ticket from Manchester to Blackpool can set you back around £14, a cost that quickly escalates when travelling in a group. However, there is a more economical way to reach Blackpool which takes the same amount of time.

National Express provides coach tickets from Manchester to Blackpool starting at a mere £4 one way. The average journey time is roughly an hour and twenty minutes, comparable to the train ride, and it conveniently drops you off just minutes away from the famous tower.

The most affordable option is the ‘restricted’ fare at £4, which does not allow any changes to your ticket. For an additional pound, you can opt for a ‘standard’ ticket offering some flexibility, such as the ability to modify your booking.

If you’re willing to spend £10, you can get a fully flexible ticket, which includes the option of a full refund up to 24 hours before your journey, reports Manchester Evening News.

The downside is that there is a £1.50 booking fee, but it still means an overall fare of £5.50, cheaper than the train. Another drawback of the coach is that there are fewer services throughout the day, so you have to be a little bit more open to when you’re going to travel – which is how I ended up catching the 7.40am National Express service to Blackpool one sunny weekday morning.

The coach drops you off within a few minutes' walk of Blackpool Tower

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

My journey began at Manchester Coach Station on Chorlton Street, which was pleasantly clean and quiet; it felt rather calm compared to the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Station (although I imagine it is rammed at weekends).

I alighted the Blackpool coach with my fellow passengers and we all settled down for the 80 minute ride to the coast. I’ll admit I’m more used to travelling by train than coach, but I was rather impressed with what the coach had to offer.

The leather seats were comfortable with practical footrests (why oh why can’t we have these on trains?) and I was particularly enamoured with a small TV screen above the front windscreen, which gave you live footage from the front of the bus as it weaved its way through the city’s streets. It’s not exactly inflight entertainment but it was fun to look at from time to time.

One perk of travelling so early was how quiet the coach was. There were only three of us on board so we practically had the place to ourselves. Pair this with the fact that the coach doesn’t stop off anywhere on route and you’ve got a rather relaxing experience.

We soon left the urban sprawl of Greater Manchester and zoomed along the M61. One thing which did bug me throughout the journey was the height of the windows – which started at around my shoulder – so I couldn’t comfortably gaze out and watch the scenery. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Before long, fields gave way to buildings. We’d arrived in Blackpool’s outer suburbs, and I began to catch glimpses of Blackpool’s iconic tower in the distance. We did arrive 15 minutes late due to traffic, but the coach did drop us off at the Central Coach station, right behind the Coral Island Arcade, in the heart of the action.

It was only 9.15am and with the day stretched out ahead of me, I decided to check out some of Blackpool’s ‘hidden gems’. Here’s what I discovered.

The breakfast at Compass Cafe

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Have breakfast at one of Blackpool’s top-rated cafes

After my early start I was ravenous and a hearty breakfast was exactly what I wanted. Fancying a full English, I headed to Compass Café on Birley Street, just behind the front.

Its fry ups have earned it an average google rating of 4.8 stars out of five with customers raving about its breakfast menu. The café is known for serving up breakfast in a frying pan – although I chose the more modest classic breakfast instead.

Service was incredibly speedy and you can easily swap in anything you don’t like – I had a hash brown instead of beans. The breakfast was tasty and satisfying, although it is very much a traditional breakfast spot, rather than a fancy brunch establishment, so bear that in mind. But it did the job and I was left feeling full and fuelled up for my adventures.

Regent Cinema and Antiques

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Visit an old cinema turned into an Aladdin’s cave of antiques

Blackpool has its fair share of gems away from the beach. One of them is Regent Cinema, located on the corner of Regent Road and Church Street, only a short walk away from the beach. It’s an old 1920s cinema which has been transformed into an antiques store that’s an absolute treasure trove of delights.

Inside is a rabbit-warren of stalls, selling vintage clothes, pop culture memorabilia, furniture, books, glassware and more. There’s three floors to explore with a small tea-room on the first floor, while the attic space is crammed full of second-hand items.

The best part is it’s still a working cinema, with a huge screen on the wall above the stalls and the original seating is still in place in the ‘dress circle’, which overlooks the antique stalls below. Films are shown on select Friday nights, offering a unique cinematic experience. Although there were no screenings on during my visit, it was still fun rummaging through all the second-hand goods, you could easily spend hours there sniffing out a bargain.

Stanley Park, Blackpool

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Walk around one of the UK’s most popular parks

Blackpool may be famous for its beaches, promenade and tower, but it’s also home to one of the UK’s best parks. In 2019, Stanley Park was voted the best park in the UK while in 2022 it was named England’s favourite park.

Covering an area of 390-acres, Stanley Park features beautiful Italian gardens, a boating lake and a gorgeous Art Deco café. While it may seem counterintuitive heading to a park when you’re at the seaside, it’s a wonderful alternative to the crowds of the seafront on a sunny day, and in my case, respite from the chilly April winds blowing off the Irish sea. It’s around a 30 minute walk from the front, or a short bus ride, and it’s certainly worth the effort to get there if you can.

Wander through a chocolate box village

In the corner of Stanley Park, behind a rather ominous wall topped with barbed wire, lies another one of Blackpool’s hidden gems: a model village. Dubbed ‘the biggest little village in Lancashire’ it’s a charming 2.5 acre landscaped garden filled with idyllic scenes of daily life, from a wedding at a church to people browsing the shops, all played out in miniature.

It’s an absolute delight to explore. Upon arrival you’re given a quiz to complete which leads you around the village as you fill in the responses. There are some surprises too including a spectacular castle, a village prison, fairy glen, waterfall and even a UFO.

Tickets cost £10.50 for adults and £8.50 for children, which may seem steep but it’s completely worth it and you’re able to explore the village at leisure. Afterwards grab an ice cream from Anita’s Ice Cream Parlour, located at the entrance.

Blackpool Model Village

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Lose yourself in the magical ballroom

Venturing back to the seafront, I couldn’t not stop by one of Blackpool’s main attractions. Blackpool Tower is home to several attractions, but the Ballroom is probably the most surprising of them all. Nothing can prepare you for the breath-taking beauty of the ornate room as you step through the double doors.

The dance floor is lined with tables and chairs where you can sit with a refreshment and watch dancers take to the floor as the famous Wurlitzer organ plays. You can even have a spin on the sprung dance floor yourself.

I decided to leave it to the regulars and watched couples spin around the dance floor to the likes of Abba’s Money Money Money, which was quite a surreal experience. Being inside the 19th century ballroom truly felt like a world away from the noisy arcades outside; the ballroom is a bubble of old-fashioned glamour that transports you to a different world. There is an option to book afternoon tea, but if you want to keep things more affordable, you can just pay for the £11.50 entry ticket and buy a drink at the bar when you arrive (or go without if you prefer).

Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Ditch fish and chips for a £1 burger

Feeling peckish, it was time for a bite to eat. Of course, when you’re at the seaside, fish and chips is the first thing that springs to mind, yet Blackpool has something more exciting to offer when it comes to cheap and speedy fare. A stone’s throw away from Central Pier on Dale Street is Higgitt’s Las Vegas Arcade and £1 Burger Bar, where you can pick up a burger from – you guessed it – 100 English pennies.

The spot has gained legendary status over the years with owner Chris Higgit starring in clips on YouTube, so I had to check it out. Given it was a weekday afternoon there wasn’t a queue, so I strode right up and ordered my burger, handing over my pound coin (it’s cash only). The £1 buys you a patty with onions, sandwiched in a soft bun and a sauce of your choosing. For 50p extra you can get a slice of cheese.

Obviously this is not a gourmet experience, but it’s cheap, cheerful and fills a hole. It’s also four quid less than a burger would cost you on the pier, something not to be sniffed at.

The famous £1 burger

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

The beer garden at Bloom Bar

Feature on catching a coach to Blackpool for less than a fiver and visiting the town’s hidden gems (Image: MEN Staff)

Sip on a sundowner over the sea

After strolling along Central Pier, having a mooch in the arcades and taking in the views of Blackpool Tower in the afternoon sun, I walked across the sand to the North Pier. Built in the 1860s, it’s the longest and oldest of all the piers; it’s also the quietest, without rides and only a few arcades.

At the end of the pier is the Joe Longthorne Theatre to the right and Bloom Bar on the left. With a huge beer garden, sheltered from the chilly sea breeze, Bloom Bar is an excellent spot for a drink or two after your day in Blackpool. With parasols and views across the sea, on a sunny evening it really does feel like you’re on holiday – and what more could you want from a day out to the seaside than that?

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