With oceanfront music venues, sea baths, and restaurants, these 15 spots prove there is so much more to piers than docking boats.
It’s summertime, and there’s no better place to be than by the coast, going for a stroll with ice cream in hand. If that seaside town has a pier, even better. But there are piers and then there are piers. Built initially as landing sites for ships and ferries, accessible even during low tide, piers soon turned into entertainment venues, often resulting from day-trippers arriving at the end of the pier and empty space being recognized as a lost opportunity for income from shopping or fairground attractions.
Today there are many old and once beautiful piers overcrowded with modern arcade games, cheap trinket shops, and kids’ rides; just think of the popular Blackpool Pier in the UK and the Santa Monica Pier. But, while these famed piers are popular, they do not feature heavily in this list. Instead, this selection offers examples of piers with a unique appeal or distinctive reason for being noteworthy.
The Ryde Pier
WHERE: Isle of Wight, England
The wooden structure of the original Ryde Pier dates back to 1814, making it the world’s oldest and the UK’s second longest pier after Southend. The original structure was built to welcome ferries from the mainland. With the Isle of Wight being a popular vacation spot, soon, there were two more piers constructed alongside the original structure. With the pier eventually over half a mile long, trams operating until 1969 (first horse-drawn then powered) carried passengers and revelers from the pier head to the island’s promenade and beyond. It was not until 2010 that the pier was closed to vehicles.
The Progreso Pier
WHERE: Yucatan, Mexico
It would take roughly 1.5 hours to walk to the end of this pier, the world’s longest at around four miles. It started in the 1930s as a wooden pier that later received a 1.2-mile-long extension. By the 1980s, the structure was replaced by an all-concrete pier, which by 1989 had reached its current length. Designed as a cargo landing spot, Progreso Pier is now very popular as a docking station for cruise ships whose passengers flock to explore the Mayan wonders of the Yucatan. As a working pier, it is not possible to walk the length of the pier, but then, it does not win any prizes for beauty anyway.
The Kastrup Sea Bat
WHERE: Kastrup, Denmark
Not only is this pier a traditional wooden walkway, but its sea bath is an architectural treasure. Leading into the Oresund Sound, just south of Copenhagen, the organic wooden structure changes shape from whichever viewpoint you look at it, and is very much part of the beachfront. Offering shelter from the wind, seating areas, and changing rooms with showers, it simply provides a surrounding to the waters of the Baltic rather than being a chlorinated pool. The result is a beautiful pier with a purpose, open to all.
The St. Kilda Pier
WHERE: Melbourne, Australia
Jutting into Port Phillip Bay off the St Kilda neighborhood of Melbourne in Victoria, St. Kilda Pier is a multitasking pier. The pier is a breakwater for the marina, a ferry stop, an old-fashioned pier dating to the mid-1800s with a beautiful wooden structure housing a restaurant on it, and—a little further out but attached to the pier—a rocky outcrop that is home to a colony of little penguins. Seriously, could you ask for more?
The Sellin Pier
WHERE: Rugen, Germany
Undoubtedly one of the prettiest piers of them all is Sellin Pier on the Baltic Island of Rugen. It was opened in 1906, with a beautiful restaurant on it. What makes this pier unusual is not only that it is so picturesque, but its wooden boardwalk leads you directly from the promenade across the beach to the restaurant, so you can get there with dry feet when the tide is in and with sand-free feet when the tide is out. However scenic, this pier had its fair share of disaster and has been rebuilt multiple times, primarily due to ice floes causing damage in winters when the Baltic Sea freezes.
WHERE: Southend, England
Often touted as the longest pier in the world, it is actually the third-longest. Opened in 1830, it reaches some 1.34 miles into the Thames Estuary, and already back in 1889, the original wooden structure was replaced by an iron one. A small fee is required if you want to walk to the end of the pier where there is a recently added modern art and culture space, or you could hop on the narrow-gauge railway that runs the length of the pier.
The Clevedon Pier
WHERE: Clevedon, England
In the small coastal town of Clevedon in the Bristol Channel, the Clevedon Pier is, arguably, the prettiest pier of them all. It has won the accolade of Pier of the Year for several years running now. Slender, delicate, dotted with pretty lights and a picturesque building at the end housing a small café, it offers views along the coast, across to Wales, and the large Severn Bridge, which connects England with Wales. The wooden walkway is adorned with some 14,000 plaques of famous and not quite so famous names, all of whom donated money to the upkeep and restoration of the pier after a collapse.
WHERE: Qingdao, Shandong, China
Dating back to 1892, the pier in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong juts out into the Yellow Sea. Reportedly it was built as a naval pier, but it is now purely for leisure. An octagonal pagoda stands at the end of the short 0.3 miles-long pier, with views across the city’s harbor and out to sea. At high tide and with a gusty wind going, the pier is pummelled by waves crashing over It, making for great photographs.
The Scheveningen Pier
WHERE: The Netherlands
This double-decker pier leading into the North Sea in Holland looks like a cross between an oil rig and a UFO. An added Ferris wheel and a corkscrew contraption from which you can bungee jump, make it look even more like a monstrosity rather than a lovely seaside pier. But ugly can be interesting as well, and what makes it even more appealing to visitors is that the pier is practically one big food hall, with dozens of restaurants and bars lining it. Plus, you can stay overnight in the UFO at the end of the pier.
WHERE: Western Australia
Busselton Jetty is, despite the name, a lovely wooden pier rather than just a useful jetty. Indeed, with its 1.14-miles, it is the longest wooden pier in the southern hemisphere. Built in 1853 to enable cut wood to be loaded onto ships, it is now a major tourist attraction. It has the old railway still in place and one of only six underwater observatories on the pier. Here you can descend to 26 feet under the water of the Indian Ocean and watch some 300 species of marine life milling around below the pier.
The Los Muertos Pier
WHERE: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
While most pleasing-looking piers tend to date back to the 1800s, here is a brand-new one inaugurated in 2013 with a sleek and modern architectural appeal. Designed by architect José de Jesús Torres Vega, it has an organically winding walkway leading out toward the sea. In the center of the construction stands a structure looking like a large sailing boat moored alongside the pier. The new pier is undoubtedly an improvement on its earlier 1960s concrete version but loses some of its sleek appeal at night when lit up with ever-changing disco lights.
Rotonda a Mare
WHERE: Senigallia, Italy
Opened in 1933, the Rotonda a Mare became a beautiful Art Deco replacement for the original mid-1800s structure that was destroyed in World War I. The round concert hall, the Rotonda, sits at the end of an elegant pier jutting into the Adriatic Sea in north-eastern Italy, just south of San Marino. During World War II, the Rotunda doubled as a military storage facility. Still, today it is the main attraction along the ancient seaside town’s seemingly endless sandy beach, with many famous Italian musicians having performed in the unusual venue.
The Umhlanga Pier
WHERE: Umhlanga, South Africa
Just north of Durban, South Africa, on a secluded sandy beach against a backdrop of a red-and-white lighthouse, lies a short pier that looks like the ribcage of a dead animal. It sounds horrific, but it is actually more visually pleasing than you would expect. Indeed, built to a whalebone design concept, the short pier hides a culvert and is devised to help with the stagnant pools of water that used to form in the area. Voted one of the most beautiful piers in the world by CNN, it is undoubtedly one of the more unusual ones.
WHERE: Wales, United Kingdom
Reaching some 2,295 feet into the Irish Sea off the coast of North Wales, this Grade II listed construction is your typical Edwardian cum Victorian pier. Built in 1877, the pier comes complete with a wooden walkway, intricate iron railings, pretty lamps, several pavilions selling seaside favorites such as ice cream and candy floss, plus buckets and spades for the beach. Yes, there are arcade games and fairground rides, but the original integrity of the beautiful pier is still intact. The longest pier in Wales has been restored and is THE spot for fishing and enjoying the sunset.
WHERE: Naples, Florida
Built in 1889 as a boat landing site catering to the guests of the Old Naples Hotel on the Florida coast, the historic Naples Pier is one of those iconic old piers: simple, plain, without garish entertainment venues, just a 1000 ft-long stretch of walkway over the turquoise waters of the Gulf, making for a perfect location for a sunset walk. Only adorned by a couple of old buildings originally offering changing rooms; otherwise, the pier and the sea are the attraction. In its lifetime, the pier barely survived a few hurricanes but has been lovingly restored each time.