In the United Kingdom resort town Southend-on-Sea, visitors are more than welcome to walk the entire length of Southend Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world—but most opt to ride the unusual narrow-gauge railway that runs back and forth along the entire length of the 1.34-mile (2.16-kilometer) structure.
The barely 15-minute ride itself is a thrilling one, thanks to the regular clanging and clattering of iron wheels on a more than 120-year-old pier. But it could come as somewhat of a shock to disembark at the end of the line, only to find that, apart from a few fishermen and a rather quaint tea shop, there is not exactly a great deal of pleasure to be had at Southend Pier these days.
The current iteration of the pier debuted in 1889 (an earlier version, which eventually had to be replaced, opened in 1830), and the railway came not long after. For decades, the pier was a major tourist draw, and by the 1950s it boasted a theater and a hall of mirrors. But a series of fires that broke out on the pier head (one in 1959, another in 1976, and a third in 1995) combined with changing tastes among U.K. vacationers, eventually led to the much more subdued environment visitors will find today.