Located just north of the village of Alton, Alton Towers is probably the UK’s most famous theme park, and rightly so – it’s the best, by a Staffordshire country mile. Centred around a nineteenth-century mansion house previously owned by various Earls of Shrewsbury, the park spans a massive 800 acres and boasts eight rollercoasters. New for 2013 is The Smiler: a dystopian-themed coaster (operated by a faceless authority called ‘The Ministry of Joy’), featuring 14 loops – three more than any other coaster in the world. It cost the park £18 million. Time Out was there for the press launch, but after a huge build-up the ride broke down, and didn’t reopen for the rest of our visit. It looks intense, and reportedly hits a maximum of 5Gs; we’ll let you know if it lives up to the hype when we’ve had a chance to experience it. Air is the world’s first ‘flying coaster’, where riders lie face-down, Superman-style. Over in X-Sector, Oblivion claims another record, being the world’s first vertical-drop coaster. The 180ft drop packs quite a punch but, 15 years after its opening, the novelty of a 90-degree drop (it’s actually only 88.8) has worn off, and the ride only lasts a few seconds. Behind the Towers themselves is the Dark Forest, home to the park’s two other big rides: Th13teen is billed as ‘the scariest ride in the UK’ but is actually just a family-friendly coaster with a spooky theme. It’s great fun though, gliding smoothly among the trees before heading through a unique, ingenious element that we won’t spoil by revealing here.
Top ride: Nemesis
Dangling from the track above, riders swoop and flip through sharp ravines and over blood-red waterfalls. It’s mighty intense and is consistently voted one of the best coasters in the world.
Don’t want to go home?
Located in the middle of nowhere, Alton Towers has embraced the ‘resort’ principle, offering two on-site hotels, a water park and a crazy golf course. The original Alton Towers Hotel is great fun, featuring a classically British mad-inventor theme and lots of nice child-friendly touches. There’s plenty to keep you occupied at this theme park for two days so it really is worth staying the night. And you’ll want to cram in as many rides on Nemesis as possible, right? Back row, right-hand seat. Trust us.