Travel

Beach boardwalks: A dozen dazzling of the best around the world

(CNN) — Since their inception in the middle of the 19th century, beach boardwalks have become an integral part of the seaside travel experience in dozens of cities and towns around the globe.

Originally boardwalks were made from wood (hence the name), but in modern times, the term has come to represent any kind of pedestrian walkway built along an urban oceanfront to expedite seaside exercise and amusement.

The name also varies from place to place.

Americans — who gave birth to the concept — still call them boardwalks. But the French and British are more likely to use the word promenade. They’re called a corniche in the Middle East and North Africa, while the Australians have invented a whole new term, the oceanway.

Unveiled in 1870, the Atlantic City Boardwalk along the Jersey Shore was the world’s first such contraption.

It was born of practicality. Many seaside visitors didn’t want to get their feet wet, and hotel owners didn’t want guests traipsing sand into their lobbies.

And in the early days it was a moveable feast. Timbers would be removed at the end of the summer season in Atlantic City and stored away for the winter.

If you could travel back in time — to the 1920s when the television series “Boardwalk Empire” was set — Atlantic City would still have the coolest boardwalk.

But others have surpassed it since then. Here are a dozen of the world’s best boardwalks:

Blackpool Promenade (England)

Blackpool, England pioneered the modern beach vacation.

Blackpool, England pioneered the modern beach vacation.

PAUL ELLIS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Perched on England’s northwest coast, Blackpool pioneered the modern beach vacation when people started “taking the cure” there in the mid 1700s by bathing in the sea.

The lengthy seafront Promenade (12 kilometers/7 miles long) took shape over the next 200 years — as did many British jokes about kitschy family holidays at Blackpool.

Punctuated by three classic pleasure piers, the Promenade has morphed from tacky into a sort of retro cool that sees a new generation of Britons scrambling up the Blackpool Tower, riding the roller coasters and watching the illuminations.

Venice Beach Boardwalk (California)

Venice Beach is a free-spirited spot for a California sunset.

Venice Beach is a free-spirited spot for a California sunset.

ERIC BARADAT/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

From Santa Cruz to San Diego, California boasts a lot of super-cool boardwalks. But the best — at least when it comes to people watching — is the celebrated stretch along Venice Beach.

You actually get two boardwalks for the price of one. The meandering path through the sand is the realm of bikers, joggers and inline skaters, while the pedestrian walkway behind the sand is the domain of street performers, market stalls, sidewalk cafes and posers of every description.

Watch the iron pumpers at Muscle Beach, boogie to the drum circle, splurge on your first tattoo, munch fish tacos and teriyaki bowls and make like The Beach Boys and grab a drink at The Venice Whaler.

Aïn Diab Corniche (Morocco)

Africa’s best beach boardwalk is tucked up in the northwest, a palm-shaded promenade along Aïn Diab Beach in Casablanca.

The wide walkway is especially popular in the late afternoon and early evening as Moroccans flock to the shore to watch the sun set over the Atlantic and catch the cool sea breeze.

The range of beachwear — from full-length caftans and babouche slippers to bikinis and flipflops — is astounding. Waterfront restaurants, horseback riding, an IMAX theater, luxury shopping at the beachfront Morocco Mall and thrill rides at Sindibad amusement park round out Aïn Diab’s offerings.

Promenade de la Croisette (France)

Cannes, France is known for the glamorous Cannes Film Festival.

Cannes, France is known for the glamorous Cannes Film Festival.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

The stars definitely come out along the palm-lined La Croisette in the south of France, both after dark and during the annual Cannes Film Festival.

Even when the red carpet isn’t rolled out, there’s plenty of glitz along the Cannes shore — Michelin-star restaurants, luxury boutiques, super yachts, swank private beach clubs and the Allée des Etoiles (France’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame).

Copacabana Beach Promenade (Brazil)

A masterpiece of Brazilian post-modern architecture, Rio de Janeiro’s iconic beach walk — with its black-and-white wave pattern and occasional dabs of red — was opened in 1970 to almost instant fame.

Designed by Roberto Burle Marx, the 4-kilometer (2.4-mile) elongated mosaic is said to represent the blend of European, African and indigenous cultures that comprise modern Brazil. The place that gave the world the string bikini also hosts the city’s best fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.

Lungomare (Italy)

With views across the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri, the Lungomare promenade can match just about any boardwalk when it comes to landscapes.

Stretching between the medieval Castel dell’Ovo and Mergellina marina, the popular seaside strolling place is backed by seafood restaurants and the lush Villa Comunale park (also home to Europe’s oldest aquarium).

There are stalls selling gelato, lemon granita (snow cones) and other cold things, clay tennis courts and two small beaches beside the Rotunda Diaz. The Lungomare provides a venue for free outdoor concerts and every so often it hosts a seaside version of the Naples Antique Market.

Sentosa Beach Walk (Singapore)

One of the globe’s newer coastal promenades runs along the ocean side of Sentosa, the island where the recent US-North Korea summit took place.

Draped in jungle on one side and Singapore’s best beaches on the other, the three-kilometer (1.8-mile) stretch features a range of oceanfront activities, from open-air eateries and resort hotels to indoor skydiving, zip lines, board surfing in an artificial wave pool, outdoor movies and trendy night spots like the Bikini Bar.

Gold Coast Oceanway (Australia)

Surf, sun and sand is everlasting along the Oceanway, a series of dual-use pedestrian and cycle paths that meander along the shore of Australia’s premier beach destination.

With segments connected by short jaunts along surface streets, the route stretches 36 kilometers (22 miles) along the Queensland coast between The Spit and Point Danger.

Marine Drive (India)

This stretch bordering the Indian Ocean in Mumbai has long been a gathering spot.

This stretch bordering the Indian Ocean in Mumbai has long been a gathering spot.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Originally laid out in 1940 when India was still part of the British Raj, this walkway along Mumbai’s Indian Ocean shore has long been a gathering place of Indians of all persuasions.

Families gather at Chowpatty Beach and the food stalls near the north end, while the elegant Art Deco apartments behind the sand have housed many Bollywood stars.

Several of the city’s poshest hotels and its top cricket clubs are also scattered along Marine Drive — which is also called the “Queen’s Necklace” after its glittering string of night lights.

Corniche Beirut (Lebanon)

Bullet holes are still evident on some of the building facades, but the sinuous seafront promenade in Lebanon’s capital has finally regained its old panache after surviving 30 years of civil war.

Created between the World Wars when France held sway over the region, the Corniche is the city’s favorite outdoor recreation spot as well as a place to relax in coffee shops, seafood cafes and hookah (narguileh) lounges. Take a spin on the Ferris wheel at Luna Park for a bird’s-eye view of the best boardwalk in the Middle East.

Coney Island Boardwalk (New York)

Originally opened in 1922, Coney Island’s legendary boardwalk (actually made with wood!) is as much a part of the Big Apple’s cultural mosaic as Times Square or the Statue of Liberty.

Events like Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Mermaid Parade and Cyclones minor league baseball games make this one of the world’s most entertaining boardwalks. Among the classic fairground rides scattered along the shore are the Wonder Wheel (opened in 1920), the Cyclone roller coaster (1923) and the original Parachute Jump (1939).

Aker Brygge (Norway)

Scandinavian modern is both the architectural theme and lifestyle vibe of this futuristic boardwalk along the Oslo waterfront.

Starting in the 1980s, an old shipyard near the landmark city hall has been redeveloped into a mixed commercial, residential and entertainment district with a marina, floating restaurants and gastro pubs. The promenade leaps twin pedestrian bridges to the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art and its outdoor sculpture garden along the fjord.

Joe Yogerst is a freelance travel, business and entertainment writer based in California.


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