Alton Towers is the biggest theme park in the UK, and is home to 10 roller coasters, a handful of dark rides, five hotels, a water park, an entire stately home, several lakes, ponds and rivers, sprawling gardens and more. But exactly how big is Alton Towers? Well, it’s a whopping 550 acres, which is around 3.7 km². In fact, it’s so huge, that the park has a sky ride in place to get guests from A to B to C and back again, and a monorail from the car park to the park entrance.

To put the size into perspective, Universal’s Islands of Adventure is 110 acres, which means five Islands of Adventure could snuggly fit inside the land owned by Alton Towers.

At that size, you might assume that Alton Towers is the biggest theme park in the world. However, that title is actually held by Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which is an absolutely massive 580 acres.

As well as sharing a comparable acreage, Alton Towers and Disney’s Animal Kingdom also have something else in common: the amount of attractions they have doesn’t reflect the amount of space. You might assume that a park five times the size of Islands of Adventure would have five times the number of rides, but in actuality, the overall number of attractions is more or less the same.

But why is that? If Alton Towers has enough room for more than 360 football pitches, why don’t they have one of the largest collections of rides in the world?

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Herein lies another similarity that Alton Towers has with Disney’s Animal Kingdom: they may have the space, but they can’t use that space to build rides. But, while a huge majority of Animal Kingdom is taken up by Kilimanjaro Safaris and its animal enclosures, Alton Towers has heavy restrictions over where it can and can’t build that it hasn't imposed on itself. With a heavy emphasis on the can’t.

There are some areas that Alton Towers simply cannot build. This includes the lawns in front of the towers themselves, anything that obstructs the sightlines between the towers and the courtyard and the historic gardens. They’re also unable to build higher than the treeline to prevent the rides from being seen outside of the park’s boundaries. Then there are the restrictions over the felling of trees and noise concerns. These are all on top of the general headaches associated with gaining planning permission, whether you’re a major theme park or not.

The only exception to this is that Alton Towers has several areas of general permitted development, where they don’t need to obtain planning permission. These areas include:

  • Towers Street
  • CBeebies Land
  • Mutiny Bay
  • The World of David Walliams
  • Katanga Canyon
  • Dark Forest
  • X-Sector 
  • Spinball Whizzer

What this basically all means is, if you have dreams about Alton Towers building a 300ft Intamin multi-launch looper that goes in and around the towers, you should probably think about getting a new dream.

This is why, to date, Alton Towers has used oodles of creativity when building major new rides. It’s why Nemesis is in a huge pit. Why Oblivion dives into a hole. Why The Smiler packs a spaghetti-bowl mess of track into a tiny footprint. Why Galactica is rubbish.

It's also why Alton Towers is unlike any other park in the world.

Where might Alton Towers build in the future?

Despite having so much land, there are only so many locations that Alton Towers can use for future developments without replacing an existing attraction. These spaces could include:

The car park behind Galactica, which has been a potential site for development since, what feels like, the dawn of time. Rumours have included a new coaster or a Disney Springs/City Walk-style development.

The Galactica/Air car park via Google Earth

The car park behind Katanga Canyon, which was once earmarked to be the home of a B&M standup coaster designed by John Wardley.

Katanga Canyon via Google Earth

The old Coaster Corner site, which was once home to The Beast and Kylie Minogue's favourite roller coaster, Alton Mouse. The site is currently where Alton Towers' next major addition, codenamed 'Project Horizon', is due to be built.

Coaster corner via Google Earth

There are also smaller locations in and around the park where we might expect to see smaller attractions, including the spots in X-Sector previously home to Enterprise and Submission, and the bottom of Dark Forest. We may even see larger additions in the event attractions such as Spinball Whizzer and Rita are removed once they reach the end of their lifecycle.

From restriction comes revolution

As you can see, at 550 acres, Alton Towers is absolutely massive. The park is set within miles of incredible British countryside and is packed with centuries of history and beauty. The trouble is, that beauty comes at a cost, and the park has severe restrictions on what and where they can build.

However, had those restrictions not been in place, we probably wouldn’t have seen the likes of Nemesis and Oblivion, and the park wouldn’t have the unique and magical atmosphere it has. If you want to visit a park with massive coasters you can see wherever you are, you can go to Thorpe Park or Cedar Point. If you want to visit a park where you can’t see the rides until you’re right there in the thick of it, then Alton Towers delivers that in spades. Just don’t use those spades to dig wherever you like, because you’ll receive an almighty slap on the wrist.

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