A Tourist Guide To Liverpool

Sometimes it is nice to just go places and not write about them. Travel blogging is all well and good but every once in a while you just want to relax and just enjoy a place. There is one city, where I go often, and I don’t write about my visits. I want to keep them to myself. This is not because they’re boring or uninteresting but because we all need a few places in the world we can call our own, somewhere we don’t have to share what we do with other people. As you can no doubt guess from the title one of mine is Liverpool. Although I have written of Liverpool in the past, more recent visits have gone undocumented. This is because, since I wrote those pieces, it has morphed into one of my special places, a place I don’t write about. But since Liverpool is a famous city I can’t exactly keep it all to myself. It’s not like the place is devoid of life and I can dance down Lime Street like Doc Brown at the end of Back To The Future Part 2… Other people are going to visit and they’re going to want to know about the city… Now I don’t want to talk about my visits as such but I can still, at least, tell you about some of the best things this city has to offer!

Firstly, my advice would be to get the train or the bus into Liverpool. Don’t drive. Most major city centres, Liverpool included, weren’t built with the modern motor car in mind and driving around them is not only a nightmare of navigation but it also increases congestion and makes life a misery, for both tourists and locals. Plus, parking in the centre will quickly start to cost you a fair bit of money, if you can find any. Also you’ll be doing good for the environment and urban living standards by not clogging the roads up. It will save you money on fuel as well. If you have to drive to Liverpool I would suggest finding somewhere on the outskirts to park and then using the extensive Merseyrail network to get into the city. Just remember to park sensibly and nowhere you might become a nuisance… In a car park somewhere. South Parkway railway station has quite a big one and is a five minute train ride from the city centre.

If coming in by train you’ll most probably arrive at Lime Street station, either the underground if coming from the direction of Chester (You can also get off at Moorfields if you really wish) or overground if coming from elsewhere. Its been a while since I’ve been in Lime Street underground but you should have no trouble navigating your way around. There’s only one platform after all. Lime Street overground has a few more platforms but it is just as easy to navigate. They’re all in a neat row, easy to walk between, and to get out of the station all you have to do is walk to the front of the building. If you don’t arrive at Lime Street you’ll most probably have found yourself in Liverpool Central, which is just around the corner. And the main bus station is just over the road too, if you got the bus in. Wherever you come in, Moorfields, Lime Street, Central or the bus station, you’re in a handy place for exploring all Liverpool has to offer.

St George’s Hall (Photo Courtesy of DonMcPhee/Guardian)

Once here  you will be right in the heart of one of what, for my mind, is one of the most interesting and amazing cities in the whole country. For a start it’s almost as if the street pattern changes with every visit… It’s almost as if buildings and streets move around and swap places. I am constantly finding places that I have never seen before but must surely have walked past half a dozen times. There is beauty too… There are so many architectural gems in Liverpool that it would be difficult to know where to start were it not for the fact that one of them is staring you right in the face as you step out of Lime Street station. This is St George’s Hall and it is certainly one of the most striking buildings in the entire city. A stranger once informed me that they built it the wrong way round, that what is now the rear, facing the rather oddly named St John’s gardens behind, was intended to be the main facade. I think I prefer it the way it actually ended up though. The frontage it ended up with is far more striking than the rear, in my opinion. And you can go in and wander around for free, seeing the old prison cells beneath the streets, the court room and the judge’s chambers. Sadly, on a random wander at least, you can only see the ‘great hall’ from the balcony but even from up here it is stunning. You have to go to a concert or a special even to actually wander the hall proper.  I’d also recommend taking a long stroll around the outside of the building and the gardens as well, especially if it is a nice day.

‘If real life were a sci-fi film this would be the central earth-government building. It could indeed be something out of Minority Report or Blade Runner Other architectural gems include Lime Street Station itself, The radio city tower with its unmistakable UFO on top, the Albert Dock area and the famous ‘Three Graces’ waterfront buildings- The most striking being the Liver Building with its large clock face and two Liver Birds perched atop. Curiously, the name of the birds and building are pronounced to rhyme with Skiver rather Shiver. I’ve seen various reasons for this- One being that it’s a corruption of Laver, a type of seaweed, or another that the name was originally spelt as ‘Lyver’ but then got changed to Liver. What the actual truth is I couldn’t tell you. But if you want to top St George’s, in terms of architecture, look no further than the city’s two magnificent cathedrals. They’re a bit out of the city centre but the walk is definitely worth it. The Metropolitan (Catholic) cathedral is certainly the most unique cathedral building in Britain- A huge concrete tepee with a spiky crown on top. If real life were a sci-fi film this would be the central earth-government building. It could indeed be something out of Minority Report or Blade Runner. Inside the colours coming in through the stained glass are fantastic… A whole range of reds, pinks, blues and purples. It is quite an impressive space, there is no doubt about it. But for my mind, despite this impressiveness, the Anglican Cathedral is architecturally superior to the Metropolitan cathedral. Despite being completed after its companion, it is a far more traditional structure. It is more imposing, grander and more awe inspiring and if you only have time to visit one of the cathedrals I would say that you should visit the Anglican.

If culture is more to your taste than architecture then Liverpool has buckets of it. The city practically gives culture away. There are no fewer than seven theatres throughout the city centre, each offering something different on almost all nights of the year. In them you can find everything from high end musicals to comedy and artsy drama plays. Depending on what you are going to see ticket prices may vary but you can still see a good show for around ten pounds per person. If you prefer music and live performance over theatre and musicals then, again, you’re spoilt for choice. The main place to go for concerts is the Echo Arena, or the much smaller O2 academy for those who prefer their music to be a little more hipster, buy you’ll find plenty of other live performance venues throughout the city, both small and large. There’s the Philharmonic hall for the more classically inclined or there’s the Caledonian, just a few streets beyond, for those who like a Jazz bar. Of course, I couldn’t not also mention the world famous Cavern Club, which still to this day puts out a great line up of music. Then, usually in august, you have the Liverpool international festival, formerly the ‘Matthew Street Festival’ where there are countless musicians and performances spread out over a whole weekend- Some of which are free and some you have to pay a small fee for. You’ll have to check the website for all the up to details of what’s going on this year if you’re interested as the festival takes place all over the city.

Another place… Destined to confuse archaeologists of the future! (Picture Courtesy of BBC)

Art is well represented too.  There’s a branch of the Tate down by the Albert Dock and just beyond St George’s Hall you’ll find the Walker Art Gallery, which is home to more traditional artwork. But besides these two galleries it seems that Liverpool is a mecca for all kinds of artsy types and installations.  Every two years (every even numbered year) they hold the Liverpool Biennial where the city becomes packed with all sorts of weird and sometimes bemusing art installations. In 2014, for example, they had a large cabinet type thing, A tank full of Jellyfish hidden behind a shutter, a and a dazzle ship. In 2008 I remember seeing a giant atom model or something like it. Also, every once in a while, the city will throw some extravagant parade with giant puppets or mechanical spiders or something of the like. These are inexplicably popular. More permanent installations include The Super Lamb Banana and its numerous offspring… Lord knows how many of these things are dotted around the city now (They’re breeding!) but you’ll probably come across them in your wanderings about the place. They’re basically sheep with a massive half-banana for a tail. Just beyond the city, on Crosby beach, you’ll come across Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place,’ an instalation that in a thousand years time is bound to send archaeologists into the wildly inaccurate belief that it was intended as some ritual monument to people who had drowned at sea.

And as if all that art and theatre and high culture wasn’t enough for you, Liverpool also has a fair few of museums. There is: The World Museum, The Maritime Museum (which also houses the International Slavery Museum,) The Beatles Story, The Museum of Liverpool, Western Approaches (WW2 Atlantic Naval Bunker) and The Victoria Gallery. Of these I would say that the Maritime Museum is my favourite, closely followed by the Museum of Liverpool. The Museum is fairly new and although it isn’t a patch on the museum it replaced, The Museum of Liverpool Life, I’d still say that it is definitely one of the best museums in the area. And the Maritime museum, a short walk away, is for my money one of the best museums in the country. The sections on transportation and immigration are certainly worth your time and you should also make time for the International Slavery Museum on the third floor whilst you’re here. Concerning the other museums, certainly visit the World Museum if you have time (That’s all full of global archaeology and geology and stuff like that) but unless you have a real, deep fascination with WW2 naval history then just be warned you might be a bit disappointed by Western Approaches.

I could literally go on all day about the artistic and cultural side of Liverpool… There is just an awful, awful lot of it. This is a city that wears its achievements on its sleeve and it isn’t ashamed to show them off. But if you want to leave all that to one side then there is absolutely nothing to stop you. Liverpool has plenty else to offer. There’s shopping for one thing… Liverpool has an obscene number of shops, many of them clustered around Paradise Street and the modern ‘Liverpool One’ development. Here, and in the pedestrianized zone around the area, you can probably find almost all of the major stores open in Britain today. The Metquarter, also in this area, is very upmarket, full of high end fashion stores. Towards the top of the pedestrianized zone you’ll come to St John’s shopping centre, which is a little dated I must say. Supposedly there is a market in there somewhere but I haven’t yet found it, though not for want of trying. Plans are afoot to refurbish the centre and the market, from what I have read, but I couldn’t find anything that was concrete about this, other than that the food court was refurbished in 2013.

‘You will probably feel like you are wandering around the set of a Tim Burton film as the interior is… Quirky!’ For another place to shop you could try Grand Central Hall. This is a place I only found out about recently as it is in an area I don’t really go into. As such I haven’t been able to visit quite yet. It is down the far end of Lime Street (from the station) on Renshaw Street. The shops here are all independent and a bit hippieish but it is supposed to be well worth looking around. You will probably feel like you are wandering around the set of a Tim Burton film as the interior is… Quirky! Johnny Depp wouldn’t look an inch out of place here. As I say I haven’t been able to visit quite yet but it is certainly on the agenda for my next visit.

Now… After all that shopping and culture you’re probably feeling hungry and thirsty. And whatever you want, its yours. Cocktails? You can find them… If you want to be classy then go for Panoramic 34, situated in Liverpool’s tallest building, the Beetham Tower (Not to be confused with a similarly named building in Manchester) the place offers spectacular views over the city alongside good quality drinks and fine dining. Or, alternatively, The Smugglers Cove is right next door to The Beatles Story on the Albert Dock. To everyone’s delight, I am sure, the place is pirate themed. You may need to book a table in advance for that one I think. For those who like their drinks less mixed there are plenty of places for you too. There are hundreds of pubs scattered throughout the city centre, many of them friendly and welcoming and each offering the finest beers of the region. One place you really should check out, if only for its musical connections, is The Cavern Club on Matthew Street. You have to pay to get in of an evening but during the day it’s free. There is another Cavern, The Cavern Pub, almost opposite and it is easy to be fooled into thinking this is the place you are after- Especially as it has a statue of John Lennon outside- But the actual famous Cavern is further up the street on the other side.

John Lennon's statue- Somewhere near the Cavern Club.

John Lennon’s statue- Near but not quite outside the Cavern Club.

And in terms of restaurants and dining you can’t go far wrong either. Options for afternoon Tea are plentiful I read the other day of a dainty tea room on Matthew Street, The Tea Parlour. It’s a proper old fashioned place, a true English Tea parlour with a pianist and scones filled with jam… It’s another one you have to book in advance though and a lot of the other traditional tea parlours in the city are the same- There’s Malmaison down by Princess Docks for instance, or Cuthbert’s Bake House on Princess Street. For more off the cuff dining there are plenty of other options… Most of the museums, plus St George’s Hall, have an on site Café whilst around the shopping area you can find the likes of Burger King, McDonalds, Nando’s and Subway, as well as Wagmama’s, Starbucks and Cafe Nero. Pretty much every food outlet currently operating in Britain.

Restaurant dining is also plentiful. In the Metquarter you’ll find Carluccio’s and there is a Jaime’s Italian down Paradise Street. A more curious place to dine would be the Alma De Cuba, a restaurant built out of an old catholic church, on Seel Street just a stone’s throw from the main shopping area. It is, of course, a cuban restaurant and one of those places that once you hear of it you just long to visit. The whole place looks astonishing and, if you must know, comes with exotic latino dancing girls in order to complete the Carribean vibe. The food is pretty mouth-watering too.

Finally, I couldn’t finish this guide without mentioning Liverpool’s famous waterfront. I’ve mentioned the three graces and the Albert docks in earlier paragraphs, as well as the museums down this way but I can’t stress enough how much you should actually just come down here anyway, regardless of those things. You could just come relax and stroll along the banks of the Mersey if you like… Or you could sit on the edge of one of the docks and watch the world and all the boats and people going by. On a nice day there is no better place for it in all of the city. And of course, from here you can also catch that world famous Ferry across the Mersey, which provides you with a spectacular vista of the waterfront as you pass over to the Wirral. It is worth it for the vista and the experience alone.

There is oh so much more I could tell you about this great city… There is so much packed into the centre that it would take a lifetime to see it all. I myself have only scratched the surface. And that’s before I even get onto the outskirts where you’ll find all sorts of other wonders… Like Speke Hall, a Tudor mansion that all history enthusiasts will want to see. Liverpool has a reputation… Not a good one… But it is undeserved. It is no worse than any other city, in fact it is probably a safer place than Manchester or Birmingham and probably far safer than somewhere like London. It is a place that, after a while, gets under your skin. You can’t help but grow to love the place and if you spend enough time here you will see, quite clearly, why the scousers are so proud of it.

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