Home to The Beatles and two successful football clubs, Liverpool was once Britain’s second most important city. But there is more to Liverpool than just football and music if that isn’t your thing. A lively and vibrant waterfront area, beautiful architecture and plenty of arts and culture, alongside a huge shopping centre and wide range of restaurants. Liverpool makes for a great weekend break and is only just over two hours from London by train. Get your bag packed!
A Brief History
The city of Liverpool evolved from a small fishing village on the Banks of The Mersey. it is likely that its name evolved from the term lifer pol meaning muddy pool or puddle. Possibly not a tourist haven back then! In 1086, it wasn’t large enough to be mentioned in the Domesday Book and it took until 1207 before it got its name on the map when King John granted it a royal charter when he needed a port that would get men and supplies to Ireland quickly.
In its early days it was made up of just 7 streets and medieval Liverpool comprised of around 1000 people. Albert Dock was constructed in 1846 and by the late 19th century, 40% of the world’s trade was passing through, bringing the town its wealth.
How long should I stay?
Tight on Time? Spend a day exploring. The town itself is fairly compact and you will be able to see lots of the main sights in a day.
Plenty of Time? Spend a couple of days in Liverpool and then go out and about. Chester is just a train ride away, spend a day at the seaside, or head across The Mersey to Port Sunlight Museum and Garden Village.
It is very easy to explore Liverpool on foot as the city is quite compact. The city has its own underground network and you can get a ferry across the Mersey – more on that later!
Where to Stay
I chose to stay in the Albert Dock area of Liverpool. You can use the underground to get to and from the main train station if luggage is heavy. The Albert Dock area has plenty of hotels and restaurants to visit and is just across the road from the main shopping centre which has lots more places to eat and drink if you don’t want to stray too far from the hotel in the evenings.
What to see:
1. Albert Dock
Albert Dock has it all: restaurants, hotels, bars, museums and galleries and so makes a great base for a trip. The Docks first opened in 1846, dominating global trade. Unfortunately, as boats got bigger, the dock entrance was too small for them. Over the years, the docks went into decline. By 1920 there were almost no commercial ships sailing into the dock, and the warehouses were only used for storing goods carried by road, barge and rail. By the 1970’s the docks were completely abandoned until the 1980’s when a regeneration programme took place, leading to it now being one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK.
I started my trip with a visit to the Beatles’ Story. I felt that I couldn’t visit Liverpool and not embrace finding out more about the Fab Four! I enjoyed my immersive experience walking through themed rooms that recreate key locations and moments from the bands career. The rooms included The Cavern Club, Abbey Road studios, a real Yellow Submarine and John Lennon’s white room from the Imagine video. I found the white room quite moving, possibly because after being immersed in the lives of each of the men, I knew what fate had in store for John Lennon.
I also visited the Tate Liverpool which is free to enter and has four floors of galleries to explore. It isn’t anywhere near as big as the Tates in London, (When I walked in I asked for a floor plan, to which the man behind the desk grinned and said, “You won’t be needing one of those!” ) but it is well worth a visit. Entry is free and there is a great cafe.
Other things to visit are the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the International Slavery Museum. You could also have a ride on The Wheel of Liverpool, which is a 60 metre high ferris wheel for views of Liverpool.
2. The Three Graces
The Three Graces are a trio of striking buildings which dominate the skyline on Liverpool’s waterfront. The trio consist of the Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.
I had always wanted to see the Royal Liver building, with its two large Liver birds on the top. It was once the home of Royal Liver Assurance and I remember vividly as a small child, that my parents had insurance with them. An insurance man would knock at the door once a month to collect their insurance money (oh the days before direct debits!) and I can still picture the insurance books where the records of these transactions were kept with a Liver bird emblazoned on the front cover.
On the Royal Liver building, the Liver bird that looks over the Mersey River is said to represent the wives who stay at home and look out to their sailor husbands out at sea and the Liver Bird that looks over the city represents these sailors out at sea, looking back over to the city and their family. It is said that should the Liver birds fly away, Liverpool would cease to exist. Should you want a closer view of the Liver birds, then visit the roof top bar at Goodness Gracious.
3. Ferry across the Mersey
Ok, so again for me this was an absolute must! One of the things I knew that I had to do in Liverpool was to go on a ferry across the Mersey. I got up on my second morning all set for my trip, only to get to the ferry terminal to find that no ferries were running. I was so disappointed.
The following morning was my final morning. I packed, had breakfast and rushed to the terminal, keeping my fingers crossed that all would be well. This time I was in luck, I got my ferry ride and was still back to the hotel in time to check out! I caught the first boat out at 10.00 and the river cruise takes 50 minutes. The ferry that I was on was busy, but not too bad. I got a seat easily on the deck for amazing views of the skyline. By the time we returned, the queues for the next boat were enormous!
So top tips:
- If you are staying more than one day, plan your trip in for your first day, so that if ferries don’t run due to technical issues or bad weather, you have another option.
- Try to get the first ferry out, so that you don’t have to spend too long queuing.
If you wish, you can make a day of the river cruise as you can stop at Seacombe and visit Spaceport and you can stop at Woodside and visit the U-boat story. I was just there to enjoy the ride, which I did! It was chilly on deck, but amazing to see the Three Graces from the water and it was definitely a big tick for the bucket list.
4. Liverpool Cathedral
Liverpool doesn’t just have one cathedral, it has two. So let’s start with the Anglican Cathedral which Britain’s largest cathedral. The cathedral is stunning inside and is absolutely huge. What other cathedral has a sculpture in the form of a huge pink neon sign designed by Tracey Emin? The neon reads ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me.’
The Gothic arches inside are the highest and widest in the world and the tower is the tallest in the UK. Climbing the tower and seeing the 360° views of Liverpool was a real highlight for me. Two lifts and 108 stairs get you to the top. Apparently on a clear day you can see the Blackpool Tower. I had a clear day, but I didn’t spot it. The views were incredible though.
Building of the cathedral began in 1903 and was completed in 1924, after delays caused by WW1. The huge cathedral tower, stands 154 metres above the River Mersey and is a focal point for both residents and visitors. It was the first thing that I saw each morning during my stay as I could see it from my hotel window.
5 Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
Liverpool also has a Catholic cathedral. After visiting one cathedral, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit another, but I would have really missed out if I hadn’t made it there. The circular Metropolitan Cathedral was like no other cathedral I had visited before. It is the largest Catholic cathedral in England and is perched on top of Brownlow Hill, in the spot where the workhouse once stood. The circular space can seat over 2000 people.
Building actually begun in the 1930’s, but was interrupted by WWII and by 1958, only the crypt was completed. The original plans were abandoned as costs became too high and a new design was chosen in 1960. The cathedral was finally consecrated in 1967. Because of this, the crypt has a very different style to the modern build of the cathedral above.
The cathedral is shaped like an upturned funnel. The tube of the funnel in this case is a lantern shaped tower, filled with stained glass. Once inside, the stained glass bathes the interior with red, blue and yellow and the effect is just incredible.
6. Bombed out Church
St Luke’s Church was bombed in 1941 by the Luftwaffe. During the Blitz, the building blazed for three days. The shell of the church was left behind. Now the church is an atmospheric ruin which often holds events such as cinema, yoga, music, theatre and exhibitions. If it is open, it is worth popping in and you will pass it on the way from one cathedral to the next. When I visited, it was being set up for an event and wasn’t officially open, but one of the event organisers let me pop in and have a quick look which I was really grateful for.
7. The Cavern Club
As well as visiting the Beatles’ Story where I immersed myself in the story of the Fab Four, I also felt that I couldn’t visit Liverpool without going into the Cavern Club. I was a little nervous about going in on my own, truth be told, but I popped in for a drink during the middle of the afternoon, so as not to miss out.
In 1973, British Rail enforced the closure of the original club in order to allow building work on a new underground railway system to begin. The warehouses above the Cavern Club were demolished and the cellar itself was filled with rubble and left like a sealed tomb for the remainder of the decade. The club was reconstructed and reopened in 1984.
The club is open every day from 10am and music starts at 11.15. It is international Beatleweek in August and my trip happened to coincide with this, which meant that I heard Beatles music in the club sung by tribute bands which was pretty cool and the nearest I will ever get to the real thing!
I would have loved to go on the two hour Magical Mystery bus tour which leaves from Albert Dock and visits all the places in Liverpool associated with John, Paul, George and Ringo as they grew up, met and formed the band. This then drops you off at the Cavern Club at the end of the tour. I ran out of time for this, but will definitely go on it the next time I visit Liverpool.
8. Another Place
There are plenty of places that you can get to easily, if you want to have an excursion out of Liverpool during your stay. One of the places that I desperately wanted to visit was Crosby Beach as I was really keen to see the Anthony Gormley sculptures. It was so easy to get to on the train.
Another Place consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures spread out along three kilometres of the foreshore, stretching almost one kilometre out to sea. Each statue weighs 650 kilos and they are made from casts of the artist’s own body. Each figure stands on the beach, all of them looking out to sea and staring at the horizon.
I got the train from Liverpool to Crosby and from the station, walked down to the beach. I walked over the sand dunes and there they were – the iron men. Such an impressive sight. The weather couldn’t have been better, I had stormy skies but the sun was shining through illuminating the sand. The whole thing was other worldly, figures in the sand and out to sea as far as the eye could see. The ones in the distance looked really lifelike and some of them had been dressed in t-shirts!
I set off along the beach, intending to walk as far as the next station from where I would get the train back to Liverpool. The walk was probably only about half an hour, but stopping to stare at the figures and take hundreds of photos meant that the walk took much longer than this! I loved the whole experience and for me, seeing the figures was a second bucket list moment for the trip. They lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Amazing!