DUBAI: During the heyday of the British Empire, Liverpool was often referred to as Britain’s “second city.” That claim fell away somewhat during the late 20th century, as urban decay took its toll. But since being named the European Capital of Culture in 2008, this port city has undergone a renaissance; its national and international image has completely changed over the past decade and Liverpool is now once again a serious contender as the best city in England to visit if you’re venturing outside London. For lovers of culture, food, and shopping — mainstream or otherwise — this port city in the north-west of England has plenty to offer, and if you’re looking for a great weekend break, we’d highly recommend it.
Let’s tackle the obvious first: No review of Liverpool would be complete without mention of The Beatles — four local lads who changed the course of popular culture by bringing rock & roll to the masses and kick starting the “British Invasion” of the US music scene. The city is, as you’d expect, hugely proud of the Fab Four (and happy to milk the association for all its worth), so Beatles memorabilia abounds. If you’re a fan, you should definitely get a ticket to ride the exhaustive two-hour Magical Mystery Tour — a bus ride around the band members’ childhood homes; the places that inspired some of their classic songs (including “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”); the location where John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time; and, finally, the Cavern Club, where the band first made their name. And if that’s not enough Beatlemania for you, book a stay at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel — 110 rooms dedicated to John, Paul, George and Ringo, full of Beatles-related art and ornaments.
But Liverpool’s creative scene isn’t all about nostalgia, the creative spirit is still very much alive and kicking here, as you’ll see at the Tate Liverpool — a converted warehouse on the revamped Albert Dock. With four floors of gallery space and a regularly revolving program of events and lectures, this is possibly the most significant modern and contemporary art gallery in the country, outside of London.
In the city center, Bluecoat Gallery is well worth a trip for art enthusiasts too, or even those looking to enjoy a good cup of coffee in beautiful surroundings — the oldest building in the city center has UNESCO world heritage status, and the gallery has become renowned as a talent spotter; a staple for up-and-coming and mid-career artists.
The city continues to play host to great live music, too. Dozens of bars around Liverpool showcase local talent regularly. The Baltic Triangle, in particular, has a couple of excellent live venues: The Baltic Social and Constellations.
The Baltic Triangle was once an industrial area, and it’s now been redeveloped into the city creative hub. The former warehouses now house studios, numerous hip cafés, a skatepark, and a wide range of indie start-ups and boutique stores. It’s a fantastic place to pass a few hours away from homogenous high-street shops and chains, as is the small-but-enthralling Lark Lane. But if high-street chains are your thing, then don’t worry. Liverpool One — a sprawling shopping, residential and leisure complex in the heart of the city — has got you covered.
Liverpool is also home to some stunning architecture, headlined by its two cathedrals — the staggering Liverpool Cathedral (the longest in the world, built over 74 years last century and, half-a-mile down Hope Street, the more-modern (in design at least) Metropolitan Cathedral, affectionately known as “Paddy’s Wigwam” by locals — and the “Three Graces” of its waterfront — the Liver Building, the Port of Liverpool Building and the Cunard Building.
As you’d expect from a city that grew up around a major trading port, Liverpool’s foodie scene incorporates cuisines from all over the world and is home to several excellent restaurants. Try Panoramic 34 on the (yes) 34th floor of the West Tower to enjoy (yes) panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside while you sample the acclaimed fine-dining menu. For more down-to-earth (in all senses), but still great, grub, Georgie Porgy Café, just next to Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium, regularly lands top reviews for its classic British fare. We’d also recommend Mowgli Street Food on Water Street for its wallet-friendly, mouth-watering take on Indian tiffin meals served in a wonderful room with a great atmosphere. The tamarind fries are sensational.
Like all great cities, Liverpool offers visitors the chance to step out of the hustle and bustle and relax in some nature. The city’s Victorian parks are some of the finest in England, often surrounded by grand houses from the era. Sefton Park — with its Grade II domed conservatory palm house — and Princes Park — co-designed by acclaimed architect Sir Joseph Paxton — in particular, are ideal to wander and unwind in.
If you are planning a trip to the UK this year and fancy a change from the usual London-focused visit, then Liverpool is a great base from which to explore the north of England. Although you might find yourself so busy here that there’s no time to head anywhere else.