If you’ve followed the guidebooks and done all the tourist things before, give yourself a break on your next trip to Liverpool and do what locals do: hang out, eat well, stroll the streets… and potter
It has a year as European Capital of Culture under its belt, two top football teams, shopping galore and more art, architecture, music and history than most national capitals, let alone cities. In short, there is so much to do in Liverpool, you can quite easily leave the place more exhausted than when you arrived. What's needed, though, is a different kind of city guide. If you’ve done the tourist thing before and just fancy a relaxing weekend with your other half – a bit of a potter about, some tasty meals and a look at some of the less well-known treats on offer – where do you start?
First, you’ll need somewhere to stay. Boutique hotels are springing up all over the city centre, (following the lead of the Liverpool One development – but if you want a hotel with an edge, you can’t go wrong with the Parr Street Hotel located in the famous Parr Street Studios. This is one part of the Liverpool music scene that freely admits there is life after The Beatles. Prices start at £65 for a standard double room – and it’s slap bang on top of 3345, the well-hidden members' bar for creatives which, if you can make it up the mountainous stairs, is a great place for a relaxing drink, some funky beats and the odd "spot the celeb" moment (though I’m not sure the guy who played Jimmy Corkhill in Brookie counts).
Studio2 (www.parrstreet.co.uk/studio2), downstairs from Parr Street Hotel, is the recording studio where the likes of Take That, Coldplay, Barry Manilow and Diana Ross recorded their music. It’s now also a lounge bar and café, serving top-notch breakfasts. Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter also has plenty to tickle your taste buds. One restaurant worth visiting is 60 Hope Street (www.60hopestreet.com) with its imaginative, ever-changing menu. It's perfect for those occasions when you’re looking to impress (and you’ve just been paid). The Quarter (www.thequarteruk.com), a café bar across the road on the corner of Hope Street and Falkner Street, is more affordable. Here you can order anything as long as it comes with cheese, and a bottle of wine is served with tumblers. The food is delicious, it's a no-nonsense place and great for a spot of people-watching.
With more than 2,400 listed buildings (significantly more than Bath, that top posh shopping city), Liverpool offers a wealth of architecturewith a class and quirkiness all of its own. If you’ve already seen the Liver Buildings, marvelled at St George’s Hall and tiptoed through the cathedrals, the Georgian streets offer a less grand but more loved and lived-in feel. From Hope Street, you can see both the cathedrals, the Liverpool Art School and the Philharmonic Hall. Exploring some of the side roads will take you to some great little pubs. Try The Grapes (www.thegrapesliverpool.co.uk) on Roscoe Street – or, for a proper art nouveau drinking experience, toddle on over to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms (0151 707 2837) on Hope Street… even if it is only to check out the men’s toilets. So spectacular are they, they’ve become something of a local legend.
Liverpool is a creative city. Art galleries such as the Tate, the Lady Lever and the Walker (www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk) will be mentioned in many a guidebook, but what I love about the city is the alternative scene, the hands-on and community art, ranging from new media stuff at FACT (www.fact.co.uk) to the Superlambananas that sprang up all over the city last year.
Most of all, though, I love this: to the north of the city centre is one of Liverpool’s finest art attractions, Anthony Gormley’s Another Place, on Crosby Beach (www.sefton.gov.uk/Default.aspx?page=6216), comprising 100 cast-iron figures that stare out to the horizon from across the beach and standing in the sea itself. It’s breathtaking. This is a really special place to take a picnic and watch the sun set spectacularly over the water.
From Central Station (on Ranelagh Street), travel out a couple of stops to St Michaels on the Northern Line. A few minutes' walk from here is Lark Lane in Aigburth, a Dickensian-style street of higgledy-piggledy independent shop fronts, bars and restaurants leading through to the Victorian Sefton Park. Time your visit right and you’ll catch the farmers’ market (www.larklane.com/farmersmarket). This is the ultimate lazy day out: relax in the park, browse the vintage clothing and second-hand book stores and eat anything from Turkish food at Elif’s to Jamaican at the wonderfully named Jamaican Me Hungry. Find details of these and more at www.larklane.com.
Further out still, a short drive or taxi ride from the city centre takes you to Childwall Abbey Hotel in Childwall. It has lovely rooms, which may or may not be shared with a 15th-century ghost. I’ve never seen the ghost myself, but I have spent a long while inspecting the decades-old graffiti scratched into the windows of the bar – apparently the handiwork of famous actors who have visited the hotel over the years. Rooms start at £59.95, including breakfast, and the Sunday carvery is mouthwatering: a plate heaped high with succulent meat and fresh veg, slathered with a dollop of every sauce imaginable, for under a tenner. Visit the Abbey Hotel for that, even if you don’t stay.