Liverpool wasn't awarded Capital of Culture and UNESCO World Heritage Site status for nothing - you could spend a week exploring the city. But for those with just a few days, here are the must-sees
Ask anyone in Liverpool for the 10 top things to do in the city and you'll get a variety of answers, all fiercely defended. Scousers are nothing if not opinionated and rightly proud of their city. Just wandering around will bring its own rewards, but here are 10 activities, in no particular order, that I would suggest to the first-time visitor.
It would be unthinkable to visit Liverpool and not see the river. The history of the city, whether honourable (transatlantic cruise liners, port of the Industrial Revolution, European emigration point for the Americas) or dishonourable (the most successful slave-trading port in the 18th century) is closely bound up with that of her river, the Mersey. Down at the Pier Head, which was a dock until around 1900, you will find the Three Graces, three buildings from the height of Liverpool’s prosperity at the turn of the 20th century. With your back to the river, these are, from right to left: the Port of Liverpool Building, the Cunard Building and the Liver Building. The interiors can only be visited on special heritage days but the facades are enough to remind us of a city that wanted everyone to know it was the second city of the British Empire. More recent activity has seen a new canal built in front of the buildings and the opening of the new Museum of Liverpool.
Also down by the riverfront, the renovated Victorian warehouses of the Albert Dock (opened in 1846 by Prince Albert) contain enough to keep you busy for an afternoon. Here is where you will find the Beatles Story (see below) and four free museums: Tate Liverpool, the Maritime Museum, the Customs and Excise Museum and the world’s first Museum of International Slavery. The last three are conveniently housed in the same warehouse. Also here are souvenir shops and two hotels: Express by Holiday Inn and Premier Inn. The dock is a good place to visit in the evening, being illuminated and full of trendy bars and restaurants, such as BabyCream, the Blue Bar and Grill and the Pan American Club.
It has to be done! Whether you're a Gerry and the Pacemakers fan or not, it’s almost compulsory to sail along the Mersey on one of the ferries, listening to 'Ferry 'Cross the Mersey'. At peak hours, the ferry transports commuters from Birkenhead to Liverpool but during the day you can go on a 50-minute cruise. With much of Liverpool built on hills, this really is the best way to see the famous skyline. Pick a day when a cruise liner has docked at the new cruise terminus and you’ll get an up-close look at that in addition. Admission charge.
The Beatles Story
Another almost compulsory stop, at least for fans of the Fab Four. An audio-guided visit takes you around the museum dedicated to the four mop tops and is available in many different languages. On the English version, you hear the voices of Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s sister. An annexe to the Beatles Story has now opened at the Mersey Ferry Terminus at the Pier Head so keep hold of your ticket. Admission charge.
“If you want a Cathedral, we’ve got one to spare.” So sang the Spinners in the song 'In My Liverpool Home'. Liverpool has not one but two world-class cathedrals and the Anglican one holds many world records: highest and heaviest peal of bells, highest Gothic arches, largest organ in the world, largest cathedral in Britain, fifth largest in the world... The scale of this 20th-century neo-Gothic building can only be appreciated by visiting it, and the informative volunteer guides will fill you in on the world records and the history of the cathedral. A café and a restaurant make this a good stop pre- or post-lunch and on a fine day, a trip up the tower will give you views over the city, the Wirral and North Wales. It's free to enter, but a donation is requested. There's an admission charge for the tower.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
In contrast to the neo-Gothic splendour of the Anglican cathedral, the Catholic cathedral reflects the style of the 1960s, when it was built, but is none the less remarkable for that. From the Anglican Cathedral, travel along Hope Street and you will see the Catholic cathedral ahead of you. Built in a circular shape, so that the altar is in the centre (thus bringing the mass closer to the congregation), it is topped with spires that represent Jesus’s crown of thorns. The largest piece of stained glass in the world may look black from the outside but inside the light shines through it, throwing a rainbow of colours on to the marble floor. Don’t miss the recently re-opened crypt, all that remains of an earlier attempt to build a cathedral in the 1930s. As in the Anglican Cathedral, there's a café with good home cooking (Scouse is particularly recommended) and a gift shop. Entry is free, but a donation is requested.
If you walk back along Hope Street, you'll find many splendid places to dine, including the award-winning London Carriage Works and the friendly Everyman Bistro. Don’t miss a drink in the Philharmonic Pub, which has the most ornate interior of any pub in Britain. Also here is the boutique Hope Street Hotel – good enough to have hosted Condoleezza Rice and Noel Gallagher!
St George's Hall
“Worthy of Athens,” declared Queen Victoria, speaking of this 1854 neo-classical building - and it does, indeed, look as if it has absconded from Ancient Greece. The look of a Greek temple outside, combined with the appearance of a Roman bath inside, makes this one of the country’s finest Victorian municipal buildings. Charles Dickens certainly thought so, holding many of his readings here. The result of the plans for two buildings being combined, St George's Hall boasts not only a large and small music hall but also a law court at each end. No longer in use, the courts and the cells beneath can be visited and are frequently used for filming: Let Him Have It and In the Name of the Father both had scenes filmed here. There's a gift shop and café.Closed on Mondays. Entry is free.
Walker Art Gallery
Paid for by wealthy Victorian brewer Andrew Barclay Walker, this has been a treasure trove of the city’s art collection since 1877. Its national status reflects the quality of its collections, which make it the art gallery for the north of England. There are particularly fine collections of Flemish, Italian and Pre-Raphaelite art. You'll find a café and gift shop on the ground floor. There's no admission charge, even during exhibitions.
Situated at the entrance to the oldest Chinatown in Europe is this dazzling arch, a present from Liverpool’s twin city of Shanghai in 2000. And what a present! The largest such arch outside of mainland China, it stands 15 metres (50 feet) high, with over 200 dragons on it. The immediate vicinity is packed with Chinese restaurants and is a great place for an inexpensive meal in the evening. Try the Yuet Ben, the Ma Bo or the New Capital Chinese restaurant - but there are many more.
Magical Mystery Tour
For anyone with more than a passing interest in the Beatles, this is the trip to take. Many of the places associated with the Fab Four are located outside of the city centre and this tour takes you to them all: the schools, the family homes, the birthplaces... The tour usually uses a coach of the same design as the one in Magical Mystery Tour. Commentary is provided by a live guide or on an MP3 player in French, Spanish or German (if requested in advance).
My favourite restaurantsThe Monro
(92 Duke Street , Tel. 0151 707 9933)
Good locally-sourced food at this award-winning gastropub. Especially good value if you eat there at lunch time or from the 'early doors menu'. Il Forno
(132 Duke Street , Tel 0151 709 4002)
An authentic Italian restaurant. Named one of the top 10 authentic Italian restaurants by The Times Knowledge magazine. Everyman Bistro
(5-9 Hope Street , Tel. 0151 708 9545)
An old favourite that doesn’t disappoint. Great home-made food, good wine and real ale list, and many dishes for vegetarians. Popular with students, academics, theatre-goers and actors.
As well as the Magical Mystery Tour, there are more general sightseeing tours that will take you past most of the sites mentioned. City Explorer and City Sightseeing are two hop-on, hop-off open-top bus tours; both call at the Albert Dock. Larger groups might find it more economical to book a guided tour or walk from one of the many qualified city guides. I'll declare an interest here: as an official guide myself, I offer tours in English or French through Liverpool Entente Cordiale Tours (www.liverpooltourguide.com); alternatively, Pool of Life Tours (www.pooloflifetours.com) do tours in English or Spanish. A novelty is the Yellow Duckmarine Tour (www.theyellowduckmarine.co.uk), which uses an ex-D-Day landing craft to tour the city both on land and in the water.
Credit: My profile image by www.colinsphotography.co.uk