I have no idea why I had never been to Liverpool, especially as it was the European Capital of Culture in 2008, but I hadn’t. So, on a recent trip to Manchester, I decided to change that and spend a couple of days discovering Liverpool.
I am so glad I did. A couple of days wasn’t enough to see and do everything that Liverpool has to offer, but it gave me a taster and a thirst for going back to explore it further. People tend to know Liverpool for two main reasons: Football and the Beatles. In the short space of time I was there, I found that there is a lot more to Liverpool than just those and I only skimmed the surface. If you are thinking of discovering Liverpool, here are just a few of the things you can see and do.
1. Beatles Tour
I’m not a die hard Beatles fan or anything but as I was in Liverpool, the home of the Beatles, I decided that a Beatles tour was something I had to do.
There are quite a few companies that offer Beatles tours. Some will take you on a private tour but I decided to go on the Magical Mystery Tour Bus.
I chose that for two main reasons: It’s quirky and I love quirky. The other reason was that it’s organised by the Cavern Club and that is where the Beatles played in the early days so it just felt right. It was great, being driven around on this brightly-coloured bus, listening to Beatles music, finding out about the Beatles: where they came from, what they sang about, and seeing some of places, like Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields (the latter being my favourite).
2. The Cavern Club
The Cavern Club has been plagued with problems over the years since it opened in the 50s. In the 70s, it closed down. Having been lovingly restored in the 80s, using as much of the original material as possible, it reopened but closed its doors again after a few short years during a period of instability. In the 90s, it reopened once again and has remained open since then. They regularly have live music. It is definitely worth taking the time to walk down the stairs into the Cavern Club to listen to some live music. There is a great atmosphere and vibe in this underground club. There was a John Lennon tribute artist performing while I was there, which was great fun.
3. The Bluecoat
Having had my dose of Beatlemania, it was time to see what else Liverpool has to offer. It’s easy to walk past the Bluecoat, but this 18th Century building is the oldest in Liverpool City Centre and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It started out as a school for poor children and eventually became an arts venue.
4. The Old Dock Experience Tour
If it wasn’t for a local Blue Badge Tour Guide telling me about this, I wouldn’t have gone on this tour and would not have realised the importance of the Old Dock. Liverpool lays claim to having the world’s first enclosed commercial wet dock, which was constructed in the 18th Century.
If you go on this free tour of the Old Dock, you will learn loads about the historic dock from a rather entertaining duo, Yazz and Danny. They are very knowledgeable and passionate about the docks and Liverpool. You get to go underground to see part of the Old Dock wall that has been excavated and cleaned. It is in surprisingly good condition.
5. Birdseye Views
There are a couple of fantastic viewpoints I came across in Liverpool. One of them is called Panoramic 34 in the West Tower building. You can sit down and relax, as I did, with a glass of organic wine and marvel at the spectacular view of Liverpool and the River Mersey. If you are thinking of going, I’ve been told that it’s best to book, even if you are just going to have a drink. I didn’t realise that and just turned up. Thankfully, I managed to get a seat because I was there early on a weekday.
The other fantastic view is the tower at Liverpool Cathedral. You don’t have to walk all the way to the top because there are lifts that will take you most of the way. However, you do have to walk up the final 108 steps to reach the top of the tower, but the view is worth it.
6. The Cathedrals
There is not one but two cathedrals in Liverpool: One is Anglican, and the other is Roman Catholic. The Anglican one, Liverpool Cathedral, is the oldest. It’s the largest cathedral in the UK and the fifth largest in the world. If you pay to go up to the tower, you get a free audio guide, which gives you a lot more information about the cathedral.
The Roman Catholic one, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, is at the other end of Hope Street to Liverpool Cathedral. The history of this building is really interesting. The Catholic population in Liverpool wanted a Catholic cathedral but the process was fraught with problems: lack of funds, change of location, different architects and designs, and the outbreak of WWII.
The original inspiration for the cathedral came from St Peter’s in Rome but, as you will see, it clearly looks nothing like St Peter’s. However, if you go down to the crypt, which I recommend, you will see how the church was originally designed. It is completely different to the more modern feel of the main cathedral.
7. The ‘Bombed Out’ Church
I had heard about this, having talked to someone the night before, but didn’t really understand what it would be like. That was until I stumbled across it as I was walking to the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. It’s weird because it looks like your average, everyday church until you get close to it and realise that, actually, it’s a mere shell. It was an Anglican church called St Luke’s, built in the early 19th Century. It was badly damaged during WWII and was never renovated.
8. The Victoria Gallery and Museum
Now an art gallery and museum, the Victoria building started out as the first purpose-built building of Liverpool University, which was constructed in the 19th Century. It was an inclusive university from the beginning as there were female as well as male students. This red brick construction is considered to be the original Redbrick University because one of its professors coined the phrase. After that, the term was extended for all civic universities from that period. It’s got the ‘wow’ factor when you walk in. Well, it did for me. All of the interior is original although they have made some alterations such as adding a lift and using the side door as the main entrance. Whether you want to just take a look, sit down for lunch, have a drink while enjoying its interior, or have a look at the artwork and exhibitions on display is up to you. You can go on a free guided tour of the building on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if you want to learn more about the building.
9. Liverpool Central Library
It’s worth taking a peek. There is a clever mix of old and new architecture and it works really well. As you walk into the atrium of the library, look up to the ceiling. They have created a spectacular view up to the skylight.
When I got into the Picton Reading Room, I felt like I was in the scene of an old film. You know, a round room sacked with books from floor to ceiling and a spiral staircase up to the books in the higher shelves.
The library is home to Audabon’s massive Birds of America book, which you can look at but not touch. For book lovers, it’s definitely worth a stroll around.
After that, make sure you go all the way to the top floor. When you get to the top, you can go outside and enjoy the view from the rooftop. It might not be as high nor the view as spectacular as Panoramic 34 or the tower at Liverpool Cathedral but you get to see the city from a different angle.
10. The Philharmonic Dining Rooms
This very ornately decorated pub, known as ‘The Phil’, was built at the end of the 19th Century as a Gentleman’s Club. Apparently, one of the negative aspects of fame for John Lennon was not being able to go there for a drink.
I wouldn’t have gone in, but it was mentioned by two different people so I kind of felt I had to. One rather strange suggestion was to go into the gents’ toilets. I was a little apprehensive but asked the woman serving behind the bar if it was OK for me to have a look. She said yes and that it wasn’t an unusual request. I asked if she could check it was clear, which it was, so I entered. I have never seen such elaborately decorated gents’ toilets.
11. Ferry Cross the Mersey
I just wanted to go on a ferry on the Mersey because of the song ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’. So, you can imagine how ‘made up’, as the Liverpudlians say, I was when the song started blaring out through the speakers as the boat left the shore.
The boat stops twice on the round-trip so you can get off and have a look around before boarding the next boat or stay on and enjoy the ride. I was on it for the view so I remained on the same boat and marveled at the Liverpool’s fabulous skyline. I had no idea it was so incredibly beautiful.
I have marked all the places mentioned on the map below.
Have your say
Have you been to Liverpool? If so, what did you discover while you were there? If not, what are you most interested to see and do there?