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City with a Real Mersey Beat
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Date: 19/09/05, updated on 12/12/05 (293 review reads)
Advantages: Loads of variety, something for all ages
Disadvantages: Beat my hometown for City of Culture 2008 - booo!
I visit each December and can confirm that there is much for Liverpudlians to be proud of. Liverpool is often over-shadowed by its near-neighbour Manchester but I feel that the former is a much more friendly place and deserves the reputation it has for the warmth of it's welcome.
If you are spending a weekend in the city I can recommend a number of accommodation options to suit all budgets. At the top end is the Crowne Plaza down by the Liver Building and close to the landing pier for the famous Mersey Ferry. It is ideally situated for access to the main city centre area and also the visitor and leisure attractions of the Albert Dock. A little more individual is the Hope Street Hotel, a boutique with impressive rooms and prices to match. The Feathers Hotel on Mount Pleasant is a mid-range hotel and is situated just a short walk (up the hill) from Lime Street Station and the main shopping area. Travellers on a budget will be pleased to know there are a handful of cheaper hotels such as the F1 hotel next to the Albert Dock and a brand new youth hostel near the Liver Building. Wherever you plan to stay, you should be aware that hotel rooms are VERY hard to come by when Liverpool Football Club are playing at home.
So, you've got somewhere to stay - what is there to do?
Where do I start? I suppose the Albert Dock is as good a place as any. The Dock is just one of the success stories in the regeneration of Liverpool and this area is one of the most cosmopolitan parts of town. You could say that, with its shops, visitor attractions, bars and restaurants and stylish warehouse conversion apartments that it is almost a small town in itself.
The dock was built in 1846 to unload and store cargoes from all over the world. The buildings are handsome red brick structures and are very imposing. The buildings make up the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK. The cluster of buildings around the main part of the dock house visitor attractions such as The Beatles Story and the Tate Modern Liverpool, some bars and restaurants and of course the Granada Television studios where Richard and Judy used to be broadcast from. There are also a few shops and these are typical of the shops you get in touristy places - why do they think you want to buy tartan in Liverpool?
I can recommend visiting the Beatles Story - it's fun and interesting and there's a great mock up of the original Cavern Club as well as lots of outfits worn by the Beatles; the story is told chronologically as you make your way through with music to match playing in the background.
The Tate Liverpool does not have it's own permanent collection but stages visiting exhibitions so check in advance to find out what is on when you're there.
The Albert Dock offers a variety of eating possibilites from a traditional pub serving a good selection of meals to upmarket restaurants and trendy bars serving tapas-style dishes. I would say though that the Dock does not really have any child-friendly eating places. Also some parts of the Dock are quite open and if you are sitting outside at a cafe or pub keep an eye on the kids!
While you are down at the Dock a great thing to do is take a ride on the Yellow Duck Marine Tour.
The Ducks are reconditioned ex-WW2 amphibious vehicles, which means they can be used both on land and in the water.
The tours leave hourly from the Dock and first take you on a tour of the city centre with a commentary as you travel. Unfortunately it can sometimes be hard to hear the commentary while in heavy traffic. The Duck then makes its way back to the dock where you get a terrific splash. I thought it was great but kids will absolutely LOVE it and they can even have a go at steering the Duck once you get into the wider part of the dock.
You can buy tickets from the tourist office in the Dock and it costs around £10 for adults and £8 for children but you can get discounts by buying a book of vouchers which will give you good reductions on all the attractions based around the dock.
The main part of town has all the usual chain stores but for more unusual items head for School Lane for more unusual shops. There is a great street market in Chinatown on Sundays with fresh produce, spices, homewares and delicious street food on offer.
To see the two cathedrals for which the city is so famous, and head up Mount Pleasant; before you reach the top there are a couple of good antiquarian and second-hand bookshops. At the top you come to Rose Street. Turn right for the red stone Anglican cathedral and left for the modern looking Catholic cathedral known by the locals as "Paddy's Wigwam". When you look at the two, it's strange to think that, in actual fact, the Catholic cathedral was finished before the Anglican. Both are beautiful churches but if I was to recommend just one to visit, it would have to be the Wigwam. Go inside and at the right time of day the light pouring through the stained glass windows is gorgeous.
Just around the corner on Hope Street is the Philharmonic pub. Known to locals as the "Phil", it is possibly the grandest pub you'll ever set foot in. It's all mosaic floors and Victorian tiles in rich shades of red and green. There is a tremendous horseshoe-shaped bar behind which are ornate mirrors and elaborate chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The stained glass fanlights are something else again!
Apart from the beer, what everyone comes to the Phil for are the toilets! They are magnificent and this is why they have been voted, on many occasions, the best public toilets in Britain. It's actually the mens' loos that are the ornate ones (The ladies are nice and clean but that's all you can say about them). The mens' have immensely high ceilings, ornate brass fittings and amazing ceramic tiles. Ladies - if you want to see the toilets for yourselves - just ask a member of staff and they will check to make sure the coast is clear. Don't be shy - they're used to people asking!
As you would expect, there is plenty of choice for good eating in Liverpool but I would particularly recommend the Lower Place on Hope Street which is in the basement of the Philharmonic Hall and is popular with the pre and post-performance crowd for the Philharmonic Hall and the Everyman Theatre or Zorba's - a family run Greek restaurant on Lecce Street just off Mount Pleasant.
The city centre is easily covered on foot but public transport is good if you're going further out of town. Most tourists do the Mersey ferry and it does give good views of the city skyline but really, unless you want to go over to the Wirral, it's not a must-do activity. A good trip is the Beatles bus that takes you to all the main locations like Strawberry Fields, the childhood homes of the members of the Beatles and Penny Lane. If you are a fan, this is an easy way to see all the sights in one go.
Liverpool has a happening club scene - the best known is probably Cream which you'll find just off Parr Street but there are loads of other cool places in this area. To catch live bands try the Lomax or the Academy although there are loads of pubs advertising live music too. The city has a thriving comedy scene and I reckon the best venue is Blue, down at the Albert Dock. There are a number of good theatres staging repertory theatre and hosting touring productions.
The city has a wealth of museums and galleries covering anything from football (at Anfield) to the city’s maritime history. My personal favourite is the Walker Art Gallery (opposite Lime Street Station) which has amongst its treasures some interesting and important Pre-Raphaelite works. Generally, the city has a collection of fantastic looking buildings that reflect its significance during the Victorian age in particular.
I hardly need mention the city’s sporting connections and the presence of Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs is felt all over the city – in murals in subways, the clothes people wear and the affiliation of city centre pubs. There’s also the horse-racing – the world’s best known race, the Grand National is held at Aintree Racecourse a couple of miles from the centre.
Liverpool is a vibrant city that is fast developing a reputation for style. However it is not as expensive as, say, Leeds or Manchester and I think has more to offer families than those other northern cities. Its people really do live up to their reputation for friendliness and good humour, offering good service in hotels and shops, as well as good company in bars and clubs.
While you can’t escape the Beatles connection, there’s more to Liverpool than Matthew Street (these days a cheap and tacky side street which, other than to see the statue of John Lennon, should be avoided). The number of cranes in the city skyline prove that Liverpool is a rapidly changing city. I hope that new developments don’t rip the heart out of the English city with by far the biggest heart.
Summary: Stylish, cultured, lively - but still a bit cheeky!