'Liverpool' roughly translates as 'thick/muddy pool'. But don't be put off — this is one of the UK's great cities: home to a historic port which ushered in generations of immigrants; bejewelled with Georgian architecture; boasting thriving arts and cuisine scenes; not to mention being birthplace of a certain musical foursome. It's also a city built on slavery, something Liverpool has started facing up to in earnest lately. Here's how to spend 48 hours in the Merseyside metropolis.
Getting to Liverpool
Direct trains run between London and Liverpool (usually between Euston and the centrally-located Liverpool Lime Street) regularly. Journey time is roughly between two hours 10 mins and two hours 30 mins. Coaches are often a cheaper option, but take a minimum of five hours each way.
Liverpool need to know
- Getting around Liverpool: A lot of what you'll want to see as a first-timer in Liverpool is within walking distance. Liverpool has a decent bus network, plus the Merseyrail, part of which is the city's metro network (it even has a Northern line which even has a Waterloo station). Ubers are readily available, more so than in London these days.
- Accommodation: Splash the cash in the Titanic Hotel — a converted warehouse with cavernous rooms, and a spa. Or do the whole Beatles thing at the Hard Day's Night Hotel. Organising a hen or stag? Consider The Shankly, aka The Grand Party Hotel, as seen on the BBC fly-on-the-wall doc. Plenty of less flashy options are, of course, available.
- Scousers: 'Scouser' is the nickname for people who come from Liverpool. 'Scouse' is a type of stew eaten by scousers. If you see people wearing shell suits, perms and '70s porn star 'taches (and you may well do), chances are they're on a stag do and not remotely scouse.
- Football: Most scousers support either the 'Reds' or the 'Toffees'. Owing to unforgivable lies spread by The S*n newspaper after the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, you'll struggle to find a copy of said tabloid anywhere in the city — another reason to love this place.
Museums and galleries in Liverpool
The first thing you'll see coming out of Lime Street is Liverpool's answer to the BT Tower, the St John's Beacon. Take the lift to the top for heady 360° views of the city and the River Mersey. (The windows slope outwards, which isn't ideal if you're terrified of heights like a certain writer is, but stick with it.)
Another great way to get a lay of the land is by, er, taking to the water, courtesy of the dazzlingly-decorated Mersey Ferry (and sing *that* song to yourself as you do so).
Time to gen up on the city. The Museum of Liverpool (one of the handsomer contemporary buildings on Liverpool's historic docks, now freshly-stripped of its UNESCO heritage) is a solid place to begin. Displays cover everything from Slavery to the industrial revolution to Merseybeat — plus it's got an impressive transport collection. The nearby Maritime Museum has a riveting (excuse the pun) floor dedicated to Titanic, the doomed ocean liner with local links. The International Slavery Museum collections resides on its top floor, with enlightening/heartbreaking displays on the nefarious ways in which Liverpool acquired much of its wealth in the 18th/19th centuries.
Back on dry land, do a circuit of the Albert Docks, and maybe pop into the Tate for a slice of culture. Just like in London, the permanent collection is free. (While in the area, find the dry docks where slave ships were once repaired. There are also more plans afoot to bring the history of the transatlantic slave trade to life in this part of town.) Other galleries worth seeking out include the Walker (crammed with fine art) and the Bluecoat, where you'll discover contemporary offerings.
Eating in Liverpool
Feeling peckish? Head to Bold Street (one of Liverpool's many streets named after slave traders). It's chocca with vintage shops, bookstores — and also a glut of excellent restaurants. Grab a piece of the 'Nduja Detroit from American Pizza Slice, order all-day breakfast small plates at Leaf, or sample a bowl of 'scouse' (a meat and potato stew, served with pickled red cabbage and bread) from traditional cafe Maggie May's.
At the top of Bold Street is the 'Bombed Out Church', a renowned meeting place for locals, and a venue for various pop up markets and the like. Nearby, there's plenty of superb scran to be had in Liverpool's Chinatown.
Slightly south of central Liverpool is The Baltic Triangle, one of the city's most happening quarters, and home to the vast Baltic Market, which hawks everything from Korean dumplings to bubble waffles. Sometimes the atmosphere goes all disco and before you know it, everyone around you is dancing (true story).
For evening meals, you're utterly spolit, with the likes of swanky British cuisine at Art School Restaurant, and tapas/paella at Lunya. Or keep it thrifty with okra fries and bhel puri at veggie Indian street food hangout Bundobust.
TBH the above is just an amuse bouche of options: these days, Liverpool caters to all culinary desires.
The Beatles in Liverpool
You can't do Liverpool without ticking off John, Paul, George and Ringo. At the very least, get a snap with the Fab Four sculpture*, situated on the waterfront and backdropped by the gorgeous Liver Building (which itself is where Liverpool's iconic Liver Birds perch).
Nearby on the Royal Albert Dock is The Beatles Story, home to John Lennon's 'Imagine' piano and a replica Abbey Road Studio. Various 'Magical Mystery Tours' depart from this area too, whipping past Fab Four landmarks including Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. The National Trust does guided tours inside John and Paul's childhood homes, although these are spendy. You might be better off supping a pint in one of their preferred drinking haunts, speaking of which...
Liverpool is a going out out city. Every Saturday night in the roistering Concert Square, you could be mistaken for thinking Liverpool had just won the Champion's League again. Mathew Street is similarly buzzing, and home to the famous Cavern Club. It's actually been rebuilt since the Beatles' day (it was inexplicably bulldozed in the 1970s) but has risen from the ashes, and is once again a great live music venue.
Getting on it? Put fire in your belly courtesy of the baked bean tequila shots at Bar Cava. For a more refined night out, take in a show at the art deco Liverpool Philharmonic Hall then sup a pint across the the road at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, which is known locally at the 'Phil' and sports some seriously swanky urinals.
If you're in a cheesy mood (or on a stag/hen) hop aboard the Yellow Submarine, or go for a stiff drink at the Peaky Blinders bar. (What are Tommy Shelby and co doing here, you might ask? Powis Street in Liverpool's Toxteth neighbourhood was where many of the street scenes were shot.)
Liverpool also throngs with great group activities — from Junkyard Golf (a brand you may be familiar with from London) to PINS Social Club — a stylish bowling alley, which goes all out with live music and DJs. (Did we mention this is a party town?)
Late night soakage should always come in the form of salt and pepper chips, a delicious Scouse-Chinese hybrid of snackage, with roots in the city's Chinatown. Lobster Pot has two city centre outlets that serve it.
Parks and beach walks in Liverpool
Head feeling fuzzier than the Fab Four's moptops? Sefton Park, a swift Merseyrail ride to the south of the city centre, has wonderful restorative vibes. Its centrepiece is the tropical Palm House, where you can sip a coffee among the foliage. It also hosts jazz nights, candlelight concerts and a lot more besides. Nearby is Lark Lane, an ultra trendy strip of bars and eateries, which you could easily get lost in for the rest of the afternoon.
Crosby Beach in Southport, meanwhile, is haunted by Anthony Gormley's (in)famous army of statues, which makes for a bracing seaside stroll with a difference.
Pubs and breweries in Liverpool
If you'd prefer to sample Liverpool's liquid wares in heritage surrounds, Peter Kavanagh's pub is a screwball gem of a place, laden with quirky gimcrack, and chamber pots dangling from the ceiling.
We can also personally recommend The Roscoe Head, Ye Crack(e), The Dispensary (all in the city centre) and The Little Taproom on Aigburth Road back near Sefton Park. We've also heard good things about Neptune Brewery, in the northern suburb of Maghull.
Oh, and make time to toast the end of a successful weekend with a 'Volstead Act' nightcap at darkened speakeasy, Berry and Rye. By our reckoning it's the best cocktail bar the city has to offer, and many locals agree.
On the list for next time...
You can't do Liverpool justice in two days. If you're sticking around for longer, or already planning a return visit, consider these:
- *Look out for various other sculptures of Liverpool legends, including Billy Fury, Cilla Black and Ken Dodd. Also check out the Huskisson Plinth; activists removed the statue of pro-slavery MP William Huskisson from this spot, back in 1982.
- The Williamson Tunnels are a remarkable selection of subterranean passages and chambers with a fascinating story behind them. They also feature in a Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who episode.
- It's not easy to score tickets to Liverpool FC matches but there are regular tours of the famous Anfield stadium, where you get to sit on the Kop, and pose in the boot room with Salah's shirt.
- Liverpool is home to two cathedrals — but for our money, Frederick Gibberd's Metropolitan Cathedral is a belting bit of religious modernism.
- Port Sunlight — a model village built by a Victorian soap entrepreneur — is 40ish minutes from the centre of town, and a day trip in itself.
- Liverpool has red squirrels! You can spot them at Formby Red Squirrel Reserve, 15 miles north of the city centre.
Have we forgotten something? Let us know in the comments below.