Liverpool is a city that’s long been overshadowed by its own caricature.
Built on clichés and contradictions, it’s both the nostalgic home of the Beatles and a city defined by its ferociously passionate football fans, strikes and riots. Liverpudlians are either depicted as warm and welcoming, or hardened ‘scousers’; with no real grey area in-between.
Having never visited Liverpool, these clichés were our only impressions of the city (aside from the discontinued soap opera ‘Brookside’, which portrayed Liverpool as a city of dysfunctional families living in 1990s new-builds). Yet, having been born and bred in Milton Keynes, we are both aware of the negative power of stereotypes. If there’s anyone who can understand what it’s like to live inside a cliché, it’s Milton Keynes folk and their many roundabouts.
We were therefore keen to visit the ‘real’ Liverpool: a city that has undergone its very own an ugly duck transformation, beginning with its baptism as a European ‘City of Culture’ in 2008. Since then, the city has benefitted from extensive urban regeneration, as formerly rundown backstreets have transformed into boutique-lined lanes and creative spaces have appeared in former docklands.
Arriving into Liverpool Lime Street station, we were struck by the beautiful array of buildings facing us. Described by English Heritage as England’s finest Victorian city, Liverpool boasts over 2,500 listed buildings and large parts of the city were declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site: something definitely not mentioned amongst the many clichés used to define this city.
Wandering through this area, also known as the Cultural Quarter, we realised just how many attractions the city offers (with more museums than any other city outside of London, in fact). A visit to this area allows you to wander the halls of the brilliant World Museum; the beautiful St. George’s Hall; the Walker Art Gallery; the Wellington Column; St John’s Gardens and Liverpool Central Library, which is said to rival New York’s Public Library!
Outside of the Cultural Quarter, there are many more museums and galleries to visit: The Tate Gallery (a must for all modern art fans, although perhaps a ‘no’ for those, who like us, refuse to acknowledge a pile of dead tissues and crisp wrappers as ‘art’); the Museum of Liverpool and the International Slavery Museum. This museum, although disturbing, offers a morbid peek into Liverpool’s past, as a key player in the slave trade between West-Africa, the West-Indies and England. Here you can see the shackles and chains that were used on the slaves, alongside personal accounts taken from captain’s diaries. Although a little dark, it’s definitely worth a visit.
A walk around this cultural quarter complete, we checked into the lovely Hope Street Hotel. We booked this hotel using the money saving site TopCashback, which offers users the chance to get money back on their hotel and airline bookings (but more on this later).
We were immediately wowed by the beautiful area where our hotel was located – locally known as the Georgian Quarter. Featuring newly re-cobbled streets and handsomely renovated Georgian houses, the area felt a little like West London; complete with brightly coloured delis and independent restaurants. We later found out that film companies often record in this beautiful red-bricked area when recreating 1920s New York; being the second most popular urban film location in Britain, after London. Who knew?!
By now, it was inevitable that one of us was hungry/thirsty/tired/all of the above. We therefore walked down to Liverpool’s infamous Albert Dock, for a bite to eat and to see the sites. On the way down, we came across many independent eateries, shops and boutiques, each as individual as the next. We eventually stopped at The Brunch Club for lunch – a brilliant place offering brunch until 5pm. Heaven!
After chatting to the lovely staff there, we followed their directions down to the Albert Dock: one of Liverpool’s star attractions. The entire site comprises of the largest gathering of Grade 1 listed buildings in the country, and is a must-see for anyone visiting Liverpool. Crammed into this piece of dockland is an impressive amount of things to do: galleries, museums, places to eat and plenty of ice-cream and candy floss to keep you going. There’s also an impressive skyline on display; mixing old red-brick towers with glistening black buildings and shimmering skyscrapers.
Architecturally, Liverpool is beautiful. Many of the grand buildings throughout the city were built during Liverpool’s golden age as a trading post, when merchants insisted that they would need fine-looking buildings to be able to work well and encourage trade. Worth a look around are also Liverpool’s two cathedrals and its infamous ‘bombed-out church’ (Church of St. Luke). This church – or what remains of it – was heavily bombed during the Liverpool Blitz in 1941, leaving behind a roofless shell. Where pews and alters once stood is now a jungle of thick plants and flowers, which can be seen through the eerily pristine windows. Unfortunately, the church is currently under rennovation – something Claire and I didn’t know. Undeterred, we spent quite a while trying to squeeze each other through the railings, but gave up after receiving suspicious looks from passer-bys. Nonetheless, it’s definitely worth stopping by as you can still get some excellent photos of this beautiful building.
After a little nap back at the hotel, we headed out to get some dinner on Liverpool’s well-known Bold Street. For any fellow greedy travellers out there, this street is a foodie’s dream. Bursting full of independent restaurants and cafes, offering everything from Turkish to Indian food; Fish and Chips to Korean dishes, this is definitely the place to eat. We ate at a few joints on this street, eating first at Bakchich for dinner – an amazing Lebanese restaurant, and then the effortlessly cool Mowgli, offering up Indian street-food (without a Chicken Korma in sight). This is by far one the best meals we’ve had in a long time! Definitely be sure to try the Gunpowder Chicken if you visit. We also visited the incredible Alma de Cuba for brunch during our visit, which features a full singing, full dancing gospel choir to serenade you whilst you eat. Hallelujah!
After dinner, we headed out to explore a bit of Liverpool’s nightlife. Although our dancing days are probably behind us now (we’re 30 going on 80), Liverpool’s are definitely not. We walked across town to the hipster paradise of The Baltic Triangle. Formerly a neglected cluster of disused warehouses, units and outhouses, the triangle has now been dubbed as Liverpool’s answer to New York’s meat-packing district: quite the accolade. A now vibrant microcosm of artists, musicians, bars, cafes and creative spaces, the triangle provides an exciting community for Liverpool’s up-and-coming. Here we came across a few great bars, including Camp and Furnace and Constellations. We loved this area and would definitely head back there on another visit.
After heading back to our hotel for the night, we set out the next day to do what Liverpool locals do best: shop. For any retail addicts out there (myself included), Liverpool is a Mecca for shopping. From its dazzling new retail centre: Liverpool One, to its endless amount of cute boutiques and craft shops, you could easily spend a weekend hammering the plastic. We really enjoyed browsing the Bluecoat Centre, with all its many art, print and crafts shops and for all interior design lovers, we would recommend visiting Cow+Co, for beautiful home items.
After pounding the pavements of Liverpool for two days, it wasn’t long before it was time to head home. This was a weekend defined by a city whose reality couldn’t be more far removed from the image so often reflected onto it. Modern, grand, innovative, creative, friendly and fun, Liverpool is leaving its heavily stereotyped image behind and showing other UK cities how it should be done. All without a ‘scouse brow’ in sight.
We cannot wait to visit again.
We visited Liverpool using TopCashback – the UK’s most generous cashback shopping site. It offers people money back and savings on everything they buy when clicking through the site to the 4,500 retailers available, including travel and holidays. We saved £24 on our hotel booking – every little helps when it comes to travel! You can sign-up to this handy little site here. TopCashback are also running a competition, with the chance to win £500, £350 and £150. All you need to do is post a selfie on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, letting TopCashback know how much you saved and using the #Topcashbacking hashtag. More details can be found here . Good luck!