A perfect weekend in Liverpool
As part of The Great Exhibition of the North, I finally got to visit Liverpool, for the first time in my life. I can't believe it has taken me so long!
Travelling from Newcastle, it struck me that these two energetic cities have a lot in common. Handsome Georgian architecture, a lively riverside scene, and some of the friendliest, and funniest people in the world (I'm totally biased but hey ;-)
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Music on the streets of Liverpool
The first thing that hit me about Liverpool is music. Of course this is the home of The Beatles, and this city is so proud of their world famous export. But it's not just The Fab Four. Buskers, statues and the wall of fame opposite The Cavern illustrate how music is Liverpool's lifeblood.
Even Hotel Indigo (my home for the next few days) has a subtle nod to a musical heritage. Set in the former cotton district, and just a five minute stroll from the river, this is perfectly located for a short walk to most of the sights, yet quiet enough to feel like a little haven, tucked away from the hustle and bustle.
Where to find the best views of Liverpool
To get my bearings, and to take in some imposing architecture, my first stop was Liverpool Cathedral, which was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1910, and completed in 1978. Having grown up in Durham, I was pretty spoilt when it comes to cathedrals. And dare I say it, even a bit of a Cathedral snob! But Liverpool is magnificent. And so welcoming too. I was lucky enough to pop in during choir practice and they didn't mind a small audience at all. It felt like such a treat to sit in on a free performance.
The Tracey Emin artwork was another pleasant surprise. Juxtaposed below the stained glass West Window, just by the entrance, in her trademark neon script, read the words 'I felt you and I knew you loved me'. Which, for me made this feel like an accessible sanctuary to everyone.
When you come to the cathedral make sure you head up the tower for the amazing panoramas across Liverpool. From the Mersey River over to Anfield, via Paddy's Wigwam (the Catholic Cathedral, or, as some call it 'The Pope's launch pad' 🚀), and the handsome terraced streets of The Georgian Quarter below.
The Cavern Club
I'll probably be talking about music a lot in this blog post because music is everywhere in Liverpool. On the streets, in the bars, even the airport is named after John Lennon. But surely that's one of the biggest reasons you come to Liverpool anyway right? And if I had one top tip as to what not to miss, it would be The Cavern. Located on Mathew Street, in what is now The Cavern Quarter (the birthplace of The Beatles), this small cramped underground club has played host to some of the best bands in the world. The Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds, Oasis, Queen, Adele. The list goes on and on and on.
I visited around 6pm, which is a great time to visit, as the price goes up if you enter after 8pm. Even if you’re not a Beatles fan (I mean, surely everyone likes a least one Beatles song?), you will still get goosebumps walking down the stairs. It’s a living breathing time capsule of 1960s Liverpool. The original building was demolished but the one standing today was rebuilt to the original plans, and retains that very gritty feel, of how this jumping venue may have felt 55 years ago. I think the only thing missing is the smokey air!
I watched a Liverpudlian perform Beatles and Queen songs. Absolutely everyone in the venue sang along at the top of their voices. Bearing in mind this was at 6pm, I’ve been to some gigs where I paid £40 for a ticket and the atmosphere was nowhere near as electric. (I paid £2.50 to get in). And yes my feet did get stood on, and I had to jostle for position but thats the sign of a great gig surely?
Tip: Check The Cavern's website for entry prices as they vary from day to day.
Baltic Market in Liverpool
After all of that excitement I resurfaced back on to Mathew Street and weaved my way through the giggly hen nights and jumped in a 10 minute uber to The Baltic Market. Set in the grand red brick Victorian Cain's Brewery, in the Southern tip of the Baltic Triangle, this is Liverpool's newest eating experience and first street food market. A huge warehouse like space opens up to the right, housing ever changing local street food vendors. You can get something hot and delicious for around £10. Neapolitan pizza, Bao Buns, Halloumi fries.. whatever floats your boat. Of course I went for Fried Chicken, then grabbed a beer from the in house bar, and waited at one of the long communal tables with a little buzzing pager that let me know when to collect my order.
Of course there was more live music too but Baltic Market was a really laid back affair. I ended up spending the rest of my night there.
As I left, I quickly popped in to see what was going on opposite the food hall, and found a small courtyard, decked out with fairy lights and another stage! The Alhambra is a small tapas/wine bar, with even more chilled out feel, and is part of the Brewery Village, housing art spaces, bars restaurants and even a tattoo studio.
The British Music Experience in Liverpool
I was up early the next morning with a sunny stroll down to the riverside for the British Music Experience. This is an interactive musical installation in The Cunard Building, which is right next to the iconic Liver Building. Perched up on the roof, are the two famous Liver Birds, one of which watches over the city and the other, the Mersey River. Their names are Bella and Bertie. There are a few local fables, one popular theory is that while one bird keeps a watchful eye over the city, the other bird looks out to sea to welcome new sailors coming in to port. Or perhaps this version is more accurate; one Liver Bird is male, looking toward the city, to check if the pubs are open, whilst the other (female), looks out to sea to see if there are any handsome sailors coming up the river. Of course, Scouse humour also has created this cynical gem; every time a virgin walks across the Pier Head, the Liver Birds flap their wings 🙈
I am a self confessed music nerd, but The British Music Experience is a must do for anyone visiting Liverpool. I thought I may spend an hour or so in there, but three hours whished by in the blink of an eye. For me it was the unusual artefacts that caught my eye, such as the front door of 3 Savile Row, the London headquarters of Apple Corps. Full of messages to and from the band (who also lived on the premises for around 18 months). The Beatles also performed their final gig together on the rooftop in 1969. Or perhaps the handwritten lyrics by Noel Gallagher, or Adele's scribbled down set list.
You can explore the heritage of British Music, from the Skiffle bands of the 50s, right up to today. Every 20 minutes there is a holographic performance at the stage in the centre of the exhibition. I was treated to Boy George, amazing!
One of the reasons I lingered in the BME, was the free music lessons. Pick up a guitar, keyboard or even a drum kit and listen to a guided tutorial. You'll be able to play a tune by the time you leave. The drum kit was particularly satisfying (especially whacking those symbols!).
The Museum of Liverpool
Back outside on The Pier Head, sits the Museum of Liverpool, a sleek angular building, looking out across the River. This is a free attraction, in a light and airy space. I loved the elegant curved staircase in the centre. I could have stayed for hours looking at the Merseyside exhibits but the real pull for me was ‘Double Fantasy' a free exhibition about John and Yoko. How they met, their intimacy, their creativity and activism. You can see the signs ('World Peace' and 'Hair Peace') they hung above their beds in the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969.
I found the end of the exhibition very touching, documenting the story of John’s death, and the effect that had on the world at the time. You can step on a recreation of the Imagine mosaic from Strawberry Fields in New York (John was shot outside of his apartment, The Dakota Building in Manhattan, in 1980) and there's a very sweet, but heartbreaking interview with his son Sean, talking about his Dad, at around the age of ten, but who was only five when he lost his father.
Lunch on Bold Street
Time for lunch which led me to Bold street. Bold street is home to independent shops, quirky boutiques and restaurants. I settled in at Leaf, a bright and characterful spot and settled in for perfectly poached eggs bene. I loved the community feel here - there are regular bands plus open mic nights too.
Across the street I dug around the record store Pop Vinyl, in the basement of Pop Boutique in the search for some rare vinyl gems.
Just before my train home I took a lazy stroll around Liverpool One. I'm not usually one for shopping around when I'm travelling but this recently renovated area was actually really charming to amble around. People seem to walk slowly and the breezy arcades are very elegant.
Throughout the summer, six pianos will be dotted around, showcasing solo professionals, amateurs and up and coming artists. You can even use them yourself when they're not booked out. I love the atmosphere this creates, what with this and the pretty arcades, it reminded me a little of St. Pancras station in London (one of my favourite parts of the city).
Albert Dock in Liverpool
Back down towards the river I headed back to the river, to the Albert Dock. Again to the sound of more music, a busker singing Neil Young and The Jam, on my way to Tate Liverpool. Another free museum, this branch of The Tate hosts artists such as Andy Warhol and L.S. Lowry and right now there is a wonderful free exhibition from Liverpool Biennial, the largest festival of contemporary art in the UK.
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What I loved about Albert Dock was the calming riverside space and how relaxed and unhurried it all seemed. There are plenty of restaurants on the water, or if you're in need of a quick fix, there's a double decker bus serving up brioche burgers and sweet potato fries. The Merseyside Maritime Museum proudly stands opposite, showcasing artefacts from The Titanic, and illustrating port side life in Liverpool. The same building is also home to The International Museum of Slavery, sharing stories from enslaved people from the past and sadly, the present
See you soon, Liverpool
It was hard to say goodbye to Liverpool and there is still so much I want to see (Scouse friends tell me Lark Lane is lovely, plus there is the Walker Art Gallery too which I simply ran out of time for). Next time for sure!
I'll definitely be back very soon. I love the humour and warmth of the locals, and this city feels like it's having a real renaissance.
I would like to personally thank Marketing Liverpool for their help on this trip. I loved every minute!