TAKE A WEEKEND DIP IN THE POOL OF LIFE Jon Aldous
Most people I seem to meet have never been to Liverpool (literally “the pool of life”) and don’t have any particular plans to go there (or probably any other big city apart from London). As someone who has developed a very special affinity with the place it surprises me that it is not better known as one of the very best places in the country for a quality weekend break. My wife (a northern lass herself but from t’ other side of t’ Pennines) is a recent convert to its varied attractions (and we haven’t even done any shopping there yet!).Here are some thoughts and recommendations from personal experience on what you might like about it too.
Stay somewhere where you can stroll down to the fabulous, spacious and breezy waterfront (we recommend the friendly and efficient Hotel Indigo). You will be drawn straight to the tall and elegant “Three Graces” including the iconic Liver Building, the symbol of the city. These are major scale buildings leaving you in no doubt what a hugely important trading port this once was. Get an even better view from the Mersey ferry, or walk along to the splendid revamped Albert Dock to immerse yourself in the fascinating history of the city’s maritime heritage and association with the slave trade in its top-notch museums, or the world class art shows of the Tate (we saw a vibrant Andy Warhol exhibition). Drop in for a coffee or a glass of wine at Liverpool prices (you will notice the difference) and you’ll nearly always enjoy service with a warm smile. Plan your next more – a trip on the “Liverpool Eye” to take in the vistas across the river to the Wirrall and up the hill to the two cathedrals and beyond. Or nip along to the captivating Beatles story audio-visual experience in Albert Dock itself.
Take a cheap cab or better still walk up to the city centre and if you are in the mood for fine art head for the well signed posted Cultural Quarter whose centerpiece is an another architectural gem, St Georges’ Hall, like a building from classical Athens. When we were there it was Chinese New Year and many of Liverpool’s thriving Chinese community were celebrating outside it, some of them within a massive weaving multi-coloured dragon. Just along from there in the Walker Art Gallery we were almost alone in taking in a sun- splashed room of elegant sculptures all (like the museums) for free. Across the bustling centre are landmark buildings even the first-time visitors have probably heard of – the Empire Theatre, Lime Street Station and the Adelphi Hotel (which a chatty taxi driver told us had definitely seen better days! Everyone seems to have a story to tell in this city).
The Cavern Club (don’t confuse with the Cavern pub opposite) is a must if you have any interest in the years when Liverpool briefly became the epicentre of world pop music. It’s actually a replica of the famous cellar, rebuilt a metre from the original one, and they’ve done a fine job, although it’s now a teaming mecca for tourists from all over the world. It seems a very different age when local office workers crammed in there (in its pre-alcohol days) for an hour’s sweaty lunchtime rock and roll before rushing back to work with the distinctive Cavern smell on their clothes. Now in the evenings the whole area throbs with the young and the scantily clad, loudly celebrating good times!
Book in advance, maybe grab a hearty breakfast at Jury’s Hotel in Albert Dock and climb on a minibus up along Penny Lane to the suburban skies of Woolton. A thoroughly entertaining couple called Colin and Sylvia will guide you around painstakingly restored 1950’s homes, they bring a very personal side to the Beatles story and will regale you with tales of John’s proud and ultra-respectable Aunt Mimi and family sing-alongs around Paul’s dad’s piano. Living history and all the more affecting through a feeling of familiarity to the 50 plus generation (think of your grandparents houses).
Back in the city, running between the imposing sandstone Anglican cathedral and the spiky Catholic one (“Paddy’s Wigwam”) runs our favourite road, Hope Street – home to some fine restaurants and some interesting pubs (some gastro/trendy, some traditional). Don’t miss the ornate Philharmonic Dining Rooms (with the country’s only Grade I Listed urinals!), the art-deco Philharmonic Concert Hall and the famously successful actor producing Everyman Theatre. We have sampled both breakfast and lunch menus at “The Quarter” – a place of great value food and charming service, on a quiet cobbled corner with an academic feel (this is the University and art college district) just off Hope Street.
Time then perhaps to head back to the motorway but I suspect you will want to come back soon for a further dip in the pool of life.
City Break – Liverpool
where to stay
what to do