Liverpool: City for all seasons

When Liverpool was named European
Capital of Culture for 2008, a few eyebrows were raised by more cynical people
in the UK.

Spend some time in the
North-Western city, however, and you’ll soon find it to be an exciting blend of
musical history, beautiful architecture and a cutting-edge retail area that has
kicked the scouse conurbation firmly into the 21st Century.

It’s a city of sharp wit and
creative culture, of architecture and artistry, of sport and music. It boasts
the largest Chinese gate in Europe and a multitude of pubs, bars and
restaurants to serve the inhabitants, who come from all over the world.

 

Hope and glory

It’s also got some fantastic new
hotels, one of which is the Hope Street Hotel on – you’ve guessed it – Hope
Street. The road is famous due to its having a cathedral at each end; at one
side is the Giles Gilbert Scott-designed Anglican cathedral, a magnificent
red-brick gothic behemoth with the largest bell in Europe (and a nice little
cafe), and at the other end is the Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
with its strange circular design lending it the local name Paddy’s Wigwam. This
oddity may be bizarre from the outside, but spend some time in the interior at
sunset for some amazing effects as the light diffuses around and about.

Indeed, the comfortable and
scandi-minimalist Hope Street Hotel is well-placed for local nightlife; it’s
right opposite the Philharmonic Hall, host of world-famous concerts both
classical and popular. Just down the road is the Everyman theatre, where you
can find plays and a cracker of a basement bar/bistro with great vegetarian
options.

Just off ‘Liverpool’s Ramblas’,
Bold Street, you’ll run into cinema, new media gallery and creative hub Fact,
which often has cutting-edge exhibitions across different disciplines. Take a
skip through the increasingly-tatty top end of Church Street, once famed for
its shopping but now struggling under the weight of the $1.5 billion new shopping
area, Liverpool One. The development is now complete and comprises nothing less
than a total reimagining of the city centre. It is shiny, modern, with all the
famous stores you’d expect of a major city, chain restaurants, crazy funfairs
seven stories up and more. And though it does give the odd feeling of wandering
around in some kind of 3D graphic design programme, there’s no question that
Liverpool One has brought an energy and contemporary aspect that was sorely
needed.

 

Moptops and shoe shops

Of course, you can’t talk about
Liverpool without talking about the Beatles; the fab four are well-represented
down in Mathew Street, home of the Cavern club, which was their spiritual home
in the early days. Cleverly, Liverpool City Council decided to knock down the
original club in the ‘70s – there’s a car park there now – but the modern
entrance is just next door, and they’ve excavated the cellar in which the
moptops found their fame. Bands of varying quality still play. If you’re a real
Beatle-head you’re going to want to visit during the August bank holiday –
Beatles Week. The title’s self-explanatory. As for the rest of Mathew Street,
the less said about the blend of horrible retro-discos and tourist traps, the
better.

Just off Liverpool One, on Seel
Street, is another fantastic new hotel, Base2Stay, which is quiet enough to
feel secluded and close enough to the action for instant nightlife. Try Le
Bateau on a Saturday night for one of Europe’s finest indie-rock clubs, Liquidation.
Liverpool’s music scene is always vibrant with several excellent venues in the
city centre, including Zanzibar, Masque, Heebie Jeebies, o2 Academy, Korova and
more. In the morning mop up the night’s excesses with a full English breakfast
at Cafe 53, right opposite the four-star fabulousness of the hotel. Typical of
Liverpool, it’s located in a former warehouse and equally typically, the
outside shows no sign of the classy design and comfort therein.

There are many options of places to
kip in the city, so it’s worth checking out what you want to be near. The city
centre is relatively small, and certainly walkable, so be wary of out-of-town
deals – the taxi fares may not be worth it.

 

Redevelopment and beauty

And so, to the docks. If there is a
symbol of the moment Liverpool started to yawn out of its ‘80s doldrums, it was
the refurbishment of the Albert Dock. Once a world-leading hub for shipping and
cargo, by the 1970s it had fallen into disrepair. However, it’s been
refurbished quite beautifully and now is home to the brilliant gallery Tate
Liverpool, plus a plethora of upmarket bars, some tourist-tat shops and several
museums. It’s a short walk across to the newly built Echo Arena – where
everyone from Usher to Kiss have played. The beautiful architecture makes it a
vital part of Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage Waterfront, the centrepiece of
which is at the Pier Head where the Port of Liverpool Building, Cunard Building
and the Royal Liver Building make one of the world’s most striking skylines.

The city of Liverpool is more vibrant
than you might imagine, with more options than many places twice the size but
with not a tenth of the heart. The sun might not always shine – although it
sometimes does – but there’s an edgy warmth about the city that constantly
ensures a turnover of ideas, schemes and endeavours in business and in art.

 

Sporty spice

We’ve not even mentioned the sport
here, but within a seven-minute Merseyrail train ride of the City Centre (take
the Ormskirk line) is the world-famous Aintree Racecourse, home of the Grand
National.

Both Liverpool FC and Everton do
tours of their grounds. They’re situated, famously, on opposite sides of
Stanley Park in North Liverpool. Take the 17 or 217 bus from Queen Square
depot, opposite Lime Street Station.

Liverpool and Everton FC have
always been rivals. Indeed, when Everton opened their new store in the
Liverpool One shopping complex, they named it Everton Two… so they could win
the game every time on the postal address.

 

Yum yum

You can get anything you want to
eat in Liverpool, from all parts of the world. It’s a big city. But one thing
you must try on a visit is the famous scouse, a meat stew whose provenance is
somewhat misty. Some say it is a variation of a dish brought by Scandinavian
sailors, but others are convinced it is a purely North Western creation. Either
way, every place you go it’s going to be made slightly differently but there’s
nothing better to keep out the cold snap blowing in from the Mersey. Try it at
La Pattiserie, an upstairs cafe and tea rooms with decor (and menu) unchanged
since 1964 – the entrance is squeezed between a sports store and a cruddy chain
sandwich shop. Easily missed; worth seeking out – it doesn’t get any more authentic
than this.

 

Slurp slurp

Liverpool’s got absolutely loads of
cracking traditional English boozers, although some of them can admittedly be a
little intimidating for the non-local. Great pubs with a top atmosphere and
none of the scariness include the Baltic Fleet opposite the docks (who also do
a great scouse), Philharmonic Dining Rooms (with award-winning Victorian
urinals – seriously), Peter Kavanaghs on Bedford Street and Ye Cracke, a tiny
pub which was once John Lennon’s favourite watering hole.

 

Larks in the park

If you have an afternoon and
evening to spare, head to Lark Lane, a gorgeous Victorian street just off
Sefton Park. It’s considered a bohemian centre and certainly boasts a good little
bookshop (which opens when it feels like it), a recording studio, some
left-field shops, a veggie cafe, plenty of restaurants and a host of nooks and
crannies in which to play. Things get lively of an evening with an excellent
pub, bar and club scene – a real gem and worth taking an extra day to enjoy.

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