Got eight hours in the city and don’t want to spend it all on the top of a tourist bus? Follow us. Grab a pair of walking shoes and a map, and let us guide you around the must-see sites of this singular city, at your own pace. With plenty of stop-offs for refuelling.
The heart of Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage area, the Pier Head, is a great starting point for you. If there’s a better welcome – or waterfront – in Europe we’d like to hear about it please. Oh, yeah, there’s Venice. And maybe Stockholm. And, yeah, Felixstowe’s hard to tear yourself away from, but you get our point.
A recent refurb has seen a clunky new Pier Head Ferry Terminal rise from the landing stage (it’s still fun to catch a ferry ‘cross the Mersey though), but don’t let that detain you, unless you want to visit the Beatles Story’s second Liverpool home – complete with its ‘Fab 4D’ audio-visual journey through the sights and sounds of Liverpool and the Beatles.
The Leeds-Liverpool canal extension now slices through the pier head, lined with handsome public realm architecture, seating and footbridges: a pleasant enough place to stop and soak up the sights of Liverpool’s largest open space (you can grab a coffee at Hamiltons Coffee shop, part owned by ex-popstar Natasha Hamilton)
From here you can visit the Museum of Liverpool – the city’s story is written large across its three floors of exhibits: with a timeline that travels from the ice age to Brookside, via Chinese junk ships (revealing the city’s 19th century trading links) the back-to-back slum dwellings of Liverpool’s infamous ‘courts’ (there’s a reconstruction of these airless hovels, revealing the plight of the poorest in the city), Merseybeat and the city’s other two religions, the reds and the blues.
Stroll over the Canning Half-tide Dock’s bridge towards the Albert Dock and you’ve arrived at Tate Liverpool. Save this for the return trip and, instead, wander around the cobbled colonnades of the dock, built in 1846, entirely from cast iron, brick and stone, with no structural wood, making it the first warehouse complex to be completely fireproof – a revolutionary design by civil engineer Jesse Hartley.
Goods from around the world were stored here, in the dark, cool vaults: from brandy to sugar, tea to tobacco. The complex is the largest single cluster of Grade 1 listed buildings anywhere in the UK.
Now it’s a buzzy tourist-friendly spot, with cafes, shops, bars and museums enough to warrant a day’s exploration in itself. Browse the shops lining the dock, or stroll across Hartley’s Bridge (to your left) and take a look at the excellent Merseyside Maritime Museum – chronicling the city’s maritime mercantile trade, with displays on the Battle of the Atlantic revealing Liverpool’s strategic importance in the Second World War.
On the third floor, history of another kind is unflinchingly recalled, in the International Slavery Museum. The museum explores the historical and contemporary aspects of slavery, the legacies of the slave trade (in Liverpool and beyond) and the contribution the west African communities have made to the city’s cultural life.
On the far side of The Strand (the city’s busy riverside artery) lies Liverpool ONE: a £1billion shopping and leisure complex funded by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estates. It’s a handsome hotch-potch of architectural styles surrounding a large grassy park where, in summer, city workers and youngsters comes to rest and play. Look for the porthole in the pavement, just outside John Lewis (by the sweeping curve of steps on Thomas Steers Way) and take a peek below the surface: you’re looking at the wall of Liverpool’s original dock (and the world’s first commercial wet dock) built in 1709.
In fact, you could say you’re looking at the birth of Liverpool, right under your feet. There are tours, should you wish to take a closer look.
If you want a bite to eat, there’s a generous terrace, overlooking the river, lined with restaurants.
Liverpool ONE‘s shops hold no great surprises, but its open aspects and sharp design rises it well above the ordinary – John Lewis and Debenhams department stores anchor either end of a network of streets lined with the usual chain store fashion, electronics, gifts and houseware stores.
Head up College Lane to the Bluecoat – the city’s oldest surviving building. The elegant Queen Anne-style building was originally a school when it opened in 1717. Now it’s an industrious arts centre, with sleek new gallery space, artists’ studios and independent craft stores. Its central courtyard is a great space to stop and enjoy a coffee. Do check the exhibitions (free) and, if you’re hungry, Upstairs at the Bluecoat does great, inexpensive lunches – try the southern fried Chicken goujons (£4.95), a Liverpool Underlined favourite.
From the Bluecoat you should head north, towards Bold Street, the city’s most eclectic retail thoroughfare, with international food shops, vintage clothes boutiques and cutting-edge design stores. On your left, the grand Neo-Grecian building is The Lyceum – home to the world’s first lending library, founded in 1757 (it moved to the Lyceum when it was built, 43 years later).
Take a look at FACT, about three-quarters of the way up, just off Ropewalks Square: the city’s thrilling home to digital art and emerging media. From robotics to disorienting sound and visual explorations there’s always something challenging and enjoyable to see here (as well as an in-house cafe with free wifi).
Thirsty? Have tea in Leaf (65-67 Bold Street) or Coffee in Bold Street Coffee (89 Bold Street) – the city’s best independent brewers. Something stronger? Have a beer in Bier (Newington Temple, halfway up, on the left). The tight network of streets running parallel and adjacent to Bold Street is known as the Ropewalks (rope manufacturers would line out their ropes to dry and tighten in the ruler-straight streets), and is now the epicentre of the city’s resurgent nightlife.
From the iconic ‘bombed out’ church (St Lukes – hit and partially destroyed on 5 May 1942 by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz, which wreaked so much devastation on Liverpool and its docks) it’s a hike up Hardman Street, a tatty thoroughfare of late night bars and student-friendly cheap eating places.
To your left, on Roscoe Street (about 100 metres up from Bold Street) resides one of the city’s best pubs, the diminutive Roscoe Head pub: a gleaming gem of a place, serving cask conditioned ales and hearty home-made food (try the Shephard’s pie for a fiver – with chips!). A regular winner of the Campaign for Real Ale’s pup of the year, this is one of the few remaining great old Liverpool boozers.
Keep walking up Hardman Street until you reach Hope Street (recently awarded the ‘Best Street in Britain’ by the Urbanism Society, whereupon you’ve two choices: turn left for the Catholic Cathedral (Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King), or the Anglican Cathedral (Liverpool Cathedral). Ideally, you should do both. We’d recommend the Anglican first (and don’t miss the sunken cemetery gardens of the old quarry, from which the cathedral seems to erupt like some unscalable sandstone cliff face.)
If you’re hungry – and by now you probably will be – both Cathedrals offer some of the best home-cooking in the city (and the cheapest too). The Anglican’s refectory, within the church itself, offers filling chicken and ham pie, fresh quiches and delicious puddings, and has a sunny terrace you can enjoy on warm days. The Catholic Cathedral’s refectory is housed in a sleek new, slate-lined building at the foot of the impressive steps – serving salads, a carvery option, delicious scouse, and plenty of tempting cakes.
Hope Street is home to many of the city’s great cultural institutions. When its new theatre is complete in 2014, the venerable Everyman will, once again, be the home for touring productions and local talent (specialising in, perhaps, the more socially conscious and hard-hitting works to the Playhouse’s broadly more populist programme).
The striking octagonal Catholic cathedral sits on the foundations of the proposed Lutyens behemoth and is the spiritual heart of the newly designated ‘Knowledge Quarter’ – home to much of the city’s two city-centre universities, the red-brick Victoria building was the inspiration behind the ‘red-brick’ group of universities (the six universities founded in England’s industrial cities). It’s home to a great little museum of curious exhibitions, fine art, archeological bits and bobs and a terrifying reproduction of a Victorian dentist’s surgery. Well worth a look (Victoria Museum and Gallery, free on Ashton Street) if only for its stunning entrance hall, with its gleaming tiles, oversized oak fireplace and impressive staircase (good cafe too).
In summer, nearby Abercrombie Square is a smashing place to enjoy a picnic – a trim rectangle of green surrounded by the Georgian facades of the university’s seminar rooms and offices. It’s as close as you’ll get to the quadrangles of Oxford this end of the country.
Walk back into town via Mount Pleasant and stop for coffee and cake at Cuthbert’s Bakehouse (103 Mount Pleasant) for home bakes and afternoon teas in this charming little tea shop.
At the foot of Mount Pleasant turn right towards Lime Street and the mighty Adelphi Hotel – once the grandest hotel north of London, with 601 bedrooms (the same number of rooms as Buckingham Palace). The hotel was modelled on the great liners and was the place to overnight before a transatlantic crossing. Its fortunes have dwindled somewhat since then, but its ballroom, with huge palms, marble pillars and chandeliers still evokes something of the Golden Age, and is a nice place for afternoon tea.
Look across the road at ‘Dickie Lewis’ – the naked statue, by Sir Jacob Epstein (actual title – Liverpool Resurgent) which once guarded the entrance to Liverpool’s finest department store, Lewis’s. The site will soon be reborn as ‘Central Village’ with shops, restaurants, a new ’boutique’ concept ODEON and self-catering apartment accommodation.
At the far end of Lime Street (named after the lime works which once scarred this corner of the coast), St George’s Hall is the city’s masterpiece of Neo-Grec architecture: a Parthenon for the ebullient Victorian city, which looks as self assured and imposing as ever.
To its west side, William Brown Street is lined with the city’s three greatest cultural houses.
The Walker Art Gallery, the home to the National Collection in the north, the Central Library (due to reopen after a major refurbishment, in 2013) home to the domed Picton Library with its galleried tiers of books modelled after the British Museum’s reading room, and the excellent World Museum Liverpool with its world-class ethnographic, Egyptology and ancient world exhibits.
From here, you’ll cross over Byrom Street (by the entrance to the old Mersey Tunnel, The Queensway: the longest underwater tunnel when it was built in 1934) and over to Dale Street – the busy heart of the city, home to council offices (in the French Renaissance style Municipal Buildings of 1860. Around the balcony are sixteen sandstone figures representing the arts, sciences and industries of Liverpool. In the centre of the building is a pyramid-shaped tower, with balconies, clocks and five bells which chime every quarter hour).
Continue down Dale Street and, at 6 Dale Street, just before you reach the town hall, you could have a coffee break at the excellent Moose Cafe.
There’s also a great couple of pubs along this stretch of Dale Street – Thomas Rigby’s (and the adjoining Lady of Mann) are popular drop-in spots for office workers after the day’s finished. If the weather’s nice, head down the alleyway to the side of Rigby’s for one of the best sun-trap beergarden spaces in the city (and, strangely, one of the only ones on this side of town).
The Town Hall, jutting out into Dale Street at its far end, is only used for ceremonial purposes and council meetings in is snug Council Chambers. It’s a handsome building, which once bookended Castle Street with Liverpool’s castle (which was demolished in the 18th century. The site’s now topped with C J Allen’s robust 1906 Queen Victoria Monument – the best of the city’s public realm sculptures.)
World Heritage Zone
We’re back in the UNESCO-designated World Heritage area now, the architectural fabric of which is unequalled anywhere in the world.
Granting World Heritage Status, UNESCO said this area was a supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain’s greatest global influence. Most visitors know of the waterfront’s importance, but the site actually consists of six distinctive historic areas, from Albert Dock through The Pier Head and up to Stanley Dock (the world’s largest brick-built warehouse, currently awaiting restoration), and up through the historic commercial districts, the RopeWalks area, and William Brown Street.
Water Street represents the city’s historic commercial districts, and is home to grand office buildings, palazzo-style banking halls and wonderful vistas down to the Liver Buildings and the glinting river beyond. Look up at the striking glass-fronted Oriel Chambers (14 Water Street) – a world first for Liverpool – the first metal-framed glass curtain-walled office block, built in 1864 by Peter Ellis, and much derided at the time.
Water Street ends at the Strand (so called because, before the dock system reclaimed the foreshore, this was where the Mersey once beached) and, ahead, the striking pinnacles and domes of the three graces: an iconic way to round off your day in our city. Call in at Tate Liverpool, the national collection of modern art in the north (Tate was originally funded by Liverpool sugar magnate, Henry Tate) for a final blast of culture, and a cuppa in its great little restaurant. Or, possibly, a pint in The Pumphouse.
We’d say you’ve earned it.