Southport is a curious place. At heart it’s a traditional Victorian seaside resort, with a fine promenade, a family-friendly clutch of attractions, and a handsome, tree-lined parade of shops (complete with fancy wrought-iron awnings). But pay a visit and, chances are, you’ll feel a strange sense of displacement. Something’s missing.
Then you realise. It’s the sea.
The town’s Grade II listed pier is the second longest in Britain. It has to be, as the area has one of the biggest tidal ranges in the world, at 18 meters at spring tide. All of which means that you’ve a long way to walk before you can paddle your feet in the Irish Sea (actually, take a tip from us, don’t bother – keep on the pier, and play on the vintage penny arcades at its head. Tired feet? Take the pier tram.)
The shoreline to the south of the resort comprises of extensive sand dunes, with the Ainsdale range designated a National Nature Reserve, home to local fauna such as the natterjack toad and sand lizard.
The town itself contains examples of Victorian architecture and town planning on Lord Street, a handsome stretch of civic pride, with extensive tree planting, fountains and pavilions along its length.
Summer’s days are best spent at Pleasureland (Marine Drive), a decent fair ground with a handful of thrilling rides (free entry, pay per ride).
The town’s marine lake is a pleasant place for a stroll, with boats to hire, and a model railway/village offering a kid-friendly diversion for an hour or so.
Next to the lake, Silcock’s Arcade (Marine Drive) is replete with all manner of video games, penny falls, teddy pickers and the like. A good rainy day option.
Culture lovers should visit the town’s decent gallery, The Atkinson (Lord Street – open Tue-Sat), with its collection of 7th-20th century art featuring works by Ford Madox-Brown, Sickert and Lowry), or the new cultural centre, The Atkinson Arts Centre, comprising the Southport Arts Centre, Botanic Gardens Museum and Southport’s Central Library, into one regional cultural centre (opening May 2013).
Quirk fans should visit the National Lawnmower Museum (106-114 Shakespeare Street) – more interesting than you might think (although not massively more).
The largest park in Southport, Hesketh Park (Park Crescent) wraps around a large lake, and features play areas, a mini golf course and children’s train in a woodland setting. There are numerous nature trails, a large Aviary and decent cafe.
For food, try The Warehouse (30 West Street) for modern British cooking with flair, or Bistro Verite (7 Liverpool Road), a cosily authentic French bistro. Or grab some fish and chips at Harpers (29 Eastbank Street) and eat them on the prom.
The busiest place in the evening is the Ocean Plaza entertainment complex (cinema, bowls, restaurants).
Churchtown, to the north of Southport, is a quaint Lancashire village with excellent pubs. The village dates back to the Domesday Book and is a designated conservation area. Good gift shops, and Botanic Garden.