Restored after more than two decades of dereliction and dilapidation, the Festival Gardens have resurrected the Oriental gardens of the Liverpool Garden Festival (1984) and transformed this south Liverpool wasteland into a thriving urban parkland again.
Within sight of the Mersey and a short walk from Otterspool Promenade, the Festival Gardens’ manicured lawns and serpentine paths are popular with runners and cyclists but serve families and couples intent on a picnic too.
The park includes the restored Japanese and Chinese gardens, several large ponds and woodland trails (with stunning views over the river), and is home to delicate orchids, aquatic plants and handsome pagodas, as well as being a haven for wildlife.
A number of paths into wooded areas take in several vantage points, which afford good views across the Wirral and Snowdonia. A mighty flight of steps present a greater test and provide a formidable exercise tool. Health Walks depart from the gardens every Thursday.
There are few amenities to speak of in the Festival Gardens – a cafe based in a double decker has departed while portable toilets are sometimes available – but a pub, the Britannia Inn, is about five minutes’ walk from the gardens.
On a sunny day a walk down the promenade by the Mersey to the Festival Gardens is a pleasant way to escape the bustle of the city. Lark Lane – with its dozens of bars and restaurants – is a ten minute walk from the gardens. It’s generally open from around 9am to dusk, but opening hours can be erratic.
More recently the Festival Gardens have suffered from a lack of attention after the developer Langtree struggled to make anything of the site. For the time being the Festival Gardens is cared for by volunteers with limited funds available.
The council bought the Gardens in 2015 and have promised to make them into a ‘vibrant outdoor classroom’, with room for new-build housing. More recently an architect announced plans to build a new Mersey ferry terminal at the site, alongside a waterpark, cultural venues, shops and restaurants. Those who know the former garden festival site and its recent history will chalk up another pie-in-the-sky plan as the impressive site slowly moulders.
Visiting the Festival Gardens
The Festival Gardens are a short walk from St Michael’s station or you can stroll from the city centre in around an hour – entrance is via Riverside Drive or the Mersey promenade. The 82 is the most reliable bus to take from Liverpool city centre. Get off at Lark Lane and head west.