England

City break in Liverpool | cutting-edge art, Georgian heritage and Beatlemania

While the 60s may have brought contemporary fame to Liverpool in the form of pop music, it’s a city that’s always had a fascinating past. Discover its cultural gems and modern hot spots on an exciting city break...

When I first approached the imposing façade of Liverpool Cathedral, I couldn’t help but think that it looked more like a factory than a place of worship; the cavernous yet beautiful sandstone interiors and modern artwork confirmed its unusualness. Taking a whopping 75 years to construct, it’s possibly the coolest church I’ve ever been to.

Liverpool Cathedral is just one of the many examples of how this northern city has managed to turn something classic and traditional into something cutting-edge and contemporary. This eclectic merging of old with new is what makes Liverpool such a great city break destination.

Thanks to massive amounts of urban regeneration, a burgeoning arts scene and a healthy scattering of hip cafés, Liverpool has become a real hotspot for the 21st century traveler.

SEE | heritage sites and modern marvels in Liverpool

Once the second city of the British Empire and a major port for transatlantic cruises, Liverpool is absolutely teeming with intriguing attractions that showcase both its prestigious past and its hip present.

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Historic dockyards and bombed out churches

As a gritty northern city, Liverpool definitely has its fair share of history. It’s thought to be home to the most Edwardian architecture outside of Bath, as well as the most Grade II listed buildings beyond London (the landmark Liver Building and the regal St. George’s Hall being two of the most iconic). This mass of stunning architecture and some pretty well-preserved dockyards have helped make it a popular filming location, most recently for one of my favourite TV series, Peaky Blinders.

St Luke’s Bombed Out Church

I’ve already mentioned Liverpool Cathedral as a must-see heritage spot but just a five minute walk from it is another. Liverpool was severely bombed during WWII and while evidence of this has now all but disappeared, one particular ruin remains. St. Luke’s Bombed Out Church near Bold Street is exactly what it’s named — an eerie yet moving shell of a building that’s been impeccably preserved as a touching war memorial.

Royal Albert Dock

A trip to Liverpool also has to involve heading to the Royal Albert Dock, once one of the busiest ports in the UK whose period buildings now make up the city’s prime culture hub. Have a wander round the intriguing Merseyside Maritime Museum (it has a great exhibit on the Titanic) before checking out some of the dock’s more modern attractions…

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Tate Liverpool

Lovers of art can’t pass up the chance to check out the latest exhibitions at the Tate Liverpool that’s also found at the Royal Albert Dock. Just like its London cousin, it’s filled with obscure exhibits from both UK and global creatives. My favourites are the bright Mondrians and stylish Andy Warhols (including his iconic self portrait), but you’ll find visiting — and often very odd — works by up-and-coming artists on the top floor.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Keeping with the theme of churches, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is worth a peek if you’re arriving into nearby Liverpool Lime Street station. It’s another building I couldn’t believe was a church due to its space-age exteriors that lend it the effect of having been brought back in time.

Crosby Beach

For even more modern art, head to Crosby Beach (around 25 minutes north of Liverpool). As well as being a beautiful stretch of sand, it’s also home to Antony Gormley’s striking ‘Another Time’ sculpture installation that’s made up of 100 figures staring out to sea.

If you like the sound of Antony Gormley’s incredible beach sculptures, the most magical time to view them is at sunset when they cast huge shadows across the sand and sea.

Hotels in Liverpool

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STAY | converted warehouse hotels and a Beatles themed abode in Liverpool

Whether you want to refresh your Beatles knowledge from the comfort of your bed or pamper yourself at a spa, Liverpool has both classic and quirky contemporary hotels covered.

Classic | Warehouse interiors and rum cocktails

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Named after the fateful ocean liner that was registered in Liverpool but never visited it, the luxurious Titanic Hotel is located in a converted warehouse in Stanley Dock. It’s simply bursting with original features like high ceilings, exposed brickwork and metal support columns, yet there’s nothing remotely stuffy about the Titanic Hotel.

Spacious, light-filled rooms feature minimalist colour schemes and plush furnishings, while the downstairs Stanley Bar and Grill boasts various cool seating options and an open kitchen where you can watch (and smell) hearty British cuisine being created. Integrated within the space is the amazing Rum Bar that stocks heady bottles sourced from Cuba to the Philippines.

Titanic Hotel Liverpool

Top rated
Liverpool, 2.8 km to ACC Liverpool
8.9 Excellent (2101 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Wellness centre / Spa
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Classic | Decadent extras in a heritage setting

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Liverpool’s DoubleTree by Hilton offering may be comfortable and contemporary as is the brand’s standard, however, it’s housed inside one of the city’s most historic buildings. Formerly Liverpool’s Conservative Club, its grand features include ornate Corinthian columns, intricately tiled floors and high ceilings with beautiful coving.

It’s the subtle extras that really make DoubleTree by Hilton Liverpool stand out, from the decadent afternoon tea that can be enjoyed in the glorious 19th century Library Lounge to the freshly baked cookies you recieve when you arrive. You’ll also find a wonderful spa — complete with aroma steam room and hydrotherapy pool — that’s just £15pp to access.  

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa Liverpool

Top rated
Liverpool, 1.3 km to ACC Liverpool
8.8 Excellent (748 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Wellness centre / Spa
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Contemporary | musical madness at Beatles themed Hard Day’s Night

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Whether you’re a Beatles lover or not, a stay at the Hard Day’s Night hotel is an absolute treat. Located in the so-called ‘Beatles Quarter’ of Liverpool and nestled right next door to the famous Cavern Club, it’s a hotel that’s completely themed around the iconic Fab Four.  

All of the hotel’s 100+ rooms are uniquely inspired by the pop legends, with bespoke Beatles artwork, cool retro-inspired décor and even rare memorabilia (including John Lennon’s baby grand piano) in some of the pricier suites. When you’re not soaking up the musical atmosphere in your room, head downstairs for a drink at Bar Four where the cocktails are appropriately themed around the band’s greatest hits.

Hotel Hard Days Night

Liverpool, 1 km to ACC Liverpool
8.4 Very good (6338 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.4 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Restaurant
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Contemporary | cosy Scandi vibes and contemporary luxuries

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Despite being housed in a gorgeous Venetian style building dating back to the 1860s, the decor and vibe of Hope Street Hotel is far from old-fashioned. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported out of Liverpool and into some chic Scandinavian lodge when you step into your room.  

Light-wood flooring and furnishings, a pared back colour scheme and natural touches like mini potted plants create a cosy hygge feel in Hope Street’s spacious rooms, while bathrooms are sleek, modern and stocked with REN toiletries. Make the most of the complimentary DVDs and unlimited popcorn or head out to one of the many surrounding after-dark attractions, including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic directly opposite.

Hotel Hope Street

Top rated
Liverpool, 1.3 km to ACC Liverpool
8.9 Excellent (2152 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Wellness centre / Spa
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EAT | Independent eateries and local Liverpudlian dishes

Never have I been to a city where there’s quite as many independent restaurants as Liverpool. As well as dozens of restaurants spanning multiple countries and cuisines, there’s also opportunities for trying local gastronomical delights…

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Scouse stews

While you’ll have no trouble finding a good burger joint or taco restaurant in the city, more traditional food is harder to come by. One of Liverpool’s homegrown dishes is scouse, a hearty hot pot stew made from beef or lamb and rustic root vegetables.

Tuck into a bowl of it at the Baltic Fleet pub accompanied by beetroot pickle and a chunk of bread to soak up the juices, or savour Bold Street’s Maggie Mays’ bargain (but no less tasty) version for just £6.

Heritage restaurant with a modern menu

If you’re happy to settle for a restaurant with a historic venue but modern menu, try out the ambient Pen Factory that once produced writing implements for the Lang Pen Company in the 1800s but now specialises in seasonal European tapas. It has a particularly lovely courtyard garden.

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Independents and plenty of vegan offerings

Whether you’ve got a craving for Chinese or really fancy some South American grub, there’s no shortage of contemporary, homegrown restaurants in Liverpool. You’ll find many of them on cool Bold Street or Lark Lane as well as scattered around Hope Street — and there’s something to satisfy any type of craving.

Etsu Sushi

If sushi floats your boat like it does mine, Etsu is a good option. Its light interiors feel authentically Japanese and the menu has all my favourites on it, from succulent yakitori and fragrant chicken katsu to California rolls stuffed with marinated eel and spicy tuna.

Alma de Cuba

Latin American enthusiasts should also put Alma de Cuba on their list for its lively atmosphere, tropical decor and incredible inventive dishes like heavenly aubergine and manchego pappardelle pasta.

Vegan and vegetarian food

Veggies and vegans are also well catered for in Liverpool with places like Mowgli, a sublime Indian eatery specialising in small sharing plates, and The Egg, a cosy cafe in a Victorian warehouse that doubles up as a tiny but striking art gallery.

One of Liverpool’s best kept foodie secrets is the reasonably new Baltic Market, the city’s first street food hub where every stall is a local eatery. My top picks are the crunchy spring rolls at VIỆTNOM and the halloumi fries from Hafla Hafla.

DRINK | traditional pubs and chic gin bars in Liverpool

Like most UK cities and towns, you’ll never be far away from a classic cosy pub or a chain of your favourite sleek cocktail bar in Liverpool. The city also offers a few more inventive drinking holes that are bound to tickle your tastebuds.

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Oh Me Oh My

A good cuppa and a natter is a favourite pastime of Liverpudlians. Oh Me Oh My (housed in a grand former bank building) is just one of many spots perfect for afternoon tea. Its large hall is made cosy by farmhouse style furnishings and strings of pretty fairy lights, while the menu includes a choice of loose leaf blends accompanied by sweet and savoury treats. The banana and toffee eclairs are particularly moreish and they don’t scrimp on the cream filling, either.

Doctor Duncan’s

If you’d rather a refreshing pint, pubs are in abundance in Liverpool. I like Doctor Duncan’s on St. John’s Lane for its history and welcoming atmosphere. It’s named after the city’s first medical officer and is located in a beautiful Victorian building that’s full of period features. Nab a seat by the fire in winter with one of the pub’s ever-changing tap ales.

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The Peacock

You’ll be glad to know that Liverpool’s indie restaurant scene also extends to its bars, too. The Peacock is found in the regal Ropewalks neighbourhood but its cool interiors and bench-style seating tends to attract a young crowd. Unique cocktails like the exotically flavoured Montego Slay and throwback disco DJ sets combine to make it a great venue for special occasions or simply somewhere to let your hair down.

Jenever

Gin aficionados like myself may prefer Jenever on Hope Street that’s got oodles of charm and over 100 types of gin on its menu, from fruity infusions like Spit Roast Pineapple Gin – incredible! – to more traditional Bathtub. I’d recommend booking onto one of their gin tastings (only £25) where you’ll learn lots about the popular spirit and get to mix four unique G+T’s.

LEAF

Trendy LEAF on Bold Street is my personal favourite, though, as not only do they have gorgeous interiors with botanical decorations, but a wonderful selection of exotic and traditional drinks. Tea lovers can even have a brew in G+T form if you opt for the fruity champagne cassis tea infused gin.

Locals like to spend their weekends on hip Lark Lane that’s well-loved for its mix of friendly bohemian venues like South American Que Paso Cantina and gastropub the Lodge (great for dog spotting).

DO | shopping expeditions and musical exhibitions in Liverpool

Whether you want to walk around an elegant Victorian park or experience ‘A Day in the Life’ of one of the Fab Four, Liverpool boasts a whole host of classic and contemporary experiences.

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Take a stroll around Sefton Park

I always like to fit in a nice walk when I visit a new city — and Sefton Park is a gorgeous spot. Fringed by grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings, it was once Liverpool’s premium pleasure park. Wander around its boating lake before finding the stunning Sefton Park Palm House, a grade II listed glass house filled with plants and surrounded by statues of famous explorers.

Shop for curios on Lark Lane

Located near Sefton Park is this glorious old street that’s a real haven for fans of the weird and wonderful. Lark Lane’s pretty buildings are fit to bursting with independent boutiques, vintage clothing stores and quirky cafes. My must-see spot is Larks, an eclectic retro homeware shop that’s a treasure trove of funky vintage furnishings and quirky accessories.

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Update your wardrobe at Liverpool ONE

If you want a slightly more modern retail therapy experience, the sleek streets of the outdoor Liverpool ONE shopping complex are a must. Opened just over a decade ago, it’s located halfway between Liverpool Lime Street Station and the waterfront. You’ll find all the typical high street stores as well as some good chain restaurants for a quick drink or bite to eat.

Indulge your inner popstar on a Beatles tour

Okay, so the Beatles may have blessed the city with their tunes back in the swinging 60s but some of the huge range of Fab Four themed attractions are more recent additions. The Beatles Story Museum at Albert Dock is full of fun exhibits featuring rare photos and memorabilia of the foursome. You can also book onto a walking, taxi or bus tour of other key sights like Penny Lane, the Cavern Club and Strawberry Field.  

If you’re walking around the Cavern Quarter during your Beatles tour, look out for the wacky sculpture on the corner of Tithebarn Street and Hatton Garden. Named the lambanana, it’s a cross between a lamb and a banana that formed part of a citywide installation when Liverpool was European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Jemima Forbes Author

Liverpool undeniably has a certain buzz to it. You’ll be hard-pressed to meet a Liverpudlian (or adopted one) who isn’t proud of their city. Despite visiting on a grey, rainy day, its creative vibe was definitely contagious and made me want to return again soon to discover even more of its unconventional wonders.