Top 10 places to visit in Liverpool
The Three Graces
Liverpool: city of culture, history and fun
Liverpool has been a settlement since the 1st century AD, when the first residents established a home on the banks of the river Mersey. It has been through many incarnations in it's long history but grew to prominence as a port from the 18th century onwards, as trade from the West Indies was added to that of Ireland and Europe. The first wet dock in the world was built in Liverpool on 1715. Many more wet and dry docks were added and soon Liverpool was an industrious, thriving and prosperous trading city: a cosmopolitan point of contact with the rest of the world. It was granted city status in 1880.
With the decline of the ship building industry and the move to larger, more efficient ports, Liverpool began a slow decline in the mid-20th century. In the latter half of the century investment in tourism refurbished the Albert Dock, which kick-started a revolution in the city's fortunes. Today there are as many impressive skyscrapers marking the skyline as there are historic churches and docks. The Liverpool of today has regained it's prosperity and polished it's impressive architecture. It is once again a thriving, vibrant and cosmopolitan city with an array of attractions to tempt any visitor, young or old.
This is a guide to the top 10, must-see attractions in the city.
1) The 'Three Graces' at the pierhead.
The river Mersey is the heartbeat of the city. No visit to Liverpool is complete without a visit to The Three Graces, three historic buildings on the waterfront within walking distance of the city centre. Most famous is the Royal Liver (pronounced Ly-ver) Building. It is topped by the Liver Birds, designed by Carl Bernard Bartels. Legend has it that one faces outward to the river to protect the sailors, and one faces inward to protect the city of Liverpool. Part of the legend states that if one of the Liver Birds flies away, the city of Liverpool would cease to exist! Since it's erection in 1907, sailors have been telling the time by it's clock faces.
Alongside this are the Cunard building (built for the famous shipping line, who are no longer tenants) and the Port of Liverpool Building. These 3 buildings form part of UNESCO's designated World Heritage Maritime Mercantile City.
The waterfront at night
2) The Albert Dock
Not far from the Three Graces, is the Albert Dock. Officially opened in 1846 by Prince Albert, the dock was the first of it's kind in the world: all brick, iron and stone, not the usual combustible wooden warehouses.
It is also the largest group of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK.
It was a centre for the city's shipping trade for 50 years, but as cargo ships began carrying larger and larger shipments, it became obsolete and was finally closed in 1972. For many years, the Albert dock was left to rack and ruin, it's wet docks silting up. In 1982, planning began to refurbish it and within 10 years it had become a hub for the city's tourism industry. Today, as well as the offices, shops, pubs and cafes that inhabit it's buildings, visitors there can also enjoy Tate Liverpool, the Beatles Story, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Slavery Museum.
You can wander along it's cobbled streets and see evidence of the history of this wonderful place, or catch sight of a sailing ship or two if you are lucky. You can also walk along the shore of the River Mersey and gaze across towards BIrkenhead, the Wirral and on a clear day, the Welsh mountains.
The Albert Dock is a short walk from the city centre and an ideal way to spend a day in Liverpool: wander around the shops, eat in the cafes and visit the museums.
The Albert Dock
3) Mersey Ferries
No visit to Liverpool would be complete without going on a ferry across the Mersey.Since 1150, when the Benedictine monks began the first service, there have been Mersey ferries. Before the advent of the railway, it was the only way to cross between Liverpool and the Wirral peninsula. Generations of Liverpudlians commuted by, or owed their livelihood to, these icons of Liverpool history. Even today, with the ease of using road tunnels underneath the river, the ferries remain popular with locals and tourists alike.
Today you can catch a ferry at the Pierhead to visit Birkenhead, Wallasey, the resort of New Brighton or simply to take a round trip across the river on a sunny day.
Find more details of sailings, ticket prices etc here.
The Mersey Ferry
4) The World Museum
Right in the heart of the city centre is the World Museum. Extensively refurbished in 2005, it now boasts a six storey atrium. The building itself was originally opened in 1860 as a museum and together with nearby St.George's Hall and the Walker Art Gallery, is a testament to Victorian architecture. Wandering out of the main city shopping centre to be faced with these three imposing Victorian buildings is an experience in itself.
Entry to the museum is free, though you will pay for some of the special exhibitions or shows. Exhibits vary from the planetarium, aquarium, Bug House, Treasure House, a natural history centre and the Western Discovery Centre. This is a very hands-on, family friendly museum, with plenty of objects to handle. Children of all ages will love this museum!
This is a very popular destination for visitors so expect it to be busy at peak periods such as the school holidays, however if you are visiting Liverpool this museum is an experience not to miss. Allow at least 2 hours to see the museum properly and more if you plan to go to show. To check out what's on, opening hours and prices etc, please see the website here.
The World Museum
5) St.George's Hall
Opposite Lime Street station in the heart of the city, is St.George's Hall, an icon of Liverpool. This impressive grade 1 listed building is regarded as one the first neo-classical buildings in the world. Alongside it's surrounding buildings, St.George's Hall is part of Liverpool's World Heritage site.
The Hall was built to house special events, such as concerts, in the city. Charles Dickens regularly held public readings from his works here.
The hall is open to the public every day except Christmas Day and New Year's Day, free of charge, between 10am and 4pm.
Until 1984, part of the building was used as a crown court. You can still visit the cells in the basement! Famous trials held here include Florence Maybrick in 1889 and William Herbert Wallace in 1931. In the days when Britain still executed criminals, many unfortunate souls were condemned to death here. Today, the courts sometimes double as the Old Bailey for film and TV series.
The Heritage Centre has the same opening days as the Hall itself, but is open 10am-5pm every day. A visit to the Heritage centre will allow you to see behind the scenes, including tours of the cells and judges' robing room, and the unique ventilation system, an early form of air conditioning.
View of St.George's Hall
6) Lennon and McCartney: 20 Forthlin Road and 'Mendips'
The city of Liverpool has many famous sons, but there are none more famous than the Beatles. As well as The Beatles Museum at the Albert Dock, you can go and visit 2 very special houses outside the city centre, both with key connections to members of the band.
The former home of Sir Paul McCartney, 20 Forthlin Road is now owned and run by the National Trust, as is 'Mendips', the former home of John Lennon.
A visit will allow you to follow in the footsteps of Lennon and McCartney and see where they composed some of their most famous songs. Both houses have been restored to the condition they were in when Lennon and McCartney were in residence (as closely as is possible).
The National Trust now run minibus tours of the homes seven days a week between 1 June and 1 November*, limited to 15 people at a time, so booking is essential. You will be picked up by minibus at Jury's Inn in the city centre. You can find more details here.
*tours run Weds-Sunday until the end of November too.
20 Forthlin Road
John Lennon's Liverpool home
7) The Magnificent Cathedrals
Liverpool is blessed with two wonderful cathedrals: one Anglican, one Catholic. For such an ancient city, the cathedrals are relatively young, both being built in the 20th century. However their youth does not affect their magnificence, and they are both well worth a visit.
The Anglican Cathedral
Built on St.James' Mount, the Anglican cathedral dominates the skyline for miles around. It is the longest cathedral in the world and the third largest in volume. Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (who also designed the iconic red telephone box!), the cathedral is Grade 1 listed.
The first part of the building, the Lady Chapel, was consecrated in 1910, however the First World War severely limited building work over the next few years.By 1924, the first section of the main body of the cathedral was complete. It was hoped the whole building would be finished by 1940 but again war, and bomb damage, caused delays. It was finally and completely finished in 1978.
When you visit, you will first be struck by the cathedral's size and power, dominating the streets of houses nearby. Inside is a wonderful, peaceful space, a mix of modern and gothic, with a beautiful stained glass Great West Window, the UK's largest church organ, and the high, wide gothic arches. A tour of the tower offers panoramic views of the city, and on the cathedral floor you can view a Tracey Emin sculpture.
The cathedral is free to enter but you can pay for an attractions ticket, for extras like a visit to the tower. Find further information about opening hours and prices here.
The Anglican Cathedral
The Catholic Cathedral
The Catholic cathedral offers a stark contrast to it's Anglican neighbour. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral on Mount Pleasant is also known locally as 'Paddy's Wigwam' or the 'Liverpool Funnel', thanks to it's circular shape and central tower.
Also a listed building (Grade II), the architect Frederick Gibberd won an international competition to become it's designer. One crucial condition of the design was that every member of the congregation should be able to see the altar, hence Gibberd's idea for a circular building. Started in 1962, it was completed in 1967. Soon after it opened it became obvious that there were some design flaws, as the roof leaked and mosaic tiles began to come away from the concrete ribs. Gibberd was sued by the cathedral authorities for £1.3 million. The cathedral has since undergone refurbishments, most recently in 2009.
The building is built in concrete with a Portland Stone cladding with 13 chapels around it's perimeter. Visitors entering the building will first see the central altar, underneath the tower, surrounded by rows of pews. The tower itself has windows of stained glass in yellow, blue and red, which cast beautiful colours of light into the interior.
An intriguing part of the design is that the crypt was built to a design by Lutyens, who was to have originally designed the catholic cathedral in a building scheme begin the first half of the 20th century. Due to escalating costs (original costs of £3 million rose to an estimated £27 million to complete) the design was shelved, but as the crypt was already under construction, it was completed in 1958. The present cathedral was later built on top of it. Today you can go and visit this crypt, designed completely differently to the modern cathedral above it.
To find out more about opening times and tours etc, click here.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
8) The Williamson Tunnels
In the Edge Hill area of Liverpool there is a labyrinth of tunnels winding there way to and from nowhere. These are the Williamson Tunnels, built in the early 1800s by eccentric businessman and philanthropist Joseph Williamson.
In 1805 Joseph Williamson acquired an area of land on an outcrop of sandstone in Edge Hill to build houses. The site had previously been used for small scale quarrying. It was the fashion of the time to have large gardens, but once built the houses would have had steep sloping land behind them, so Williamson had to construct arched terraces over these quarries in order to provide his houses with the necessary land. The houses themselves were not built to any design all varied in their construction and were often impractical to live in.
When the building work was complete, Williamson continued to employ his workmen,often in inexplicable tasks such as moving rubble from one place to another and back again.
His biggest project was to use his men to build a pointless labyrinth of brick arched tunnels in various directions, under the sandstone. There has been speculation about why he did this, with some people claiming these tunnels were to be the sanctuary for some strange religious sect he was part of, as they believed the world was about to end. Williamson's own explanation was that rather than give money to poor workers who were out of work, he wanted to employ them in some form or other, so that they could feel they had earnt it and maintain their self respect.
The tunnel building ceased in 1840 with Williamson's death. They were then used as rubbish chutes or dumps and filled up with rubble until the early 20th century, when soldiers from the Lancashire Territorial Forces Association tried to explore some of them. In 2002, after much excavation, the Joseph Williamson Society opened up the Stable Yard section of the tunnels. Today visitors can explore the south and double tunnels and see artefacts recovered from them. Speculate for yourself what the ultimate purpose of these tunnels might have been!
The tunnels are open throughout the year though there are some restrictions to opening times in winter. Adult tickets are £4.50, Children are £3 and concessions £4. A family ticket (2 adults and 3 children) £14. Please see the online booking page here for more details.
The Williamson Tunnels
9) Speke Hall
Begun in 1530, Speke Hall in Liverpool (not far from the airport) is one of Britain's finest examples of a wattle and daub Tudor building. Built on the banks of the River Mersey, long before the city became a sprawling metropolis, it once boasted a moat. Restored in the 19th century, it now contains a fascinating mix of Tudor design and Victorian Arts and Crafts.
Constructed by the Norris family, who were devout Catholics, the Hall incorporates a priest's hole and a small observation hole in the chimney so the family could tell who was approaching the house, and get their priest to safety if necessary. On your visit you can also see a thunderbox toilet! If you want to find out where the word 'eavesdrop' comes from, a visit to Speke Hall will provide the answer.
It is reported that visitors have encountered a ghost in the Blue Room. A dark shadowy figure is seen and some have even heard a voice whisper "Get out!". In the Tapestry Room, the ghostly figure of Mary Norris is supposed to haunt visitors, though no-one knows for sure who the lady is. Perhaps you will encounter other-worldly goings on during your visit!
Owned by the National Trust, visitors can enjoy tours of the house, a walk in the gardens, a visit to the café, as well as a children's playground, a pleasant walk alongside the River Mersey and a fine view of the runways of Liverpool John Lennon airport from the embankment. Despite being so close to the airport and the city centre, the Hall is still a peaceful retreat from the city and a reminder of another era.
You can find more details, as well a opening hours and admission prices, here.
Speke Hall: A Tudor masterpiece
10) The Queensway Tunnel
No visit to Liverpool is complete without a visit to one of the Mersey tunnels, indeed you may well drive through one to get to the city. Today there are two tunnels running under the Mersey: the Queensway Tunnel and the Kingsway Tunnel.
Both tunnels are a feat of engineering.
Opened in 1934 by King George V, the Queensway tunnel was then the largest underwater tunnel in the world, a title it laid claim to for 24 years. Both ventilation buildings on either side are grade II listed. More than 1.2 million tons of earth, rock and clay were excavated to build it and 17 workers lost their lives in it's construction.
The tunnel has been used for scenes in many TV and film productions, most recently for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 and Fast and Furious part 6.
You can take a tour behind the scenes to learn about their construction, visit the control room and walk underneath the roadway, as well as see the giant ventilation fans working. This is a masterpiece of 20th century engineering.
Tours take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Please find more details here.
The entrance to the Queensway Tunnel
Liverpool also boasts a bustling, modern shopping centre, Liverpool One, fine independent and vintage shops, two world famous football clubs: Everton and Liverpool, the Super Lambanana, and the Liverpool Big Wheel. In addition, there are plenty of theatres and clubs to visit, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic for world class music. You can dine on any world cuisine and get around the city centre easily just by walking, as it is quite compact. Liverpool is one of the most interesting and vibrant cities in the UK and well worth a visit - I hope you enjoy this wonderful city whenever you go!