Exploring Liverpool to a Mersey Beat


By Hilarie Larson


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Hilarie Larson and musician John Fiddler, co-founder of Medicine Head, talk about music and the musical and cultural heritage of Liverpool. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Spreaker, Podbean, or SoundCloud.

Liverpool – the name conjures images of a bustling port city, a place where, for some, dreams began as they sailed for newer worlds. It’s the home of the proud and friendly “Scouser” with a soundtrack dubbed ‘The Mersey Beat.”

After our adventures in Manchester, we realized we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore nearby Liverpool. So, with yet another ‘musical excuse,’ we boarded the train at Piccadilly Station and, like many before us, followed the trail of the first inter-city rail line to Liverpool.

The train pulled in under the mammoth arched glass and iron roof of Lime Street Station. Initially opened in 1836, it’s now the world’s oldest grand terminus still in operation.

As we made our way to the exit on that busy Saturday afternoon, the sky opened up in welcome, ensuring the search for our nearby hotel was a hurried one. Finally, with brollies in hand and a bit of help from a friendly policeman, we arrived unscathed and relatively dry, excited to wrap our heads around this exciting city.

The name Liverpool has a rather inglorious origin. The local dialect christened the small fishing village on the banks of the Mersey ‘lifer pol’, which translated to ‘muddy puddle.’

The population grew slowly – Liverpool didn’t make it into the Doomsday book of 1086 – reaching only 1000 residents by the 14th century. Inhabited by fishermen and tradespeople, it was a primary trading port of iron and wool.

Liverpool truly began to gain prominence in the 17th century due to the colonization of the Americas and West Indies. Many ‘Liverpudlians’  grew wealthy through trade, primarily sugar, tobacco, and, unfortunately, slaves. They erected grand buildings and enjoyed the ‘fashionable’ life as Liverpool became the world’s fastest-growing city.

Workers arrived from Ireland and Wales to work on the docks. By the 19th century, primarily due to the growth of the cotton industry in Manchester, Liverpool was the country’s 3rd most important port. In 1851, more than 300,000 were living and working in the city, including a large contingent of migrants from Shanghai and Hong Kong who worked for the Blue Funnel Shipping Line.

In 1880 Liverpool was officially a city. The end of the U.S. Civil War and the demise of the slave trade reduced the amount of port traffic. By the turn of the 20th century, the increase in passenger liners revived the economy.

Liverpool’s strategic location, port, and manufacturing plants became a prime target during World War II. In May of 1941, almost 4000 residents died in 80 German air raids, known today as the Blitz.

The 1970s and 80s were not kind to the Midlands and North of England, but Liverpool was reborn out of that recession period. The redevelopment of the dock area and the creation of museums exploring local history earned Liverpool the honor of being dedicated the European Capital of Culture in 2000.

As with our earlier exploration of Manchester, we knew the moment we arrived, we’d need to pick and choose from our lengthy ‘must see’ list.

But we began with the principal reason for our visit – music.

After a fabulous dinner of Spanish tapas and wine at Lunya, we walked down Bold Street through the bustling Saturday throng to Jimmy’s. Down in the basement music venue, we rocked to the blues tunes of Buck & Evans (Chris Buck has garnered worldwide accolades for his monster guitar licks – from likes of Slash, no less.)

Sunday mornings called for an authentic English breakfast, after which we moved to the Aloft Hotel to commence our serious tourist agenda.

We began by walking down Dale and Water Streets to the area known as Pier Head. If you Google Liverpool, chances are the first image in the results will be of the riverfront and some awe-inspiring buildings. Known as ‘The Three Graces,” they were conceived to symbolize Liverpool’s prestige and commercial importance.

Constructed in 1911 to house the Royal Liver Assurance Group, the Liver Building is synonymous with the city. If you look up to the top of the two domed towers, you’ll see Liverpool’s mascots – the Liver Birds. One of these mythical creatures looks out over the River Mersey, suggesting a watchful sailor’s wife awaiting his return. The other gazes towards the city. Some say this represents the sailor longing for his home, but others suggest he’s only checking to see if the pubs are open!

Next door is the Cunard Building, headquarters for the famous cruise ship company, built between 1914 and 1917.

And the third Grace is the Port of Liverpool Building dating to 1904-07. Elaborate inside and out with decorations that emphasize the links between Liverpool and the then vast British Empire.

Much newer is the Mersey Ferry headquarters. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit a ‘Ferry, Cross the Mersey’ (I dare you not to hear that song in your head!) this trip, but it’s now first on the Next-Visit list.

Like any good Liverpool tourist, we took our photo with the larger-than-life bronze Beatle’ statue that highlight’s this waterfront area. This was the perfect prelude to our next stop, the British Music Experience.

Located in the former luggage hall of the Cunard Building, ‘experience’ is no exaggeration. This vibrant exhibit celebrates Britain’s unmistakable influence on the world of modern popular and rock music through a multi-sensory adventure. The journey from ‘skittle’ to The Spice Girls and beyond comes to vivid life through clever use of light, color, sound, video, and memorabilia.

The Museum of Liverpool proved to be one of our favorite stops. The modern building is suitably impressive, reminiscent of a grand ocean liner on the open sea. The open and airy multi-story lobby is equally dramatic with its cool, white interior and magnificent, curved staircase.

You’ll find three floors of galleries that tell the story of Liverpool from a small settlement to a driving force during the Industrial Revolution. Some of our favorite exhibits included “The Great Port,” which gives you an overview of Liverpool’s rise, and “The Global City’ focusing on the expansive British Empire and the city’s Chinatown.

‘History Detectives,’ located on the first floor, guides you through Liverpool’s history through the eyes of archaeologists as they unlock 10,000 years of history.

Telling the city’s story through ‘Liverpudlian’s’ daily life, ‘The People’s Republic’ fills the top floor gallery. Walk through Victorian Liverpool in the recreated ‘Court Housing’ exhibit and imagine how working people lived during the 1870s. Enjoy the recreated shop fronts, personal mementos, and stories of residents, past and present, to gain an accurate understanding of this fascinating city.

And, if you do nothing else during your visit, stop and admire the incredible vista of Pier Head and the Mersey from the show-stopping viewing window in the Skylight Gallery. Of course, don’t miss the life-size replica of the Liver Bird, too.

We finished our first day at the nearby Royal Albert Docks. When they were dedicated by the Prince Regent in 1846, who could envision that this sprawling achievement of the Industrial era would still be used today. Instead of warehousing goods, the refurbished red-brick buildings are home to restaurants, shops, and museums, including the Tate Liverpool and the Maritime and International Slavery Museums.

A leisurely and chilly walk back to our hotel took us past 30 James Street, formerly known as Albion House and home to the White Star Line of Titanic fame, then along historic Castle Street. But our Liverpool discovery had only begun.

Our next exploration took us back to the Albert Dock and an enjoyable visit to the most extensive exhibit dedicated to the Fab Four, the ‘Beatles Story.’ It was as if we’d stepped through the time machine as we peaked into recreations of the offices of Mersey Beat magazine, the Cavern Club, Abbey Road Studios, and the Yellow Submarine. This atmospheric, immersive tribute to the band included original costumes and instruments and covered their entire career. Be sure to take advantage of the audio guide, which enhances the experience with exclusive interviews.

After a quick stop for a glass of wine at nearby Lunyalita, we walked along the streets of Chinatown, stopping at the landmark ‘Bombed Out Church.’ Still stunning, the Church of St. Luke, completed in 1831, was a victim of an incendiary bomb during the Blitz of May 1941. Purchased by the city in the 1960s as “A place of rest and tranquility,” it is now used for open-air markets, concerts, and events, standing as a symbol of Liverpool’s strength through adversity.

We found ourselves at the top of Bold Street. By day, it’s a shoppers’ delight, especially if you seek the unusual, international and creative. Every type of cuisine is available, as are traditional pubs and cafes. If nightlife is on your itinerary, venture no further.

Searching for a cozy spot for a ‘cuppa,’ a stop at Leaf fit the bill, and then, refueled with tea and cake, we made our way home through the vast shopping quarter known as Liverpool One. This open-air complex provides 42 acres of retail, commercial and public space. Each of the leading stores were designed by different architects, avoiding the cookie-cutter appearance of many urban centers, and the whole complex blends seamlessly with the surrounding area.

Suddenly, it was our last day in Liverpool. We needed a Beatle’s fix, so we headed to Mathews Street and the Liverpool Beatles Museum.

The exhibit is based on the collection of the ultimate ‘MopTop’ insider Neil Aspinall. Since school days, he knew many of the members, later becoming their road manager and eventually head of Apple Corp. Over those years, he amassed over 1000 incredible artifacts and personal effects of the Fab Four.

Covering 3 floors of a building located next door to the famous Grapes Pub, it’s an entertaining and personal look at the band. Organized by Roag Aspinall-Best, brother of Pete Best (the Beatles original drummer), it’s an insightful and intimate highlight for any Beatles fan.

A saunter along music-filled Mathews Street, a visit to the oldest pub in central Liverpool, Ye Hole in Ye Wall, and a delish Indian meal wrapped up our whirlwind trip to Liverpool. But, with so much left to experience in this friendly, open city, we will return!

How to Get There:
Liverpool is easily accessed by rail from all over Britain. Local John Lennon Airport services many European cities, and Manchester International Airport is a short train ride away.

Getting Around:
Central Liverpool is easy to cover by foot. The Merseyrail trains provide underground service with 4 centrally located stops in the city center. With rail coverage of the greater Merseyside area, their Day Saver tickets are a great way to venture out to smaller towns and villages.

Where We Stayed:
Premier Inn, Hanover Street
Across from Liverpool One, this popular UK chain offers clean, comfortable accommodation and friendly service.

Aloft Liverpool, Number 1, North John Street
Located in the renovated Royal Insurance Building (1904), this hotel boasts many of the original fittings of this heritage structure. The vast lobby is impressive with its domed ceiling and stained glass window and now hosts a bar and restaurant. Our room was large, the bed cozy, and we couldn’t have asked for a better location to explore Liverpool.

Where we Ate and Drank:
Lunya, Catalonian Deli, Bar & Restaurant, 55 Hanover Street, Liverpool One

This small, hospitable, family-owned restaurant offers authentic Catalan and Spanish cuisine. Ian Jackson, GM, and Sommelier has composed a perfect wine list covering Spain’s many regions. Along with gracious service, he has some great wine stories to share.

Lunyalita, Royal Albert Dock (next door to the Beatles Story)
A sister establishment to Lunya, offering beautiful views of the historic Royal Albert Dock. Stop by for a glass of wine in the cozy downstairs bar or enjoy a meal on the terrace or upstairs dining room.

Barton Rouge, 26 Exchange Street East
Open, elegant, and inviting dining area and a dizzying array of Indian cuisines make this a local’s choice. Just follow your nose!

Piccolino, 14a Cook Street
We spied this restaurant as we journeyed out one day and returned for dinner. Gracious surroundings and reasonably priced modern spin on Italian classics.

Leaf, 65-67 Bold Street
“Born out of love of tea and music,” this welcoming teahouse/restaurant has a slightly ’70s, hippy vibe that will warm your heart. Long tables mix with quiet spots where you can enjoy a selection of loose-leaf teas served in charming glass pots. Pair with something home-baked or have a meal from their extensive menu, including small-bites, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.

Jimmy’s 130 Bold Street
Opposite the Bombed Out Church, this restaurant/pub/club serves up their own line of beers and ciders, BBQ, Sunday Roasts, and a Bottomless Brunch. In addition, the downstairs music venue showcases a variety of artists from around the area and abroad.

Baltic Fleet, 33a Wapping
A proper, 19th-century workers pub near the docks serving real ales, local craft beers, and gins. Enjoy the cozy fire in winter or outdoor terrace in summer.

Ye Hole in Ye Wall, 4 Hackins Hey
The oldest pub in the city center, the Ye Hole in Ye Wall, dates to 1726 and was originally a coaching inn. Filled with stained glass, warm wood, and brass that glows in the firelight, there’s no better place to enjoy a pint or two while soaking up Liverpool history. And yes, there are ghosts.

Special thanks to Marketing Liverpool for their help in planning this adventure. All opinions and descriptions are the authors.

Hilarie Larson’s passion for wine began in the 1970’s while in the European hospitality industry. In 2003 she began her wine career in earnest in her native British Columbia, Canada, working at several Okanagan Valley wineries. Along the way, she acquired her certificate from the Court of Master Sommelier, worked for an international wine broker and as ‘Resident Sommelier’ for wineries in Washington State and California. Hilarie’s greatest joy is spreading the gospel of wine, food and travel. In addition to her own blogs at www.NorthWindsWineConsulting.com, she contributes articles to a number of online publications. She was honored to be awarded the 2013 Emerging Writer Scholarship from the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, for whom she is now the Administrative Director.



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Hilarie’s greatest joy is spreading the gospel of wine, food and travel.

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