I’d read many reports about how Liverpool has undergone major regeneration over the last few years, stimulated in part by it being the European City of Culture in 2008. I decided it was about time to check the changes for myself, having previously visited during the bleak days of the 1990s when industrial disputes and social decay blighted the city. Could it really be so different now?
I’d also been intrigued to read that the Champs-Élysées in Paris was modelled on Lord Street in Southport, the traditional seaside resort on the outskirts of Liverpool.
Hence I decided to couple my Liverpool break with a visit to Southport to follow up on this story and to see whether this town’s Victorian charms had survived recent waterfront developments.
I stayed at a hotel close to the Albert Dock, a good starting point for strolling around Liverpool’s central attractions. My highlights are listed according to the route I followed along the waterfront, and then inland to Liverpool ONE and the cathedrals, before returning to my hotel. Southport is a 40 minute drive away.
My Highlights of Liverpool and Southport
1. The Wheel of Liverpool by the Echo Arena at the south entrance to the Albert Dock. The 196ft high wheel, with 42 capsules, gives great views over the dockland area and across the River Mersey. A ten minute three revolution ride costs £6 for Senior citizens (a 15% discount).
2. The Beatles Story Exhibition at the entrance to the Albert Dock. Well I couldn’t visit Liverpool without a nostalgic look back at the group that provided background music to my teenage life. This exhibition promises visitors “an atmospheric journey through the lives, times, culture and music of The Beatles”. Seniors get a 25% discount on entry tickets. Also, call in to the Cavern Club in Mathew Street and enjoy an afternoon or evening drink listening to 60’s music – it’s free admission most of the time.
3. Albert Dock complex of regenerated dock buildings and warehouses. Wander around the quayside visiting a wide range of art and craft shops and restaurants. This forms part of the Liverpool UNESCO World Heritage Site, designated in 2004.
4. Tate Liverpool and Maritime Museum by the north end of the Albert Dock, both with free entry. The Tate Liverpool doesn’t have a permanent collection, but cycles through the vast Tate archive of modern art. I could have spent the whole afternoon looking around, as indeed I could have at the Maritime Museum next door. Exhibits in the Museum are on three floors and include “Titanic and Liverpool” and “Emigrants to a New World”.
5. The Pier Head with the buildings referred to as “The Three Graces” – the Royal Liver Building crowned by the mythical Liver Birds, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. The area is steeped in history, being an embarkation point in the 19th Century for many of the 5 million emigrants from Europe seeking a new life in America, and before that for the enforced shipment of slaves.
6. Liverpool ONE shopping and recreation complex. Opened in 2008, it is reputed to be the largest open air shopping centre in the UK. I’m not exactly into shopping myself, but did enjoy wandering around the different levels, with plenty of refreshment outlets. I visited just before Christmas when the decorations and ice rink made it all very festive, especially when viewed after sampling some of the products of Liverpool One Brewery.
7. The Cathedrals. Walking up Mount Pleasant from Liverpool ONE you come to the ultra-modern Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, which opened in 1967. Then just half a mile away towards the waterfront, the Gothic revival style Anglican Cathedral, built in red sandstone and opened in 1978. It is the largest cathedral in the UK and the fifth largest in the world. Take time to appreciate the superb stained glass windows and many works of art, including a piece by Tracey Emin.
8. The Coastal Road and Marine Drive on Southport’s waterfront. As you drive past the sand dunes, there are panoramic views over the Irish Sea, with Blackpool visible to the north and Wales to the south. It’s particularly impressive at sunset.
9. Southport Pier and its cafeteria/amusement arcade. At 3600ft in length, the pier is the second longest in the UK, after Southend. The amusement arcade near the end has several machines using old one penny coins, including the Laughing Sailor. If you a feeling less nimble, then you can take the tram to the end of the pier.
10. Lord Street, Southport, an attractive, tree-lined boulevard. Napoleon III lived in lodgings, in 1846, near Lord Street, before returning to France and redesigning the streets of Paris. However, it seems that the Champs-Élysées was already well-established by that time. Whatever the truth, just enjoy strolling down Lord Street’s mile of canopied shops and scenic gardens.
Accommodation in Liverpool and Southport
Almost all the major hotel chains have properties in central Liverpool. I opted for the Staybridge Suites, nicely situated by the entrance to the Albert Dock.
This US style hotel provides kitchen facilities, and complimentary breakfast and mid-week evening drinks and snacks. And, of course, my stay was at a special, refundable Senior discount rate.
Southport has a profusion of traditional seaside bed and breakfast accommodation, but for something rather more upmarket, you could try the new, waterfront Ramada Plaza hotel.
I’ve got to admit I was very impressed with regenerated Liverpool. Maybe the waterfront is not quite up to those in say Cape Town or San Francisco, but it has an infectious vivacity, in part the result of the Scousers new-born confidence in their city. There’s plenty for art gallery and museum aficionados and Liverpool ONE is a shoppers’ paradise, without the claustrophobic feeling of centres like Meadowhall.
Southport has also gained much from its attractive waterfront redevelopment. However you can still enjoy features of the traditional seaside resort, including the pier and Lord Street, and fish & chips with bread & butter and tea.
Who needs Continental European cities for a short break? Save your money and enjoy the delights of Merseyside.