by Sean Hillen
Designated a UNESCO Heritage City, home to six theaters, 2,500 listed buildings and more public sculptures than any British city except London, Liverpool certainly offers many reasons to visit. Here are a few of the highlights.
An easy way to familiarize oneself with this northern English port is to take a trip on the ‘City Sights’ Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. With several options, this transport service brings guests to destinations ranging from the renovated docks area to philharmonic hall, with live guides speaking on board. We were especially fortunate to have friendly, well-informed Damien Ewing leading our special Beatles tour who promptly produced a guitar and sang several of the Fab Four’s biggest hits as part of the afternoon’s entertainment.
For those more interested in the legacy of The Beatles, an alternative choice is the 2-hour Magical Mystery Tour bus tour. You’ll see many places associated with John, Paul, George and Ringo including whether they lived and grew up, formed the band, even Abbey Road and Strawberry Fields, after which hit songs were named. The tour also includes free entrance to the Famous Four’s musical hideout, the Cavern Club.
If traveling by land doesn’t float your boat, why not go by water – and see the most iconic sights aboard the Mersey Ferry. A 50-minute tour on the River Explorer Cruise takes in the best views of the urban skyline with commentary throughout. You can also make a full day-trip out of the excursion by hopping off at both Seacombe and Woodside ferry terminals to explore the sci-fi Spaceport featuring a planetarium and themed galleries with interactive and audio-visual exhibits, as well as go to the U-boat Story where you climb aboard World War Two German U-boat submarine U-534.
Empire Theatre – An entertainment venue for more than a century, this theatre is a pillar of strength in the Liverpool’s rich cultural life. My companion and I not only enjoyed the upbeat musical, ‘Wonderland,’ directed by Lotte Wakeham and starring Kerry Ellis as Alice, but also the comfort of the theater’s VIP Ambassador Lounge, with complimentary pre-show and interval snacks and drinks.
Unity Theatre – Recently refurbished, this intimate venue in the heart of the historic Georgian district is home to a creative group of actors and directors. We were fortunate to see members of Liverpool’s Royal Court in a farcical romp, ‘Omnibus,’ written by Katie Mulgrew and directed by Robert Farquhar, winner of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize, about a zany afternoon in the lives of several friends. A bar beside the main stage serves drinks and snacks with views out to the local neighborhood.
Epstein Theatre – This theatre is located close to the downtown shopping complex, Liverpool One, as well as the Albert Dock area. Also a vintage venue, it hosts shows ranging from music concerts to plays. Another reason for visiting is to admire its ornate art nouveau exterior and interior design.
Cavern Club – With The Beatles being arguably the most famous entity to emerge from Liverpool, a plethora of activities has sprouted around them. For a nostalgic sense of the ‘60s era, spend an evening at the Cavern Club, its walls bedecked with rock ‘n roll memorabilia. This brick-vaulted, warehouse cellar has been host to many of the world’s top bands and singers, from Queen and Status Quo to The Rolling Stones, Oasis, Adele and the Arctic Monkeys. Live concerts take place several evenings a week, sometimes on two different stages, with the excellent tribute band ‘The Cavern Club Beatles’ playing at weekends.
British Music Experience – With so many museums to choose from, perhaps it’s best to begin with this one, the newest. Colorful costumes, memorabilia such as psychedelic posters and recorded interviews and songs of performers spanning 70 years of British music, as well as a three-dimensional laser concert show, combine to tell the story of popular music from 1950s skiffle through The Beatles, Cliff Richard and Bowie to Adele and X-Factor talent winners. Located at the Cunard Building, across from the Mersey ferry, visitors can even try the vocal booth, dance the decades and play guitar and drums. Requiring three hours, you can always take a break in the café.
The Beatles Story – It’s hard to escape the Fab Four in Liverpool and this museum is the ultimate immersive experience focusing on the iconic pop group. Exhibits include replicas of places closely associated with the band such as the Casbah, Mathew Street and The Cavern Club. Memorabilia include costumes, instruments, photographs, awards and video interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono. This year marks the 50the anniversary of the ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’ album so several new exhibits and special events are ongoing.
Museum of Liverpool – This waterfront museum does exactly as it says – provides insights into the city’s history. Organized under headings such as ‘archaeology,’ and ‘transport,’ the three-floors of exhibits take visitors through 10,000 years of urban evolution. There are also three free short movies shown at regular intervals daily on various subjects, including football and, of course, The Beatles, as well as ‘The Power and the Glory? about Liverpool’s global position and how industrialization and the growth and decline of the British Empire created, then almost destroyed the city. No tickets necessary. Interactive ‘games’ keep children and younger adults suitably engaged.
International Slavery Museum – It’s brave of the city fathers to own up to what is a most shameful episode in the Liverpool’s history. Local multi-millionaires owed their riches to the sale of defenseless people as mere chattel, with no regard, aside from their commercial value, to their health, or happiness. Many historical buildings here were built on the back of such wealth. Through slides, photographs, video, voice recordings and artefacts such as crude hand and leg shackles, the sad and suffocating stories of such slaves are told vividly, including the break-up of families and the slow, agonizing deaths on slave ships. While the exhibition is not for the weak of will, at least some positives can be drawn from special exhibitions such as the ‘Black Achievers Wall,’ the development of black music and the highlighting of racism and discrimination.
With its illustrious sports and cultural history, it comes as little surprise to learn that Liverpool is among the top bids for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Go quickly before tourists descend in droves.