Liverpool: The quality of Mersey

As Liverpool continues to celebrates its status as the Capital of Culture, Simon Calder discovers the remarkable creativity which attracts artists and audiences from far and wide

WHERE?

Liverpool is on the way to nowhere – and everywhere. In the 18th and 19th century, its location on the curve of the Mersey Estuary, protected by the Wirral peninsula from the worst excesses of the Irish Sea gave it supremacy in people-moving: first with the slave trade, which brought enormous wealth to the city, and later with transatlantic migration. Millions of northern Europeans passed through the port en route to the Americas. Although the days have long gone when a one-way ticket to New York cost £4 in steerage, the Mersey city retains a deep diversity.

In 2008 the world is returning, to celebrate Liverpool's year in the sun as European Capital of Culture. The honour – shared with another northern port, Stavanger in Norway – reflects the city's remarkable creativity. It is attracting artists and audiences from far and wide. Meanwhile Liverpool's most enduring cultural export, The Beatles, continues to import fans in their thousands.

The main rail arrival point is Lime Street station, which connects with the Merseyrail underground network around the city and across to the Wirral. Most places of interest, though, are within the relatively compact Liverpool 1 central area. If you arrive by air, Liverpool John Lennon airport is connected with the city by the Airlink500 bus.

The tourist information centre is, for one year only, known as 08 Place. It well-signposted at 26-28 Whitechapel (0151 233 2008; www.liverpool08.com), and opens 9am-6pm daily (Tuesdays from 10am; Sundays 11am-4pm).

Accommodation options are expanding all the time. One hot new property is the Hard Day's Night Hotel – a dramatic £20m conversion from 19th-century marble columned, Grade II-listed office building to 21st-century celebration of The Beatles. The four-star on the corner of Mathew Street and North John Street (0151 236 1964; www.harddaysnighthotel.com) has two penthouse suites – the Lennon Suite features a white grand piano, while the McCartney Suite has a suit of armour (a reference to the bass guitarist's knighthood). Double rooms start at £140, room only.

Liverpool has a growing number of boutique hotels, such as 62 Castle Street and the Malmaison, but the original was created in 1860 – or at least that is the date of the Venetian-style palazzo that now houses The Hope Street Hotel (0151 709 3000; www.hopestreethotel.co.uk). A double room costs £115 excluding breakfast on the Summertime Special promotion until the end of August.

The budget sector is increasingly well represented, with a well-located Express by Holiday Inn at the Albert Dock (0845 345 0000; www.ichotels.com) offering rooms for £70, excluding breakfast. Note that on nights when big sporting events are taking place availability can be very scarce and prices high. The same will apply in the next 10 days, as the city hosts the International Beatles Week Festival from 20-26 August



WHY?

Ask the movie-makers: Liverpool is the most filmed city in the UK, outside London. Besides a wonderful collection of Georgian terraces, it has some superb Victorian architecture. A gratifying amount of the built heritage has survived the attentions of both bombers and planners. And, endlessly adaptable, Liverpool has reflected the changing tides of trade and industry by reinventing itself as one of the UK's most alluring destinations. Certainly, it has an improving range of big-hitter attractions – yet I always get an extra buzz from the place, a sense of the exotic that sets it apart from other cities.

Contrary to some views, the heart was not ripped out of Liverpool at about the same time as the Cavern Club was demolished. Although the place where The Beatles played nearly 300 times between 1961 and 1963 is no more, at the Albert Dock, there's a mock-up of the Cavern inside an attraction called The Beatles Story (0151 709 1963; www.beatlesstory.com) which takes you through the story of the Fab Five – as they were originally with Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

The past couple of years have seen much of the city centre uprooted to get Liverpool ready for its memorable year. Construction work has subsided; the centre is far more pedestrian-friendly; and, if you cannot bear to spend a weekend without spending, a new generation of shopping opportunities have been unveiled this summer – many of them within the dramatic Liverpool ONE complex.



WHAT

Every successful "world city" has a hub around which tourists swirl, and for Liverpool it is the splendid Albert Dock complex (0151 708 7334; www.albertdock.com). The city's waterfront was awarded Unesco World Heritage status four years ago.

You can easily spend an engrossing day taking in the museums and galleries that now occupy the warehouses, not to mention the odd bar and restaurant. To get an overview, make the most of the current exhibition at the Merseyside Maritime Museum (0151 478 4499; www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk; 10am-5pm daily; free). In "Magical History Tour – The Story of Liverpool", a time-travelling taxi driver guides you through the city's evolution. The exhibition runs until 27 September.

On the third floor of the building, the International Slavery Museum (same phone, website and opening hours; also free) makes no bones about the source of much of Liverpool's wealth. It begins with a glittering array of pre-Columbian gold jewellery, showing the achievements of the Americas before colonialism, but marches briskly on to the brutal business of slavery. Forced labour was an expensive resource. Slaves were bought along the coast of West Africa, sold by tribal chiefs in exchange for goods shipped from Liverpool. By the time a boat had been packed with humanity along the coast of West Africa, and sailed across the Atlantic, the price of a healthy slave matched a "gentleman's salary" for the year.

Despite strong opposition from Liverpool Corporation, the slave trade was finally outlawed and freedom finally granted in British colonies in 1838. Two years later Samuel Cunard hit upon the idea of transporting passengers voluntarily to the New World. The museum's mission: "Setting the truth free".

The great draw this summer at the Tate Liverpool (0151 702 7400; www.tate.org.uk) has been the Klimt Exhibition, showcasing the Austrian artist for the first time in the UK. You have the rest of the month to get along to the exhibition – but even after that the finest collection of modern art in the North is well worth a visit, not least for an excellent rendition of The Kiss by Rodin. Also essential on the cultural agenda is the city's fine Walker Art Gallery (0151 478 4199; www.walkerartgallery. org.uk), on William Brown Street (see panel, right) close to Lime Street station. Until 2 November it features Ben Johnson's mega-portrait of the city; open 10am-5pm daily, admission free.

Wow!

William Brown deserved the street that takes his name; the 19th-century MP provided the land on which the Walker (referred to as the National Gallery of the North) and the city's library now stand. William Brown St, next to St George's Hall, has become one of the city's cultural gems – though the William Brown College of Technology has been reborn as World Museum Liverpool.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker