Looking out across the Irish Sea and to the world beyond, Liverpool has its own take on life. In its heyday, in the early decades of the twentieth century, Liverpool was the gateway to the world.
The warm and welcoming locals, the Scousers, with that unique singing accent, usually see the funny side of life. One of the city’s two cathedrals, the Metropolitan Cathedral, is nicknamed “Paddy’s Wigwam”. Similar comic understatement prompts them to call the Mersey Tunnel, “the Mousehole.”
After many tough decades, Liverpool has undergone a remarkable regeneration. Although the radical architecture of contemporary dockside developments upset UNESCO, Liverpool has become a cultural powerhouse attracting millions of visitors.
Ferry Cross the Mersey
For eight centuries there has been a boat crossing the river. But only recently have the melodic bars of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ iconic 1960s hit, Ferry Cross the Mersey, been played on board.
Taking a 50 minute ferry from Pierhead to Birkenhead is a good introduction to Liverpool and it’s history. Commentary tells of the 9 million people who left through Liverpool’s port for the New World between 1830 and 1895.
Leaving the docks there are clear views of the Three Graces. A trio of grand neo-classically styled buildings for Cunard, The Royal Liver and The Port of Liverpool. All constructed during the prosperous years of the early 20th century.
The Beatles Story
To celebrate the dominance of the Merseybeat, when Liverpool acts topped the charts for 45 weeks during 1963 and 1964, it was suggested that a Fourth Grace should be built honouring the city’s musical heritage.
Instead, The Beatles Story emerged. An audio trial guides visitors through scenes from the Beatles’ career. It begins with the end of their school days and playing in The Casbah Club, which was actually the cramped basement of an otherwise unremarkable Liverpool house.
A historic trail winds past Hessy’s music shop where McCartney bought his first guitar for £17, through the Cavern where Cilla Black worked in the cloakroom, via Hamburg and onto the deafening adulation of Beatlemania.
The British Music Experience
Although that Fourth Grace was never built, a tribute to British pop since 1945 is now located in the Cunard Building. There could not be a more apt setting than Liverpool.
As well as the Beatles many other Liverpool acts have found fame: Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dead or Alive and Atomic Kitten.
Posters, costumes, soundtracks, recording studios, newspaper headlines and video clips all ramp-up the nostalgia.
Tate Liverpool makes the most of the spacious red-brick warehouses at the heart of Royal Albert Dock’s regeneration.
Currently, the Donald McCullin exhibition, includes sparse black and white photographs of the wasteland deprivation of urban Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.
Though this grim squalor was McCullin’s relative relief from his other career as a war photographer. Simply black-framed, the photographs document the horror McCullin witnessed in conflicts beginning in the Congo and taking him through Vietnam, Biafra, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Iraq and finally Syria. A litany of death, destruction and suffering.
Also running is a Lucian Freud exhibition, it illustrates how his intensely detailed and realistic approach to portraiture redefined the genre.
A particularly topical exhibition shows the work of New York painter Alisa Nisenbaum. Her bright, large-scale portraits present NHS Merseyside staff as they battled through the pandemic.
Rosa’s Thai Cafe
With many ingredients imported from Thailand, Rosa’s Thai Cafe’s all-day menu is an appropriate cosmopolitan choice for guests exploring Royal Albert Dock. Based in a Grade 1 listed red-brick warehouse, the cafe gives views across the docks and into the theatre of the restaurant’s open kitchen.
There is a sense of fun to a drinks list that includes “Thai PA” a refreshingly chilled pale ale laced with lemon grass and lime. One of the most popular cocktails is Rosa’s boozy iced tea featuring a double shot of rum added to homemade Thai lemon tea.
Co-owner Saiphin Moore imports curry paste from her Thai home town, located between Bangkok and Chang Mai. She’s equally discerning with the rice that she imports from a select group of Thai rice farmers. Look out for a surprising appearance from that well-travelled rice in the mango sticky rice sundae.
Located on Paradise Street, in a building that once housed The Gordon Smith Institute for Seamen, lies a creative hub for Liverpool’s artists and makers.
Merseymade provides 10 studios for an ever-changing cast of creatives. Visitors can chat with artists as they work on their pieces. Work from these artists – and many more based locally – is displayed throughout the shop.
Tables for the cafe are dotted throughout a shop that sells art works, cards, chocolate, clothing, gin and much, much more.
Pedestrianised Bold Street runs through the Rope Walk district. Cafes and restaurants spill out on to the street. Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Turkish restaurants recall the days when “Sailortown” was open to international influences, though Maggie May’s satisfies local tastes with scouse on the menu.
Bold Street is a haven for independent shops, particularly renowned for its bookshops and also for stores specialising in vintage clothing.