Liverpool is fantastic. So is Manchester.
I want to kick myself for not spending at least two separate nights in each city.
This was the worst-planned day because I chose to squeeze in BOTH Manchester and Liverpool (two hub cities of England) in less than 24 hours because I had already booked other trains and non-refundable accommodation. Even though I cut my stay in the Lake District short, this was well worth it.
I had a gruelling schedule – woke up at 5am, boarded the train from Penrith to Manchester, dropped my bags off, then trained from Manchester to Liverpool – where I spent the duration of the day. I got a few hours in the evening to explore Manchester, but it definitely wasn’t enough. From my few wanderings, I preferred Liverpool far more, though.
I mainly wanted to visit Liverpool because of its rich history in music – not just The Beatles, but a ton of other bands and artists from the ’60s and on. It’s such a hip city, very much grunge with hints of Victorian prettiness (I.e. University of Liverpool). It reminded me a lot of Melbourne, with its massive streets and tons of shopping centres and restaurants lining every street in the main hub.
Due to my lack of research (again), I didn’t realise until I arrived that Liverpool is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Liverpool is a maritime mercantile city, thus being a popular port for cruise ships (Disney Cruise Line had its inaugural embarkation here last year). Had I been smart and researched, I would have stayed a few days because I absolutely love any maritime cities now. It was voted the most popular port in the U.K. as of 2014 as well, and I can see why – there’s a lot more to do here than Southampton (which is also a beautiful city, but it’s very different from Liverpool).
Since it’s located at the tidal mouth of the River Mersey where it meets the Irish Sea, Liverpool played an important role in the growth of the British Empire. It became the major port for the mass movement of people, including slaves and emigrants from northern Europe to America. Liverpool was a pioneer in the development of modern dock technology, transport systems and port management, and building construction.
Six areas in the historic centre and docklands of Liverpool are UNESCO sites because of their development in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Additionally, civic/public buildings lie within these areas, including the Pier Head, with its three waterfront buildings – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building, and Port of Liverpool Building; the Dock area with its warehouses, dock walls, canal system, docks and other facilities related to port activities; the mercantile area, with its shipping offices, produce exchanges, marine insurance offices, banks, warehouses and merchants houses, together with the William Brown Street Cultural Quarter, including St. George’s Plateau, with cultural and civic buildings.
I got into Liverpool pretty late (just before noon) because of all my train hopping in the morning. I had a few minutes of panic because my camera lens was completely blurry after being waterlogged from the day before. It seems to work fine now, but I’m never using it in the rain ever again.
I decided to pay for The Beatles Story museum, because when you’re in Liverpool, the birthplace of The Beatles, why not? It was really neat to see so much information packed into small spaces, but I could barely move and take pictures with all the groups of people crowding my personal bubble.
It wasn’t as interesting as the Royal Yacht Britannia or the Harry Potter studio tour, but that’s my biased opinion. I did love all the memorabilia and replicas of studios, as well as the actual drumsets, guitars, and drumsticks used by members of the band.
The Beatles Story: Pier Head (the main museum is in Albert Dock) ended up being a 10-min 4D animated show followed by a teeny-tiny museum honouring pop bands who also made their debut in the ’60s (Beach Boys, The Who, etc.). The animated short was REALLY cheesy – although it sprayed water, air, and jerked the seats everywhere. It revolved around fictional characters and wasn’t even a documentary, nor did it include any mention of The Beatles aside from just playing their music. I could have done without watching it, but you weren’t allowed to see the special exhibit without watching it first.
I later found Mathew Street, the true birthplace of The Beatles – where the infamous Cavern Club was located. THAT was amazing. I was able to go downstairs into the actual club and watch a performer cover Beatles songs (I lucked out since they only do free admission M-W). It totally gave off the same vibe as The Leaky Cauldron – dark, stuffy, brick walls, cramped spaces, and a bit eerie and dungeon-like because it was underground. It was still unfathomable to me that The Beatles played here 292+ times in their career.
Also had a peek into the stunning A Hard Day’s Night Hotel adjacent to Mathew Street. It’s Beatles-themed everywhere and its bars and restaurants inside all have relevance with their menu items and names. Lovely sculptures of the Fab Four on the outside of the hotel as well.
Aside from all the music history, I fell in love with Liverpool because of its waterfront. Albert Dock and Pier Head are both along the quayside, with ferries going to and from Isle of Man and other destinations. I purposely stayed until the sun went down since I wanted to see the dock at night, in addition to the beautiful Wheel of Liverpool lit up.
I also went into the Liverpool Cathedral by a fluke, and oh golly – I wish I went into all the cathedrals earlier. It took my breath away. It may have had the highest vaulted ceilings I’ve ever seen in a cathedral thus far – again, I couldn’t figure out how to angle the camera just to get perfect shots. The exterior architecture wasn’t any different from the other cathedrals, but the interior was just remarkable. If we had cathedrals like that in America, I’d probably have visited all of them just to take photos.
Lower Duke Street area (and Ropewalks) was the most ghetto part of Liverpool. The Tate was also neat to explore (free again), but I probably only spent 5 min. on al the floors because I’m not into modern art where you just stare at cut-up pieces of black foam on the floor. Exhibit A:
World Museum Liverpool was 5 floors of exhibits – not to the caliber of any London or Edinburgh museums, but still really impressive, especially for being free. My favourite was the top level dedicated to space and time. I loved looking at the chronometers, sundials, pocket watches, telescopes, and more.
There are so many things I couldn’t fit into the day – the Merseyside Maritime Museum (free, like most museums in the UK); Williamson Tunnels; Penny Lane and Strawberry Field (probably need to hop on a bus for that next time).
Liverpool is one of my favourite cities I’ve seen in England – its waterfront, many attractions, and massive music connections are plenty reasons to visit.
I had a return train ticket back to Manchester since I was staying here for the night – the only feasible way to cram both cities in the day. If I was smarter, I would have booked a later train to see more of Manchester tomorrow morning. My common sense flies out the window when I book things so swiftly.
I only managed to last about 2.5 hours exploring Manchester in the evening (by 11pm, my feet were on fire again because I had been up so early) – way too short to get a taste of Manchester. My first impression of it was that it was a bit ghetto and dirty compared to most other parts of England, but that’s only because I got off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and was staying on the most sketch street ever (it ended up being in the Northern Quarter, which is like the Camden of Manchester, so it wasn’t all that bad). At least sketch compared to everywhere else I’ve been – not in the American “I’m gonna get stabbed or shot” sense at all.
However, the more I explored the streets at night, the more I came to love the city. I definitely need to spend a few nights here the next time I’m back, since it’s a massive city with so much to see.
I quite liked the posh end of Spinningsfield and Leftbank – because I gravitate toward the rich, luxurious parts of any city along a waterfront. Everything was obviously closed by the time I walked around, but it was busy compared to Edinburgh. There were quite a lot of loonies (mostly homeless, sadly) in the city centre yelling nonsensical things, but you’ll get those folks everywhere.
I want to get out to The Quays next time (was too tired to walk an hour both ways) – but since I couldn’t get to that waterfront, the Trinity Bridge and bordering river were just as lovely.
Shambles Square, a cute little hidden nook of classic English pubs in beautiful Victorian buildings, was also one of my favourite parts. It led into Manchester Cathedral, which looked really tiny compared to all the other ones I’ve seen – but still lovely, especially at night.
Also, The Printworks. Oh my God, the architecture inside of it is amazing. I’m really lucky I happened to walk into it, since it sounds like a dumb print shop and I wasn’t keen on finding it otherwise. It’s located around Exchange Square and labelled “The Millennium Quarter” following its rebuild after the 1996 IRA bomb destroyed many of the original buildings. It’s full of pubs, restaurants, and designer stores. Printworks and its surrounding area is apparently one of the most popular night out spots in the city centre, and I can see why.
You know that a city is amazing and properly connected when it has trams. Manchester, like Edinburgh, has trams running throughout the city centre – and also a free bus service in the main hub. Definitely cool.
I was also fascinated when walking through Castlefield. It’s a conservation area that Manchester was built around because it housed a Roman fort several centuries ago (obviously). The remains of the Roman Garden looked amazing, but it was impossible to see in the darkness. I was even more gutted that I missed out on going to the Museum of Science and Industry (the U.K.’s largest science museum) and the John Rylands Library – next time. Sigh.
Another fail of the day included my mixup of Mersey Tunnels – I thought they were in Manchester, but they’re in Liverpool. I didn’t get a chance to see them, and the Death Eaters chase scene from Deathly Hallows Part I was filmed there. Proper gutted again.
Liverpool and Manchester are lovely cities definitely worth checking out – just don’t ever try to cram both in a day. Each is definitely worth exploring for at least two days alone! xx