A bustling industrial port, home to a famous football club and the city that spawned the Merseybeat and one of the world’s greatest musical acts. All I knew about Liverpool was based on the grainy black and white footage from Beatles documentaries, but since my obsession with the band began at 15 it had been on my must-visit list. With Penny Lane in our ears and in our eyes, Jasmine and I journeyed north for a long weekend during my English travels.
Although I was so excited for the trip, I did worry it would bore the pants off Jasmine who wasn’t overly familiar with the Fab Four’s songs. At the same time, I was ready to explain, in intimate detail, the long and winding road of the band’s history (with elements of each member’s solo career, obviously).
Liverpool is the fifth largest city in the UK, so relatively easy to get to via train. We did a quick spot of shopping in Birmingham between trains which was brilliant. It was also easy to get into the city centre, despite some track works and major station refurbishments which were finishing up as we arrived in the city.
Unable to fully enjoy the historical buildings the city boasts thanks to the weather, we opted for exploring the rejuvenated Albert Dock for most of our weekend. In its heyday, Albert Dock was revolutionary: the first non-combustible warehouse system in the world and the first using hydraulic cranes. Now it’s a lifestyle hot spot, but one which is also popular with locals. There are dozens of restaurants and cafes where you can get a taste of this history, with seating nestled into the nooks which would have once housed valuable cargo like brandy, cotton, tea or tobacco.
It’s here you’ll also find several of the city’s drawcard museums. The Beatles Story is the place to start, whether you only know Yellow Submarine, or can speculate the influences of every Lennon-McCartney original. Dedicate at least two to three hours to exploring the museum, where every significant element of the band’s career has been painstakingly recreated. For Jasmine, it was all brand new, but even for this seasoned Beatlemanic it was a joyful and totally immersive experience. From the murky streets of Hamburg’s red light district in the 1960s to the NEMS offices where manager Brian Epstein was working when he signed the boys and the interior of the iconic Abbey Road studios, you’re guided through while listening to commentary from John Lennon’s sister Julia and other key players in their story.
A few fascinating hours following the evolution from Cavern Club to rooftop farewell concert is probably enough for the casual fan. But if you’re headed to Liverpool because it’s your Beatles Mecca there’s only one tour to satisfy that deep-seated curiosity. You’ll need a ticket to ride on this National Trust tour, the only one to take visitors inside the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The small group tour travels from the docks past Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields to leafy Woolton.
The first stop is 1950s semi-detached Mendips, the home you’d least expect for the self-proclaimed working class hero. After a quick photo, we were given a guided tour of the house and allowed time to soak up the atmosphere, including the porch where many a Lennon-McCartney original was composed. It was surreal to walk through the home where John spent so many years and to learn so many new details about his life. Our lovely guide Steve really brought the home to life and was inclusive of all ages on the tour. I couldn’t fault his tour. I didn’t even realise we’d been in the home for over an hour.
Our tour through Paul’s home, a post-war terraced council house, continued this high standard and offered a view of brother Mike’s private family photos. Maybe it was because the sun came out at just the right time (sun, sun, sun, here it comes), but The atmosphere between the two was palpably different. Where Mendips was austere and stern, 20 Forthlin Rd was welcoming and warm, perhaps a sign of the leniency with which Jim treated sons Paul and Mike after the death of their mum. It was truly a home which seemed from the photos full of love and laughter, despite the family’s loss. While Mimi was much stricter with John and showed her affection through the hard work to get him into an art college and keep their home running (at some stages sleeping on a camp bed in the dining room to allow extra lodgers) rather than through loving gestures and loose rules. Again we were given a generous hour to explore the home and garden.
Fans should also down a pint at the Cavern Club on Mathew St, which retains a real air of authenticity despite having been rebuilt down the street from its original position. Jasmine and I both loved the nightlife of the city, especially all the Irish pubs. We also enjoyed the quirky cocktails at The Alchemist which, as the name suggests, are more science experiment than your average pint. While Mathew St is a great place to visit, make sure you check out the bars frequented by locals outside the tourist-heavy street. With a large student population, Liverpool boasts great restaurants and bars without the London price tag or travel hassles.
While in Liverpool, also aside some hours to explore the Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum, a solemn reflection on how the city’s wealth grew on the back of the transatlantic slave trade. Liverpool ships carried over 1.5 million enslaved Africans on 5000 voyages, and the vessels were repaired just minutes away from where the museum is housed. Given Australia still struggles to talk about issues of race, it was sobering to see a museum so openly talking about the racist practices past and present.
A thrumming cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural history, Liverpool is a destination not to be missed and one which I wildly underestimated. I will absolutely be back one day.