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Once belittled by southerners as a decaying industrial port town, Liverpool is now an energetic city in the middle of a major cultural facelift. Modern architecture, world-class theaters and museums, and a glimmering art-house cinema and digital media gallery draw culture-lovers from around the world. Last year, Liverpool was named the European Commission’s Capital of Culture. Offbeat cafes and vinyl shops crowd the Ropewalks district, while the city’s more than 65,000 students fuel a vibrant music scene. This home of the distinct “Scouse” accent, two near-deified football squads, and, of course, The Beatles also boasts some serious nightlife: swank lounges set up shop in the city’s aging red-brick warehouses and, come evening, pubbers and clubbers pack the streets.
Liverpool’s central district is very pedestrian-friendly. There are two main clusters of museums: one on William Brown Street, near Lime Street Station and Saint John’s Garden, and the other at Albert Dock, right on the pier. These regions flank the central shopping district, made up of the plazas and walkways between Bold, Church, and Lord Streets. The area of shops, cafes, and nightclubs between Bold St. and Duke St. is called The Ropewalks. The most tourist-heavy part of town is Cavern Quarter, centered on famous Mathew Street, which houses the major Beatles sights. Liverpool One is a sparkling new shopping area containing loads of shops and a brand-new bus station. To the south, a glittering arch—recently imported from Shanghai as a gift from the People’s Republic—marks the Nelson St. entrance to the oldest Chinatown in Europe.
With first-rate museums, two dazzling cathedrals, and the twin religions of football and The Beatles, Liverpool’s attractions are filled with spirited heritage and modern vitality. The city center is packed with theaters and cultural centers, while Hope Street to the southeast connects Liverpool’s two 20th-century cathedrals. Most other sights are located on or near Albert Dock, an open rectangle of Victorian warehouses now stocked with offices, restaurants, and museums. The Museum of Liverpool, constructed in 2010, lights up the smooth waterfront.
Don’t be deceived by its small size, this bustling city has plenty to offer. We’ve narrowed down the best. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
As a university town, Liverpool is blessed with a healthy endowment of cheap eats; fast-food dumps are practically as common as Beatles posters. Hardman Street is full of low-priced pizza, kebab, and burger joints.
Historically, England has been derided for its horrific cuisine. But do not fear the gravy-laden, boiled, fried, and bland traditional nosh! Britain’s cuisine is in the midst of a gourmet revolution. Popular television chef Jamie Oliver led a well-publicized and successful campaign to increase the British government’s spending on school lunches. Thanks to its colonial legacy, ethnic food is ubiquitous, and Britain offers some of the best tandoori and curry outside India.
British “tea” refers to both a drink and a social custom. The ritual refreshment, accompanying almost every meal, is served strong with milk. The standard tea, colloquially known as a cuppa, is PG Tips or Tetley. More refined cups specify particular blends such as Earl Grey and Darjeeling. Afternoon high tea includes cooked meats, salad, sandwiches, and pastries. Cream tea, a specialty of Cornwall and Devon, includes toast, shortbread, crumpets, scones, and jam, accompanied by clotted cream (a cross between whipped cream and butter).
Sir William Harcourt believed that English history was made in pubs as much as in the Houses of Parliament. Brits rapidly develop loyalty for neighborhood establishments, which in turn tend to cater to their regulars and develop a particular character. Pubs are everywhere in London.
Bitter, named for its sharp, hoppy aftertaste, is a standard pub drink. It should be hand-pumped or pulled from the tap at cellar temperature into government-stamped pint glasses (20 oz.) or the more modest half-pint glass. Real ale retains a diehard cult of connoisseurs in the shadow of giant corporate breweries. Brown, pale, and India pale ales—less common varieties—all have a heavy flavor with noticeable hop. Stout, the distinctive subspecies of ale, is rich, dark, and creamy. Try Irish Guinness, with its silky foam head. Most draft ales and stouts are served at room temperature, but if you can’t stand the heat, try a lager, a precursor of American beer typically served cold. Cider is a fermented apple juice served sweet or dry. Variations on the standard pint include black velvet, which is stout mixed with champagne; black and tan, layers of stout and ale; and snakebite, lager and cider with blackcurrant syrup or Ribena.
A bell or the phrase “Last orders!” marks the last call 10min. before closing time. When the bar officially closes, the bar staff traditionally shouts, “Time at the bar!” or (more fun), “Time gentlemen please!”
Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008, and it doesn’t let anyone forget it. The city prides itself on its art and music offerings, ranging from endless Beatles tributes and a thriving indie scene to world-class orchestras and theaters. Though its reign as the 2008 European Capital of Culture has ended, Liverpool is host to countless festivals, exhibitions, and performances. The International Street Theatre Festival brings international performances to the city annually from late June to early August. At the end of August, a weeklong Beatles Convention draws Fab Four devotees.
Liverpool nightlife has changed dramatically since the days when Lennon and McCartney roamed these streets. With an ever-increasing population of students, the party scene has expanded drastically, and pubs and bars try to tailor their music and prices to students’ tastes and budget. This means lots of midweek drinks deals and late closing times. If you prefer boogieing down memory lane to clubs blasting Beyoncé, the Ropewalks area has many ’70s-, ’80s-, and ’90s-themed clubs.
Two of Liverpool’s most notable creations—football fans and rock musicians—were bred in pub culture, and the city continues to incorporate both traditions into its nightlife. There’s not a spot in Liverpool that’s far from a good selection of watering holes. The younger set clusters between Slater and Berry Streets, where cheap drink specials are in plentiful supply.
The distinct Liverpudlian lilt has confounded and intrigued visitors for decades. In “Scouse,” as the accent is called, “cut” rhymes with “foot,” “nurse” has the same vowel as “square,” and T is often dropped from the end of words. The accent has a uniquely nasal quality, which some linguists have blamed on air pollution from coal burning that thickened city residents’ vocal cords. More likely, it came about because of Liverpool’s history as a port city: an inflection imported from Ireland, an idiom from Welsh, the cadences of hundreds of global dialects passing through the docks and mixing with the native Lancashire sounds.
In the 1960s, the accent acquired a counter-cultural coolness with the rise of The Beatles. Some Scousers today, however, say that it invites less-than-favorable perceptions and even discrimination. A recent survey of business directors found that the Liverpool accent was ranked lowest on the list of British accents in terms of appeal and associations with positive qualities like honesty.
But as television (specifically the BBC) moves away from the strict inflections of traditionally upper-class “Received Pronunciation,” the stigma seems to be on the decline. Liverpudlians, for their part, haven’t tried to adapt to the more dominant southern pronunciations—according to language trackers, the Liverpool accent is still going strong and is even getting thicker and more varied.
The United Kingdom is home to 60 million Britons, a dynamic and varied population made up of local subcultures. Stiff upper-lipped public schoolboys and post-punk Hoxton rockers sit next to Burberry-clad football hooligans (“chavs”) on the eerily quiet Tube. There is little that a traveler can do that will inadvertently cause offense. That said, the English do place weight on proper decorum, including politeness (“thanks” comes in many varieties, including “cheers”), queueing (that is, lining up—never disrupt the queue), and keeping a certain respectful distance. You’ll find, however, that the British sense of humor—fantastically wry, explicit, even raunchy—is somewhat at odds with any notion of their coldness or reserve.