How to Spend 2 Days in Liverpool (If You’re Not Sure What You Want to Do)
When I initially booked my time off to go up north to see some friends in Birmingham, Liverpool was basically an afterthought. Of course, I knew it would be so great to see a friend that lives there too – but I’ve never had quite that much interest in the city itself aside from some vague family history links. Liverpool has surprised me in so many ways, not least in that there’s so much to see and do, but also just in how absolutely beautiful it is.
Having intended to only be in Liverpool for just shy of 24 hours, I made no big plans, though I thought it might be nice to explore Rock Ferry a little as that’s where my grandma grew up. However, when the Nottingham leg of my little ‘Tour de North West’ got cancelled, I was suddenly left with double the time I’d expected to have before leaving for Birmingham. I knew Anna would be working during most of my time there, so I’d have to find things to do, but she kindly sent me a list of recommendations and I planned my itinerary from that.
In terms of travel I’d recommend arriving by train if you’re coming from within England, Scotland, or Wales (I used TrainSplit – you get a fairly big stack of tickets but worth the money you save); otherwise you can fly directly into John Lennon Airport or get the ferry from Ireland. There are tons of accommodation options available to suit any budget – I went for the hostel option and stayed at Embassie Backpackers in the Georgian Quarter. It was only £34 for 2 nights in a 10-bed dorm: not the best hostel I’ve stayed in, but they do have free Wi-Fi, a communal kitchen and common area, and friendly staff so it’s not too bad for the money you pay.
The Royal Albert Dock
If there’s one place you shouldn’t miss during your time in Liverpool, it’s the Royal Albert Dock. Opened in 1846 by Prince Albert, it was built around the 1716 Thomas Steers dock - the world’s first commercial wet dock. You will now find 5 sections of water behind the River Mersey, divided by what is now a series of museums, galleries, and restaurants. It's a central part of Liverpool's history and culture, and it's an absolutely beautiful place to walk around between museum and restaurant visits.
I didn't spend a whole lot of time in the Maritime Museum as my main aim was the Slavery Museum on the 3rd floor, but it's excellently done. There are extensive exhibitions about the Lusitania, the Titanic, and similar ships from that era, complete with displays about how both the crew and passengers would have dressed, eaten, and spent their time onboard. There is also plenty of attention paid to Liverpool's First and Second World War maritime history, all of which is very well put together.
As someone who wants to be a museum curator, I was incredibly impressed with the International Slavery Museum. It's made abundantly clear that the museum is committed to being actively anti-racist, and the history is presented both sensitively and totally upfront, which is exactly what's needed with this kind of subject matter. You are taken on a real journey, starting with life in West Africa before people were taken as slaves - a rare thing in UK museums as far as I've seen. This includes scale models of West African 17th/18th-century homes, beautiful artefacts that give vital insights into how people lived their lives, and interactive displays to show you how compounds were set out.
The following stage was the Middle Passage - the journey across the Atlantic. There are not only displays about how life was on board, but the museum also does a fantastic job of explaining the political and economic factors involved in the slave trade. There are then in-depth explorations of how the enslaved lived, and the intense suffering they were forced to endure. It's heartbreaking to read - I actually cried - but this kind of history has to be actively acknowledged and talked about.
One of the things I loved the most about the International Slavery Museum, however, was the fact that they looked at the modern impacts of the transatlantic slave trade worldwide, including how it has affected poverty levels, global economies, the environment, and societal attitudes to people of colour. It also celebrates Black artists and sculptors and is beautifully sensitive to the struggles still faced today in the fight for equality.
Now I’m not the world’s biggest Beatles fan, but I do like their music and it’s pretty much impossible to avoid them when you go to Liverpool anyway, so you might as well embrace the Beatlemania! Even if you don’t have time to go and do the full Beatles Story museum (which was, unfortunately, the case for me but it's on the list for next time), I can definitely recommend going into the Fab 4 shop and café just around the corner. The shop has everything from mugs to guitar straps, and the underground café is done up as a 1960s-style diner complete with tastefully designed song lyric décor.
If you head down towards the Liver Building, you can also find the Beatles statue, as well as another Fab 4 Café if you hadn’t had your fill at the Dock!
I realise that not everybody can do this in Liverpool, but it was such a central part of my week there that I can't not mention it. I knew that my grandma had grown up in Rock Ferry (on the Wirral), and my mum has talked so much about her happy memories of visiting her nana and grandad so much that I couldn't resist going to explore.
I can't say that there's anything particularly remarkable about Rock Ferry, but walking around and finding the road my grandma grew up on, then the perpendicular road that her mum grew up on was a really significant thing for me, especially given that I've done quite a lot of genealogical research over the past 10 years or so. I also found the grave of my great-great-grandfather, William McLeod, who was the chief steward on the Lusitania and went down with the ship in 1915. Finding his headstone in Bebington Cemetery was so special. I don't believe that we can talk to our ancestors or that they're present around us or anything like that, but finding his grave made me feel a real connection to that side of my family, and I really hope that I can find out more about the McLeods' story when I get a chance to do more research.
Eat and Drink
I’m no food blogger, but Liverpool has a seriously incredible food and drink scene. I can’t say my bank balance was overly happy after 2 days of buying every meal, but I also can’t say it wasn’t worth it!
I've not been to Paris, but I reckon the feel of Petit Café du Coin is about as close as you can get without actually being in France. Candlelit tables and windows, a dreamily long list of wines and cocktails to choose from, jazz music that makes you feel extremely classy, and such friendly staff - perfect for some pre or post-dinner drinks!
Hands down, the best Indian meal I've ever had. Anna has been telling me for the last 6 1/2 years how good it is, so when we finally managed to arrange for me to go to Liverpool, there was no question as to where we'd eat. The menu is pretty extensive, but each of the curries are served without rice in tapas-sized bowls, so if you can't decide then getting a selection of mains and sides between you might be a good solution, or they do what they call 'tiffin boxes' - the chef's selection of 4 dishes for a set price. If you're interested in a starter as well, we can both wholeheartedly recommend the yoghurt chat bombs: crispbread puffs filled with yoghurt and spices which are a true flavour explosion.
Right down by the Rock Ferry Waterfront, the Refreshment Rooms was the perfect place to take a break whilst I had my family history exploration afternoon. If you ever find yourself in that area, I can thoroughly recommend it for hearty food and some truly great views.
Revolución de Cuba really has that Cuban vibe down, and some pretty punchy cocktails to match (we went for the obligatory rum-based concoctions) - it's basically the perfect place for a good chat and a good drink or 4. Another of Albert Dock's many bars and restaurants, it's also a fairly accessible choice for your evening drinks.
The best flipping tacos you ever did eat. They have meat tacos, non-meat tacos, and a whole range of different salsas and sauces you can put on your tacos, and oh man, their churros with spiced chocolate sauce are something else. I'd also really love to highlight how great the staff were - the waiter who sat me down and served me looked a bit surprised that I was by myself initially, but I was so well looked after and checked on regularly. I can't recommend Madre highly enough!
One of the recommendations from Anna's list, and it definitely did not disappoint. Situated in Liverpool's beautiful Georgian Quarter, The Quarter is conveniently located slap-bang in the middle of the route connecting the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals. It was totally packed when I went and that was a Friday morning, so I'd recommend maybe reserving a table if you're desperate to go. The food seems fairly expensive at first glance but you definitely get your money's worth - I'm pretty sure an entire chicken coop was put to work on the scrambled eggs I had, and they serve a good coffee too!
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
Not one to miss if you can possibly help it. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is a phenomenal bit of architecture and has a pretty interesting back-story too. What we see today was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, but the final result came about after about a century and a half of designs by 4 different architects and a great deal of stopping and starting! It's also built on the site of an old warehouse, and I just love this quote about it from architect (the second of the 4!) Sir Edwin Lutyens:
"From the chaos of poverty and sickness, rises the shrine of Christ the King. From the carcass of misery and despondency comes forth love and mercy. This is your Cathedral Church upon a workhouse site."
It's a beautiful symbol of hope.
The interior is not quite as you'd expect; the round shape means that everyone can see the altar, and the traditional high ceilings of a gothic cathedral are replaced instead by the glittering stained glass interior of the top of the cone. Each of the chapels around the circumference boasts some gorgeous Biblical art, tapestries, and sculptures, all of which are probably less traditional-looking than one might expect in a Catholic cathedral but are nonetheless very compelling.
There is, however, one more part of the cathedral that has to be on your to-do list, and that is the Lutyens Crypt, sometimes referred to as Liverpool's third cathedral. There is a huge amount of information there on both the crypt and the main cathedral, as well as a small chapel, a concert hall, and a treasury that holds some beautiful artefacts, including some rare relics from before the Reformation. Tickets are £5 per person, and it's well worth going down. It's accessible through the main cathedral via either a lift or the stairs.
Tips for visiting Liverpool:
Plan ahead what you're going to do. I'd advise this for most trips anyway, but there really is so much to do in Liverpool and the surrounding area that it would be easy to lose yourself in the deliberation! You don't have to schedule minute-to-minute, but I recommend at least vaguely planning your time so that you can get the most out of your trip.
If you come from outside the UK then prepare yourself - the Liverpool accent is difficult to understand even for some British people! It's by no means a big problem, but maybe one to be aware of!
Walk around between destinations if you're able to. It's not necessarily a difficult place to get around, and most of what you'll want to see as a tourist are in roughly the same area. It was also basically a half-hour straight line to Albert Dock from my hostel in the Georgian Quarter, so it was almost not worth not walking and seeing a bit more of the city.
If I were to go back I would...
Visit the Anglican Cathedral - it's apparently very beautiful and you can go to the top of the tower for just £5.
Go up the clock tower of the Liver Building.
Get the ferry across the Mersey. I originally wanted to get to Rock Ferry via boat but they were unfortunately cancelled that day for maintenance, so if I get the chance to go again then I'd love to go on the ferry instead of on the train. There are commuter services that you can catch in the mornings and evenings, but there are also longer cruises for tourists if you'd prefer to take your time.
Go to Port Sunlight on the Wirral. According to Anna, it's a good spot for some cool architecture, arts and crafts, a museum and the Lady Lever Art Gallery.
Visit the Bidston Observatory for some good views over the Mersey towards Liverpool and the Dee towards North Wales.
Do more museums such as The Beatles Story, the Museum of Liverpool, and the Tate Gallery.
Liverpool surprised me in a myriad of ways and I absolutely loved it, certainly a lot more than I thought I would. It's definitely the kind of place that most people have inadequate assumptions about until they visit, then they are well and truly swept off their feet. I hope that if you're there at any point that you find this guide helpful, and that you enjoy Liverpool as much as I did. Happy travelling!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or if you'd like to guest-write for The Classicist with an Atlas then I'd love to hear from you - you can get in touch via the form on the Contact page or on Instagram @theclassicistwithanatlas.
Huge thanks to Anna for both her ever-wonderful company and her fab list of Liverpool recommendations, and mega shoutout to Zoë and Dave for their precious friendship and amazing hospitality in Birmingham, especially given I wouldn't have been up north in the first place if it weren't for their kind invitation. Also, I can't not give a shoutout to Liv (mostly just for being an utter delight of a human being) but given I'm doing the mentions bit - our coffee in Birmingham was short but ever so sweet and it rounded off the holiday so beautifully.
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