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Liverpool is a city that is poised to flourish, quietly but steadfastly winning back its reputation after a difficult half-century of struggle and economic decline. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2004) and the European Capital of Culture (2008), the last decade has seen Liverpool's fortunes greatly improved. The recipe for success has been a heavy investment in development, both leading up to and following on from the plaudits of the mid-2000s, and the city is now reaping the rewards of that investment in increased tourism and retail.
Fortunately for cruise passengers, much of Liverpool's redevelopment and revitalization projects have taken place in the city center, alongside the waterfront where cruise ships dock. Serving as prime examples, the revitalized Albert Dock houses numerous restaurants and attractions -- like the Beatles Story -- and the adjacent billion-pound Liverpool One retail park is the U.K.'s largest open-air shopping center.
In terms of infrastructure dedicated specifically to cruising, in 2013, the city announced that the Cunard Building -- one of the elegant edifices making up the "Three Graces" on Liverpool's Pier Head waterfront -- is set to become the new Liverpool Cruise Terminal in 2015. Also in 2013, Liverpool achieved "turnaround status" -- allowing cruises to start and end in Liverpool. This combination of the planned new cruise terminal, along with the city's moves to woo passenger vessels back to Liverpool signal a strong commitment by the city to continue its long, rich maritime history.
In the early 20th century, more than 100 passenger ships were Liverpool-registered. Liverpool's favorable position on the River Mersey, along with its direct canal and railway links to the industrial Midlands, allowed it to develop as a major international trading port. Shipbuilding yards and docks stretched for miles along both banks. And in the days before air travel, passenger liner companies such as Cunard and Canadian Pacific carried millions of immigrants to new lives in North America, while a host of other steamship lines connected Liverpool with South America, Africa, Asia and Australia.
At Pier Head, just prior to WWI, Cunard Line began construction on its brand-new headquarters. The third of the Three Graces was completed in 1916, standing between the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board building (now called the Port of Liverpool Building) and the Royal Liver Building.
Just inland from Pier Head other shipping line headquarters, mercantile trading companies and civic buildings set up shop, creating an architectural legacy now recognized with UNESCO World Heritage status. The city boasts some 2,500 grade listed (historic) buildings and 250 public monuments. The Albert Dock alone (built in 1848), makes up Britain's largest group of Grade I listed buildings.
Cruise passengers descending on the city will find a warm welcome from Liverpudlians who are enjoying renewed confidence that their city has overcome its beleaguered past. Nearly everything of interest to the visitor is within a 10- to 30-minute walk or a short train under or boat ride across the River Mersey.
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When in England, English is always your best bet.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the British Pound. For current currency conversion figures, visit Oanda or XE online. You will find ATMs at many bank branches. Banks usually take a commission when exchanging currency, while some travel agents and exchange offices advertise commission-free exchange. Check the rates they offer. Credit cards are widely accepted, but please note that many taxis do not take them.
Beatles souvenirs of any kind -- post cards, photos, refrigerator magnets, mugs, glasses, tea towels, ties, socks, books and of course music. Purchases may be made at the Beatles Story, Albert Dock and several Mathew Street stores, located four blocks inland from Pier Head.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at Princes Parade in a temporary tent near the Titanic Memorial. The site is adjacent to the famous skyline trio of the Royal Liver Building, the Port of Liverpool Building and the former Cunard headquarters. As noted, in 2013, Liverpool City Council bought the latter building, and plans are now afoot to turn it into a permanent cruise terminal, possibly by spring 2014.
It is a ten-minute walk upriver to the Albert Dock for the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Beatles Story and several good lunchtime restaurants. Buses, including the hop-on-and-off sightseeing services, are a five-minute walk, while the ferries across the Mersey depart from an adjacent upriver landing stage. The UNESCO-designated Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City is one block inland.
Two hop-on-and-off bus operators are City Sightseeing and City Explorer Bus Tour. The latter's website gives details for mini-break passes that include such attractions as City Explorer, the Beatles Story, Mersey Ferries, Seacombe Aquarium and the Tower Experience at Liverpool Cathedral. Both operators, plus local buses, stop at Pier Head. The nearest Merseyrail (local trains) stop is two blocks inland at James Street Station behind the Port of Liverpool Building.
The song "Ferry Across the Mersey" is played when you board and leave one of Liverpool's historic boats that sail between the city and the opposite bank. During rush hours, the ferries carry commuters between Liverpool and Seacombe, a suburb, but it's the off-peak hours (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) that will interest most visitors. The roomy boats, built in the 1960's, have lots of indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a snack bar. Departing the landing stage, the boat heads down the Mersey past the former docks, warehouses and new housing construction, then crosses the river stopping at Seacombe (Wallasey) for the aquarium and an attractive riverside walk to New Brighton, an old-fashioned resort town. The second stop is Woodside (Birkenhead) for the city's heritage trail. Birkenhead had the first publicly funded park, serving as a model for what would become New York's Central Park. Ferries leave Liverpool on the hour from Pier Head, adjacent to the cruise ship landing stage. To make the 50-minute cruise, buy a River Explorer ticket that costs £12 for adults; £9 for seniors and students; and £6.50 for children.
Mathew Street, four blocks inland from Pier Head, is the site for much of Liverpool's live DJ and rock and roll entertainment, including the famous Cavern Club and the Cavern Pub, both with early Beatles connections. Next door, the Hard Day's Night Hotel, offering Beatles-themed rooms and holiday packages, also has a themed restaurant called Blake's named for Sergeant Pepper album cover artist Sir Peter Blake. A free music festival takes place in Liverpool every August Bank Holiday.
The Merseyside Maritime Museum is a must, for it reflects the city's considerable shipping history as one of the world's greatest seaports. Exhibits include Liverpool's shipbuilders with some outstanding passenger liner models on display; ship disasters featuring the Titanic, Lusitania and Empress of Ireland (the Forgotten Empress); Battle of the Atlantic about Liverpool in World War II; videos showing the liner Reina del Mar's maiden voyage from Liverpool to Valparaiso, Chile, in the mid-1950's and a Booth Line voyage up to Amazon to Peru in 1960; emigration of millions from Liverpool to the New World; and personal accounts about the life of gay crewmembers working at sea. A newer section is devoted to international slavery from the Middle Passage days to the present and includes such current topics as human rights, personal freedom and racial discrimination. Videos revealing historic as well as present-day treatment such as child kidnapping in India and household slavery can be graphic. The Cafe on the 4th floor is decorated with steamship line flags and shipping posters. Albert Dock. Open daily 10a.m.-5p.m. Admission is free.
The Beatles Story reveals the singers' early lives in Liverpool and their rise to stardom, and it is located in the Britannia vaults of an Albert Dock warehouse. Be sure to take the audio tour, narrated mostly by John Lennon's sister Julia, for a room-to-room description, plus optional extra reminisces of the four lads' rise to fame and fortune. Examples of the various segments describe their living through working-class childhoods and hard times; being discovered at the Casbah and the Cavern; meeting and teaming up with Brian Epstein; and taking America and the Ed Sullivan Show by storm. Albert Dock. Open daily 10a.m.-6p.m. Admission £15.95 for adults, £12 for seniors and students and £7 for children.
A visit to the Liverpool Cathedral (Anglican) is highly recommended, especially on a day with good visibility, as the view from the tower is outstanding. The Gothic church is visible from most parts of the city and when coming up the Mersey by ship. It's a half-hour walk from the waterfront, but you can also get there by hop-on-hop-off bus. Part of the walk is uphill, with the cathedral set on a high point of land in an attractive park in a residential neighborhood. You can plan your route to pass the Metropolitan Cathedral, a round 1960's Roman Catholic church topped with a glass crown of thorns, or you can walk past the oldest Chinatown in Europe, marked by the largest arch outside of China. The hop-on-and-off tour buses stop at the entrance.
Built over a long period during the 20th century, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the cathedral in 1974, but its Gothic revival architecture gives a much older impression. It rates as the largest cathedral in Britain, the second largest in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. Volunteer docents circulate to educate visitors about the vast interior's religious and decorative features. The worthwhile climb to the Vestry Tower (331 feet high) is via two sets of elevators and some 108 narrow stone steps. From the top, you can see the entire city, the River Mersey, and the distant Pennine and Welsh hills. Light meals and snacks are available in the Mezzanine Cafe Bar and hot meals in the Refectory. St. James' Mount. Open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday Noon-2:30 p.m.; Admission to the cathedral is free; Admission to the Tower Experience is £5 for adults and £4 for seniors, students and children.
For art lovers, the Walker Gallery exhibits such periods as the 17th century masters (Rembrandt, Rubens and Ruysdael); 18th century British (Gainsborough, Reynolds and Wedgwood); Impressionism (Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Monet and Rodin); Romanticism and early 19th century British (Constable and Turner); plus Medieval, Renaissance and High Victorian periods crafts, designs and sculptures. William Brown Street (next to the Library and World Museum Liverpool and opposite St. George's Hall for music festivals and the Empire Theater for staging plays). Attractive Gallery Cafe in the entrance lobby. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free.
Been There, Done That
A slightly out-of-town option is a visit to the attractive planned garden suburb that William Lever (the Sunlight Soap manufacturers) built at Port Sunlight in 1888. As the founder of Lever Brothers, his objective was to provide a then unparalleled standard of living for his workers. He hired 30 architects to create a square-mile village of residential housing, churches, recreational facilities, stores and areas of open space. The village is still very much inhabited, and the original factory building remains on the site. The Sunlight Vision Museum has a visitors' center and shows a film depicting life in the suburb in late Victorian and Edwardian times. Also on site is an art museum built by Lady Lever to house her considerable collection of 18th and 19th century paintings and porcelain, decorative arts and furniture. Both are open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is £3.75 for adults, £2 for children and £3 for students and seniors. Port Sunlight is easily reached in 12 minutes by Merseyrail with trains leaving James Street Station (two blocks from Pier Head) every 15 minutes to Bebington Station and a signposted ten-minute walk.
Several popular lunchtime eateries (open by 11 a.m.) are located within walking distance of the landing stage in the mid-19th century World Heritage buildings that make up the Albert Dock warehouses. Est Est Est is an Italian/Mediterranean-style restaurant located next door to the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Blue Bar & Grill offers an eclectic menu with grilled specialties, and dining is inside or outside on a balcony overlooking the waterfront.
One restaurant with an ocean liner theme is the Seven Seas Brasserie at the Liner Hotel, Lord Nelson Street, just to the left of Lime Street (railroad) Station and one block up. The lobby, bar, restaurant, function rooms, corridors and bedrooms are attractively decorated with shipping posters, prints and photographs. Fresh fish menu items are a good choice. The Liner is also a moderately priced and well-located hotel option.
Hope Street (along the way to the Gothic-style Liverpool Cathedral and the starkly modern Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King) is the city's "restaurant row," and two choices are the London Carriage Works at No. 40, which offers brasserie-style food at lunch (around £10 per person) and more refined fare at dinner (at least £30 per person for three courses without wine) along with the city's largest wine list, and the pan-Mediterranean Ego restaurant and bar serving tapas and meze options as well as pasta, fish, steak and pizza mains, all for under £15, apart from the steak.
Staying in Touch
Wi-fi, as in any sizable city, can be found in coffee shops and other public spots. The Liverpool Central Library on William Brown Street also offers Internet access and a computer lab.
In the Steps of the Beatles -- 3.25 hours, $69
First drive out to see Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields; then in the city center, walk along Mathew Street to see monuments to the Beatles and visit the Cavern Club, one of the night clubs where they got their start. In the Albert Dock, visit the Beatles Story, where an audio tour will take you step by step from their rough and tumble childhood upbringing to their triumphant arrival in America and their spot on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Village of Port Sunlight & Lady Lever Art Gallery -- 3.5 hours, $63
Cross the River Mersey to the Wirral Peninsula where in the late 19th century soap magnate William Lever established a model workers' village with residences, stores, recreational facilities and parks built to a standard never seen before. Lady Lever, his wife, amassed a fabulous art collection -- paintings, porcelain and furniture -- that is housed, or rather crammed, into the village art gallery.
Anfield: the Liverpool Football Experience -- 4 hours, $74
For the sports-minded person who wants to understand England's passion for the game, learn about the history of the Liverpool Football (American soccer) Club that dates back to 1892 and has won more honors than any other English team at home or in Europe. Take a tour of the club's museums and its trophies, and enjoy a behind-the-scenes visit to Anfield Stadium's dressing rooms, the tunnel and the dugout.
For More Information
On the Web: Visit Liverpool, Liverpool 08 and Mersey Travel
Cruise Critic Message Boards: British Isles/Western Europe
Independent Traveler: Europe Exchange
--Updated by Jamey Bergman, U.K. Production Editor
Image of Titanic appears courtesy of The Merseyside Maritime Museum; image of Beatles audio tour appears courtesy of The Beatles Story.