Sipping cocktails next to the water always puts me in holiday mode. So a cool Aperol Spritz in the sunshine at Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock, watching the world go by as we wait for lunch, is the perfect start to our weekend getaway.
My partner and I are in Liverpool for a mini break. Being greeted by glorious blue skies certainly helps with the holiday vibes, but there’s also a lot to be said for plotting an escape that requires zero airport faff.
We got here by train – an essential mode of transport for us, since neither of us drive – but with sustainability now a key consideration for travellers, and many cutting back on overseas holidays due to rising living costs, exploring the UK by rail is becoming ever more appealing.
And, providing there aren’t any major disruptions on the day you travel, it’s really rather lovely to rock up to a station with your overnight bag, pick up coffee and pastries for the journey, then sit back and watch fields and villages whizz by.
We’ve no real agenda, other than leisurely exploring and seeking out some good spots to eat and drink. Plus, Liverpool is an ideal city for enjoying on foot: small enough, easy to navigate and packed with historic architecture.
We’re staying at Aloft Liverpool (marriott.com; doubles from £104 per night), housed in the former Royal Insurance Building, although you’ll find lots of options at various price points if you plan ahead. Rooms are comfortable and spacious and there’s a great breakfast buffet. But most ideal for us is the location, just minutes from the edge of the city centre.
After dropping our bags, we stroll down to the Royal Albert Dock – one of Liverpool’s most-visited areas and a true hub of action for both tourists and locals. For lunch, we find a table next to the water at Gusto (gustorestaurants.uk.com), an Italian on Edward Pavilion, where four cocktails, two starters and a huge pizza to share comes to around £70. It’s all delicious (especially the burrata), and tastes even better served alongside a twinkling River Mersey.
Royal Albert Dock is also at the beating heart of Liverpool’s iconic cultural scene. The city boasts one of the most impressive collections of museums in Europe and many of them are concentrated here. A highlight is the Museum of Liverpool – the first museum in the world dedicated to a regional city’s history – while the nearby International Slavery Museum provides an opportunity to learn more about the city’s role in the history of the slave trade, as a major port for ships and merchants in the 18th century.
Of course, Liverpool is perhaps best known for its musical heritage, most notably as birthplace of the Beatles, with museums and tours galore dedicated to the iconic band. Those aren’t on the cards for us – but we do head to Mathew Street, home to the new Cavern Club and a string of pubs and bars, all blaring live music and overflowing with stag and hen groups. It’s all about the atmosphere here: everyone is having a great time and those happy vibes are infectious.
After all that excitement, we steer away from the tourist trail for dinner. Maray, a local chain promising Middle Eastern-inspired small plates, catches our eye (maray.co.uk) and we book a table at the Bold Street branch. It’s a win from start to finish: intimate, stylish and relaxed. The friendly team are happy to talk us through the menu and let us sample wines.
For after-dinner drinks, after hunting down the secret entrance, we debrief over an Old Fashioned at Berry and Rye (berryandrye.uk), a speakeasy-style whisky and gin bar on Berry Street. Liverpool also has a vibrant gay bar scene: our final stop is The Lisbon on Victoria Street (famous for its ornate ceilings) for a nightcap and boogie.
Sunday calls for an even milder pace. We while away an hour rummaging endless racks in The Vintage Store on Church Street, and dip in and out of well-stocked charity shops and vintage boutiques along Bold Street – which quickly becomes one of our favourite spots in town. A short walk up from here is St Luke’s Bombed Out Church.
Today, the monthly makers’ market is on (slboc.com; see website for details of future events), with stalls selling handmade jewellery, prints, artisan coffee, bath salts and more. We bag a few early Christmas gifts (so organised!) before refuelling with a cider beneath the trees in the grounds.
Determined to squeeze in one more attraction before catching the train home, we walk down to the Radio City tower, where visitors can take a lift 400ft up to the St John’s Beacon viewing gallery (stjohnsbeacon.co.uk; adults £7).
This unmissable landmark has loomed over us all weekend, and its 360-degree views of Liverpool’s spectacular skyline is a great way to top off a fab little getaway.
How to plan your trip
To plan your journey by train, visit www.nationalrail.co.uk. Book in advance for the best fares. You can also save an additional third off most journeys with a Railcard, for just £30 a year.
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