It’s widely known that Liverpool has more museums and galleries than any other UK city outside of London – it’s a fact we love to boast about. Culture is Liverpool’s lifeblood, with many considering the city to be the UK’s creative capital.
Liverpool is renowned for its beautiful architecture, stunning parks, famous theatres, galleries and museums. What isn’t as widely known is the sheer breadth and scale of events held regularly in the city that represent the rich cultures of people across the globe. For example, did you know that Liverpool hosts the UK’s biggest annual celebration of Arab arts and culture in the UK, as well as the Brazilica Festival – a colourful celebration of Brazilian music, dance, culture and food?
In 2008 Liverpool was given the chance to shine as European Capital of Culture and since then the city has seen a cultural renaissance with an amazing programme of events held every year. There is always something going on, so depending on what time of year you are visiting Liverpool, the chances are there will be an event or two. You could be lucky enough to catch the Africa Oye world music and culture festival, the Liverpool International Music Festival, Sound City music festival or the Liverpool Biennial – the largest festival of contemporary visual arts in the UK. On any given day you’ll find a city teeming with culture and to really appreciate it, take a stroll around Liverpool’s streets where you can explore every nook and cranny.
A wander up to the Georgian Quarter is a great place to start. The idea for this grand housing area started in 1800 when surveyor John Foster Senior created a blueprint to make a grid plan of housing. Over the next 100 years a large number of elegant town houses were built to accommodate Liverpool’s wealthy elite. Hope Street, located in the Georgian Quarter, boasts two cathedrals, located at either end and, even though they are vastly different in architecture, both are majestic and beautiful.
Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, described by writer and poet Sir John Betjeman as ‘one of the great buildings of the world,’ took 74 years to build from the foundation stone being laid in 1904. Check out the tower which boasts spectacular views across the city. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, known affectionately as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ was opened in 1967 and features modern works of art, a crypt and glorious multi-coloured windows.
In 2008 Liverpool was given the chance to shine as European Capital of Culture and since then the city has seen a cultural renaissance with an amazing programme of events held every year
Hope Street is also home to a wealth of other fantastic buildings including the art deco Royal Philharmonic Hall, home to our renowned orchestra as well as a venue for classical concerts and popular gigs. Nearby is LIPA, Paul McCartney’s ‘fame school’ for the performing arts. Round the corner on Rodney Street you can visit Mr Hardman’s Studio, a National Trust property dedicated to the life of renowned photographer E Chambre Hardman. The National Trust has other interesting properties in the city including Mendips and Forthlin Road, the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The Albert Dock at the waterfront is home to several great museums and art galleries including Tate Liverpool which houses a fine collection of British and international modern and contemporary art. The Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum are also located here. In the Maritime and Slavery museums, both free to enter, you can see the fascinating collections relating to the city’s role in the wider world and its glorious and sometimes inglorious past. The award-winning Beatles Story, the world’s largest permanent exhibition purely devoted to the life and times of the Beatles, is a must for music fans.
At the time of going to press a Welcome Centre for the Albert Dock had been given the green light and is due to open in 2019. The centre will serve as a welcome, information and event space with various multi-media platforms being used to interpret the history and heritage of the Dock for visitors. The waterfront is also home to the Museum of Liverpool – the world’s first national museum devoted to the history of a regional city. More than 6,000 objects bring Liverpool’s incredible history to life, celebrating thousands of years of the city’s achievements. There are special sections on important cultural gems – music and football – as well as some interesting set pieces which evocatively recreate Liverpool’s past.
Rivalling the Albert Dock for culture is William Brown Street in the heart of the city centre. World Museum Liverpool houses everything from dinosaurs to space rockets as well as fantastic exhibitions. These recently included China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors featuring more than 180 artefacts from museums across the Shaanxi Province – more than half of which had never been on show in the UK before. The World Museum is also a great place for younger visitors with Little Liverpool gallery, a hands-on fantasy world where children can play and learn. Younger visitors can create their very own Liverpool – a city where they are in charge!
The National Trust has other interesting properties in the city including Mendips and Forthlin Road, the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Galleries and art collections
On the same road is the Walker Art Gallery, one of the finest art galleries in Europe. Its attractions include an important collection of Victorian, pre-Raphaelite and Tudor portraits, as well as contemporary art including works by David Hockney, Lucien Freud and Bridget Riley. You can also find Liverpool Central Library, recently re-modelled after undergoing a multi-million pound refurbishment programme.
At the top of William Brown Street is the splendid St George’s Hall, a Grade 1-listed building and regarded as one of the finest neoclassical buildings in the world. You can take a guided tour to really immerse yourself in the history of the building and check for details of special talks and events. Sudley House, in the Mossley Hill area of south Liverpool, is home to a fine collection of 18th- and 19th-century art, gathered by a former resident of the property, wealthy shipping line owner George Holt.
If time is on your side, art lovers should also take a short ferry or train ride ‘over the water’ to Wirral. Birkenhead is home to the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum which houses a terrific collection of masterpieces, ceramics and sculptures, while the historic Port Sunlight has at its centre the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a museum founded and built by the industrialist and philanthropist William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme and opened in 1922. A gem of an attraction it contains a stunning collection of British 18th- and 19th-century paintings, tapestries and sculptures.
Contemporary arts are also well represented in Liverpool with several independent galleries, as well as the FACT centre on Wood Street – an arthouse cinema, cafe and gallery. The Bluecoat in School Lane also offers modern art, crafts and a cultural hub.
Birkenhead is home to the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum which houses a terrific collection of masterpieces, ceramics and sculptures, while the historic Port Sunlight has at its centre the Lady Lever Art Gallery
Live performance venues
Theatres are plentiful in Liverpool and surrounding areas, particularly the historic Everyman and Playhouse, where many of today’s established actors began their careers including Alison Steadman, Julie Walters and Bill Nighy. Together they offer a programme of home-grown work and touring theatre and theatre enthusiasts who also have a passion for architecture will appreciate the refurbished Everyman which was awarded the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize in 2014 for best new building of the year.
Comedy, music and drama are all on offer at the Royal Court, mainstream classics including shows directly from London’s West End can be enjoyed at the Empire and offbeat performances at the Unity. Other notable theatre spaces include the Epstein on Hanover Street and the Lantern Theatre near Liverpool ONE. As well as satisfying appetites for times gone by at the museums mentioned above, history buffs can also get their fill at other fascinating attractions including Western Approaches, located in the historic Exchange Flags.
Visitors can discover the place where the Second World War was won, hidden under the streets of the city. Wirral Transport Museum and Heritage Tramway is a working museum and working tramway preserving the buses, trams and other local transport related vehicles, while the Pier Masters House at the Albert Dock tells the story of the property, originally built in 1852 for the Pier Master and his family. The Pier Master was responsible for ensuring the safe passage of ships entering and leaving Liverpool at high tide.
Liverpool also has a huge amount of public art – look out for a vast array of Superlambananas, commissioned in 1998 for Britain’s Art Trans Pennine exhibition and the Beatles statue at the waterfront, unveiled by John Lennon’s sister. Other highlights to look out for include the statue of John Lennon at Liverpool Airport and late politician Bessie Braddock at Liverpool Lime Street station. A recent addition to Lime Street is a statue of the late, much-loved Liverpool comedian Ken Dodd, ‘King of Mirthyside’. Other statues and memorials across the city honour specific people, some commemorate disasters while others celebrate victories.
All are artistic achievements that will last for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years.
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