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Liverpool with the family: the city gift that keeps on giving

Liverpool: you always know what you’re going to get – that’s one of the best things about the North’s hottest spot. But you should never, ever rest on your laurels when you travel there. Yes, on every trip, we’ve experienced the fantastic old faithfuls (The Cavern, Albert Dock, Liverpool One…) but we always mix it up with the unexpected too, trying new activities, eateries and shopping experiences with each visit. And this hip, historic and blossoming city never fails to take me by surprise…

We usually travel to Liverpool twice a year, and every time we face the same questions: do we have family there? Are we going to see a footie match? Is there a special event on? No, no, no. Honestly, you’d think there wasn’t a world beyond London. People can’t seem to accept that we go there simply because we adore the place.

The landmark Liver birds proudly perch above the city

Our Liver-love started as an extension of The Beatles Obsession(TM), but now we’re nursing a serious travel crush on the former European Capital of Culture. Our affair began in 2008 (Liverpool’s year in the cultural spotlight), when The Guardian sent me up there to investigate the city’s “Back Street Culture”. As well as a whistle stop tour of over 10 of the city’s most celebrated watering holes, we enjoyed our first stay in the Hard Day’s Night Hotel, were wowed by the street art in the City’s Rope Walks district and had our spirits lifted during a delicious Sunday Brunch at Alma de Cuba (complete with gospel choir).

Housed in a former Roman Catholic church, Alma de Cuba is one of the country’s most intriguing and appealing venues

Five years later and the city is still storming, proving how well-deserved the Capital of Culture award really was. Liverpool has gone from strength to strength, mashing-up its reputation as a hard-edged Northern town with a formidable love of music and football (and an unwavering addiction to the scouse brow and lip gloss) with family-friendly attractions, an achingly cool art scene, a host of must-stay hotels and a continuing commitment to inner city regeneration.

St. George’s Hall, directly opposite Lime Street station, offers a majestic welcome to the city

On this visit, we were with another family group and went all-out for the all-ages experience. As well as taking the kids back to The Cavern (where under-18s are made most welcome until 8pm), we explored the World Museum, where a host of free exhibits cover dinosaurs, bugs, Egyptians and an aquarium, took a ferry ‘cross the Mersey to Spaceport, a fun and interactive space-flavoured attraction with a popular Wallace and Gromit gallery and a schlep around Liverpool One so the boys could fuel their Lego addiction (and the girls could slip away to Topshop for a little browse).

When the kids heard that dinosaurs were involved in Liverpool’s World Museum, they were through the doors like a shot

The galleries are packed with interactive elements (we loved opening drawers in the education area to find birds, rats and spiders hiding within)

The lads try out some Anglo Saxon fashion

Posing with the crocodile and alligator skulls: Liverpool’s World Museum, right next to the Walker art gallery, was a huge hit with the guys

Waiting for the Mersey Ferry in the snow: you can buy a combo ticket that includes a short cruise on the river and entrance to Spaceport over at the Seacombe ferry terminal
Singing “the song” (you know the one) when you’re on the ferry is obligatory, drinking rose wine from a plastic cup is not (you can also buy snacks and hot drinks at the on board bar)

Spaceport is a 60 second walk from the ferry terminal

The interactive Wallace and Gromit exhibition was a big hit, but the kids also enjoyed the flight simulator and excellent planetarium show, “Astronaut” (featuring the vocal talents of Ewan McGregor, no less)

It doesn’t get much better than this: head for the big cheese in the sky, Gromit

On the way back into Liverpool, we took a stroll around Albert Dock to check out the brand new themed holiday barge (sitting alongside the Yellow Submarine and Joker’s Barge) – this one’s the (sinking) Titanic. Genius

Food-wise, we were spoiled for choice as ever. We’d set up camp at Base 2 Stay again, which has no bar or restaurant to keep the cost for a boutique-style room at a minimum. There’s a Tesco five minutes away so you can grab cereals and croissants for breakfast, or explore nearby Bold Street which has a host of bars, cafes and restaurants.

On our first night, fish & chips from L1 (with mushy peas, of course) were a highlight. Lunch in Jamie Carragher’s Cafe Sports wasn’t much to write home about (and the snail-paced service forced us to withhold a tip), but dinner in the Kasbah cafe Bazaar on Bold Street was a delicious feast of savoury Moroccan pastries, baking hot tagines, sizzling brochettes and cooling homemade lemonade with fresh mint.   

The classic menu at L1, a few minutes walk from the Hard Day’s Night Hotel: note use of the term “barm” – the main sticking point between Lancashire and Yorkshire folk (who call bread rolls “teacakes”) – go figure

The Tagine De Marrakech in the Kasbah (chicken breast cooked in saffron and preserved lemon comfit with Moroccan olives) – takes hours to cool down but well worth the wait

Not sure if those mini milks were worth the 20 minute wait, though – slow service and average food prevents me from bigging-up Cafe Sports, although the 50pago table football went down a treat

And like any mini-half-term-break, the adults need a healthy portion of fun (and cocktails) too. On this occasion we enjoyed drinks in the Hard Day’s Night Hotel’s Bar Four, our favourite John Lennon tribute act (Jimmy Coburn) in The Cavern, drinks in the ornate and historic Philharmonic Dining Rooms and gorgeous cocktails in the beyond atmospheric surrounds of Alma de Cuba, where we were welcomed – kids and all – for an early evening aperitif.

What better way to round-off another fab(ulous) trip to the jewel in the North: the cultural city gem that just keeps on giving…

Sweet and strong: what else would you expect from “Ringo’s Drumsticks”? Served ice cold in Bar Four, Hard Day’s Night Hotel (although we must point out that something odd is afoot with the music policy – Wot No Beatles??)

No matter how many times I see this stage, I always get shivers down my spine: The Cavern Club, Mathew Street

The boys preferred the quieter back room (aka Live Lounge) – and we watched them play on the screens, whilst enjoying the live music on the main stage

The Philharmonic Dining Rooms – probably Liverpool’s most famous pub (when gents use the loo they can “enjoy” the listed urinals…)

Haunting, hip and unique – it’s Alma de Cuba

You can see why Alma de Cuba is constantly tipped as one of the country’s best venues

Stained glass has never looked so good

2-4-1 cocktails will always raise a smile

I love it when a cocktail matches my nail colour: Alma de Cuba’s Violet Martini (with an edible flower) tastes just like Parma Violets

A final cheer for Liverpool in the Cavern Pub
Written by Johanna Payton