Quirky art, heavenly cathedrals, sky-high eateries and hotels for music fanatics… Jenny Southan checks out what this year’s European Capital of Culture has to offer.
1. Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
Known locally as “Paddy’s Wigwam”, because of its largely Irish congregation and unusual architectural style, this modern Catholic cathedral in central Liverpool looks more like an alien spacecraft than a house of worship. In the Sixties, Archbishop John Carmel Heenan invited architects from around the world to submit designs for a “cathedral in our time”, the criteria being it must be built within five years and cost no more than £1 million for its shell.
Out of 300 entries, Sir Frederick Gibberd’s was chosen and construction was completed ahead of schedule in 1967. A broad set of pale stone steps leads up to the silvery white, tent-shaped building, with its 16 reinforced concrete buttresses and stained-glass lantern tower, which looks magnificent from the inside. The atmosphere changes depending on the time of day, when the blue side panels
and lantern tower, containing a full spectrum of colours, are illuminated. The organ at the back is fully on view, and when its 4,565 pipes start bellowing, the acoustics are impressive. Open Mon-Sat 8am-6pm (closes 5pm on Sundays). Visit liverpoolmetrocathedral.org.uk.
2. The Philharmonic Dining Rooms
To stoke up for the rest of the tour, head down Hope Street to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms at number 36, diagonally opposite the Philharmonic Hall. Dubbed “Britain’s most ornate pub”, this dimly lit Victorian watering hole prides itself on its highly decorated interior, particularly the men’s toilets, which have marble basins and glazed urinals. (Women are allowed in for a quick peep – ask at the bar – but the smell from the original leaky copper pipes is rather off-putting.)
The pub was designed by Walter W Thomas in 1900 as a showpiece in the style of a gentlemen’s club – the floors are complete with mosaic tiling, the walls are wood-panelled and the windows are stained glass. Recline on a leather Chesterfield sofa in the Liszt room with a welcome pint of Spitfire ale or tuck into a hearty ploughman’s lunch, homemade pie or burger. Open 10.30am-11pm daily. Tel +44 (0)151 707 2837.
3. Liverpool Cathedral
Continue down Hope Street and around the corner to Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, a red-brick giant sitting on a hill above the city. The building took over 70 years to construct, but when it was completed in 1978, it earned itself the title of “largest cathedral in Britain”. The vast interior contrasts mammoth Gothic arches and vaulted ceilings of brown-coloured brick with intricate stained-glass windows.
Buy a ticket for the Tower Experience (£4.25) at the cathedral shop or at the sales desk, and then cross the nave to the opposite side, where you take a lift up the 101-metre Vestey Tower. (Or rather, two lifts and then the 108 stairs inside the bell tower.) From the rooftop walkway you can spot the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Radio City Tower and the River Mersey. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm (4pm in the winter). Limited Sunday openings are also available. Visit liverpoolcathedral.org.uk.
4. The Beatles Story
Most things in Liverpool are within walking distance of each other, and to get from Liverpool Cathedral to the Beatles Story in Albert Dock takes about 15 minutes. First opened in 1990, the museum has since expanded to include a post-Beatles exhibition looking at what happened to the band members after they split in 1970, a space dedicated to changing themed exhibitions and events, a Starbucks coffee shop and the “Fab Four Store” selling official memorabilia.
Entry includes an audio guide read by Julia Baird (John Lennon’s half-sister) with sound bites from the likes of Brian Epstein and Paul McCartney. It talks you through the various elements of the band’s career from the Woolton village fête where the teenage Paul first met John, The Beatles’ first gigs in Hamburg and their nights down the Cavern Club, to a behind-the-scenes look at Abbey Road recording studios, Beatlemania in the US and the psychedelic era of Sgt Pepper. Open daily 9am-7pm, entry £12.50. For more details, go to beatlesstory.com.
5. Tate Liverpool and Albert Dock
UNESCO World Heritage site Albert Dock is a large red-brick waterfront configuration, housing not only the Beatles Story, but also many shops, restaurants and bars, as well as museums and galleries, including Tate Liverpool.
Showing at the latter until April 2009 is an exhibition called “The 20th Century – How it Looked and How it Felt”, which will leave most people with mixed feelings. Look out for Dorothy Cross’s Virgin Shroud, a cow hide draped over a mannequin wearing a wedding dress with the dried teats of the udder protruding from the head like horns; Andy Warhol’s series of nine electric chair screen prints; and Mona Hatoum’s Home, a table with electrified metal kitchen utensils buzzing behind a wire screen to illustrate the misery of domestic drudgery. Open daily Apr-Sept 10am-5.50pm (9pm Tuesday), and Tues-Sun 10am-5.50pm Oct-Mar. Entry is free except for special exhibitions. Visit tate.org.uk.
6. Hard Days Night Hotel
Stroll along Strand Street and up Lord Street to the “Beatles Quarter”, home to the Cavern Club in Mathew Street, The Grapes pub where the band used to drink and the Liverpool Wall of Fame. Just around the corner is the Beatles-themed Hard Days Night Hotel, a four-star property which opened in February. Pop into Bar Four on the lobby level, and enjoy a drink to the accompaniment of a blaring Beatles soundtrack – look out for original eye-popping artworks by acclaimed artist Shannon, who was commissioned to produce paintings of The Beatles to decorate the public spaces and the 110 bedrooms. For die-hard fans, the Hard Days Night Gallery next door sells a wide range of reproductions. Call +44 (0)151 236 1964 or visit harddaysnighthotel.com.
If you’ve had enough of the Fab Four for one day, make your way to the new Beetham West Tower, home to one of Britain’s highest restaurants. Panoramic, a 12-table fine-dining eaterie on the 34th floor, has proved hugely popular and you’ll be lucky to get a table for dinner, but it’s a great venue for lunch or a drink at the bar.
The views are stunning, particularly at sunset, and the seasonal menus are equally memorable. A three-course lunch is available for £17.50 with options such as sardines with rillette, confit tomato and mizuna to start; barley risotto with artichoke, Parmesan, white truffles and parsley for the main; and lemon tart with blackcurrant sorbet for dessert. Dining highlights at Panoramic include the (pungent) cheese trolley, the immaculate yet friendly service, and an imaginative approach to ingredients and presentation. Tel +44 (0)151 236 5534, panoramicliverpool.com.