Standing proud in the 1700s as the empire’s second city, LIVERPOOL faced a dramatic change in fortune in the twentieth century, suffering a series of harsh economic blows and ongoing urban deprivation. The postwar years were particularly tough, with the battered city becoming a byword for British economic malaise, but the outlook changed again at the turn of the millennium, as economic and social regeneration brightened the centre and old docks, and the city’s stint as European Capital of Culture in 2008 transformed the view from outside. Today Liverpool is a dynamic, exciting place: it’s a vibrant city with a Tate Gallery of its own, a series of innovative museums and a fascinating social history. And of course it also makes great play of its musical heritage – as well it should, considering that this is the place that gave the world The Beatles.
The main sights are scattered throughout the centre of town, but you can easily walk between most of them. The River Mersey provides one focus, whether crossing on the famous ferry to the Wirral peninsula or taking a tour of the Albert Dock. Beatles sights could easily occupy another day. If you want a cathedral, they’ve “got one to spare” as the song goes; plus there’s a fine showing of British art in the celebrated Walker Art Gallery and Tate Liverpool, a multitude of exhibits in the terrific World Museum Liverpool, and a revitalized arts and nightlife urban quarter centred on FACT, Liverpool’s showcase for film and the media arts.
Liverpool gained its charter from King John in 1207, but remained a humble fishing village for half a millennium until the booming slave trade prompted the building of the first dock in 1715. From then until the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1807, Liverpool was the apex of the slaving triangle in which firearms, alcohol and textiles were traded for African slaves, who were then shipped to the Caribbean and America where they were in turn exchanged for tobacco, raw cotton and sugar. After the abolition of the trade, the port continued to grow into a seven-mile chain of docks, not only for freight but also to cope with wholesale European emigration, which saw nine million people leave for the Americas and Australasia between 1830 and 1930. During the 1970s and 1980s Liverpool became a byword for British economic malaise, but the waterfront area of the city was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004, spurring major refurbishment of the city’s magnificent municipal and industrial buildings.