City Guide: Liverpool, UK
A trip to Liverpool is full of good food, good times and good music. Here's how to make the most of it all
Where to drink
If coffee's your poison, the beating heart of Liverpool only has one option: Bold Street Coffee – the city's first and best-regarded speciality shop for caffeine obsessives. Its shots come from Europe's finest roasters, and because Liverpool's an arty old place, you'll find in-house exhibitions to stare down before you chow down on the salt beef hash.
For a bar crawl without too much heavy-footed staggering (or Uber bills), head to the Baltic Triangle, which is exactly what it sounds like: a once-unloved industrial area on the edge of the city centre that's now the site of much arty quirk and cool regeneration projects.
Start by enjoying the rustic environs of The Baltic Social with a Punk Afternoon Tea of sliders, sesame and honey wings, teapot cocktails and slabs of Oreo and Jammie Dodger-inspired cakes – or just get your head around their incredible list of beers from Liverpool and Manchester-based brewers.
From there, head around the corner onto Greenland Street, where you'll find Constellations – an event space that blends food trucks with live music, and a hidden-away outdoor bar vibe. Think Peckham's Copeland Park, but in Liverpool. Then, to end your night, head to the labyrinthine complex of Camp & Furnace, which takes up an entire block on the far side of The Baltic Social. If there's not a gig, football game or multi-day festival for you to get beery at, there's still enough to keep you entertained.
Away from the Baltic Triangle there are plenty of bars with style and swagger – the best of which are secret. If you can find it, make your way straight to Ex-Directory, which only just started giving out its digits in April. Call to reserve a seat and engage the barkeep in a cryptic game of hide and seek, which'll involve you sliding into a super-swish speakeasy through a phone box down an alley in the city centre (it's all part of the fun). For an easier ride, there's Some Place, a Parisian-style attic lair of absinthe swilling and wobbly legs, which you can find by walking along Seel Street until you see a green light near The Zanzibar Club.
Where to eat
If you're the sort of person who likes to start their day with a plush plate of posh nosh, try the Vincent Café, a brunch spot and bar near the Liver Building that's part-owned by Steven Gerrard. With breakfasts, gourmet bites and a sushi menu to eat in and take away, it's pretty much the best spot for brunch and picnics to huff on the hoof.
On the other side of the city centre in the Baltic Triangle, street-savvy Cuban restaurant Finca has recently opened its, er, hatches in Constellations, and will be sticking about for another six months or so, unlike a lot of the shorter-term pop ups you'll also find at the venue.
For more street food vibes, grab a table at Bakchich, a top-notch spot for Lebanese food right on the trendy stretch of Bold Street. There you'll find charcoal grills, fattoush and Arabian grub from breakfast through to dinner, and the shawarma starts at just £3.50. Madness.
For veggies, Egg Café is a go-to for simple all-day dining in the boho environs of an old warehouse loft about two minutes from Liverpool Central station. They're also BYOB, and corkage is only a quid.
Come dinner, if you fancy fine food with a view, head up West Tower for a meal at Panoramic 34, where you can soak up the city from one of the highest restaurants in the UK, with an epic eight-courser.
For fine food with a seasonal, local lilt try The Art School. A grand restaurant on the northern fringes of the city's cool Georgian Quarter, it's the perfect place to blow the budget on a 'surprise me' tasting menu which comes in vegan, veggie, pescatarian and, er, meaty.
Alternatively, for Japanese flavours at less premium prices, try Tokyou, a small eatery a block to the right of the bombed-out church at the end of Bold Street. Starters are about £2 and mains rarely cost more than £8. We love it up here.
What to do
What with Sgt Pepper hitting the big 5-0 this year, the whole of Merseyside is making more of a fuss about The Beatles than ever. There are still tickets available for International Beatleweek over the August bank holiday, or you can hop aboard the charabanc for a Magical Mystery Tour of Liverpool, which starts at the Cavern Club and features Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and (obviously) Macca's childhood home.
Of course, if Ringo, George, Paul and John leave you colder than cold, there are plenty of other festivals in the city throughout the year, but the pick of the bunch is Hope & Glory, a new boutique weekender that sits slap bang in the middle of the city centre, where you can see Madchester villains like Shaun Ryder and Bez, as well as getting knees deep in a huge Victoriana carnival complete with sideshows, rides and offbeat bawdiness.
Beyond the festivals, the city's jam-packed with galleries, music venues and multi-purpose art spaces. Bold Street's FACT is a top option, showing arthouse movies, exhibitions and talks on everything from post-truth politics to quantum physics. Also worth a visit is the centrally-located Bluecoat for off-kilter contemporary art and Tate Liverpool on the dockside for – well – you've heard of the Tate, right?
The best shops
The trendy focal point of Bold Street is your first port of call for indy shops. There you'll find radical bookshop News from Nowhere; vendors of the finest 1950s threads; Little Red Vintage; and Matta's International Foods, a 30-year-old superstore full of ingredients from all over the world. Just 'round the corner is Lost Art – a skate shop that's up there with the UK's best.
Alternatively, head to the Bluecoat to pick up antiquarian reads from Kernaghan Books and vinyl at city stalwart Probe Records.
The best places to stay
The chic boutique Hope Street Hotel is a great option if you favour rooms of the stripped-back modern variety. Downstairs, there's classy grub and a huge wine list at The London Carriage Works restaurant.
If you're looking for a bed on a budget, try Hatters Hostel, which blends Victorian quirk with functionality and an all-important bar for meeting buddies (as well as a free breakfast to help nurse that hangover).
Finally, Liverpool fans should stay at The Shankly Hotel, which – beyond the inspirational quotes and memorabilia – is a glam yet cosy bolthole less than five minutes' walk from Lime Street Station.
Virgin offers trains from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street from £16.50 single. See virgintrains.co.uk for more information.