Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Liverpool: Bitters, Bands, and Beatles

Tucked away on the edge of northwest England on an estuary off the Irish Sea and a short drive west of Manchester, sits the city of Liverpool. Some say it sits quietly without outwardly making a fuss about its contribution to the world. But there is something special about Liverpool, and something more to Liverpool than the Beatles. But for most visitors who are not rabid football (soccer) fans, the Beatles are a mighty powerful draw to the city. For all it has to offer, Liverpool is a strangely musical town and the history and current music scene therein is enough to occupy any visitor. More on that, later.


Town With a Reputation Gone a Bit Squashy

Liverpool is in an economic revival, so things are OK, mate. But Liverpool is still a place where things are a tad gritty around the edges, enough to keep the people knowing their working-class roots, and yes, it’s a little tough in some neighbourhoods. But don’t talk about this after too many pints of bitters in a local pub or you might catch the attention of some neighbourhood blokes. Or that’s what those in Britain’s bad boy city would have you think, least it tarnish their bravado.


People and Terms

Joe Smith of Tiro Lark performing at the Zanzibar in Liverpool

Joe Smith of Tiro Lark performing at the Zanzibar in Liverpool
 Photo: Lewis Royden

A Scouser is the local name for Liverpudlians, and locals do use the term but it may be taken as an insult if an out-of-towner uses it.

A Scallie is a term for a member of a working class youth subculture identified by a particular style of street fashion that includes branded sportswear, often a baseball cap, and a hoodie worn down and not covering the head. Some consider this an offensive term that is eliteist and arrogant.

Best for visitors to avoid both terms, seriously.

The people of Liverpool are predominantly of Irish descent, so to a degree Liverpool is the least English city in England, but don’t discuss this in a pub, just in case some take offense of this as well. Scousers and Scallie can be very touchie, short-tempered brawlers.

Things have changed a lot for the safer since the days of the Beatles, but that does not mean the city is a safe haven. It’s still a place to keep your hand on your coin purse least it disappear, but still it is a large, modern city with one of the lowest crime rates in Britain.


Around Town Basics

The city centre has been completely revamped in recent years, many buildings have been repurposed, and much of the previous danger that used to linger in the area has evaporated making an evening’s exploration of the main area of town an enjoyable event rather than a walk through Thunderdome.

The night life is amazing. There is no other word for it. Head over to the Concert Square, Mathew Street, and the Victoria Street areas. Liverpool also has UK’s only municipality-designated “Gay Quarter” (or the “Stanley Street Quarter”).

Packed crowd for a football game in Liverpool

Liverpool F.C. Home Game
 Photo: Sanjiva

Even if you are not a football (soccer) fan, nothing can be as surprisingly exhilarating as being a spectator in the stadium of a Liverpool football game. The thrill is unmatched by almost any other sporting events in the world. It is simply crazy.

Warning: BE SURE to get tickets for Liverpool FC as early as possible and be sure to NOT wear the colour(s) of the opposing team or you will find yourself in a fist fight you cannot win, guaranteed. No joke- this is serious business. Football fans in Britain are wildly fanatical. Liverpool FC wears RED at home games. You will quickly gain friends if you do the same.

Incidentally, two other impressive sights in town are the Church of England truly massive Cathedral Church of Christ (a.k.a. the “Anglican Cathedral”) and the Roman Catholic ultra-modern Metropolitan Cathedral (also known by locals as “Paddy’s Wigwam”). Some may consider it a tad paradoxical that both cathedrals are on Hope Road.


The Food, Hostels, and Hotels

Liverpool is a little behind in the culinary development. Don’t expect a wide international variety of restaurants as Scousers linger in their taste in food, an unfortunate lacklustre reputation that is particularly British and still in evidence in Liverpool. However, being a seaport, the fish is good here, and the food is generally more reasonably priced than you would find in other towns and cities around England. So, don’t complain.

In terms of the essentials, there are a handful of budget hostels and hotels to be found in good locations around town and there is also a train and a bus station centrally located to get in and out easily.


The Music, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Now for the part everyone wants to hear about. Yes, this is the Liverpool that spawned the Beatles. And no, the visiting Beatles fanatic will not be disappointed after spending a few days here.

Liverpool is something of a Mecca for music fans and a pilgrimage here is required for any aspiring musician or any music aficionado in general. There are statues and plaques all around town marking significant spots in Beatles history, of which there seem to be many, but there are two activities that are essential for any visitor.

The first is a trip to the Cavern Club, the now world famous venue that the Beatles used to call home. This is still a functioning music club so musical acts of all range of renown and quality are performing here on a daily basis but just being in there is an almost religious experience.

The fact is, the original Cavern Club burnt down some years ago so what exists now is an exact recreation right next door to the original. The stage is even put as close as possible to where the original was in an effort to try to tap into the mythical significance of that hallowed space.

Penny Lane road sign in Liverpool, England

Location of John Lennon’s Childhood Home and Title of a Famous Beatles Song
 Photo: Sanjiva

The second essential activity is taking part in the Magical Mystery Tour. As you can imagine, there are many Beatles tours offered in the city but this one is widely agreed upon to be the best.

Participants board an archaic bus from the 1960s painted with an appropriately psychedelic exterior and listen to an informative combination of their tour guide’s knowledgeable voice and cassettes featuring snippets of Beatles songs over the bus’ 1960’s garbled speaker system.

The stops along the way include Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the homes of all four legendary band members. The tour is a real treat for any Beatles fan and alone is worth the trip up to Liverpool.

Outside of the Beatles, Liverpool still has a rich musical history that includes recognizable names like Gerry and the Pacemakers and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Currently as well, you will hear some of the finest street performers in the world outside the storefronts of Liverpool.

There must be something in the water of the Mersey River because Liverpool has churned out some of the greatest musical movements of all time and threatens to continue to do so. For all its roughness and hard edges, the siren song of Liverpool continues to draw millions of devoted fans every year and not without a very justified reason: the music is just that good.