As a teenager I spent my Saturdays walking up and down Bold Street. Back then it was music shops and secondhand clothes; now it’s mostly independent cafes and restaurants. Bold Street swaggers down from Saint Luke’s church to the centre of town. Hollowed out by a bomb, it’s a reminder that broken things can still be beautiful, and valuable.
Matta’s International Foods is a fine Liverpool institution. Its herbs and spices are now indispensable but they must have been a revelation 40 years ago. Bold Street’s independent spirit also blows through Leaf, an argy-bargy of tables in a majestic old cinema and former 1920s tearoom. Its the first place I take visitors, because its combination of cosiness and glamour feels so Liverpool.
If you’re here to see Liverpool play, go to Homebaked Bakery next door to Anfield. A social enterprise that was once just a very good pie shop, it is now a portal to a vision of a better world – and an unmissable pie shop. Try a Scouse, or a Klopp (pictured, left).
And if you’re catching a ferry, wander along to Delifonseca Dockside, a glorious food hall stacked with cheese, charcuterie and take-home desserts.
If possible, arrive in Liverpool by boat. I’ve returned from Ireland dozens of times by ferry, and the sight of that fairytale waterfront, its Three Graces (the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building) floating over the river, weightless and beautiful as a mirage, still overwhelms me. If you can’t do that, catch the Dazzle Ferry, painted in Sir Peter Blake’s extraordinary “dazzle” livery – and try not to look back at Liverpool until you’re on the return trip. Greek poet Peter Cavafy, who lived here, wrote about the joy of entering a new harbour for the first time. I wish you that.
The Georgian Quarter spreads its elegant skirts out from Falkner Square and is great for a stroll. For a newer Liverpool, head to Lodge Lane. Once depressed and depressing, it’s now buzzing thanks to enterprising refugees and asylum seekers from Yemen, Syria and Iran. But to truly understand Liverpool, walk around Chinatown. We often talk about the city’s Irish influence, but the Chinese one is just as pervasive, and goes back centuries.
Liverpool is blessed with parks and each has a jewel at its heart. Just across the road from Strawberry Fields, the rolling acres of Calderstones Park are home to the thousand-year-old Allerton Oak, purportedly the site of a medieval Hundred Court. In a courtyard at the Mansion House are the Calder Stones – six neolithic standing stones. The cafe and exhibition rooms are run by The Reader, a charity that promotes shared reading. There’s something very Liverpool about the fusion of the loftiest literature with ice-cream cornets, park swings and beauty.
Sefton Park has as its centrepiece the Victorian Palm House, restored by volunteers. The park is full of happy memories – of childhoods, or recent weddings and concerts – and you can feel the pride and sense of ownership as you walk in.
Pubs The Monro in Chinatown, the Roscoe Head and The Pilgrim have retained their bohemian identity. But stags and hens head for Concert Square, and the streets between Duke Street and Wood Street bristle with bars. Liverpudlians are open and friendly. Strolling around, you will almost certainly be asked to tag along with a crowd. My favourite night-time spot is the car park at the Irish Ferries terminal, with a view back across the river to the constellated lights of the waterfront under the Liver Building’s harvest moon of a clock.
Where to stay
Hope Street (doubles from £103) on the edge of the Georgian Quarter has gorgeous views and quietly gets everything right. I’m also drawn to The Titanic (doubles from £105) at historic Stanley Dock. It’s at the mouth of the Mersey but has views of a vast ruined Gormenghast of a warehouse. The corridors are so magically lugubrious you could walk past Hagrid in the shadows and not notice him. Liverpool is perhaps the last British imperial city, and the Titanic is the place to go to contemplate the folly of empire, over a full English.