An insider's guide to Liverpool
Local writer Julia Johnson recommends an ideal route through this culture-packed city – taking in some of Liverpool's major museums, brave young galleries and places to refuel along the way.
From the first time I came to Liverpool a decade ago, it’s a place I’ve been excited about: the amount there is to discover here has never ceased to amaze me. Liverpool is small but perfectly formed, offering everything you could ask for in a major city within an easily walkable area.
If you arrive into Lime Street station, the ideal place to start exploring is just across the road on the cobbles of William Brown Street. The Walker Art Gallery is one of my favourite museums in the city, a peaceful place where all artistic tastes are catered to. Works by Rembrandt sit alongside installations by Lubaina Himid and, as the home of the John Moores Painting Prize, the Walker is also dedicated to celebrating the cutting edge of contemporary painting.
A few steps away is the World Museum, a family-friendly space where you can explore creatures and cultures from around the world. The Egyptian galleries are definitely worth a stop, and if the wonderfully varied artefacts weren’t fascinating enough, there’s plenty of well-presented information here for visitors of all ages to make new discoveries. Through events including the current Terracotta Warriors exhibition, the World Museum is securing its place on the map.
Where old and new collide
Turning down Whitechapel into the Liverpool One shopping district, be sure not to miss the gem that is the Bluecoat. It’s the oldest building in the city centre but the focus inside is very much on the modern, and its exhibitions of contemporary art never fail to fascinate and inspire. The Bluecoat’s courtyard garden is also the perfect place to stop for a coffee and a snack; a haven away from the bustle of the surrounding streets.
From the oldest to the newest: just across Hanover Street, OUTPUT gallery opened in May 2018. Its mission is to put a spotlight on what’s happening in the city’s own art world, showcasing artists either living in or from Merseyside, and early events have shown that this is definitely going to be a venue to watch.
Bold Street to the Baltic Triangle
You’re now only a few steps away from Bold Street, home to some of Liverpool’s best restaurants. The great independents here leave you spoiled for choice, but Maray is probably my favourite – their incredible small-plates menu is a great pick for lunch or dinner (trust me, go for the cauliflower).
The most recent chapter of Liverpool’s resurgence is told in the Baltic Triangle, where former industrial spaces have become creative start-ups, micro-breweries and venues, and some of the street art has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
The Northern Lights building on Mann Street is now home to artist-led space The Royal Standard – as well as a studio, it’s also a gallery which hosts exhibitions by national and international emerging artists. Finding the gallery can be a bit confusing, though: go through the entrance signposted for Tusk, and since you’re walking through this ethically minded café anyway, their vegan brownies are a treat worth taking a moment to savour.
Afterwards, see another side of Liverpool’s independent culture by wandering around the new Red Brick Hangar in the Cains Brewery. This warehouse has been transformed into what’s been billed as the Liverpool equivalent of Camden Market, a treasure trove where vintage clothing and furniture curios rub shoulders with modern makeup studios and other small businesses.
Down by the docks
Back down Jamaica Street and turn left, and you come to the iconic Albert Dock, which for 30 years has been the home of Tate Liverpool. The gallery’s permanent collection is curated into intriguing ‘Constellations’ – sets grouped around one major work or artist to explore the connections and influences that have shaped the last 300 years of art. You’ll find instantly recognisable pieces by artists like Louise Bourgeois, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, alongside a range of other high-impact works.
Tate’s special exhibitions, meanwhile, have increasingly taken on the fascinating model of exhibiting pairs of artists together. Usually this is to great effect: at the time of writing, the inspired pairing of work by Egon Schiele and Francesca Woodman does justice to the style and innovation of both artists.
Views across the water
Just around the corner, you can finish your day with a stop in Mann Island’s Open Eye Gallery to discover outstanding photography with a socially engaged focus. Here on the waterfront the views are as impressive as the art, and the Goodness Gracious roof garden or Matou are both perfect spots for rounding things off with a gin and tonic.
If the weather’s less favourable, grab a drink in the Ship and Mitre on Dale Street on your way back to the station: it’s a pub full of character with one of the city’s best beer selections. Take time to enjoy your drink and spend your time in the best possible way: planning when you’ll next be back in Liverpool.
Julia Johnson writes about art at messylines.com.
The National Art Pass offers free or reduced-price entry to over 240 museums and galleries across the UK, plus 50% off major exhibitions and discounts in hundreds of museum cafés and shops. With a National Art Pass you can enjoy 50% off entry to exhibitions at the Walker Art Gallery, World Museum and Tate Liverpool.