How to Visit Liverpool on a Budget
Liverpool is a city that achieves a difficult equilibrium. It is constantly changing, yet remains forever anchored to its history and traditions, the two facets entwining seamlessly. In no other British city, do students, hipsters, tourists, and locals fuse so well together. You think nothing of enjoying a locally brewed ale sandwiched between a group of young scholars and a pair of nattering old men.
Liverpool certainly has sights, restaurants, and bars aplenty, but it is the very essence of the city that binds it all together in one fun package. Being amongst the cheapest of the United Kingdom’s major cities, visitors can enjoy Liverpool without breaking the bank if only they know where to look.
WHAT TO SEE ON A BUDGET
The city center is dotted with stunning architecture, from huge monuments to rows of houses. If embarking on a walking or photography tour, start down on the waterfront at the Albert Dock, home to numerous museums and a crucial part of the city’s maritime history. Strolling along the docks, you’ll reach Pier Head; facing the water are the Three Graces, comprising the iconic Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. Testament to its historical significance, this area makes up a large part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City. Head up into the central area and make a beeline for St. George’s Hall to marvel at the 16 columned portico and statue of nineteenth-century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Walking up from the shopping area of town, towards Hardman Street, you’ll reach the Bombed Out Church, the shell of St. Luke’s Church which was devastated during the Second World War. Just along Berry Street is the entrance to Chinatown, marked by the huge, ornate archway.
Rising above the city are the twin cathedrals, one Catholic, the other Anglican. The Catholic Cathedral, nicknamed Paddy’s Wigwam for its unorthodox design and connection to Irish communities, is a circular construction with a many-pronged central crown reaching skyward.
The Anglican Cathedral is immense in its enormity; it’s the longest cathedral in the world and fifth largest by total volume. Entrance to the cathedral is free, but for £5.50 visitors can climb the 331 feet tall tower for unparalleled views of the city and an accompanying video tour.
On the edge of the center is the Georgian Quarter, just across Hope Street from the Anglican Cathedral. This area is mainly residential, with rows of elegant terraced townhouses. Stroll down Canning Street and the surrounding roads for photo opportunities of the terraces backed by the imposing cathedral.
MUSEUMS ON A BUDGET
Liverpool’s history is a varied one, from key slave trading port to the birthplace of the Beatles, and is suitably home to a plethora of brilliant museums, showcasing the good and the bad of the city’s past. National Museums Liverpool comprises a cluster of museums and galleries, all of which offer free entry. Aside from this group, there’s also the Liverpool branch of the Tate galleries and the Beatles Story.
Museum of Liverpool
The newest in the National Museums Liverpool collection explores different facets of the city’s past and their global significance. Parts of the museum look at the docklands history and city’s role in trade. Others move the focus away from big events, the exploring Liverpudlian sporting and cultural history and what it means to be Scouse.
Merseyside Maritime Museum
An important port city, much of the city’s history is based on the docks. Located on the Albert Dock, the Maritime Museum tells the social and commercial history of the area, featuring model ships and naval art. Currently on show is Titanic and Liverpool: the untold story, an exhibition exploring Liverpool’s role in the Titanic disaster.
International Slavery Museum
Housed within the Maritime Museum, is the International Slavery Museum, an attraction in its own right. Liverpool was crucial to Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, launching ships to West Africa. The International Slavery Museum not only looks at this period of history but at many aspects of historical and contemporary slavery. Immersive displays on the transatlantic slave trade include West African cultural artifacts and a replica of part of an Igbo community. Particularly evocative is the section on the Middle Passage, the horrific eight to ten-week journey across the Atlantic, including a graphic two-minute recreation of that journey.
Looking beyond local history, the World contains galleries ranging from Ancient Egypt and World Cultures to a planetarium, an aquarium, and the Bug House, home to a galaxy of insect life. Between February and October 2018, the museum will play host to an exhibition of China’s Terracotta Warriors.
Walker Art Gallery
Having housed art collections for 130 years, the Walker displays an impressive variety of works. For traditionalists, there are Tudor portraits and Renaissance and pre-Raphaelite masterpieces. Complementing classic works from these great schools are modern pieces by David Hockney and Lucian Freud. From 18th February until Summer 2018, the gallery hosts a temporary exhibition, Fashion Icons: Celebrating Gay Designers, a collection of outfits by legendary gay designers including Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.
Another freebie, the Liverpool branch of the Tate displays a history of British art from the past 500 years and international collections ranging from eastern Europe to Latin America. Highlights include works by John Constable and JMW Turner and, until June 2018, the gallery hosts an exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art.
Splash Out: The Beatles Story
The Beatles Story tells the tale of the city’s most famous sons and includes replicas of some of the scenes of the band’s success, such as the Cavern Club. Unlike Liverpool’s other museums, however, this one is not free; adult tickets cost £15.95, with children entering for £9.50.
WHAT TO DO ON A BUDGET
In terms of budget activities, Liverpool has an abundance. Crosby and Formby beaches stretch out to the north of the city; you’re lucky if you get a day fine enough to sunbathe but the beaches are great for walks. Formby has a great dune network and a National Trust red squirrel sanctuary, while Crosby hosts Anthony Gormley’s art installation Another Place, 100 cast iron human figures gazing out to sea.
In the south of the city, sprawling Sefton Park is a great spot to stroll, jog, and people watch. The park is encircled by grand old merchants’ houses from the city’s maritime past and adjoins the happening Lark Lane.
Known locally is the Bombed Out Church, St. Luke’s was damaged during the Second World War; it still appears as a shell and no longer holds religious services. Instead, it hosts a variety of cultural events, from open-air film showings and yoga (free/donation based) to open mic poetry nights for £1. The church is centrally located at the bottom of Hardman Street, amongst an abundance of pubs and bars.
Liverpool is a big music city and knows how to throw a good free festival. For years the Matthew Street Festival entertained with performances across the city, but 2013 saw this event replaced by the Liverpool International Music Festival, held in Sefton Park each July. Being free, the whole city turns up to see Scouse bands and up and coming artists share billing with more established international acts amidst a carnival atmosphere.
Also hosted by Sefton Park, Africa Oyé is the UK’s largest celebration of African and Caribbean music and culture, entertaining Scousers for the past 25 years, with 80,000 attending in 2017. Next year’s dates are 16th and 17th June 2018.
Splash Out: Premier League football
Alongside music, Liverpool is renowned for football, with two Premier League teams, Everton and Liverpool, based in the city. Tickets can be expensive and difficult to acquire, but provide an unforgettable day out and represent a huge part of British culture. To avoid disappointment, check ticket availability well in advance. For those without the budget to go to the stadium, head to a pub to catch the action and atmosphere amongst highly partisan locals.
Another budget alternative to Premier League football is the lower leagues. Tranmere Rovers are based in Birkenhead, just across the River Mersey from Liverpool, while Marine F.C. play in Crosby. Although the standard of football is lower, games are exciting, there’s a lively but family-friendly atmosphere, and this represents a real, old-fashioned English sporting occasion.
WHERE TO EAT ON A BUDGET
Liverpool is full of great restaurants, with many having one central branch and another in the suburbs. Bold Street is lined with a diverse selection of eateries and is conveniently located amongst the central sights and bars. The best spots outside the center to hit are the studenty Smithdown Road, the adjoining Allerton/Penny Lane area and Lark Lane in Aigburth.
Turkish BBQ Elif has a branch on Bold Street and one on Lark Lane, both serving grilled meat (all the lamb dishes are incredible) and meze dishes at reasonable prices. Mains cost around the £12 mark, with mezes around £4 each; if dining with a group, Elif’s menu is perfect for sharing or ordering individually.
Part of the ‘small dish’ revolution sweeping Britain, Miyagi’s menu comprises pan-Asian soul food from land, sea, and garden. Think pork belly bao buns, blackened cod, and hot and sticky Korean wings and before you know it you’re calling to make a reservation. Complimenting the food, Miyagi plays a soul and Motown soundtrack including local live acts, the perfect accompaniment to dinner. Miyagi have a restaurant on central Bold Street and another out on Allerton Road and dishes cost between £5 and £8; order a number to share.
Another with locations on Bold Street and Allerton Road, Maray also serves Middle Eastern small plates, from lamb koftas and shawarmas to octopus with pistachio, plus an amazing vegetarian selection. Cheaper dishes are around £4-6, the dearer ones coming in at £8-9.
Owned and ran by a local cooperative, Naked Lunch is an all-day place, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and catering equally well for vegetarians and vegans as for as meat lovers. Naked Lunch is a great place to visit early, starting the day with a tasty breakfast, from egg-based confections to an exemplary Full English. In addition to a brilliant menu, stylish décor and relaxed atmosphere, Naked Lunch harbors a community vibe, hosting art and photography exhibitions and music nights.
Splash Out: Salt House Bacaro
The team behind Bacaro initially opened Salt House Tapas, a Spanish restaurant, before taking the tapas style on to this Italian place. On the menu, there’s charcuterie, of course, plus a selection of pizzettes, including spicy pulled beef with harissa mayonnaise and ricotta. Then there’s a healthy fish section, with delights such as grilled king scallops, and a selection of meat dishes including beef carpaccio and Stornoway black pudding with chicken livers and Marsala wine. Pizzettes cost around £6, with other small dishes between £6 and £9. Food aside, Bacaro have an extensive selection of bellinis and aperol cocktails.
Splash Out: Chilli Banana
Part of a mini-chain reaching across Northwest England, Chilli Banana on Lark Lane in Aigburth do delicious Thai food, from rich beef massamam to spicy stir fries. Expect to pay around £12 for noodles or curry with meat, £10 for vegetarian mains, and around £6 for a starter.
WHERE TO DRINK ON A BUDGET
If you’re looking for a cheap pint in a bustling local boozer, try the area around Hardman Street, just uphill from the Bombed Out Church. Within a small grid of streets lie perennial favorites The Pilgrim, The Grapes, and Ye Cracke. Grab a booth or shoulder in at the bar with one of the many Scouse craft beers (I’d recommend the Love Lane pale ale).
For something more noisy and frenetic, head down nearby Seel Street, starting at Salt Dog Slims before heading on to any of the street’s many bars. Virtually all are free entry and most have drinks offers available.
Formerly the warehouse district, the Baltic Triangle, on the edge of the center, has experienced a recent transformation, with many warehouses now housing hip bars. The versatile Camp and Furnace covers all bases, from casual drinks under the brickwork and girders, to a full night out and novelty bingo. Oh, and it does a classic Sunday Roast, the quintessentially British meal in cool surroundings. A three-course roast is £22 per head, which may not sound cheap but is totally worth it for the food. Further delights of the Baltic Triangle include The Baltic Social and Constellations.
For off the beaten track drinking, head out to the Smithdown Road area. Traditionally the center of the city’s student universe, it has a complete mix of places, from old school boozers, to fast food takeaways, and now a hip collection of craft beer pubs. Craft Tap Room combines a no-frills décor with a varied selection of beers and knowledgeable bar staff to point punters in the right direction. A personal favorite, Handyman’s Supermarket is a converted hardware store, still retaining the unchanged facade and some of the interior. The beer selection is great, if not mega cheap, and the atmosphere of the long-tabled bar floor is welcoming.
Splash Out: Oh Me Oh My
For drinks with a view, the place to be is the rooftop terrace at Oh Me Oh My, close to the Albert Docks, for cocktails with close-ups of the Three Graces.
WHERE TO STAY ON A BUDGET
The Old Dairy Guest House
The Old Dairy is located in the cowshed of a 19th century working dairy in the Wavertree area, a short way from the city center and close to Allerton. It offers 12 rooms, most of which have en-suite bathrooms, and breakfast is included if booked directly through their website. Doubles and twin rooms with shared bathroom cost between £35 and £49, while en-suite rooms are £39 – £59.
Based on Mount Pleasant, Hatters Hostel is close to the central action and has kitchen and laundry facilities and its own bar. Dormitories are priced from £12 during the week and £29 at weekends; double rooms cost from £37 midweek, with higher prices at weekends. For those traveling around the UK, Hatters have other branches in Manchester and Birmingham.
The YHA is based opposite the docklands, a short walk from the Albert Dock and the city center. Dormitories are priced from £19, with doubles from £49.
Centrally located amongst a host of bars, Nadler offers a range of stylish rooms. Small, cosy doubles cost from £56 per night, with standard doubles at £65. Breakfast is not included and can be ordered separately, although with this location, there’s the whole city to explore.
How to Visit on a Budget
As far as the UK goes, Liverpool is a cheap city. Like every other city, craft booze industries and hipster hangouts have contributed to price increases, but it’s still a place to enjoy yourself on a budget.
Firstly, take advantage of the free stuff, because there’s enough to keep visitors occupied for days. Other than the Beatles Story, all the museums and galleries mentioned are free. Liverpool also plays host to a number of free events, from music festivals to multicultural celebrations. For up to date information on what is happening in the city and quality money saving offers, check out Independent Liverpool.
If visiting as a pilgrimage to the home of the Beatles, organize your own landmark tour. The Beatles Story museum is pricey but obviously attracts many fans. The Magical Mystery Tour buses fans around Beatles sights around the city, including hangouts and childhood homes but costs £17.95 for two hours. Sights including Strawberry Field and Penny Lane are free to visit, so a do-it-yourself tour can be put together; all-day bus tickets are available from £4.30 from Arriva.
WHEN TO VISIT
Weather is not Northwest England’s strong point and coastal Liverpool can be blustery. Visit between May and August for the warmest temperatures and the city’s festivals. If you’re keen the catch some live football, the season runs from August to May; domestic matches are usually at weekends, with European competitions played midweek. Liverpool now has Christmas markets during the festive season, adding another thing to do if visiting on a winter city break.
HOW TO GET AROUND LIVERPOOL
The city center is small and conveniently compact, making Liverpool the perfect city for walking. The museums, most of the big sights, and a huge choice of bars and restaurants are located centrally. Even the Albert Docks and the Baltic Triangle, on the peripheries of the center, are easily reachable on foot.
GETTING TO LIVERPOOL
If arriving internationally, Liverpool John Lennon airport is a short taxi ride into town but, for the budget conscious, easily accessible via public transport. Buses depart from the stands outside the arrivals hall; buses run into the city center, but it can be quicker to take a bus to South Parkway train station and go on from there. In terms of buses into town, numbers 86A, 86D, and 80A are more regular but slower, while the 82A is less frequent but quicker. The 86A, 86D, and 80A also stop at South Parkway, where onward trains travel quickly to the central stations. Choose from Central, Moorfields, and Lime Street stations, depending on the proximity to your destination. Bus journeys take between 35 and 55 minutes, while the bus and train combo takes around 40 minutes. Check out Merseytravel for more information.
If traveling from within the UK, most trains arrive at Lime Street station in the city center. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Trainline or at most stations. If boarding at a small, rural station without a ticket office, tickets can be bought from the conductor onboard.
Cheaper than trains, particularly for longer or more spontaneous journeys, are coaches, running to and from Liverpool One Bus Station. National Express is a major provider, while Megabus offer dirt cheap coach journeys between many destinations, some for as little as £1.50 including booking fee.
Words by Ben Starkey. Photos by Layla Gilmour. Follow her on Instagram @Layla_Gilmour