City Life: Mersey beat
This stately old lady on the banks of the Mersey may have celebrated her 800th birthday, but she's enjoying an invigorating shake-up these days…
A flattering spotlight now shines on her Victorian splendours and spruced-up docksides, beckoning visitors to 'come together, right now'. Liverpool not only lays claim to Europe's oldest Chinatown and the UK's largest cathedral, but also the title 'European Capital of Culture 2008' - the city's irrepressible cheeriness is being combined with a renaissance in art and culture not seen since the Fab Four took an unsuspecting world by storm back in the Sixties. The city once famous for its maritime prowess and musical clout has reclaimed its wharves and warehouses, transforming them into enticing café and museum districts, and fresh blood pulses through Liverpool's grand Imperial arteries and neoclassical structures, where buzzing restaurants, boutiques and nightlife now hold sway.
By motorway, you'll approach Liverpool on the M62, M53 or M58; the journey from London via the M6 takes between four and five hours. A car is unnecessary unless you plan to venture beyond the city itself. Liverpool is well connected by bus; the main stations are at Paradise Street and Queen Square.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport (0870 750 8484; www.liverpooljohnlennonairport.co.uk) is about 12km south of the city centre and offers regular services to London and Europe. An express bus operates to Liverpool city centre and the Lime Street railway station.
Intercity services run from major towns and cities into Lime Street station; contact National Rail Enquiries (0845 748 4950; www.nationalrail.co.uk) for details of services to Liverpool.
Country code for the UK: 44. Liverpool: 0151.
Collected Poems by Roger McGough; Love Poems by Brian Patten; An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge, which is a bittersweet study of the city in the Fifties..
Do go / Don't Go
The city is a year-round destination but the weather is best between April and September. Certain events, like the Grand National and the Mathew Street Festival draw large numbers of people to the city. If Liverpool Football Club wins the European Championship again any time soon you can expect another huge street party.
As a major port, Liverpool has enjoyed a wide range of foreign influences, evident in the multitude of food options in the city; Chinatown has some particularly good restaurants.
There are plenty of black cabs in Liverpool, especially in the city centre; just hail one in the street. Alternatively, try Mersey Cabs (+44 (0)151 733 3393), or get your hotel to recommend a minicab company for you.
10 per cent is standard, but many restaurants now add a discretionary 12.5 per cent, so be careful not to tip twice.
Load up your iPod with your favourite tunes, from Merseybeat to cosmic Scouse (aka the Zutons, the La's, the Dead 60s and the Coral, to name a few).
Liverpool - 2008's European Capital of Culture - has some of the best art galleries in the north of England; the Walker Art Gallery (www.thewalker.org.uk) has works by Rembrandt, Freud and Hockney. Housed in a beautifully converted warehouse in Albert Dock, Tate Liverpool (www.tate.org.uk/liverpool) has an excellent collection of modern and contemporary art. If fine art doesn't tickle your fancy, go to www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk for a round-up of the other cultural stars.
There are enough designer outlets in town to satisfy even the most demanding footballers' wives. Flannels at the Met Quarter centre on Whitechapel (www.metquarter.com) stocks lines by Italy's own fab four (Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Versace) as well as frock stars Etro, Issa and Diane von Furstenburg. Cavern Shopping centre on Mathew Street (www.cavernshopping.com) is another hotspot of trend-alert boutiques - a bulging bag from Cricket is a badge of honour among label lovers. For quirkier fashion and cool homewares, head to Bold Street, where you'll find shops like Utility and Microzine; the Victorian tearoom at department store Jeffs of Bold Street (www.jeffsofboldst.co.uk) is a good place for a pit stop.
Standing 101 metres tall, Liverpool Cathedral's Vestey Tower (www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk) will give you panoramic vistas across city, reaching as far as the Welsh hills to the west and the Pennines to the east. You'll have to take two lifts up to the bell tower (which houses the 14.5 ton Great George bell) and then climb 108 stairs to the viewing platform. Monday-Saturday, 10am-3.30pm (extended in summer). Sunday hours are limited, depending on services and special events; ring +44 (0)151 709 6271 for details.
Pier Head, in the heart of Liverpool Docks, gives you the best view of the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port
Mid February Chinese New Year is enthusiastically celebrated in the city's Chinatown. March LEAP, a diverse festival of contemporary dance showcasing the talents of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (www.merseysidedance.co.uk/leap.html). April The Grand National meeting at nearby Aintree Racecourse (www.aintree.co.uk). August The massive Mathew Street Music Festival brings several stages to a number of city locations and features performances by emerging and established local groups (www.mathewstreetfestival.com). International Beatles Week attracts more than 200 bands from around the world to play tribute to the city's favourite sons, with markets and exhibitions dedicated to the famous foursome (www.cavern-liverpool.co.uk/beatleweek). The flagship Creamfields festival sees international DJs and live acts bid the summer farewell (www.creamfieldsfestival.co.uk).