Liverpool travel guide for the perfect city break

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Mad about Travel goes to Liverpool, by Essy Van Der Vlies

When I found out Mad about Travel was heading to Liverpool for a few days of fun I did punch the air with excitement. The main reason being when I moved to the UK 22 years ago from The Netherlands to a small town just outside Liverpool, the Liverpudlians have been very welcoming and helpful making the transition of settling into a new life a lot smoother and pleasurable. For my partner in crime Nik, who is a true Mancunian at heart and of course the one and only Mr Deansgate, it felt a bit like he was cheating entering Liverpool. Hence I was even more determined to show him how versatile Liverpool is and had lots planned to bring out the inner Scouser in him! Or at least have him singing after a few days in Liverpool Jimmy Osmond 1972 song ‘Long haired lover from Liverpool!

Arriving Friday morning with sunshine and happy mindsets at the 4 star Pullmans Hotel situated at Kings Dock I knew straight away we would be looked after and feel like a King and Queen during our short stay. The hotel is only a five minute walk away from the iconic Albert Dock and its world famous waterfront. One of the perks of staying at the Pullman Hotel is that it’s super close to all major transport links and only a ten minute walk to the city centre. Our hotel room on the 8th floor had magnificent views over the Mersey, which definitely was a great feature adding to the already exquisite room. The room itself had a modern and costal feel to it. Roomy yet cosy and simply perfect to collapse in the big inviting king size bed after a fun day and night exploring vibrant Liverpool. The front house staff made us feel so welcome. Not overpowering. Just friendly and warm, representing the Scouse hospitably perfectly, just the way I was welcomed 22 years ago. In the room I found a lovely hand written card wishing us a happy stay with a reminder if we needed anything to contact a member of staff, alongside the usual toiletry goodies and crispy white His and Hers bathrobes with matching slippers.

There was no time to relax as we had a busy day full of contrast and surprises planned. So after dropping our bags in the room we headed straight out to make sure we were able to soak up some of the wintery sunshine whilst having a stroll through the ever so charming Albert Dock. The Albert Dock is a complex of dock buildings and warehouses. One thing to keep in mind if you are heading to the waterfront is to wrap up warm and wear sensible shoes, unlike me, as it can be pretty nippy and it’s very challenging walking the cobbles if you are tottering around in high heels. However that didn’t spoil the fun as there is so much to do and see around the Docks. From inviting coffee shops, restaurants and bars, the usual souvenir shops, the Beatle museum, the Merseyside Maritime museum, the World museum, the International Slavery museum and not forgetting a Superlambana hunt. However we opted for the Tate museum. We were welcomed by a member of staff at the Tate who took us straight to the Roy Lichtenstein expedition, which will be displayed till mid June this year and is a must have to go and check out. Roy was an American pop artist and became a leading figure alongside Andy Warhol in the new art movement during the 1960s. His work was inspired by comic strips and has often a tongue and cheek feel to it. After admiring Roy Lichtenstein his incredible colourful and I must say very dotty and stripy art work, we heading out for a long leisurely stroll alongside the Pier head. Bumping into more cool Superlambana’s and the impressive Royal Liver birds building, which are without a shadow of a doubt one of the most recognisable symbols of Liverpool. They are part of the three graces and define one of the most beautiful skylines together with the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. These majestic buildings are visible symbols of Liverpool’s International prestige. After taking it all in and enjoying the surroundings we casually wandered back to the hotel bursting out into Gerry and the Pacemakers famous song ‘Ferry across the Mersey’. It just had to be done!

Back at the hotel I had a little surprise planned for a very hungry Nik. Knowing he loves his food and one of his jobs being a food critic himself  I thought it would be perfect to wine and dine him at the Marco Pierre White based ‘Wheelers’ restaurant located in the Pullman Hotel. Wheeler is credited with being the world’s oldest and finest fish brands and was launched by Marco, a famous British chef, restaurateur and television personality. With seafood the key component of the menu and Nik being a fish lover I knew I would be scoring some brownie points and hoping the surprise he had in store for me would be equally appreciated! We started with Quail eggs Maintenon, French onion soup and a salad of beetroot and goats cheese. Our mains consisted of roast rump of lamb with cockles and roasted red mullet with sage beignets. The dessert was poached pear and Cambridge burnt cream. All washed away with glass or two of white Pinot Grigio. If you like to treat a loved one to the perfect wine and dine experience and make them feel significant I really recommend booking a table at Wheelers. From service, to the quality of food and the atmosphere it really is top class.

After satisfied full bellies thanks to my very thoughtful surprise, if I say so myself, I was curious and looking forward to Nik his surprise and was hoping it would be equally as pleasing and relaxing. Well think again! The joker only booked us a trip to Ghoulies Haunted House, based on 40-46 Dale Street. The all year around scare attraction is one of the most talked about new venues in Liverpool at present. To enlighten those who have no clue yet what was in store for scary cat me. Ghoulies features state-of-the-art animatronics, masks, costumes live actors and special FX to basically make your worst nightmares come through. With shaking legs and my heart beating a little bit too fast,  Nik managed to push me through the doors of Ghoulies. Starting off in the pub next door for some much needed Dutch courage. Before entering through the door to the matrix of hell we were briefed by a lovely member of staff. The thing I can recall the most of that brief is the safe word; ‘I want my mummy’, just in case you wanted out! Alongside her telling us some have literally wet themselves with fright and they sell therefore special Ghoulies Tena Lady, just in case. If you are wondering; I declined the offer of a Tena lady and no I didn’t! There is a small corridor with a red door you have to go through to start this terrifying experience. I literally did hang off and hide behind Nik, genuinely scared and not wanting to go ahead as when we went closer and closer to the red door where screams and evil laugher were getting louder to greet us. Still absolutely petrified and trying to acclimatise to the dark slightly smelly surroundings and creatures coming towards me the weirdest and loudest screams alongside hysterical laughter kept escaping from me. The terror and hilarity experienced at this place are definitely something I will never forget. The actors are simply incredible. The maze set out is slightly confusing, which added to the horror. This experience is definitely not for the faint hearted. Getting chased, ending on my knees with a bag over my head alongside being chucked on a dentist chair undergoing more terrifying antics. If you think you are stronger together going through this experience well think again. As Nik and I were brutally separated for a period of time. Did I scream? Hell yeah! Did I laugh? For sure! Did I shout out; ‘I want my mummy’? Of course not! I can honestly say this has been one of the most randomly, scary but funniest experiences in my life. If you like to challenge your submissive skills and have your heart rate going this is definitely a place you will walk out of with a grin on your face. Another great feature of this scary tour is you will walk out into next doors Ghoulies pub, where people can watch your journey through hell live on TV screens. The first thing I was told walking into the pub still hanging off Nik was; Jeez, you didn’t half look scared to death! Did I enjoy the experience? Weirdly I must admit I really did. If you like to find out what it’s like to be in your own personal horror movie this is the perfect place to experience just that. If you are up for blast with a group of friends and want stories to tell for weeks after. This is definitely the place to go to.   I have so much admiration for the actors working in Ghoulies as they truly thrown themselves into their roles making it their goal to not only torture you mentally but challenge you constantly to try and lose your cool. What’s totally awesome as well is having ending the experience with a little drink in the bar with the one and only Grim Reaper. I like to thank Nik and all the creepy yet wonderful staff at Ghoulies for this very unexpected yet memorable experience.

Safely back at the Pullman Hotel we enjoyed a little night cap chatting about today’s antics in the stunning lounge before hitting the sack as we had another fun filled day ahead of us exploring more of what Liverpool has to offer. Normally whilst staying in a hotel, I can wake up several times through the night as it can be a little noisy. However both myself and Nik slept like babies and thank the Lord no nightmares either after the Ghoulies experience. Breakfast at Pullman’s was the perfect start to a long day ahead. Apart from the usual traditional full English breakfast, a table displaying a Continental breakfast definitely made my taste buds jump for joy. The table was immaculately layed out with lots of fruit, seeds, nuts, natural yogurt, pancakes, waffles, cheeses, various types of bread. I choose for the Continental option and thoroughly enjoyed a bowl full of Greek yogurt, fruits, seeds and granola topped off with a bit of honey whilst Nik enjoyed a full English breakfast. The service was yet again relaxed, friendly and very helpful keeping the coffee flowing.

We decided to start our second day with a little shopping trip as I really really needed new shoes! Liverpool One is the fifth largest contemporary open–air shopping centre in the UK and with 170+ stores, bars and restaurant from high street favourites to designer fashion. You could easily spend a full day retailing it! There is also a 14-screen cinema, an indoor adventure golf course and an award winning five-acre park. We nipped briefly into St John’s Market.  This shopping centre has more than 100 retailers and has been going strong since 1969. St John’s is perfect if you like a bargain. Of course St Johns didn’t disappoint and I managed to bag myself a pair of comfy shoes for only 15 pounds to be able to continue walking more steadily through Liverpool as we had many places to go and see. We also paid a short window shopping visit to the very modern Met Quarter, which is very sophisticated and always good to stroll through. Personally, I find Liverpool’s shopping centre one of the most pleasurable in the North West to spend a day shopping as all is located quite close together. Whether you like to purchase high street, designer or bargains there is so much choice. Alongside stopping off for a spot of lunch and finishing the day with a few cocktails at the sophisticated Palm Sugar lounge Bar you really can’t go wrong and are guaranteed to return home with a few shopping bags with new goodies!

As I was not quite shopped and browsed out I manage to kidnap Nik to the Baltic Triangle, which is perhaps the most exciting part emerging in Liverpool city at the moment. The rapidly expanding, developing and upcoming traders and restaurants with a food market is the perfect place for to relax, party, for business and dining. I have been whispered the Baltic triangle is the place where people work hard but play harder! It’s only a 15 minute walk from Liverpool One so my newly comfy shoes were christened straight away. This is the fastest growing area in Liverpool where business pops up each week in the previously abandoned warehouses. Not only is it one of the snazziest places in town its also the place to hang out at night time offering an variety of music venues, late-night garage raves and event spaces for many occasions. At the Baltic triangle, you can find Camp and Furnace and Baltic Social, The Women’s organisation, Elevator Recording Studios, a Skate park, The Scandinavian Seaman Church, Unit 51, Haus, Constellations and the  Lantern Theatre.  The Baltic market only opened up in July 2017 and already bringing in over 100,000 visitors in one weekend. They offer drinks or you can experience some of the local pop-up food supplied by local chefs and restaurants. You can also find the very popular Peaky Blinders bar. The bar is inspired by the BBC gangster series set in the 1920. Visitors are able to step back into time and have a drink in the bar that looks like its taken straight from the set. The bar has proven to be already a huge success with the staff and many visitors dressing up as cast members.

We were lucky to catch up with inspiring Deborah Steggel, one of the founders of Red Brick Vintage in the well-known Cain’s Brewery building. She runs this grand warehouse, with her partner, where over 50 independent traders are currently based.  Artists and creatives work all together to provide a destination that covers all aspects of lifestyle. From vintage to retro. Beautiful handcrafted, pre-loved, up-cycled must haves from clothing, jewellery, accessories, furniture, art, music and literature. This is the place to be and to get totally lost in for hours on end.  It’s as big as two football pitches, filled with so many eccentric stalls to find that perfect gift. Nik set us the challenge to find each other a gift of 5 pounds that would represent our weekend trip in Liverpool. So off we went our own ways for a while to find that perfect gift for one another. Slightly distracted by gorgeous vintage fake fur coats and antique furniture my eye caught a money bank clown, taking me right back to last night shenanigans at Ghouilies being hunted down by an evil clown. We settled down in a gorgeous Moroccan themed bar called ‘Bedouin’ within the Cain’s building. This gorgeous bar has Arabian styled tents and serves delishious Moroccan food. Whilst chilling out in one of the tents we exchanged our gifts and enjoyed a quick refreshment. Fair play to Nik as he did win this challenge hands down!  He managed to get his hands on a stunning pop art print of Roy Lichtenstein framed and all. A fiver well spend!

With Liverpool being probably globally most recognised for The Beatles we also managed to throw in a super quick visit to Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields. Taking a few snap shots between the hordes of tourists trying to do the same and having a ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ performance from me. Unfortunately, my busking performance didn’t fill Nik’s his new clown money bank to the brim.

Evening approaching fast we decided to wander back to the city centre planning a few cheeky cocktails before having a meal at award winning Italian restaurant Amalia. For the cocktails we wanted to try out one of the best cocktails served up at a unique cocktail bar called Ex-directory. Ex-directory is the cities best kept secret in an underground bar. The secret bar is accessed through a red telephone box. To be able to gain entry the rules are to track down the signature red telephone box and dial the correct number. One thing to keep in mind is that without a booking, the telephone box will refuse you entry and only if you can crack the code will you be able to enjoy this fabulous experience. Managing to gain entry as of course we are super clever like that. Or maybe just super ready for one of the best ever served up cocktails this uber cool has to offer and is notorious for. The Ex- directory experience is brought to you from the founders of the Washhouse, a secret bar in Manchester. Maybe this is why Nik felt straight at home and dived into our giant disco ball cocktail served at our table with sparkles to add extra glitz and shimmer to our night. As I music addict I fell in love with the tunes that were blasting out of the dj booth, a mixture between old skool disco and dance. Not only is this place great for couples of all ages, its ideal for stag and hen parties as they offer cocktail making workshops in the afternoon. The cocktail menu is really something else and watching the epic bar staff producing one amazing looking cocktail after the other is definitely part of the Ex-directory experience too.   From two little ducks served in a mini bath tub, to our shiny disco ball and the more classic cocktails like a Moijto, Porn Star Martini or a Zombie, you are spoilt for choice in this place. An unpretentious yet speakeasy styled bar where good vibes were paramount. If you find yourself in Liverpool at a loose end but thirsty for some top notch cocktails, go and track that telephone box down!

Getting pekish we left Ex-directory and found our way to Italian restaurant Amalia, based just off Duke Street by John Lewis. Wondering what Amalia means in Italian I found out it translates to hardworking; alongside being a beautiful Italian flower. Entering the restaurant and being instantly welcomed by cheerful and relaxing sounds of laugher and people chatting and watching the down to earth staff interacting with such great warmth, the name Amalia made straight away perfect sense.  Both Nik and I were greeted with open arms by the owner Miguel and seated at a lovely table right in the middle of this recently refurbished modern restaurant.  Taking in the wonderful atmosphere I noticed the restaurant has impressive floor-to-floor- ceiling windows, an outdoor terrace and that authentic Italian feel to the decor, which gives it a very homely and family friendly feel. Like Ex-Directory it’s so unpretentious and you just feel directly at home and are in a good way overwhelmed with the delightful smells from dishes served.  This Italian restaurant picked up the best Pizza in England award for a second year running at The National Italian Awards. No idea still why I opted for a very plain pizza that of course wasn’t on the menu. However nothing was too much trouble and I was presented with an enormous tuna cheese pizza that I managed to nearly polish off, realising doing so they had been well and truly earned their awards for best pizza. Amalia offers vegan and gluten free options as well. Glancing over the menu Amalia offers the finest contemporary cuisine at very affordable prices and it’s no wonder this place fills up to the brim.  Nik opted for palatable seafood pasta. Being spoon fed a taster of his appetizing dish I believe these guys also should win awards for the best ever seafood pasta dish! Desserts went down a treat as well. I was presented with a classic Tiramisu and Nik tucked well happy into Pannacotta Coppa. Shamelessly forgetting time chatting away not aware that we were the only customers left around midnight , Miguel and his staff joined us and we genuinely felt in no rush to leave these clearly hard working and genuine bunch of people in peace. In Liverpool? Fancy authentic award winning Italian food? Want to be looked after and made to feel at home? Amalia is definitely the place! If I am wrong predicting they will definitely win another award this year at ‘The Italian Awards’ I will come and wash plates for a night!

Saying our goodbyes to Miguel around 1245ish it was time to switch the camera’s off and let our hair down at some of Liverpool’s best local bars and clubs. I think it’s safe to say we both enjoyed our city break in Liverpool. From admiring Tate’s art work to being chased by evils clowns at Ghoulies.  To walks around The Albert Dock and the Pier head taking in the architecture to sipping cocktails from a shiny disco ball at Ex-Directory. To sleeping like babies at the Pullman Hotel to browsing for trinkets at Red Brick Vintage in the Baltic Triangle amongst all the other stuff we experienced in such a short time. This is only a fraction what Liverpool has to offer. There is so much more to discover and do in booming Liverpool. A place where the Scouse hospitality will guarantee you to have good time no matter what you decide to do. Liverpool definitely see you soon again. Tara!

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Essy xxx

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