The Getaway: Liverpool
A tale of two cities
Long-time Liverpool visitor Ian Mallon is thrilled to find the city booming.
Set the mood
Until recently, the very idea of a travel writer penning a piece about Liverpool would have been a form of holiday journalistic heresy. But times are changing and nobody knows this more than the city of Liverpool itself, a once beaten-up old joint that is now - thankfully - emerging from the rubble of its neglected past.
Not only that, but it seems to be evolving into one of the great British cities in the process, earning a reputation for a growing culinary and social scene, and not just its football and stag parties. Not that there's anything wrong with a bit of footy, even if the quality and standard on the pitch is not quite up to scratch...
I've been going to Liverpool since I was a teenager - when a bunch of us would clamber onto a ferry to Holyhead and make our way by train to Merseyside amid a flurry of excessive boorishness and general banter. These days the practice has gotten a lot more upmarket, and responsible - I'm travelling with my eldest son in tow.
Along with my own general maturing, Liverpool has changed since the wild days of the 1990s. Today, we find a vibrant, almost throbbing, modern metropolis, which has nevertheless retained its friendly charms and its social spine. It has risen from the ashes of 1980s' deprivation and poverty to a city standing proudly as one of Europe's great weekend retreats.
Liverpool used to be synonymous with a poor choice of accommodation - I remember one place we stayed at near Lime Street offering a mini packet of biscuits and a bottle of orange juice for breakfast. Now there are great hotels all along the regenerated Albert Dock area.
My personal favourite is the Malmaison (malmaison.com; rooms from £75/€106), a boutique-style gem on the water at Princes Dock, and pretty much close to everything. The hotel is one of those trendy joints, but without being too arsey. The rooms are black, as are the curtains, but the there are lots of bright pseudo colours interspersed throughout - it works stunningly well. There's a neat cocktail bar - well, we are in Liverpool, love - for a drink before the game.
Eat & Drink
The culinary evolution of Liverpool is well on its way. We had dinner at Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse Bar and Grill on Chapel Street. It was absolutely lovely, but still not as good as White's Dawson Street diner in Dublin. There was nothing like the choice of steaks, for example, so we settled for roast beef and veg - it was Sunday after all, and we were in Blighty, where I believe it's against the law to serve anything other than beef and Yorkshire pudding on the Sabbath. See mpwstweakhouseliverpool.co.uk.
There's still some way to go before Liverpool matches London or Dublin for food and for a truly engaging social scene, but it is making headway, and the pubs are fantastic. Liverpool is now a brash British city with few of the socialist hang-ups of its anti-Union past. It still feels Irish, it's still filled with fabulously funny and engaging folk, and it's still extremely cheap for food, drink and taxis.
Get me there
Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com; from October) offer direct flights from Dublin, though prices go up and down like Liverpool's form, depending on whether it's a match weekend or not. See also visitliverpool.com.
Thinking of taking in a game at Anfield? My advice is not to go to Liverpool through a travel agent. If you buy match tickets separately (liverpoolfc.com) and book your own flights in advance, you can have a relatively cheap weekend for a couple of hundred quid.