Travel to Liverpool, England as the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance in the United States approaches.
February 1964 was a watershed moment in music history. That’s when the Beatles – four mop-topped twentysomethings from Liverpool, England – crossed the Atlantic and officially kicked off the British Invasion in America. Rock’n’roll would never be the same again.
And while we can’t go back 50 years to a time when rock was young, we can take a trip to the place it all began: Liverpool, the childhood home of all four Beatles, and the city where they got their start.
What was largely an industrial town when Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were growing up is now a bustling metro region of nearly 2 million residents. A European Capital of Culture in 2008, it boasts more galleries and national museums than any other British city outside of London, and it has a burgeoning shopping and dining scene. The city’s Liverpool Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the United Kingdom and the fifth largest in the world, and Liverpool is also the winningest footballing city in England with two popular Premier League teams: Everton F.C. and Liverpool F.C. The Guinness Book of World Records calls it the World Capital of Pop, because its residents have produced more number one singles than the residents of any other city in the world.
On top of that, the residents are known as some of the friendliest in the region; readers of the UK’s Conde Nast Traveller magazine have voted Liverpool the friendliest city in the UK on multiple occasions. Liverpudlians – also known as Scousers, after the region’s popular meat stew, called “scouse” – are enthusiastic about welcoming tourists to their region, making Liverpool a particularly great destination for American travelers who don’t frequently travel overseas.
The most convenient way to get there is to take a two-hour train directly from London’s Euston Station. Britrail offers one-way and round-trip tickets, as well as value passes that also include train travel to and from London’s airports. Visit www.britrail.com for more.
Things to Do in Liverpool:
- Stay in the history-packed Beatles Quarter of Liverpool at the Hard Days Night Hotel, the world’s only Beatles-themed boutique hotel. The public areas are filled with Beatles music and memorabilia, and the guest rooms are decorated with Beatles art. The décor is tasteful enough, though, that non-Beatles fans won’t feel overwhelmed. Check out the lobby bar and the hotel’s restaurant, Blakes, which is named after pop artist Peter Blake, who designed the famous cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The nearby Hope Street Hotel is also an upscale and convenient choice.
- Rock Out just around the corner from the Hard Days Night Hotel on Mathew Street, at the famous Cavern Club,where the Beatles began playing in February 1961 and were discovered by future manager Brian Epstein in November 1961. Today, there’s still live music at the club (which was rebuilt in its original location in 1984 after being torn down in the early 1970s) seven days a week, including performances from the Cavern Club Beatles, one of the world’s most renowned Beatles tribute bands, most Thursday and Saturday nights
- Get a Firsthand Look at Where the Beatles Began at the Casbah Coffee Club, founded by Mona Best, the mother of original Beatles drummer Pete Best. When the music club opened in 1959, the Beatles – then playing as the Quarrymen with McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and a musician named Ken Brown – were not only the first house band, but they also helped paint the walls and ceilings with original artwork. The Casbah Coffee Club is still owned by the Best family, and Pete’s brothers Rory and Roag take visitors on lively, anecdote-filled tours. Reservations required. Click here for more.
- See the Town aboard the colorfulMagical Mystery Tour bus, which takes visitors on a two-hour journey through Liverpool’s Beatles history. You’ll see Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, all four of the Beatles’ boyhood homes, the church where McCartney and Lennon met for the first time, and even the performing arts school McCartney has opened on the site of his former high school. Tour guides also have plenty of personal anecdotes and stories to share about the Beatles and the town; you’ll also see sights such as the former offices of the White Star Line (the shipping company that owned the RMS Titanic) and the town’s Georgian quarter (Liverpool has more Georgian buildings than Bath, a British city famous for its Georgian architecture). Prefer to take to the water? Mersey Ferries offers 50-minute tours on the city’s famous River Mersey.
- Relive Beatles History at The Beatles Story, an interactive multimedia exhibit that takes you through the lives and times of the Beatles. The audioguide is narrated by Lennon’s sister, Julia, and the exhibit includes many pieces of important Beatles memorabilia. You’ll walk away understanding the Beatles better than ever before. The Museum of Liverpool also features a Beatles exhibit, along with a lot of other items and history of the town.
- Get Cultured. If you think Liverpool’s only attractions have to do with the Beatles, think again: You can visit the International Slavery Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Walker Art Gallery or the Tate Liverpool to see some of England’s premier museums. You can tour or even dine inside the enormous Liverpool Cathedral – the world’s fifth-largest – where McCartney once failed a boyhood audition to be a choirboy. You can even catch a performance of the world-renowned Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Tickle Your Tastebuds at one of Liverpool’s premier restaurants, including Panoramic 34, which offers an upscale afternoon and sweeping views of the city. The riverside Albert Dock complex boasts a concentration of restaurants that span the price and cuisine spectrum. The award-winning London Carriage Works is a local favorite, but if you’re missing American culture, head over to Central Perk, an American coffee shop modeled after the hangout of the television show Friends.
- Shop in one of Liverpool’s popular shopping centers, including Liverpool ONE (where you’ll find stores ranging from Jigsaw to Topshop, Reiss to Whistles), Metquarter (which features MAC, Jo Malone, Gieves & Hawkes, and more) and Cavern Walks (home to Cricket, Vivienne Westwood, and more).
- Take the Train Back to London, because after all, the Beatles’ history doesn’t end in Liverpool. Check out where the Fab Four lived, loved and recorded after they made it big through one of the insightful tours offered by Access All Areas Rock Tours. You’ll see Abbey Road (and have the chance to take a photo at the famed crosswalk), the Beatles’ former London homes, and even McCartney’s current home and office while getting a fast-paced history lesson about the Beatles’ lives in London. Splurge on a rock star-worthy stay at the centrally-located, lavish Corinthia Hotel London, which offers a Musician’s Penthouse and has served as a backdrop for a music video from Lana Del Rey, a launch party for Sunday Girl, an exclusive performance from Scissor Sisters, and an MTV video launch for Katy Perry. The hotel offers three restaurants, five bars, and a glamorous world-class spa. Check out more rock’n’roll history at the British Music Experience and the world’s original Hard Rock Café, which features a trove of memorabilia in its underground Vault. While you’re rocking around London, be sure to grab a drink at the very rock’n’roll Sanctum Soho Hotel and at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, where The Who premiered the rock opera “Tommy” in 1969, and where Jimi Hendrix played his last live show, just days before his death.