I confess I’d never done an official walking tour, having shunned them in favour of my own walking itineraries based on research before visiting a place and suggestions from guide books. When you do your own walks you can go at your own pace and detour off the route when you see anything that intrigues, something you cannot do on a guided tour. And for this reason only I’ve never joined a walking tour.
However after reading so many blogs since starting Travel Junkie Girl, I’ve kept coming across recommendations for free and paid for walking tours, so on my latest stay in my local city of Liverpool, I decided to bite the bullet and join the free walking tour by Sandemans. The company run a number of walking tours across many European cities and a couple of different ones in Liverpool itself, but I chose the free ‘New Liverpool’ Tour as it best fitted in with my other plans for the day.
Meeting at 11 am outside prominent attraction St George’s Hall by the Prince Albert statue, I was joined by a huge group which I was amazed at for a Sunday morning and we were met by guide Portia. Guides will be dressed in red Sandemans t-shirts and likely have clipboards and company passes visible, so no worries about not finding your group.
Starting outside St George’s Hall opposite Liverpool Lime Street Station at what I’ve always considered the top of Liverpool, the tour winds its way down through the shopping and historic districts to the waterfront where the beauty and grandeur of Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage listed waterfront is explored. Here there’s a wealth of commercial and maritime architecture and some of the best world-renowned museums and galleries in the country. The tour ends at the Albert Dock which is widely regarded to be Liverpool’s No.1 tourist attraction.
Along the way, the tour offers great insight in an informative but highly amusing manner into key moments in the city’s history. Liverpool is after all the main port of the biggest empire in history and so has touched the lives of so many people the world over, whether for good or bad.
I am quite well acquainted with Liverpool with it being my local city, but I learnt so much about the city’s history I wasn’t aware of and learnt some intriguing and quirky details I don’t think I’d have ever found out anywhere else, for example who knew that Liverpool has a castle? Yep…me neither!
Liverpool’s history is littered with impressive characters and fascinating stories and Portia brought them all to life with amazing wit and quirkiness.
Starting outside St Georges Hall which faces Liverpool Lime Street station (the main railway station in Liverpool) seemed an appropriate choice as what you’re looking at is also the first site most visitors arriving in the city would see. I didn’t realise that Liverpool’s railway was the first fully operational railway line in the world with the Manchester-Liverpool line built by George Stephenson opening in 1830 and this brought hoards of people to the city.
It’s not surprising therefore that St George’s Hall was built where it was – a fine neo-classical building; a statement of Liverpool’s pride and wealth, qualities sought after by Victorians arriving in Liverpool. To city planners, it therefore had to be the first thing people saw on arrival. For most grand houses built in the period, the ‘fancy’ facade was built on the private side, so it could be enjoyed by the owners from their gardens, but with St George’s Hall the garden side is plain, with all the pomp delivered on the public side for all to see.
You’ll learn all about the interior too, which will have you immediately adding a trip inside to your Liverpool itinerary. Learn more about St George’s Hall on the Visit Liverpool website.
St George’s plateau where we’re stood as well as being home to Liverpool’s Grade I listed cenotaph is also where many public gatherings occur from events following the death of Beatles members John Lennon and George Harrison, to the homecomings of Liverpool and Everton football clubs after cup final victories.
Leaving St Georges Hall, the tour skirts its northern flank past the Empire Theatre, Liverpool’s primary theatre space; then the Walker Art Gallery, Central Library and World Museum, three impressive buildings that make up the shortest street in Liverpool: William Brown Street. This road literally just has these three buildings on its length. Not a bad address though is it? These buildings are seriously impressive!
At the bottom of St John’s Gardens, the gardens which back on to St George’s Hall, the tour stops by the Hillsborough Memorial sculpted by Tom Murphy and Portia delivered details on the tragic football disaster of 1989.
In case you’re not familiar with the disaster, it involved a human crush at Hillsborough Football stadium in Sheffield, England during the 1988-89 cup final semi final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With 96 fatalities and hundreds more injured, it’s the worst disaster in British sporting history and this memorial was unveiled in 2013.
The next main stop on the tour is Matthew Street, the heart of the Cavern Quarter and Liverpool’s vibrant music scene. This is the place to come for a good night out with live entertainment in its many venues and a host of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes. You’ll come across buskers at various intervals and the music of the infamous Cavern Club is projected out on to the street.
Matthew Street is at the centre of Beatles culture and a must on any Liverpool itinerary for Beatles fans. Spot the statue of Cilla Black, another musical name synonymous with the Cavern Quarter, as well as the statue of John Lennon alongside the musical ‘wall of fame’. Your guide will fill you in on all sorts of intriguing pieces of trivia surrounding Matthew Street but I’ll leave you to find those out yourself. No more spoilers from me!
Turning left at the end of Matthew Street and you’ll be alongside the Hard Day’s Night Hotel, the worlds only Beatles inspired hotel. As your guide will no doubt tell you, make sure you look up to see the fantastic statues of each of the band members along the length of the building.
Joining Lord Street, the edge of the main shopping district, you’ll soon come upon the large open area of Derby Square and the ‘rude’ statue of the Queen Victoria Monument. ‘Rude’ how? Well, you’ll just have to take the tour to find that out! This is also where you’ll discover Liverpool’s ‘lost castle’. There’s a reason why the road opposite is aptly named Castle Street.
It’s for a good reason that the tour of Liverpool goes down Castle Street. Largely off the tourist trail, there was hardly a soul in sight and yet its home to some stunning buildings including the domed town hall at the other end of the road and the temple-like former Bank of England building half way along which was more recently used (though illegally) as a shelter for the homeless in Liverpool.
Taking Brunswick Street opposite the Old Bank of England, it’s not long before the tour arrives at Pierhead and Liverpool’s waterfront, but not before passing the towering art deco structure of the George’s Dock building which houses the ventilation tower for the Queensway tunnel that runs directly beneath linking Liverpool to Birkenhead.
Arriving at Pierhead amongst the Three Graces is impressive. The Three Graces is the name given to the trio of landmark buildings which stand side by side on Liverpool’s waterfront comprising of the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building (from left to right as you look at them) Built between 1903 and 1916 they were constructed to show off the city’s international prestige and commercial prowess. They have formed one of the world’s most recognisable skylines and are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Liverpool’s Maritime Mercantile City, given UNESCO status in 2004. The history of these buildings is fascinating and the tour delivers all sorts of information about not just the Three Graces, but on the history of the port in general, where the announcement of the Titanic sinking was made, how the ‘made up’ Liver bird has become the city’s emblem and all about the ‘Fab Four’ sculpture. (Yep, there’s the Beatles link again) But hey, what a great environment for the Beatles to command!
Opposite the Cunard Building is the Pierhead Ferry terminal where you can get passenger ferries across the Mersey to Wallasey and Birkenhead and to the Isle of Man by the IOM Steam Packet Company.
Now accompanying The Three Graces on the waterfront is the new Museum of Liverpool which opened in 2011, re-housing the original Museum of Liverpool Life. The opening of this world-class museum ended the revitalisation of this section of Liverpool’s waterfront which is now a joy to walk around.
Passing the Museum of Liverpool, the tour ends outside the cute and slightly dwarfed Pilotage building and its neighbouring equine sculpture called “Waiting” which appeared in 2010. This is a life-size monument to Liverpool’s working horse and you’ll learn all about the part the horse played in Liverpool’s history, particularly in relation to the docks area.
Lastly your guide will introduce you to all the Albert Dock area has to offer, including the TATE gallery, the Maritime Museum, the Beatles Museum and the Liverpool Wheel, setting you up perfectly to enjoy the rest of your afternoon in this area.
You get a great overview of the city and its history without having to do hours of reading/research yourself. I learnt so much about Liverpool in those 2 hours and in such an entertaining way that the information has stayed with me more than it would have done if I’d just read about it.
The guides are usually locals or at least been in the area for a considerable time meaning they can impart all sorts of valuable information.
You receive information you may not be able to find out easily elsewhere.
You’re bound to see things you may not have found on your own, for example, I’ve walked down through the area around St John’s Gardens so many times, but never come across the Hillsborough memorial.
While a free walking tour is technically free, tips are expected, but it means you can give what you think the tour was worth. No leaving a tour thinking ‘that was a rip off’ or ‘it wasn’t worth what I paid’
Also, as the guides work on a tip only basis they will make the tour as informative, engaging and enjoyable as possible making sure you leave a satisfied customer.
So, would I do a guided walking tour again? After this….most definitely!
If you’re like me and usually prefer to discover a place yourself, I hope I’ve convinced you to try out a walking tour. They really are worth it.
Next time I’m in Liverpool I’d like to join the “Beatles to the Blitz” tour also run by Sandemans which covers a completely different area of Liverpool. If you’ve done it, let me know what you think!
As always, please leave your comments below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on walking tours.