When I think of Liverpool I picture The Beatles, the Grand National and football, all cliched views of the city. I wouldn’t usually think of it as a holiday destination but it has some fabulous free museums which are perfect for exploring year round. Our short visit proved it was an ideal destination for a family break.
1 World Museum
The best museum in Liverpool according to my kids.
The first floor hosts a small aquarium, whilst the second one has a bug house with leaf cutter ants. The higher floors cover topics like the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and world cultures. The dinosaur exhibition is very popular with dinosaur bones and fossil footprints to see. There’s also a planetarium but you need to get in early to get tickets to a show.
The information boards provide bite sized snippets perfect for primary school aged children, evidenced by the various school groups racing around the exhibits. This is most definitely a museum for the kids; adults might find they’d like a little more detail about some of the exhibits.
2 Superlambana hunt
What on earth is a superlambana I hear you say? It’s a 5 metre high bright yellow sculpture of a lamb crossed with a banana! According to the Japanese designer Taro Chiezo it’s a comment on the dangers of genetic engineering but also reflects Liverpool’s history where lambs and bananas used to travel through the city docks.
The original superlambana was joined by 125 smaller statues back in 2008. These were displayed around the city and then auctioned off for charity. There are still plenty to see, including 4 outside the Museum of Liverpool. The superlambanas are colourful and appealing to children, and fun to spot if you visit the city.
3 Fab Four Beatles tour
It’s hard to ignore The Beatles whilst in Liverpool as they’re probably responsible for much of its tourist industry. You could easily spend a weekend solely visiting Beatles related attractions but as time was short we decided on a 3 hour Fab Four Beatles taxi tour.
Our black cab visited schools and art colleges, homes, Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Eleanor Rigby’s grave and various other places mentioned in their songs. The childhood homes of John and Paul are owned by the National Trust (you can arrange a tour round these) whilst the early home of Ringo is boarded up and covered in Beatles graffiti. We felt sorry for the owner of George’s previous house as it is still privately owned but must be subject to a never ending stream of tourists.
Our guide was excellent and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Beatles. As adults we found the tour to be just the right length but our kids were getting decidedly itchy towards the end. In hindsight we probably should have booked the 2 hour tour!
4 International Slavery Museum
This museum is located at Albert Dock, close to the dry docks where 18th century slave trading ships were fitted out. Its galleries tell the story of life in West Africa, the transatlantic journey the slaves took, life on the plantations and the legacy of slavery.
This is not an entertaining museum but it is thought provoking. It’s a museum more suited to older kids as there is quite a lot to read, rather than hands on activities. Understandably, some of the information might also be quite upsetting (my eldest watched a video which she said was very sad).
5 Merseyside Maritime Museum
Located in the same building as the Slavery museum, this tells the story of Liverpool’s maritime history.
My favourite gallery was the one dedicated to the tragedies of the Titanic, Lusitania and Empress of Ireland, three ships all connected to Liverpool which sank between 1912 and 1915. Whilst most people are pretty familiar with the story of the Titanic, the others are sometimes overlooked. Did you know that more people died on the sinking of the Empress of Ireland than the Titanic?
Other galleries covered the story of emigrants and smuggling. The Seized! gallery offers visitors the ability to handle some of the collections and take part in craft activities.
6 View from St John’s Beacon Viewing Gallery (Radio City Tower)
St John’s Beacon, the home of Radio City, is an iconic landmark in Liverpool but not many people seem to know you can visit it. Tickets for the viewing gallery can be purchased at the radio station entrance, and visits depart from reception every half hour or so. A super fast lift takes you up to the viewing gallery, and after a short overview you are left to look at the views for as long as you wish.
The 138m high beacon was once the tallest building in Liverpool, and although it no longer holds this title there are fantastic views over the city and beyond. Visitors receive a pictorial guide to help identify the buildings. On clear days you can supposedly see to North Wales and the Lake District.
I’m not sure you’d want to visit if you’re scared of heights. It is completely enclosed but the tower moves slightly with the wind and with most of the viewing area made from glass it feels a bit more exposed than it actually is. One lady on our tour really didn’t like it!
7 Museum of Liverpool
This museum traces the history of Liverpool through from the Iron Age to modern days. I really enjoyed finding out about the docks and how the port of Liverpool came about. I learnt loads but admittedly my knowledge of Liverpudlian history was limited.
Visitors can sit in a carriage from the Liverpool overhead railway, see a replica of the Liver Bird up close and watch a Beatles show. Downstairs in the Wondrous Place gallery you are reminded of just how many writers, artists and musicians come from Liverpool – it’s not all about The Beatles!
8 Albert Dock
The Albert Dock area is at the heart of the city and a great place to wander round. When the dock opened in 1846 cargo came from all over the world and included cotton, brandy and sugar. Sadly trade via sailing ship diminished and by 1920 the warehouses were only used to store goods which travelled by road or rail.
Albert Dock was eventually abandoned in 1972 but revitalised in the 1980s with the building of the Maritime Museum. Today it’s home to several museums, and has a number of restaurants and shops to visit.
9 Liver Birds
The Liver Birds stand on top of the Royal Liver Building and are one of the most recognisable symbols of Liverpool. Although you cannot view them up close they’re easily visible from the local area. One bird faces inland, to protect the city, whilst the other looks out to sea to protect those at sea.
10 Antony Gormley statues on Crosby Beach
Not strictly in Liverpool but a great choice if you fancy a trip out of the city. Easily accessible by train, read more about our visit to Antony Gormley’s sculptures on the beach.
- St John’s Beacon is open daily. More details on the website.
- Full details about the museums above can be found on the National Museums Liverpool website. The museums above are open all year, with the exception of a short closure over Christmas and New Year.
- The Fab Four taxi tours website details the different tour options and lengths.
- All of the museums above are free!
- A family ticket for St John’s Beacon costs £14.50 and includes a tour guide. Individual tickets are £5 for adults, £3 for children.
- The 3 hour Beatles Fab Four taxi tour costs £55 per taxi (seating up to 5 people).