Rows of derelict terraced houses, crime-ridden streets, football hooligans and an accent and dialect which should probably come with its own user manual – Liverpool has a reputation and it’s not all Strawberry Fields Forever.
But the city which gave the world The Beatles and Cilla Black is changing. Recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2004 helped shake off its previous image as a city on its knees and four years later its appointment as a European Capital of Culture made sure critics woke up and smelt the scent of a city rising from the ashes.
And it’s not all PR hype. Liverpool’s historic waterfront is testament to this transformation, having undergone a deep clean and the new £72million Museum of Liverpool sticking a shimmering finger up to critics who sniffed at the suggestion that the city is a cultural hub rivalling London or Manchester.
Part cruise liner, part space-ship, the UK’s largest national museum built in over a century opened in July, 2011 and is worth a visit for its architecture alone.
But it’s also a great place to start any visit to Liverpool.
Inside, the imaginatively laid out galleries allow you to not only delve into the history of the city, which was once a thriving port trading everything from sugar to slaves, but also to get under the skin of Liverpool’s unashamedly proud, brash and bawdy people.
A hop, skip and a jump along the docks and there’s a treat for Titanic fans.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the ship’s tragic sinking, the Merseyside Maritime Museum is hosting an exhibition featuring rare artefacts recovered from the briny deep.
The only known surviving Titanic first class ticket and letters written by crew and passengers are all on display at the Liverpool and Titanic: The Untold Story exhibition for your morbid fascination.
Once you’ve soaked up the sobering past, it’s time to let your hair down on Liverpool’s aptly named Yellow Duckmarine tour.
The converted DUKW vehicle – a sort of half tank, half boat – was used by the British Army during World War II. But with a lick of canary yellow paint and some comfy seats it makes for a perfectly quirky sightseeing tour on land and, of course, over water.
The qualified guides on board are as eccentric as the vehicle, mixing historical anecdotes with irreverent humor.
From Liverpool-born Kim Cattrall’s homecoming pad to John Lennon’s favorite drinking spot, it’s an easy and breezy one-hour trip, which was even a highlight of the Queen’s recent visit to celebrate her Jubilee.
After it was pointed out my seat had been previously been kept warm by Her Majesty, we splashed down in the Albert Dock with a sing-a-long, gleefully butchering the classic Beatles’ anthem Yellow Submarine.
A water pistol fight ensured me and the 20-strong hen party went away with a good soaking before returning to dry land.
After a warming coffee admiring the Grade II listed docks, the Tate’s stunning exhibition of visionary painters Turner, Monet and Twombly is just a short walk away and a highlight of any visit to Liverpool.
Local legend has it that Liverpool’s world famous Liver Birds face away from each other because if they turn and mate they will fly away and the city will cease to exist.
While it’s probably not worth taking the risk, Liverpool has fallen and found the strength to carry on time and time again before. So, let the birds breed. There’s enough guts and glory here for it to survive any disaster.
Watch a video of the Queen taking a trip on Liverpool's Yellow Duckmarine tour below:
Virgin Trains offer a fast and regular service, hourly six and half days a week, from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street station.
Taking just two hours, it's a quick, reliable and exceedingly comfortable journey, with First Class offering passengers complimentary wi-fi, refreshments and snacks.
To book, call +44 (0)871 977 4222 or click here.
Just minutes from the Albert Dock, Pierhead and Stanley Street 'gayborhood' is the funky Hotel Indigo.
Blending comfort and style, it's a friendly, welcoming and just the right side of trendy boutique hotel and the perfect place to rest and recuperate after a hard day sightseeing or partying in one of the city's gay bars.
Hotel Indigo Liverpool boasts 151 cosy, airy and inviting guestrooms. Each room is stylishly designed, with rainfall shower, oversized beds, plush bedding and stylish throw pillows.