Once the richest port in the British Empire, by the 1980s Liverpool wallowed in dilapidated housing and high unemployment and discontent.

But three decades on, Liverpool is buzzing with a reputation as one of Europe's best city breaks.

Liverpool ONE, a mammoth open-air mall that sprawls across the formerly scrappy city centre is central to the rejuvenation, with more than 150 shops, 20 bars and restaurants, a multi-screen cinema, a park and chic apartments.

But for me, it is along the banks of the Mersey that Liverpool excels.

The Mercantile Maritime City, a pedestrian-friendly waterfront zone, is UNESCO World Heritage-listed and its latest addition is the Museum of Liverpool. It's free to enter and tells Liverpool's engaging story with a section on the city's most famous export, the Beatles, and displays on the city's near-religious zeal for football: Merseyside is home to Liverpool and Everton, where Socceroo Tim Cahill became a cult hero.

At the Pier Head section of Liverpool's waterfront you can take the famous ferry across the Mersey, as immortalised in the hit tune by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

The terminal faces the Three Graces - a trio of magnificent Edwardian edifices built at the height of Liverpool's global power. The Royal Liver Building has a striking clock tower, studded with two giant copper Liver birds, mythical half-eagle, half-cormorant creatures said to be Liverpool's protectors. Local lore says that should the birds flee, the whole place would crumble.

Of the myriad stories about Liverpool, one of the more believable suggests the locals are called Scousers and speak the Scouse dialect because of a stew called lobscouse, brought here by Nordic sailors.

Scouse melds with a plethora of accents as I enter the Albert Dock, north of Pier Head, where buskers are often strumming I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Yesterday in front of the restored colonnade of cast-iron columns and warehouses which host lively cafes and restaurants.

Albert Dock houses the Tate Liverpool with its quirky selection of modern art and the odd classic. The International Slavery Museum exposes Liverpool's past when the port was part of a triangle that linked England, Africa and the Americas, dealing in human traffic as well as commodities such as sugar, rum, tobacco and raw cotton (picked by the slaves and their descendants).

Also at Albert Dock, the Beatles Story is an interactive subterranean museum telling the rags-to-riches story of John, Paul, George and Ringo. You can also get a ticket to ride the Magical Mystery Tour - a technicoloured bus takes passengers to Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney. The commentary is laced with intriguing and moving stories and plenty of Scouse humour.

Another key spot on the Beatles trail is the Cavern Club, a replica of the venue in which the band played more than 200 gigs in the 60s (the original Cavern was knocked down in the 70s). Perfect for beer, kitsch and a nostalgic sing-song, the Cavern is on Mathew Street, a hub of the Cavern Quarter which hosts an annual music festival. Around the corner, Hard Days Night is a Beatles- themed hotel.

The lively Hope Street is another party spot where you'll find wine bars, cafes and bistros, and hip spots to catch some sleep - like my base, Hope Street Hotel. The boutique offering melds exposed brickwork and cast-iron pillars with sleek, contemporary trappings and fits in with the buoyant and optimistic mood of a city on the rise.


  • fact file *

·Hope Street Hotel has 89 well-appointed rooms. Double rooms, with breakfast, are priced from £109 a night ($169); hopestreethotel.co.uk.

·For more information on Liverpool and Britain, see visitliverpool.com and visitbritain.com.

Steve McKenna was a guest of Visit Liverpool.

The West Australian

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