When my family and I were invited to spend a Christmas weekend in Liverpool, I was envisaging the joyous closing scene of It’s a Wonderful Life.
Instead, our trip started with a mad Home Alone-style dash through the subway at Wigan railway station, thanks to the cancelled Northern service from Preston-Liverpool Lime Street that left us scrambling to make a different connecting train.
As young Kevin McCallister was famously told in the iconic flick: “You are what the French call les incompetents!”
Thankfully, that was the only glitch in a perfect break – our first in the Merseyside city – which left us feeling full of festive cheer.
We stayed in the brand new Quest aparthotel in the city centre (stay from £75), which was spotlessly clean, staffed by smiling faces, spacious, and, despite the hub of noise outside, extremely peaceful.
That left us within walking distance of everything we wanted or needed – be it a coffee from McDonald’s across the road, the huge wealth of retail offering in the several nearby shopping centres, including Liverpool ONE, the famous Liver building, the birthplace of The Beatles, or one of the dozens of classy, tasty, and welcoming eateries.
Our first port of call was the Museum of Liverpool on the waterfront, which is free to look around and tells the tale of the area’s global significance through its unique location and culture, and history. Our two boys – aged three and seven – enjoyed trying on the military hats and discovering through interactive play how the city’s port became a major players on the world stage.
We enjoyed a stroll along the waterfront, enjoying the scenery, and watching tourists take photographs with statues of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr before taking in the famous Liver building and heading back towards Liverpool ONE, a huge shopping centre packed with top brands and even bigger crowds, who were emptying their wallets and purses amid dazzling displays of Christmas decorations, including huge reindeer, angel wings, and festoon lighting.
We ate lunch at Byron Burger, which delivered the best patties I’ve ever tasted in gut-busting portions, and treated us like royalty, before browsing flagship high street stores and treating the lads to some early Christmas presents.
As darkness fell, we took in more of the special festive decorations, including a huge love heart tree at Liverpool ONE, and the free Liverpool Light Spectacular – a tunnel of lights that plays music every half-hour from 4.30pm – in Church Alley.
We then made our way to the 140-year-old world record-breaking Santa’s Grotto (£12 children/£2 adults) on the top floor of St John’s Shopping Centre.
After walking through the grotto and taking part in an interactive snow globe video, the boys got to meet Father Christmas has been visited for so many years now, he’s even picked up a slight Scouse twang! They were thrilled to speak to the big man – and to be handed a gift and book each.
Dinner was served in the shape of mouth-watering lamb shanks and perfectly cooked rib eye steak, alongside wine and children’s food (and drink!) at the impeccable Bill’s in Liverpool ONE, before we walked the streets contently and watched as the rest of the world rushed by.
After a quiet night’s sleep and breakfast, delivered by night staff at Quest to our hotel door, we made our way to the gigantic St George’s Hall, where the lads took part in the Elf Adventure Challenge (£13.50 children/£5.50 adults). They had to build a toy, stack presents, dress a tree, and throw snowballs before being named honorary elves. It was the highlight of our trip and made especially enjoyable by the hard-working staff elves.
Lunch was at the fancy Piccolino Italian restaurant, which put up with us while the youngest lad – very tired from the walking – crawled on all fours and decided to be picky with his food, which was fresh and immensely enjoyable.
Our trip was only complete once we made a stop at the Christmas market, on the plateau outside St George’s Hall. It was a treat for all the senses, especially smell, and, while relatively compact, it was the perfect way to end our visit to Liverpool.
It’s a city that wears its heart on its sleeve. We saw workers arguing with each other, and we saw them going out of their way to help others. We saw beggars asking for change, and we saw them wishing shoppers Merry Christmas.
We saw one reveller in a state of undress, and another in a tuxedo handing a homeless man a tent and giving him a hug.
We saw the very best a working class place has to offer – inviting and friendly people pulling together. It’s a city that seems to live and breathe; pulsing to the rhythm of its talented street performers and moving to the sway of the bumper shopping crowds. It has not forgotten its roots but clearly aspires to the best it can be.
Forget the M word this Christmas, head to Liverpool, which would even turn Scrooge into Buddy the Elf.
* Quest Liverpool, Church Street, 0151 318 1809, from £75
* Byron Burger, 43 Paradise Street, 0151 707 8231
* Liverpool ONE, 5 Wall Street
* The World's Famous Grotto, St John's Shopping Centre, £12 children/£2 adults
* Bill's, 10 Thomas Steer Way, 0151 709 9757
* Elf Adventure Challenge, St George's Hall, 01925 756700, £13.50 children/£5.50 adults
* Piccolino, 14A Cook Street, 0151 236 2555