For many, a visit to the United Kingdom will start and end with London. Not only can this leave your wallet suffering from post-traumatic stress, but it ignores and to some extent, misrepresents what the country has to offer. When deciding to venture outside the M25 and head north, Liverpool or Manchester may well make the destination shortlist.
Steeped in historical significance, footballing success and acting as a production line for big names in music, both these cities are inhabited by distinct peoples whose regional accents are unique to the point where one’s ears may require a retune on arrival.
While Liverpool might be your choice if you’re interested in maritime history, Liverpool FC or The Beatles, Manchester is home to two major football teams as well as plenty of Industrial Revolution history.
However, if trying to decide which of the two to opt for, there is a lot more to consider! Whether it’s Manchester or Liverpool though, the North West of England seems to have a special relationship with rain, so do pack an umbrella.
Port cities often exude a unique blend of culture and Liverpool is no exception. Hard times have forged a native population notorious for their sharp wit, sense of humour and warmth.
The city’s museums and waterfront are a reminder of Liverpool’s heritage but the once commercial maritime pursuits associated with the docks have given way to a more modern edge – upmarket bars and restaurants fuelling lively nightlife, with an injection of creativity and art.
Whether it’s Liverpool or Manchester, one will find both highly accessible cities despite their North Western locations with direct routes to and from London. Both make for a great stop on the London to Edinburgh drive.
Three motorways serve Liverpool, although someone thinking of driving from London should expect a trip lasting around four-and-a-half hours (if using the main M6 and M40 arterial route).
National Express run coaches that link London Victoria to Liverpool One Coach Station in Canning Place, a direct journey that takes in the region of 6 hours.
The main rail connection into Liverpool is via Lime Street station, with direct routes to many destinations in and around the North West, Newcastle and London Euston; the latter journey taking around 2 hours 30 minutes. Click here to view bus & train timetables for your journey.
Liverpool’s metro system and local rail links are provided by Merseyrail should a visitor wish to explore Merseyside using public transport, although buses are also a viable option.
For those wanting to fly, Liverpool John Lennon Airport is 9 miles from the city centre and offers both domestic flights and routes to major European destinations. Manchester Airport is 45 minutes from Liverpool city centre and provides additional long-haul flight opportunities.
Walking is a great way to experience somewhere new and fortunately, Liverpool is compact enough to satiate the avid walker. There is also a bike hire scheme run by CityBike for those wanting to replace two legs with the equivalent number of wheels.
Part public transport, part icon, the ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ takes passengers from Pier Head to the Wirral with services running every 20 minutes. They also offer a 50-minute hop-on, hop-off cruise.
If affordability is a key component of deciding whether to go to Manchester or Liverpool, then there is little to choose between the two. In general, northern English cities tend to offer better value for money for the mainstays of travel – food, accommodation and transport – although prices in both could rise as urban renewal projects attract a wealthier populace.
Liverpool offers accommodation for all tastes and budgets. Expect to pay more in and around the waterfront and costs tend to rise when Liverpool FC are playing at home. August may also be costlier with the arrival of the music festivals.
Most culinary tastes will be catered for with a variety of high end through to budget dining options as well as a range of cuisine types. For reasonably priced, independent restaurants, try Bold Street in the Ropewalks area with some of the finer restaurants to be found in the Georgian Quarter.
Lots of Liverpool’s top sights are free to enter including the Maritime and International Slavery Museums, Liverpool Museum and Tate Liverpool. Of course, a stroll along the famous waterfront, Sefton Park and popping along to spots made famous by The Beatles, will also mean spending nothing other than your time.
Merseyrail offers a selection of passes and tickets for use on the underground system. Lines travel as far as Southport and the Wirral, down to the Roman city of Chester. One can purchase an integrated ticket using Plusbus for further transport options using unsurprisingly, the local buses.
Things to do in Liverpool
Within a 20-minute walk from Lime Street train station is a symbol of both Liverpool’s maritime past and regeneration, the Royal Albert Dock.
Once a focal point of trading for the British Empire, the dock became redundant and abandoned (and completely filled with silt) before redevelopment in the 1980s transformed the area into a hub for restaurants, entertainment and cultural activity. In 2004 it achieved UNESCO World Heritage status, cementing its place of importance for both past and present.
Situated in the dock itself, one can get a more in-depth look at the port of Liverpool’s rich historical past at the Maritime Museum. The displays use objects, models, paintings and even full-sized vessels to tell the story of the commercial and social aspects that once made Liverpool one of the greatest ports in the world.
Visitors can also learn about the city’s strong ties to the infamous, supposedly unsinkable cruise liner RMS Titanic, which although never visited Liverpool, was conceived in the city by its parent company White Star Line.
On the 3rd floor of the Maritime Museum, marking one of the most shameful periods of human history stands the International Slavery Museum. Liverpool grew and prospered rapidly during the 18th century thanks largely to its considerable involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. The subject is handled in an informative, sensitive manner whilst discussing issues still prevalent in terms of modern-day slavery.
Liverpool’s rebirth has been reflected in its most successful football team. As legendary football manager Bill Shankly once quipped “I always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside… Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves.”
Crowned European Champions in 2019, Liverpool FC seem to be on the way to regaining former glories and fans can indulge in their status as a supporter with a tour of the club’s home stadium, Anfield. Getting tickets to games is extremely difficult so it’s best to sign up to their member base long in advance of your trip. Alternatively, you can look at reputable resellers like StubHub.
Numerous packages are on offer with the basic version allowing access to views of the pitch and areas including the dressing rooms, players’ tunnel and dugout. Visitors can pre-purchase tickets which also buys entry to the interactive museum and a look at the now 6 European cups.
Talk of Liverpool and its fame invariably leads to The Beatles, the band that achieved global fame in the ’60s. Fans have numerous opportunities to get their fix with tours, exhibitions and landmarks aplenty.
The Beatles Story, again found on the Albert Dock, is the world’s largest permanent exhibition containing unique memorabilia which charts the ‘Fab Four’s’ rise to fame. You can purchase skip-the-line tickets here.
For those that way inclined, bus tours are available, with stops at Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields which should whet the appetite for a visit to the Cavern Club, the venue that hosted The Beatles’ first-ever gig in 1961 and remains the spiritual home of the city’s music scene.
Additionally, one may consider taking in Liverpool Cathedral, the biggest in Britain and the fifth largest in Europe, The World Museum, which charts the history of… the world or for those interested in World War II, the award-winning U-boat Story in Birkenhead.
Liverpool is renowned for its nightlife with Ropewalks considered the liveliest area. It has a rival for its title in the form of The Baltic Triangle. Converted warehouses now throng with creative businesses, alternative cafés and bars alongside places to eat. Some of the more celebrated traditional pubs are also found here and in Roscoe Street, though Liverpool’s pub offerings are fairly widespread.
‘Scouse’ is the city’s traditional food which typically contains a form of meat, potatoes, vegetables and herbs. It’s usually served with crusty bread and/or red cabbage, with some places offering a vegetarian/vegan take. It also gave rise to the term ‘Scouser’, which describes someone who comes from Liverpool.
Where to Stay in Liverpool
The Dolby Hotel — This hostel overlooking the Mersey River is a great mid-range option in Liverpool. Located within easy walking distance of some of the city’s best attractions, there is also breakfast included in the room rate. Click here to check their availability
Titanic Hotel Liverpool — This hotel is a fantastic choice if your budget is on the higher side. Centrally located, this hotel has numerous amenities including an on-site spa and fitness centre, and a restaurant. There are a range of rooms available. Click here to check their availability
YHA Liverpool Central — This centrally-located hostel is a good option for budget and solo travellers. There are both dorm and private rooms available, good common areas to meet other travellers and clean and comfortable facilities. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Liverpool
Cocky and confident, the stereotypical Mancunian has a special bond to their home – a bond and sense of spirit that came to the fore during the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 2017.
The place that provided the spark for the industrial revolution, the mills have made way for museums, sporting facilities and a new Manchester reflected in the glut of hip, trendy shops, restaurants and bars. It’s simply a cool place to be right now.
In order to visit Manchester or Liverpool, one has to be able to get there. But not to worry, Manchester has transport links in abundance and getting around shouldn’t be a problem either.
It’s encircled by the M60 which connects to other major road routes. Expect a car journey from London to take approximately 4 and-a-half hours. Chorlton Street Coach station in the City centre is served by National Express and Megabus coach companies, again connecting Manchester with numerous towns and cities nationwide.
The three main train stations in Manchester (Piccadilly, Oxford Road and Victoria) have direct rail links to major northern cities, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London, where a journey to or from the latter will take in the region of 2 to 3 hours.
These stations can be travelled between on a free bus, which also stops at shopping districts and business areas. Click here to view bus & train timetables for your journey.
Unlike Liverpool, Manchester has its own tram system (Metrolink) with frequent services that cover popular tourist spots, alongside buses that serve the Greater Manchester area.
If flying into or out of the North West, then Manchester Airport, the third-largest in the UK, is likely to one’s arrival point. The airport connects to the city via its own regional railway station and Metrolink stop.
The streets of Manchester are navigable by foot with people employed as ‘City Hosts’ in the main shopping areas who are on hand to assist with queries one may have regarding public transport, site seeing or local events and anything else Manchester related. I’m not sure they’ll carry luggage though…
In terms of finances, although potentially a bit more expensive overall, a trip to Manchester shouldn’t cost the Earth or any of the smaller planets.
Again, one should have no problem finding a suitable bed for the night, whatever the need. As in Liverpool, expect competition for rooms from football fans when the home teams, United and City, play.
Most people will find somewhere that can cater to their dietary requirements. Some mid-range restaurants and prices for alcohol may be slightly higher in Manchester than one may find for the equivalent in Liverpool.
Head to the Northern Quarter for Manchester’s biggest and arguably, the best blend of eateries. Independently run establishments have made their home here from traditional pubs to vegan fast food joints.
Be wary though, as some of the more popular venues may require a reservation. Housed in an Edwardian age building in the city centre, the Corn Exchange offers Italian, Indian, Mexican and Vietnamese dining options to name but a few.
Manchester’s major museums and attractions are also free to enter with the option for donating or paying for additional activities.
Public transport can be made cheaper by purchasing the integrated System One travel Card, with numerous tariffs for travel using the bus, tram and train across the Greater Manchester region.
Things to do in Manchester
Any extended trip to Manchester or Liverpool will allow for some exposure to their influential and unique historical pasts. Manchester is widely considered the location that brought us the industrial revolution and this period is analysed in the Science and Industry Museum.
Located centrally, the museum is known for housing what’s believed to be the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station alongside a collection of steam engines and various forms of industrial machinery.
The exhibitions plot the change and development of technology over time and the role Manchester played. The museum will appeal to all age groups with demonstrations and interactive stands providing added entertainment.
On a bench in Sackville Park sits a statue dedicated to the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing. Famed for his work at Bletchley Park in helping to crack the German Naval Enigma code during World War II, Turing taught at the University of Manchester during the 1940s and ’50s.
As a gay man, which was illegal at the time, Turing was said to have taken his own life after eating a poisoned apple, which can be seen sitting in the statue’s right hand. The bitten apple, the logo of Apple Inc. is thought to be a tribute to Turing who is recognised as being the father of the computer age.
Manchester has much to offer the avid football fan being home to two of England’s biggest football clubs- Manchester United and Manchester City. City, once dubbed United’s ‘noisy neighbours’ have emerged from the shadows of their red rivals to become Premier League Champions.
Both clubs offer tours of their grounds (Old Trafford and The Etihad) with the usual stops (dressing rooms, pitch and dugout). For those who are, for whatever reason, of the red persuasion, there is the Manchester United Museum & Stadium Tour, tickets to which are valid for a year.
Similarly to Liverpool, tickets for games are tricky to get and need to be planned well in advance. Sign up to your club’s of choice membership base before your trip or look for buying opportunities at reputable resellers.
If you love football but couldn’t care less about United or City, then the National Football Museum could be the solution. The world’s biggest museum dedicated to the beautiful game looks at the sport from social, cultural and sporting perspectives. Highlights include memorabilia from the 1966 World Cup Final including the once lost but now found (thanks to a dog), Jules Rimet World Cup Trophy.
For other highlights try the People’s History Museum, which introduces and discusses Britain’s political past and the award-winning building that is the Lowry Art complex in Salford Quays.
Where to Stay in Manchester
Motel One Manchester-Piccadilly — This centrally-located hotel is a great mid-range option for visitors to Manchester. They have numerous clean and comfortable rooms available, a chic bar on site, and breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to check their availability
Princess St. Hotel — This hotel is an excellent choice for luxury travellers. They have a range of plush rooms available, 24-hour reception, a fitness centre, and a couple of restaurants to choose from. Click here to check their availability
YHA Manchester — This hostel is the perfect choice for budget and solo travellers alike. The facilities are clean, there are common areas — including an on-site bar — to meet other travellers, and there are both dorm and private rooms available. Click here to check their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Manchester
Liverpool or Manchester: The Verdict
So which is better, Manchester or Liverpool? Well, despite their rivalry on and off the football field, these are destinations that share much in common.
Both cities have emerged from troubling times and garnered a trendier, modern side that has hybridised with their commercial and industrial pasts.
With prices cheaper than London, but a food and drink scene to match, these icons of the North West offer the visitor much to see and do- a lot of it free and accessible by foot, should that umbrella hold out of course…
If Britain’s maritime past ‘floats your boat’ so to speak and one has a penchant for a good walk along a famous waterfront, then Liverpool would be the natural choice, particularly if passionate about the Beatles and/or Liverpool FC.
However, should one of Manchester’s Premier League Clubs be the subject of your calling, then Manchester might make a more ideal trip, with the added bonus of the National Football Museum being in town. Manchester’s ties to the industrial revolution will also make for an interesting, educational stay.
But, with only an hour or so between them along the M62, instead of trying to pick one of Liverpool or Manchester to visit, it might be more of a case of choosing which one to take in first.
Are you thinking of visiting Manchester or Liverpool? Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!