Go (North) West! Exploring England Like a Local
Whenever I tell fellow Americans that I spent over six years in England, I am without fail asked, “How was London?” London’s great – but I didn’t live there.
The American frame of reference for this amazing country tends to focus on its southern capital city, yet there is so much more to explore and enjoy if you travel north. (Remember, England is tiny compared with America, so it doesn’t take that long to travel anywhere.)
Thanks to the rail network, it’s all pretty easy to get to as well, and you won’t have to worry about driving on the other side of the road. For this blog post, I’ll focus on the Northwest of England, and return next time to tell you about the Northeast.
So go on, buy a return ticket and get going, love! You might find yourself wanting to stay there next time instead of the Big Smoke.
Train time: It takes just under 2.5 hours from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street.
Why go: I can honestly say that I left my heart in Liverpool, my home for all those years, as it’s one of the coolest cities in the world. Best known to Americans as the city that spawned The Beatles, this vibrant musical town with an awesome skyline has one of the busiest event calendars no matter the season.
Check out large-scale events like the Winter or Summer Arts Market at St. George’s Hall, where you can buy locally made goods; dance around at festivals like the annual Sound City or at Threshold Festival, one of Europe’s largest indoor music festivals; or embrace Light Night Liverpool, a one-night arts and culture festival.
Thanks to a generous arts council, museums here are free as well – and there are plenty of them. To name a few, there’s the Open Eye Gallery, with its rotating photography exhibits, and the Tate Liverpool’s modern art collection, plus the Museum of Liverpool and the Merseyside Maritime Museum, which has a great Titanic collection. (Titanic fans may know that the ship was registered in Liverpool, so the city’s name was on her stern. The White Star Building is still located down by the docks.)
Of course, there’s plenty of Beatles stuff to do if you’re into that – check out Mathew Street (home of the Cavern Club), sit on a bench with a statue of Eleanor Rigby, see the actual Penny Lane or John and Paul’s childhood homes, and wander through the Beatles Story down at the Albert Dock. As for the people, Scousers (pronounced ‘Scow-sers’) are some of the wittiest people you’ll ever come across – provided you can understand their accent.
Train time: Just over two hours from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly.
Why go: The third largest city in England (just after London and Birmingham), Manchester is known as the Capital of the North. Like any good capital city, Manchester is home to museums and galleries, such as the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester Art Gallery, National Football Museum and the Imperial War Museum North. Like any English city, it’s also home to countless pubs and restaurants; stroll into one and you might find an open mic night happening, with poets taking the stage. The artsy Northern Quarter is home to independent shops as well as various music venues; some of the biggest English musical acts in recent years have come from Manchester, such as Oasis, The Smiths, Joy Division and Elbow. Manchester is great to visit at any time of the year, but it’s also home to one of Europe’s best Christmas markets; warm up with some gluhwein (hot wine) while browsing the wares and shopping at the wooden chalet stalls. Thanks to the free Metroshuttle, a series of free buses that travel in a loop around the city, it’s also surprisingly easy to get around Manchester. Also, if you’re at all feeling homesick for America, head to Lincoln Square, so named due to the statue of Abraham Lincoln, thanks to his letter to Manchester cotton mill workers who supported his anti-slavery stance at personal cost.
Train Time: Just over two hours from London Euston to Chester Railway Station.
Why go: With its black-and-white timber buildings and narrow alleyways, Chester is the very epitome of ye olde England (as we Americans imagine it). Just south of Liverpool and close to the border with Wales, Chester is a walled city dating back to Roman times – and it has the artifacts to prove it. You can walk around the remains of the largest stone-built Roman amphitheater in Britain. You can literally walk the walls of the city, imagining the view back in the days when it as built (70-80 AD).
For more recent history, there’s Chester Cathedral, only about 1,000 years old. (Our ‘old’ stuff has nothing on the Brits.) It’s not all stuck in the past, though. Many Brits head to Chester for the horse races and the shopping – not only is there the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, but also the historic Chester Rows, two-tiered levels of street shopping.