The Beatles’ Liverpool: A Magical Mystery Tour
Liverpool, as The Beatles knew it, was industrialized, seedy and plagued with damage from World War II. Fast-forward about 50 years, after Liverpool’s recent reign as the European Capital of Culture, and visitors will find an attractive, compact city by the sea with killer-nightlife, upscale shopping, top-notch accommodations and a cutting-edge art and music scene. Beatles fans from all over the world still flock here to walk in the footsteps of the Lads from Liverpool and, respectfully so, many important Beatles sites remain untouched by gentrification. There are places to remember, and the Beatles tourist attractions I visited on my recent Liverpool pilgrimage were hard to forget. So all aboard — join me on a magical mystery tour of the Beatles’ Liverpool.
John Lennon used to say that the price of fame was not being able to go to “The Phil” for a drink. His favorite pub in Liverpool is known for being one of the most ornate pubs in England, complete with art nouveau wrought iron gates, stained glass windows, mosaic tile floors and a circular bar carved from dark hardwood. The Philharmonic Pub takes its name from Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall, which is located across the street. The pub was built in the style of a gentlemen’s club, between 1898 and 1900, and features one of the fanciest men’s restrooms around. Some visitors come to The Phil just to get a peek at the marble urinals. As for me, I preferred sipping on a cask-ale brew in the Grande Lounge and gazing at the fireplace, wondering in John himself once sat in my chair.
Concert-goers who attended The Beatles’ sweaty, jam-packed shows at the Cavern Club would wear the stench of the Cavern (urine, disinfectant, body odor, cigarettes) as a badge of honor. In the late 1950’s and ’60s, the Cavern was a venue like no other. Those were the days of poor amplification, but the Cavern’s unique tunnel design, fashioned after Parisian Left Bank jazz clubs, created powerful acoustics and an exhilarating atmosphere.
Due to work on Liverpool’s underground railway system, the club was closed in 1973 and filled with rubble like a tomb. Soon after John’s murder in 1980, work began on re-creating an exact replica of the Cavern Club on its original site, using 15,000 bricks from the original cellar.
Today, the Cavern Club is open seven days a week, and visitors will often hear live music (mostly Beatles’ covers) all day and night. Expect a lot of tourists on the weekends and cover bands that sound a lot better after your second pint of Guinness. On occasion, however, cool bands will play a one-night show here, including Jake Bugg, the Artic Monkeys and Travis.
Hard Day’s Night Hotel
If you plan on twisting and shouting late into the night, the Hard Day’s Night Hotel is conveniently located within in stumbling distance from the Cavern Club on Matthew Street. The Hard Day’s Night is the world's only Beatles-themed hotel and features original Beatles-inspired artwork, 110 upscale rooms and a contemporary interior design, bursting with color.
Strawberry Fields Forever
All of these years, I thought that John’s psychedelic hit, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” was a dreamy recollection of an acid trip. Surprisingly, Strawberry Field is an actual place in Liverpool and one that John was very fond of as a young boy. Behind the strawberry-colored gates was a Salvation Army orphanage with a large field where Lennon would romp, roughhouse and play while visiting his Aunt Mimi, who lived close by. Legend has it that when John was playing too aggressively in the fields one day, he was told to “stop or they’ll hang you.” His response was, “Nothin’ to get hung about, Miss,” which inspired the famous lyrics, “And nothing to get hung about / Strawberry Fields forever.”
In 1984, Yoko Ono came to Liverpool with her son Sean, and Strawberry Field was one of the first places they visited. Later that year, on John’s birthday, Yoko made a large monetary donation to Strawberry Field along with gifts to the staff and children.
Strawberry Field has been closed since 2004, but locals say it will be reopening soon as a school for children with special needs. The school plans to teach students how to grow strawberries and make jam, which will be available for purchase. The grounds will also feature a Beatles-themed exhibition for visitors and locals alike.
Paul McCartney and John were fiercely competitive, particularly toward their last few years as bandmates. So, when Paul heard “Strawberry Fields Forever,” he decided to write his own song about his childhood. Although it is also the name of a street, “Penny Lane” refers to a shopping area and road junction where The Beatles and their families frequented, almost on a daily basis.
From the Penny Lane roundabout, bystanders can still see the barbershop, once home to the “barber showing photographs / Of every head he’s had the pleasure to know,” as well as the bank on the corner, where the “banker with a motorcar” gave children reason to “laugh at him behind his back.” Near the roundabout is Saint Barnabas Church, where Paul was once a choirboy.
The Beatles Story
No pilgrimage to Liverpool would be complete without a visit to The Beatles Story, the world’s only permanent museum dedicated to the history of The Beatles. The exhibition is narrated by John’s sister, Julie, via an audio guide, and guests will hear quotes and stories from just about everyone in the band’s inner circle, including their manager, Brian Epstein, and John’s first wife Cynthia Lennon. The museum features replicas of the Casbah Coffee Club, Abbey Road Studios and Eleanor Rigby’s gravesite.
Roll Up, Roll Up for the Magical Mystery Tour
For about $30, visitors can see the birthplace of Ringo Starr and George Harrison, the childhood homes of John and Paul, Strawberry Field and Penny Lane on a Magical Mystery Tour offered by the Cavern Club. The tour meets at Liverpool’s legendary Albert Dock, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
My visit to Liverpool was made possible by VisitBritain, the Hosted Buyers Marketplace, VisitLiverpool, The Beatles Story and the Cavern Club. Views expressed are my own.