Once the empire's second city, LIVERPOOL spent too many of the twentieth-century postwar years struggling against adversity. Things are looking up at last, as economic and social regeneration brightens the centre and old docks. Yet even as any short-term visitor to the city could tell you nothing ever broke Liverpool's extraordinary spirit of community, a spirit that emerged strongly in the aftermath of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster of 1989, when the deaths of 95 Liverpool supporters seemed to unite the whole city. Indeed, acerbic wit and loyalty to one of the city's two football teams are the linchpins of Scouse culture though Liverpool makes great play of its musical heritage, which is reasonable enough from the city that produced The Beatles.
Although it gained its charter from King John in 1207, Liverpool remained a humble fishing village for half a millennium until the silting-up of Chester and the booming slave trade prompted the building of the first dock in 1715. From then until the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1807, Liverpool was the apex of the slaving triangle in which firearms, alcohol and textiles were traded for African slaves, who were then shipped to the Caribbean and America. The holds were filled with tobacco, raw cotton and sugar for the return journey. After the abolition of the trade, the port continued to grow into a seven-mile chain of docks, not only for freight but also to cope with wholesale European emigration, which saw nine million people from half of Europe leave for the Americas and Australasia between 1830 and 1930. Some never made it further than Liverpool and contributed to a five-fold increase in population in fifty years. An even larger boost came with immigration from the Caribbean and China, and especially Ireland in the wake of the potato famine in 1845. The docks were busy until the middle of the twentieth century when a number of factors led to the port's decline: cheap air fares saw off the lucrative liner business; trade with the dwindling empire declined, while European traffic boosted southeastern ports at Tilbury, Harwich and Southampton; and containerization meant reduced demand for handling and warehousing. The arrival of car manufacturing plants in the 1960s, including Ford at Halewood, stemmed the decline for a while, but during the 1970s and 1980s Liverpool became a byword for British economic malaise as its fundamental businesses withered and died.
There's been a renaissance of sorts since the 1990s as EU development funds and millennium money have kick-started various projects. Financial services, information technology and biotechnology are all major employers while the city is the "call centre" capital of the UK. Compared to the wholesale redevelopment of neighbouring Manchester, the city still has a fair hill to climb but there is at last a welcome new confidence about Liverpool. It's rebranded itself as the "festival city" on the back of which, it's making a bid to be European Capital of Culture for 2008.
What to see:

Walker Art Gallery
This grand Victorian building is situated next to the Liverpool Museum. Built in 1877 and extended in the 1930s, it holds a superb collection of paintings, sculpture and fine arts from the 14th-20th century. The gallery stages regular exhibitions, events, tours and family activities. The works include Rembrandt, Monet, Matisse and world famous collections by William Frederick Yeames and Rossetti. The spacious cafe offers light refreshments in relaxing surroundings. Prints and art postcards are available from the gift shop.

Croxteth Park riding Centre
Take a canter with one of the resident horses around the large outdoor sand paddock at this friendly riding centre in Croxteth Park. Group and individual tuition is available to suit all levels from beginners to advanced riders. Riding hats are provided and they also advise wearing long trousers and shoes with small heels. Riding lessons and visits must be booked in advance.

The Cavern Club
Undoubtedly the most famous club in the world, this was the birthplace of a music revolution that changed things forever. The original club closed down in 1973 to make way for an underground rail link; it moved to its present site in 1976. The club witnessed almost 300 performances by the Beatles and it was here that Paul McCartney played his last gig of the 20th century. In addition to live entertainment, there are three rooms for different tastes in music including retro, dance and party.

Where to eat:

The Tavern company
Situated within the Penny Lane area, this restaurant has recently been expanded due to increased popularity. From the unpolished wooden floor and mismatched rustic furniture to the flickering candlelight, the ambience is about as mellow and relaxing as you can get. The narrow front bar area can get very packed on a busy night, but no one seems to mind the friendly crush. The main eating area, tucked behind an alcove, is more spacious and provides plenty of seating. The menu mainly consists of Mexican cuisine with plenty of variations including Texas-style Sirloin Steak, Cajun Salmon and many vegetarian dishes.

Owens is an established restaurant that has an excellent reputation and is fashionable with lovers of fine food. Marble floors, large windows and exotic foliage all contribute to a very appealing ambience. For diversity of flavours and prime ingredients, try the platter of continental meats with pickled vegetables and posh bread, and perhaps follow with Steamed Breast of Cheshire Chicken with mango, lime and coconut cream. Melodic live music by visiting guitarists or a piano player is a nightly feature. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Egg Cafe
Located within the city centre, the cafe entrance is at street level and requires a brisk walk up a few flights of stairs. It also operates as an art gallery, so there are a number of original pictures on the whitewashed walls. The furniture is a little ramshackle, but that adds to the considerable charm of the place. Features include a high timbered ceiling, a jungle of foliage and a copious supply of newspapers. The daily menu is jotted on a blackboard behind the counter and offers a wide range of vegetarian dishes and tempting desserts.

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