Having written a travel guide to the Mersey Estuary, I sometimes get asked for suggestions for places to visit around Liverpool and the estuary off the beaten track. I therefore thought I’d give suggestions for 10 best waterfront sights to explore.
This includes places in Liverpool, Wirral, Runcorn, Widnes and Warrington beyond the main tourist attractions, paticularly some that I found surprising when researching the book.
1. Outdoor art
In no particular order, to begin we have outdoor art, which you find in the most surprising places.
Perhaps the most famous example is Another Place at Crosby Beach, where a hundred iron men face out to sea. It was created by Sir Antony Gormley.
The superlambananas of Liverpool (shown) are also well known and you can find them in several places. About a hundred were produced for the European Capital of Culture exhibition in 2008, based on a 1998 design by Taro Chiezo.
Head inland and you can find a Sitting Bull statue near Otterspool Promenade, Future Flower by architects Tonkin Liu near Widnes, and the River of Life in Warrington.
Some for the next edition of the book include Liverpool Mountain by Ugo Rondinone outside the Tate Gallery and the Mermaid Trail and street art murals of New Brighton.
2. Spectacular wildlife
You can also see some amazing wildlife around the estuary, particularly wading birds, which sometimes gather in huge numbers in autumn and winter to feed on the mudflats at low tide.
The estuary is particularly known for dunlins and one of the most spectacular sights is a murmuration, in which birds fly in formation, a bit like starlings in autumn and winter but more impressive due to the rapidly changing shapes and colours.
Other examples include seals that swim around from the Dee Estuary such as those seen here at Burbo Bank during a Mersey Ferries wildlife watching cruise and the red squirrels of Formby Point.
You can read more about the wildlife of the Mersey Estuary here.
3. Watching the ships go by
I hesitate to say spectacular here, but yes, a cruise ship towering over the waterfront is very impressive to see, particularly from up close. This leads to many great opportunities for photographers.
Mersey Ferries sometimes also organize special cruises when a famous ship is in port, such as Cunard’s ‘Queen’ liners.
Liverpool is of course a working port and it’s interesting just to watch the to and fro of tankers, cargo ships and high speed pilot vessels, and the occasional sailing regatta.
You can read more about the Port of Liverpool here.
Until the last century, lighthouses played a crucial role in navigation into the Port of Liverpool, and some still remain.
Some are incredibly photogenic, such as those in New Brighton (shown), Ellesmere Port and Hale Head, and others you can visit on some days of the year, such as at Leasowe and on Bidston Hill.
Further afield, there are more along the north Wales coast, from Anglesey to the Wirral, dating back to the times of steam and sail.
5. Bidston Hill
Speaking of Bidston Hill, that’s certainly another hidden gem. As well as great views of Liverpool, there’s a historic windmill, which like the lighthouse is sometimes open to the public.
There has probably been a windmill here since the 16th century and the present structure was used for milling flour from 1800 to 1875.
It’s also the site of Bidston Observatory, now private residences but which once played a key role in scientific understanding of the tides.
Drop down from the ridge and in addition to the wildlife you can find ancient rock carvings and the Tam O’Shanter urban farm.
6. Medieval sites
Travel round the estuary and you can find some amazing historic sights. I particularly liked Halton Castle and Norton Priory in Runcorn and Birkenhead Priory in, as you might expect, Birkenhead.
Both priories have museums where you can find out more about local history and the castle has great views of the upper parts of the estuary.
For a much more modern fort, you also have Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton, built in the 19th century.
7. Mersey Tidal Bore
Tidal bores are amazing surges that come inland on the highest tides, sometimes forming a wave a metre or more high.
The Severn Bore is the best known in the UK, but the Mersey’s is pretty impressive too. It begins near Liverpool John Lennon Airport and good viewpoints include Runcorn, Fiddler’s Ferry and Warrington.
On the best days it travels almost 20 miles at an average speed of about 5mph. You can read more about the Mersey Tidal Bore here, including essential safety advice for watching it pass.
8. Transporter bridges
Transporter bridges first came into use in the late 19th century and only about 30 were ever built worldwide. Amazingly there were once three across the Mersey Estuary of which one, now disused, remains in Warrington.
This used a gondola to ferry goods and rail vehicles within an industrial site. It is one of only eight left in the world and there is an active campaign to see it restored
There was another alongside while in Widnes you can still see some signs of the much larger Widnes-Runcorn transporter bridge, which was demolished in the 1960s, including a plaque and the former on-ramp and powerhouse. It’s platform could carry several vehicles and 300 passengers at a time.
Like any city, Liverpool has festivals but many people are surprised at the number and variety.
For example, with Brazilica you don’t need to go to Rio de Janiero to see a carnival, and you can find outdoor dance and music events throughout the year, including at the Chinese New Year celebrations (shown).
The various maritime-themed events are some of my favourites, including one-offs which in the past have included tall ship events, the Three Queens event and the start of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
10. Mersey Ferry
As one of Liverpool’s most famous attractions, you can’t really call the Mersey Ferry a hidden gem.
However, the special cruises run by Mersey Ferries are less well known and some I’ve enjoyed in the past included trips along the Manchester Ship Canal, wildlife watching in Liverpool Bay, and around the northern docks.
Look out too for evening cruises and other themed events throughout the year.
10 best waterfront sights of Liverpool and the Mersey Estuary?
I hope that’s helped to shown some of the less well known sights of the waterfront around Liverpool and the Mersey Estuary, beyond the main tourist attractions.
It is of course just a personal selection and there are many more, making this a fascinating area to visit.
You can also find more ideas in this earlier post on unexpected sights around the Mersey Estuary which also describes some of the locations in this post in more detail.
Many of these photographs are from The Mersey Estuary: A Travel Guide. This describes places to visit around the estuary and its history, environment and wildlife, including walking and cycling routes and many unexpected sights in Liverpool, Wirral and Cheshire.
See www.troubador.co.uk for more information including media news (see ‘Author News’), book reviews and a short video about the book.