Known around the world predominantly for football and The Beatles, you might not realize how much more Liverpool has to offer. With one of the most impressive selections of (free!) museums and galleries in the UK, the story of the city (and in some cases, the UK at large) is spelled out for those who know where to look.
From the detailed exploration of the trade of enslaved people at the International Slavery Museum, contemporary and thought-provoking art at Tate Liverpool, and the opportunity to get to know the people and places that make the city great at the Museum of Liverpool, here are our picks of the best museums in Merseyside.
Museum of Liverpool: best all-round experience
A proud city deserves a proud museum, and the Museum of Liverpool does it justice. Many exhibits include personal stories shared by local people directly affected by some of the most critical events in the city, like the devastation during the Blitz of 1941.
It's a fantastic place to start your adventure in Liverpool – you get an insight into the rise and fall of the city's fortunes and learn more about Scousers' long commitment to social justice. From fashion and homewares to the boom of the rock'n'roll generation and football, you'll leave with a much better understanding of the city and its people.
Liverpool World Museum: the oldest museum in the city
Opened in 1853, the Liverpool World Museum is the oldest in the city. Formerly the Liverpool Free Public Museum, it is home to the longest-surviving planetarium in a British museum and an extensive collection of natural history in the form of Egyptian mummies and dinosaur bones.
The museum offers a very family-friendly experience but is also a wonderful escape for adults to learn more about the weird and wonderful creatures of the world.
Merseyside Maritime Museum: designing the largest ship in the world
While the story of the Titanic is well documented in Belfast, Liverpool's role in its humble beginnings is not so well known. The museum shares insight into the iconic ship's design, building, sailing, and sinking through human stories, from the shipbuilders to the passengers and crew aboard the leisure liners. Despite the Titanic never hitting Mersey waters, the liner was staffed by over 90 members of the Liverpudlian crew, two of which spotted the iceberg.
There are also incredible exhibitions telling the stories of mass emigration through the port of Liverpool and the role the docks played in the booming financial success of the city. The basement of the museum has a gallery dedicated to the weird and wonderful things seized by the UK Border Force and how they combat the increasingly sophisticated methods employed by smugglers.
International Museum of Slavery: stories from the enslaved
A campaigning museum that focuses on both the past and the present, the International Slavery Museum offers visitors a new and challenging way to learn about the history of enslavement and human trafficking in modern times. The port of Liverpool was a key location in the British Empire's trade of enslaved people – over 1.5 million African people were transported on ships across the Atlantic from Merseyside to plantations in the Caribbean and North America.
Through art, stories, written history, and carefully curated exhibits, you are immersed in a world where you can learn about historical and contemporary enslavement by hearing first-hand accounts, as well as the ongoing campaign by the museum to bring an end to human trafficking.
Tate Liverpool: modern art on the docks
Developed as part of the Albert Dock redevelopment, Tate Liverpool is the only Northern gallery in the Tate family, known as "Tate of the North." Housed in one of the old dock buildings and set over four floors, this impressive museum is well worth a visit.
The works change regularly, making it an excellent gallery for repeat visits. With a strong focus on education and engaging with young people, it is an accessible entry into modern art. The views over the Mersey from the warehouse windows are a fantastic photo opportunity – even on a rainy day.
The Beatles Story: Merseyside's most famous sons
Located on the iconic Albert Dock, The Beatles Story is a must-visit for fans of the fab four. Learn about the origins of one of the most popular bands of all time from their humble beginnings in Liverpudlian suburbs to international fame and acclaim. The museum houses the biggest permanent exhibition of Beatles' memorabilia in the world and has replicas of some key locations in the band's history, including Abbey Road studios and the Cavern Club (the famed club was partially destroyed when it was sold in the 1970s but has been faithfully reconstructed a few doors down from the original on Mathew Street).
This is understandably one of the most popular sights in Liverpool and booking ahead is strongly advised to avoid disappointment. Unlike a lot of museums in the city, The Beatles Story isn't free to access.
FACT Liverpool: art in the digital age
FACT stands for film, art and creative technology. It is home to a Picturehouse cinema and art galleries focusing on inspiring new artists through technology and digital creation. The space offers the opportunity to explore exciting and contemporary digital and film art, which engages radical thinkers, creatives and scientists to collaborate across Liverpool.
A step away from the more traditional galleries of Tate and Walker, you'll always find something new and cutting edge to be inspired by at FACT.
Open Eye Gallery: innovative photography gallery
Open Eye Gallery was one of the UK's first dedicated exhibition spaces for photography art when it launched in 1977. This niche gallery offers exciting exhibitions filled with various photography and moving images by emerging and established artists. The displays highlight the medium while also addressing social and cultural topics to provide educational value.
The Bluecoat: contemporary art in a beautiful setting
Set in a Grade I listed building in the heart of the city center, you can enjoy current art exhibitions, buy from local artists and makers in the independent studios, and enjoy the peace of their courtyard café.
The gallery has a year-round program of exhibitions and events featuring artists from around the world alongside emerging local artists.
Walker Art Gallery: most extensive art collection outside of London
Housed in a neo-Classical building next door to the World Museum, the Walker Art Gallery holds one of the most comprehensive art collections in England outside of London. From Netherlandish paintings from the 1300s, European art, including Rembrandt and Degas, to 20th-century pieces by David Hockney and Lucian Freud, and the Banksy sculpture "Cardinal Sin". A dedicated space for kids makes it an excellent family-friendly option.