Take a 50-minute Big Mersey Adventure ferry ride to discover the city’s history-laden waterfront, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stop off at Seacombe Ferry Terminal for Spaceport, an attraction based around Space and Space travel, and at Woodside Terminal, for U-boat Story, a real German sub with interactive displays. (Note that the Seacombe terminal also houses model boats, a large café, a soft-play area and a mini-karting track that replaced the old aquarium.)
The Mersey Ferries Terminal itself is now home to the second site of The Beatles Story, which takes you on a journey into the life, times and culture of the iconic pop group as well as their music. The first site at the Albert Dock has a Discovery Zone with interactive activities for kids including creating your own newspapers and playing a Beatles tune on a giant floor piano, but call ahead in termtime when it's often booked out for school visits.
Make time for some of Liverpool’s museums and galleries, including the new, free Museum of Liverpool in its slick waterfront building, showcasing the city's unique contributions to popular culture as well as social, historical and contemporary issues. For instance, the Wondrous Place gallery looks at how Liverpool has produced such an amazing roll call of creative folk, from musicians to footballers, as well as examining the development of the Liverpudlian dialect, Scouse. See our feasture on a Liverpool city break including the Museum of Liverpool.
A real crowd-pleaser (and one that is free to boot) is the World Museum Liverpool, formerly the Liverpool Museum and now boasting galleries such as World Cultures, the Bug House – including a 2m animatronic house-fly – an aquarium, the Weston Discovery Centre (archaeology and ethnology), the Clore Natural History Centre, and the Treasure House Theatre (music, dance and more), plus two cafés and a Fair Trade shop.
Otherwise, explore Liverpool’s seafaring heritage at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in the Albert Dock, also free. Housing the International Slavery Museum and Customs & Excise National Museum, plus displays on emigration, on merchant seafaring, on the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II, and on the tragic sinkings of the Titanic, Lusitania and Empress of Ireland, it's best suited to older kids, although there's a small, slightly scruffy maritime-themed play area for tots. The top-floor restaurant (see below) is excellent with kids of all ages.
Also at the Albert Dock is the northern outpost of the world-renowned Tate Gallery of modern and contemporary art, the Tate Liverpool, another free venue (except for special exhibitions) with plenty of events, workshops and amenities for families, plus another excellent family-friendly café and a great shop.
For more free art, head to the wonderful Walker Art Gallery of fine and decorative European pieces dating from 1300 to the present day: everything from portraits of Tudor royals to Hockneys (not for nothing is it dubbed ‘the National Gallery of the North’). Kids are more than welcome here: the dedicated area for children up to eight, Big Art for Little Artists, hosts activities inspired by the Walker’s world-class art collections, including puppetry, storytelling and dressing up.
Take in yet more culture at The Bluecoat, Liverpool's creative hub, showcasing visual art, music, dance, live art and literature in a gorgeous historic building with a leafy courtyard that kids love to run around in. Family events at weekends link in with current exhibitions. The downstairs café and upstairs bistro are both great for families.
Swing by Underwater Street, a discovery centre where under-11s can try out a mass of hands-on activities from panning for gold, experimenting in a lab or building a house to standing inside a giant bubble, climbing a rock wall or exploring an underground water cave.
Don’t miss Liverpool Cathedral, the UK’s largest, and holder of several other records – it has the world’s highest and widest Gothic arches and its highest and heaviest peal of bells. Climb the tower for views of the city and beyond, and visit The Great Space, where you can watch a panoramic film including a ‘fly-through’ the cathedral and helicopter-shot aerial views of the city. There are also special audio tours for kids, interactive computer terminals and a café-bar with fabulous views.
Sports-mad kids will know that the city is home to two major football clubs: Liverpool and Everton, both of which offer stadium tours. Liverpool’s ground, Anfield, also has a museum including the Champions League trophy and two film-shows.
Non football fanatics might like to see the city from a rather different angle, on one of the Shiverpool ghost tours.
A little outside the centre, towards the airport, Speke Hall, Gardens & Estates is a stunning Tudor house with period interiors (including a secret priest hole and a thunderbox loo), landscaped gardens, and countryside and woodland walks with views over the Mersey Basin towards North Wales. There are family trails in both the house and gardens, children’s Tracker Packs, behind-the-scenes tours and podcast-tours. Within the grounds, the Home Farm Visitor Centre is a restored Victorian farm building with a kids’ play area with adjacent picnic tables, an orchard, a restaurant and a shop.
On the northwest outskirts of the city, Croxteth Hall & Country Park is another country estate with an historic hall, a Victorian walled garden and a home farm (the park is free; the attractions can be visited individually or by a combined ticket, which saves you money). It's also home to Jungle Parc Liverpool, a high-wire family adventure park with treetop courses involving rope bridges, cargo nets and zip-lines. The kids’ courses have three levels and are suitable for ages four and up (minimum height 1.05m).
Just 13km north-west of the city lies Knowsley Safari Park, which has free-roaming exotic animals galore, from African wild dogs to wildebeest, a bug house and a bee house, a woodland walk, Mizzy Lake Farm, and lots of animal-themed amusement rides. In November and December there’s also a Santa’s grotto, and the site is also home to another high-wire adventure course, Aerial Extreme.