For Beatles aficionados, 2012 marks a special occasion: the 50th anniversary of the group's first performance with Ringo Starr, at the now legendary Cavern Club in the English city of Liverpool. To mark the momentous event, hordes of Fab Four fans, musicians and tribute bands have been gathering in the group's hometown for the International Beatle Week Festival (Aug. 22 to 28). Gigs, exhibitions, memorabilia auctions, guest speakers and the "world's biggest" Beatles convention have been making up the celebrations. If you're not able to join the fun, here are five ways to get a flavor for Liverpool and its attractions, Beatles related or otherwise.
1. Hard Days Night Hotel
The words themed hotel are enough to chill the blood but the Hard Days Night Hotel (harddaysnighthotel.com) gets it just about right, with a concept it describes as "Beatles inspired." From the portraits that greet you in the lobby to the muted strains of "She Loves You" drifting from the bright yellow jukebox, you're in no doubt that this place is dedicated to the storied pop group. But it's restrained enough to appeal to those with even just a passing interest. Housed in a handsome 19th century former insurance office, the hotel has 110 rooms, including two suites (called, appropriately enough, the Lennon and the McCartney the former with a shiny, white baby grand taking center stage). There's also a lounge bar, cocktail bar and a restaurant, Blakes, named for Peter Blake, the Pop artist best known for designing the album sleeve for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Room rates start at around $125.
2. St. George's Hall
Liverpool has more exceptional historic buildings of national importance known in Britain as Grade-1 listed buildings than any other U.K. city besides London, and St. George's Hall (stgeorgesliverpool.co.uk) is a prime example. Built in 1854 as a multipurpose civic venue (you could attend a concert and be tried for murder under the same roof), it's regarded as one of the finest neoclassical buildings in the world. The pièce de résistance is the Great Hall, with its beautiful tiled floor and a grand organ consisting of more than 7,700 pipes. Charles Dickens considered the circular Concert Room such a perfect venue that he gave multiple readings there. Go down into the bowels of the building for a glimpse of how Victorian Liverpool treated its "criminals." A notice board on the wall lists the terrible punishments meted out for paltry transgressions, while reconstructed holding facilities tell of 30 prisoners crammed to a cell with a single bucket for a toilet.
3. Albert Dock
The impressive Albert Dock (albertdock.com) serves as a testament to Liverpool's bygone maritime might. Opened in 1846, it was the first cargo-handling area where ships could be loaded straight from warehouses, making it revolutionary at the time. It was bombed heavily during World War II and, mirroring the city's economic misfortunes, began a gradual decline until redevelopment in 1981. Today, it is one of six areas in Liverpool given World Heritage status and houses the Tate Liverpool, the International Slavery Museum, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Beatles Story, as well as bars, shops and restaurants.
4. Magical Mystery Tour
Roll up for a guided tour around greater Liverpool to see the streets and houses that the world's most famous foursome once called home. The two-hour Magical Mystery Tour starts off at Albert Dock and takes you to the now dilapidated terrace house where Ringo was born, George Harrison's modest brick terrace and John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's rather more comfortable childhood homes, both of which are now owned by the National Trust. Along the way you'll pass some of the places that inspired their music, such as Strawberry Field and Penny Lane, accompanied by lively, knowledgeable commentary and tunes at apposite moments. A ticket costs $25 and allows you into the Cavern Club (cavernclub.org), the last stop.
5. Liverpool Cathedral
This monster of a building (liverpoolcathedral.org.uk) is the biggest cathedral in the U.K. and the fifth largest in the world. King Edward VII laid the first stone in 1904, but construction, which was hampered by two World Wars and various financial downturns, was only completed in 1978. Entrance is free, and for $8, you can go to the top of the 101-m tower, via two elevators and 108 stairs, passing the huge cathedral bells on the way. From the top, there's a fantastic 360-degree view of Liverpool.