Liverpool (review published 2016)

For a truly Shrek-tacular Christmas there really is only one place to go this year.
Liverpool has become the first UK city to host DreamWorks Lights, a Chinese lantern attraction featuring much-loved characters from the blockbuster animated films Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar.
There are around 100 lanterns on display and our two youngsters, Cerys, aged six, and two-year-old Owen, were thrilled to be able to get up close to the likes of Puss In Boots, Po and King Julian.
We particularly enjoyed seeing Shrek and Princess Fiona in their swamp, Alex and his friends behind bars in Central Park Zoo and – suspended from the ceiling – the pink dragon from Shrek measuring a whopping 40ft.
It’s located in the magnificent neoclassical St George’s Hall which had a starring role in the recent Harry Potter blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
It’s next to Lime Street station and you can’t miss it – there’s a giant, inflatable Shrek on the roof!
DreamWorks Lights is open daily from 10am to 7pm until January 15. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £8 for under-16s, with children under 12 months going free.
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DreamWorks Lights at St George’s Hall, Liverpool
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Strictly speaking, it’s perhaps not the most festive of attractions, but if Christmas is supposed to be all about family time then this is definitely the place to spend it.
And, in any case, there’s a Christmas market right outside plus loads of other festive attractions within walking distance, all part of Liverpool’s One Magical City programme.
Here’s what we got up to on our weekend…
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Santa’s Magical Grotto
Santa’s gone upmarket by setting up home in the crypt of Liverpool Town Hall. Everything is supersized in the grotto, with giant toadstools, snowmen, baubles and gingerbread people. There were plenty of elves to keep our children entertained during the wait to see Santa. Open this weekend then daily from December 16-23. Tickets are £7.50 per child and include a wrapped chocolate selection box plus entry for two accompanying adults.
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Countdown to Christmas
The famous Albert Docks is where you’ll find possibly the most magical – and free – attraction in Liverpool this festive season. 4D projection mapping is used to transform the Dr Martin Luther King Jr building (originally the dock traffic office) into a Christmas clock, with turning cogs and a real-time display counting down to the big day. Festive scenes are also beamed onto the building and Cerys was mesmerised as Santa put up the decorations and fairy whizzed here and there, leaving a trail of pixie dust. Until January 2 (dusk – 11pm).
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Countdown To Christmas, Albert Docks, Liverpool
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Snowflake Trail
Trail maps (available throughout the city centre) will guide you to 12 snowflake sculptures designed by local and national artists, plus a giant story book and interactive window displays. But the best part for Cerys and Owen was finding and then playing the Illumaphonium – a music making sculpture with aluminium chime bars which respond to touch with patterns of light that spread out in ripples. Until January 3.
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Blackler’s Santa
Blackler’s was a well-known and much-loved department store in Liverpool and an18ft Santa was the centrepiece of its spectacular grotto from 1957 until its closure in 1988. After undergoing repairs the Santa is now standing proud in the atrium of the free to enter Museum of Liverpool, bringing back many happy memories for generations of Merseysiders. The museum also has festive craft sessions for children. Until December 30.
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Ice Festival
Liverpool’s Pier Head is where you’ll find the city’s coolest attractions, including an ice rink that’s the same size as the one in Birmingham, but protected against the elements. There’s also an exhilarating Ice Slide where you travel 30m in a rubber ring, starting 6m above ground level. But with time running out we had to forego these is favour of the Ice Bar, where we drank shots (non-alcoholic for the kids) from ice glasses. There are crystal clear carved sculptures including a couple which will really appeal to Beatles fans – a Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road album cover. Until January 3.
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Ice Festival, Pier Head, Liverpool
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Heart Christmas Tree
Liverpool’s most famous sons once sang All You Need Is Love, so it seems appropriate that the city’s landmark Christmas tree should be made entirely out of 280 heart-shaped lights. The hearts change their colours to dazzling effect and the 30m tree is topped by a twinkling star. There’s also an Alpine-themed bar at the base of the tree, where visitors can indulge in a spot of “carol-oke”. You’ll find the tree at Liverpool ONE, one of Europe’s leading open air retail destinations, boasting 160 stores, bars and restaurants and built around existing city centre streets. Until January 2.
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Chavasse Park
Unusually, a park was included in the Liverpool ONE development, and it has earned itself Green Flag status. This Christmas it is home to a festive-themed funfair which was just perfect for our little ones. Of the seven rides, they particularly enjoyed Santa’s planes, the reindeer roller coaster and the elf swings. There’s also a Bavarian house bar serving up mulled wine and bratwurts. Until January 5.
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LEGO Santa Express
Close to the Christmas tree in Liverpool ONE is a train made entirely of LEGO bricks – half a million of them. It’s being driven by an elf and the two carriages are filled with presents and a Christmas tree. There is no need to book tickets to this train, children can just join the queue to climb inside the driver’s cabin for a free photo opportunity. Until December 29.
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LEGO Santa Express, Liverpool ONE
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Where to eat
VIVA BRAZIL, Castle Street.
The Brazilian-style steakhouse features a troop of passadors (meat carvers) who move from table to table offering 15 select cuts of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and sausages, all slowly roasted over a charcoal barbeque. I managed less than half of the meats but wished I’d had room for more. Perhaps surprisingly, my vegetarian wife and children were also well catered for. Diners can make unlimited visits to the extensive salad bar where over 50 dishes, including stews, pastas, vegetables and side dishes, are on rotation. There was a great atmosphere with very friendly staff and even a roaming magician whose trick left us gob-smacked. Children under 10 eat free with a paying adult. A branch opened in Birmingham earlier this year. Click here
WAHACA, College Lane.
Taking inspiration from the markets of Mexico, this restaurant serves up tacos, burritos, salads and many more mouth-watering treats. Whether you’re starving or just a bit peckish, it’s perfect for a lunch stop while shopping in the very festive Liverpool One complex. There’s also a rooftop bar where freshly blended cocktails with a Mexican twist are mixed and DJs play until midnight on Saturdays. It’s a double winner of the Sustainable Restaurant Group of the Year award. Click here
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Crowne Plaza and Royal Liver Building
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Where to stay
CROWNE PLAZA, Princes Dock.
Situated next door to the iconic Royal Liver Building, you can’t get much more central than this. Every attraction we visited over the weekend was within walking distance, even with two young children in tow. Indeed, the Ice Festival is just a stone’s throw away. Our smart and comfortable family room had a wonderful view of the ferries crossing the River Mersey (stop me before I burst into song again!) plus complimentary wi-fi. The hotel has a leisure club with gym, pool, sauna and beauty therapy suite. There’s also a lounge bar and restaurant where we enjoyed a top notch buffet breakfast. It’s the only hotel in the city centre to have its own on-site parking (£11 per night) and check out is a civilised 11am. Click here
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Travel file
For more information and links to all the attractions, see www.onemagicalcity.com
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