With Noddy Holder’s beard buffed for another season, Christmas 2016 is now well and truly underway.
But if you still haven’t begun the present shopping and are looking for a way of getting it all in the bag, Liverpool could be the ideal destination as the family and I discovered last weekend.
Just far enough away to make a weekend of it but not so far that already excited and fractious kids don’t go in to complete meltdown on the journey, the previous European Capital of Culture’s Christmas season opened with a sparkle last month.
And in a UK first for Liverpool, one of the city’s biggest guests (apart from the other bearded chap of course!) is none other than kids film favourite Shrek. He is appearing alongside pals from Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda in the ‘DreamWorks Lights’ walk-through lantern experience at the magnificent St George’s Hall - which is where we began our festive trip last Saturday morning.
After taking in the lights and sounds and having shook paws with Po the panda we perused the 40-plus traditional Christmas market stalls alongside the hall and grabbed a winter warmer and a hot spiced apple drink to keep us going. Very seasonal!
Serious shopping next and things just got even more festive as we passed the Salvation Army band belting out the carols and creating a wonderful atmosphere which stretched all the way to the main retail area of Liverpool One. Decked not so much with boughs of holly, more LED’S round your trolley, this is where the modern shopper goes. But while there are exclusive names including Michael Kors, Ted Baker London and Karen Millen, with over 160 shops, bars and restaurants in total there’s there is plenty on offer, even for our budget.
Next, and probably most importantly on the agenda, was a visit to see the Main Man himself. Set up in his new grotto in the grand setting of Liverpool’s Town Hall it was something of a relief to be away from the crowds and to take in some of the city’s historic architecture on the way. Greeted by a friendly elf we were guided through a festive fantasy world featuring reindeers, fairytale characters, candy canes and giant gingerbread men to find Father Christmas himself. A magical treat for the children.
With a bit more shopping done we had built up an appetite and headed to The Club House on Chavasse Park. Built in a New England style and twinkling with Christmas lights there was a lively, festive atmosphere and we enjoyed some great food and live entertainment. Following up with a quick tipple before bedtime we experienced Bar Hütte, the Alpine-themed pop-up bar housed within Liverpool One’s 30 metre ‘Christmas tree’, a spectacular light-show centrepiece. The perfect starting place for any Christmas party, Bar Hütte offers individual ski-huts complete with disco lights and “carol-oke”.
After a mulled wine and a sing-along to Chris Rea we decided it was time we headed not home for Christmas but to our hotel which fortunately was just round the corner. The Novotel on Hanover Street is modern, clean and spacious with fitness centre and heated pool. The Ropeworks Bar downstairs was buzzing when we arrived but we heard nothing from our room as we settled down for a long winter’s nap.
After a suprisingly good buffet style breakfast we were wrapped up ready for the cold and took in some bracing Sunday sea air on the way to the ice festival at Pier Head. Again, just a few minutes walk away the festival includes an ice rink, a 30 metre ice slide, a real ice bar and plenty of fairground rides. We just had a go at the ice skating (and I have the bruises to prove it!) but be warned - if the kids need a penguin skate aid they are £5 each! And that isn’t a deposit!
Craving something a little quieter, we headed back to the peaceful solidity of the Albert Dock and had some lunch under the vaults in the pirate themed bar and restaurant Smugglers Cove. Opting for some hearty fare, the food was delicious and warming and set us up for our final special appointment in the city.
And what a Christmas treat it was! Not normally one for getting my nails done, The Younger and I sampled a mother and daughter pampering session at the UK’s first Beauty Bazaar, Harvey Nichols on Manesty’s Lane. With a glass of fizz for me and a kids cocktail for the daughter we were painted and preened something close to perfection. Just need to find the party now!
So from Santa to Shrek, bratwurst to bubbles, it’s a cliché but there really is something for the whole family in Liverpool this Christmas.