Want to follow in the steps of the Beatles? Liverpool visitors won’t want to miss these historic sites from the band members’ early years.
On our 12-day British Isles cruise on Royal Caribbean, I was excited to visit the port of Liverpool, where the Fab Four grew up and later started the band.
We had over eight hours scheduled in port, and Mr. SBC and I (both lifelong Beatles fans) wanted to dedicate our day to seeing all of the best Beatles sites in Liverpool.
However, finding a full-day Beatles tour proved to be a challenge. Of course we could hire a private car and driver for the day, but that wasn’t in the budget for this cruise.
Instead, we settled on a shorter Beatles shore excursion offered through the cruise line: In The Steps of the Beatles.
Royal Caribbean promised a 3.75-hour excursion, visiting sites like Strawberry Field, where (and I quote) “you can explore the same places John Lennon did as a child”, the famed Penny Lane, and an interactive Beatles museum.
There were three coaches scheduled to do this same tour, so I knew it must be popular. But did it live up to the hype?
Interactive map of our Liverpool Beatles tour
After piling into our coach with about twenty-five other Beatles fans, we made our way to Victoria Street, just a short walk from our first destination: Mathew Street.
This stop wasn’t listed on our tour agenda, maybe because parking is difficult in the area? But our expert driver, a local guy with a very big personality, had zero issues with finding a spot.
Our friendly tour guide led us down the sidewalk, holding a paddle with our tour group number. We passed grand Neoclassical buildings to find Mathew Street—a nightlife center in Liverpool since the 1950s.
Beatles fans will know Mathew Street as the location of the famous Cavern Club, where the band famously played 292 times from February 1961 to August 1963.
The Quarrymen, fronted by John Lennon, performed their first gig at The Cavern Club on August 7th 1957 while the venue was still a jazz club—although skiffle music was tolerated (but not rock & roll).
The original club was torn down after its closure in 1973, and today the site is just a fenced-in gravel lot. A new Cavern Club has since opened across the street.
We enjoyed a guided tour of the street, now a mecca for Beatles fans, stopping at several of the pubs where the Beatles used to gather before they became a worldwide sensation.
Our guide shared a fun fact with us that I never knew—the Cavern Club didn’t serve alcohol during the Beatles’ time there. So the boys would head to one of the Mathew Street bars (often the White Star or The Grapes) after playing a few sets to unwind with friends.
If you’d like to see some historic pics of the street, the Liverpool Echo has a nice Beatles-centric photoessay of Mathew Street over the years.
The Beatles Story exhibition
Our next stop was The Beatles Story, an interactive museum dedicated to (you guessed it) the entire story of the Beatles from beginning to end.
To reach the museum, we drove through the area known as the Albert Dock, a complex of dock buildings and warehouses that opened in 1846.
Home to several other attractions including the Mersey Maritime Museum and Tate Liverpool, the Albert Dock is the most-visited multi-use attraction in the UK outside of London!
We had about 90 minutes to visit the exhibition, and the tickets (included with the price of the tour) came with headsets for a self-guided audiotour at your own pace.
As first-timers, we had zero idea how large (or small) the museum would be. With such a tight schedule, we found ourselves rushing through the exhibits. It’s a good thing we did, because we couldn’t possibly have listened to all of the audiotour in the time we had!
After visiting, Mr. SBC and I agreed that the exhibition, despite its huge size, was a little disappointing. Although there were some original artifacts, like Ringo’s drum kit and some original handwritten lyrics, the museum mainly consisted of recreations.
I’ll admit, their version of the Cavern Club as it would have looked when the Beatles played there was pretty neat. This full-size recreation with brick-lined walls features the stage set for the Fab Four, as well as the snack bar where Cilla Black once worked.
However, I couldn’t help but compare The Beatles Story to my recent visit to Elvis’ Graceland, where the vast amount of original items belonging to the entertainer was almost overwhelming.
If you’d rather explore The Beatles Story exhibition on your own, consider pre-purchasing a skip-the-line ticket and taking a taxi or rideshare. The museum is just over a mile from the cruise port.
The tour literature mentioned that a stop at Penny Lane was dependent on traffic conditions and parking, so I was worried that we’d miss our chance to see the street immortalized by the 1967 song.
But our driver found us a spot, and we all got out to peer at one of the Penny Lane street signs, this one covered with graffiti (including Paul McCartney’s own autograph).
Although I hoped we’d have the chance to walk down the lane made famous by the slice-of-life song, we were only able to see the rest of the road by bus. Our tour guide pointed out some of the buildings that were inspiration for the lyrics, including the barbershop once owned by the “barber showing photographs”.
The “shelter in the middle of the roundabout” mentioned in Penny Lane is there too, although it looks a bit different than it would have when Paul and John would meet there.
Fun Penny Lane fact: Not far from the bus shelter is The Dovedale Towers pub at 60 Penny Lane. The Quarrymen played at this venue when it was known as Grove House. Freddie Mercury, frontman for the band Queen, also lived at “The Dovey” from 1969 to 1970.
Paul McCartney’s childhood home
Not far from Penny Lane is 20 Forthlin Road, where the McCartney family lived between 1955 and 1963. Paul and John Lennon wrote several of their earliest songs at the house, and often practiced there.
The home was acquired by the National Trust in 1995, and has been furnished to look much like it would have when Paul was growing up.
We weren’t able to go inside, but I couldn’t help but picture a young Paul running out the door in a hurry, à la A Day in the Life.
“Found my coat and grabbed my hat, Made the bus in seconds flat.”
You might remember the 2018 episode of Carpool Karaoke where James Corden and Paul visit Paul’s former home on Forthlin Road? I’ve included it below in case you missed it.
Fun fact: The cover of McCartney’s 2005 album Chaos & Creation In The Backyard features a photo of a young Paul playing guitar in the backyard of this home.
Strawberry Fields Forever, released as a double A-side in 1967 (along with Penny Lane) also takes its inspiration from a nearby spot.
John Lennon based the song on childhood memories of playing in the garden of Strawberry Field, an orphanage not far from where he lived with his aunt Mimi Smith in the suburb of Woolton.
Our guide let us know that the line “and nothing to get hung about” referred to Lennon’s memory of his aunt forbidding him to play at Strawberry Field, which was private property. He replied, “They can’t hang you for it.”
We weren’t able to enter the grounds of Strawberry Field, despite the tour’s promise that we could explore where John Lennon played as a child.
But we did have a chance to stop and peer through the red iron fence at the grounds and the Visitors Centre, which has opened for tours fairly recently.
Wondering why the song’s title and lyrics include Strawberry “Fields” and not “Field”? Legend says that John simply liked the sound of Strawberry Fields better.
John Lennon’s childhood home
Around the corner at 251 Menlove Avenue is Mendips, the home where John Lennon lived with his aunt and uncle Mimi and George Smith beginning in 1946.
We only did a drive-by of the home, a lovely detached single-family house behind a tall hedge. Although the image of the Beatles was always that of four working-class lads, John’s upbringing with his aunt and uncle was decidedly middle-class.
As Paul McCartney once said of Mendips, it was “one of the almost posh houses” in Woolton.
If you’d like to see the inside of both Paul and John’s childhood homes, the National Trust has a combo tour available. But book early, because spots are limited and tend to sell out fast.
Did we see George Harrison’s and Ringo’s childhood homes?
We weren’t able to stop at either George Harrison’s or Ringo Starr’s houses on our tour, although our tour guide pointed out a home where Ringo once lived as a boy as we passed a side street. With only time for a quick glance through the coach window, I’m not even sure that I looked at the right house!
If you’d like to see the former Richard Starkey’s birthplace, he was born at 9 Madryn Street in Dingle, Liverpool. When he was three years old, his parents divorced and he and his mother moved to nearby 10 Admiral Grove.
As far as I can tell, neither house is currently open to the public for tours.
As for George Harrison’s former Liverpool homes (his birthplace at 12 Arnold Grove in Wavertree and later residence 25 Upton Green in Speke), we sadly didn’t pass by either.
Did you know you can stay in one of George Harrison’s childhood homes in Liverpool? The three-bedroom terrace house at 25 Upton Green is available for nightly rental.
Booking your Beatles tour in Liverpool
If you’re cruising to Liverpool, several cruise lines offer the In the Steps of the Beatles tour as a shore excursion. In addition to Royal Caribbean, I’ve also seen this tour offered through Celebrity, Disney, and Princess.
We paid $99 each for this three-hour-and-45-minute Beatles tour, though ticket prices can vary by cruise line.
Would you rather do a less expensive Beatles shore excursion in Liverpool? You have lots of options, from hop-on-hop-off buses to affordable walking tours. Here are some of the most popular and affordable Beatles tours:
- Liverpool: Hop-On Hop-Off Ticket with City and Beatles Tour
- Liverpool: Beatles Explorer Bus Tour Ticket
- Liverpool: Beatles and Cavern Quarter Walking Tour
- Liverpool: Beatles Highlights Walking Tour
Final thoughts about the In the Steps of the Beatles tour: pros and cons
Since the cruise restart in 2021, I’ve been on dozens of shore excursions. In that time, I’ve noticed that cruise lines aren’t offering many of the full-day, in-depth tours that they used to pre-pandemic.
Clocking in at just under four hours, the In the Steps of the Beatles tour gave us a nice overview of Liverpool. But it just wasn’t enough time to stop at all the Beatles sites that a longer tour would have afforded.
We did have the chance to spot a few of John and Paul’s childhood haunts, including schools they attended. But seeing a fleeting glimpse of something through the window of a bus isn’t quite like visiting.
Also, George has always been my favorite Beatle, and I felt that his story (and Ringo’s) weren’t really told on this shore excursion.
The Beatles Story exhibition didn’t quite live up to our expectations, but I still would’ve liked more time. If we had visited on our own, Mr. SBC and I would have spent at least a few hours there listening to the entire audiotour and making sure we saw everything.
Despite a few disappointments with the tour’s offerings, our guide and driver were both excellent. I enjoyed our guide’s commentary while we drove through the streets of Liverpool, and he really engaged with all of us at each tour stop.
Our driver was in charge of keeping the Beatles tunes going during the trip, and our group had quite a few sing-alongs as we drove around!
If we had tried to see all the Beatles sites on our own (even though Liverpool’s cruise port is close to the city center), it would have taken us all day.
Overall, I’m glad that we booked this shore excursion, even though it wasn’t long enough. Cruise lines: we want the choice of both longer and shorter tours! Readers, do you agree?
Have you taken the In the Steps of the Beatles tour in Liverpool? Or do you have some other fave Beatles sites in the city? Let me know in the comments below!
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