Nestled on the eastern bank of the Wirral Peninsula is the town of Birkenhead. Sitting across from its more well-known neighbour, Liverpool, the town of Birkenhead has long flown under the radar of places to visit in the English northwest. Much of the history of the town revolved around rural life well into the early 19th century. When industry did take hold of Birkenhead, it became one of the major ship-building towns in all of Britain.
Today, the town is a flourishing settlement that is a mix of history, commerce and riverside bliss. With both a rail and road tunnel connecting Birkenhead to Liverpool, a tour of the town can easily be twinned with one of the city. Here are 15 great things to do when in the town of Birkenhead.
1. Hamilton Square
The shining centre of Birkenhead is its town square, Hamilton Square. Commissioned by shipbuilder William Laird and designed by top Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham Hamilton Square was the grand design of its day. The square also has the distinction of having the second most Grade I buildings in Britain, just behind London’s Trafalgar Square.
When visiting the square, you are greeted by huge range Georgian and Victorian buildings, cenotaph and a statue of William Laird’ son, John Laird – Birkenhead’s first MP. Visiting the splendour of Hamilton Square’s architecture is a true highlight of Birkenhead and a real must do when in the town.
2. Birkenhead Park
The vast green space that is Birkenhead Park is a fantastic place to escape the business of the Merseyside town. Opened in 1847, Birkenhead Park is recognised as the first publicly funded civic park in the entire world and was the template for New York’s Central Park. Alongside these interesting historical points, the park is also a practical place for walking, nature watching, boating, and simply enjoying a little fresh air.
Enter via the Grand Entrance to see another of the towns many listed buildings. Stop off at the visitor centre to learn all about the park’s history and facilities on the way in. You can also step in the park’s cafe for a little refreshing bite to eat or hot drink.
3. Lady Lever Art Gallery
Another of Birkenhead’s awe-inspiring architectural designs, the Lady Lever Art Gallery dominates the Port Sunlight area of the town. Constructed and curated by William Hesketh Lever in the early 1920s, the gallery was named after and dedicated to his wife. Lever’s huge art collection was also donated to the museum and is one that fills the halls to this very day.
Once you step inside the Lady Lever Art Gallery, you will be instantly blown away by the sheer beauty of the place, both architecturally and artistically. As well as a huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, the gallery is home to pieces by iconic English artists such as Gainsborough, Turner and Constable.
4. Ferry Across the Mersey
Just as the famous Jerry and the Pacemakers song so delightfully tells us, there is nothing quite like travelling across this iconic river on a ferry. Since the steamship days, ferries have been taking passengers to and fro from Liverpool to Birkenhead and further down the river.
Simply catch a ferry from the Woodside Ferry Terminal, and you can embark on a 40-minute tour of the Merseyside skyline and port landscapes. This is the perfect way to take in both the docks of Birkenhead and the Liverpool cityscape from afar. This is, of course, best done during the warmer Spring and Summer months.
5. Wirral Transport Museum
As Birkenhead was the location for the first-ever street tram system in Europe, it is no surprise that the town is home to one of the most extensive transport museums. The museum itself houses a vast collection of vintage cars, buses, trams, motorcycles and even a fire engine. Exhibitions here showcase the history of both Merseyside and England’s transport networks and how they developed through the decades.
At certain times, a vintage tram service links the museum and the ferry terminal, creating a real-life experience of how the tram services used to work. This is must-visit for those lovers of cars, motorbikes and more.
6. Birkenhead Priory
As the oldest building on Merseyside, Birkenhead Priory is one of the town’s most significant historic buildings and well worth a visit. Originally constructed in the mid-12th century, the property was used by the monastic order of benedictine monks for many centuries and was visited by many monarchs throughout its life.
The Grade II building still stands as a reminder of the churches strategically placed location and a nod to the areas past. The churchyard also contains the burial vault of one of Birkenhead’s most celebrated sons, John Laird, the first MP for the area.
7. U-Boat Story
The U-Boat Story is a permanent exhibition at Birkenhead docks of a Second World War German submarine. As one of only four German Second World War submarines in preserved condition remaining in the world, this is truly a rare sight. Sunk by the RAF in 1942, the U-Boat was brought to the surface in the early 90s and taken to Birkenhead in 1996.
Cut into four pieces, the exhibition allows you to see a cross-section of the boat and its inner workings, without stepping aboard. This rare sight is a must for anyone with interest in military and naval history.
8. Birkenhead Town Hall
Another of the town’s iconic structures an architecture marvel is the Birkenhead Town Hall. Constructed in 1887, the town hall is designed and built in the Neoclassical style with a covered porch and a huge 60-metre clocktower. Inside, the Birkenhead Town Hall contains a concert hall, function rooms, a former council chamber and offices, or adding to the grandness of the building.
Although no longer the centre of the town’s council, the historical importance of the building still makes the Birkenhead Town Hall one of the more well recognised and appreciated buildings in the town.
9. Bidston Hill
Bidston Hill is a prominent feature of the Wirral landscape and contains a suburb of the same name. Covered with over a hundred acres of woodland heathland, the former estate was handed over to Birkenhead in 1894 and makes for a great place to explore. Bidston Hill is home to both a late 19th-century lighthouse and an early observatory which is used to calculate the exact time.
Alongside these points of interest, Bidston Hill is also the home of 11th century Norse carvings, depicting a sun-goddess and a horse. Bidston Hill makes for a great escape from the streets of the town and is the perfect walking location.
10. Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm
Also located in the Bidston Hill Area of the town, the Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm makes for the perfect day out for young children and those who adore animals. This small but energetic farm is home to a wide range of farmyard animals, including pigs, sheep, chickens, goats, ponies and so much more.
For only a small fee, the whole family can feed and even pet the animals. This allows young children to get up close to animals they may never have otherwise interacted with. Surrounded by the picturesque setting of Bidston Hill, this farmyard outing is a must.
11. Williamson Art Gallery & Museum
Housed in a single storey neo-Georgian building, the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum is a perfect way to spend a Birkenhead afternoon immersed in the town more cultured side. Opened in 1928, the gallery is home to a wide selection of pieces spanning a number of different eras and styles. Birkenhead’s very own Della Robbia Pottery is also represented here in great quantities.
Step into the maritime gallery for a huge collection of antique ship models, all depicting the history of the Mersey River and Birkenhead itself.
12. The Wilfred Owen Story
As the only recognised museum dedicated solely to the First World War Poet Wildren Owen, The Wilfred Owen Story makes for interesting viewing. Located a few miles west from Birkenhead, The Wilfred Owen Story is must when in the Wirral area. As a former resident of Birkenhead and the wider Wirral area, Wilfred Owen is seen as local amongst its modern community.
The museum takes you through the poets life up to the First World War, with references to his home and school life in the local area. This is a fantastic independent museum there is rarely seen anywhere else.
13. Prenton Park
Home to Tranmere Rovers Football Club, Prenton Park is Birkenhaed’s top sporting location and a great day out for fans of football. Although playing in the lowest league of the official football league, Tranmere has a fierce and proud following, making match days all the more atmospheric.
Apart from watching a Tranmere Rover match, visitors can also catch Liverpool’s women’s team, who also play their matches here. Any sports fan is sure to have a fantastic time at Tranmere’s Prenton Park.
14. Vintage Antique Furniture Emporium
Those of you with a keen eye for an antique piece of furniture should look no further than the Vintage Antique Furniture Emporium. One of the largest and most well-established antique dealerships in the entire area, a visit here is a must for any serious or curious antique hunter.
This Aladdin’s cave of goods covers two floors and eight rooms, plus outside salvage yard and extra showroom. There is something here for everyone’s taste and for all manner of budgets.