While director Peter Jackson was piecing together his latest magnum opus - The Beatles: Get Back - the Fab Four's hometown has been reinventing itself. A hotbed of music and sport, Liverpool has also emerged as something of a "Hollywood of the North" - a label that's only half tongue-in-cheek.
Film-makers love this buzzing port city by the River Mersey, shooting a slew of blockbusters and TV shows here, from Beatles nostalgia-fest Yesterday and Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to The Crown and Peaky Blinders. Liverpool's rich architectural pickings are the key. The city has more (2500-plus) heritage-listed buildings than anywhere in the UK outside London, with its magnificent British Empire-era landmarks, cobbled streets and gritty docklands regularly standing in for the British capital and other metropolises like New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Moscow. And even Gotham City.
"We had Batman up here," says Andy, our Liverpudlian guide at RLB360 (rlb360.com), a new attraction at the iconic Royal Liver Building - one of the so-called "Three Graces" on the waterfront (the others are the Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings). A stuntman masquerading as the Caped Crusader scaled the RLB, the UK's first skyscraper, to film scenes for The Batman, a movie out this year starring Robert Pattinson and Colin Farrell. We reach similarly lofty heights, hitting the 10th floor, where we're dwarfed by a giant clockface (one of four on the building; all larger than Big Ben's), before reaching the 15th floor for panoramic views over the city and river. A thrilling car chase in Fast & Furious 6 was filmed in the tunnels beneath the mighty Mersey, which widens into the Irish Sea and has welcomed, and waved off, countless vessels - including the odd yellow submarine - down the centuries. Between 1830 and 1930, more than nine million people sailed from Liverpool for a new life in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
We also glimpse the building's two mythical Liver birds. According to legend, Bella looks out to sea, awaiting sailors' safe return home, while Bertie stands guard over the city and the seamen's families. Modelled on cormorants, and resembling creatures from a JK Rowling fantasy, this copper green duo are huge: 5.5 metres tall, with a wingspan of 7.3 metres (almost as wide as the clockfaces). Their creator was Carl Bernard Bartels, a German sculptor who won a competition to design them, having moved to England after honeymooning here. During World War I, and with anger bubbling after a German U-boat sunk Cunard's RMS Lusitania on its way to Liverpool, he, like other German expatriates, were forcibly removed from their homes. Interned on the Isle of Man, Bartels was later sent back to Germany, and it was only in 2011, on the Royal Liver Building's centenary, that he (posthumously) got the credit he deserves, when his great-grandson received a Citizen of Honour Award on his behalf.
Bartels' Liver bird blueprints were destroyed in World War II when German bombs rained down on Liverpool. In one of the clocktowers, a spinetingling audio-visual show portrays this and other episodes of the city's topsy-turvy history.
Opposite the "Three Graces", past a life-size statue of The Beatles, the Museum of Liverpool (liverpoolmuseums.org.uk) is a must-visit, particularly its Wondrous Place gallery, which celebrates the city's creative output and legendary entertainers. Alongside fun features (you can sing tunes from Merseyside bands in a karaoke booth), a new Stage and Screen section flaunts flamboyant costumes, including one worn by Liverpudlian actress Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve. Video displays trace the city's evolving film industry - which is set to boom further thanks to The Depot, new production studios. Incidentally, a local company, Reel Tours, promises a "cinematic adventure" with walking tours around Liverpool (reeltours.co.uk).
Also on the waterfront is Royal Albert Dock, where the Tardis from Doctor Who recently appeared (Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop is the Doctor's latest companion). You may spot actors mingling at the dock's red-brick warehouses, which have been converted into apartments and venues for culture, food and tipples. Joining established attractions like "The Beatles Story" exhibition and Tate Liverpool are trendy additions such as One O' Clock Gun (theoneoclockgun.pub), a stylish pub for local craft brews, cocktails and live music, and Maray (maray.co.uk) a restaurant next-door serving seasonal small plates, including vegan options, with Middle Eastern flavours. Other popular dock draws are taco specialist Madre (thisismadre.co.uk) and Lerpwl, which does modern British cuisine, with an onus on Welsh produce (lerpwl.com).
Alternatively, try Liverpool's cosmopolitan new food halls: GPO (the-gpo.co.uk), set in the old General Post Office off Victoria Street, and Duke Street Market (dukestreetmarket.com), in a restored warehouse in the lively Ropewalks district. Another foodie and filming hotspot is the hilltop Georgian Quarter, where cobbled streets are lorded over by two cathedrals (an Anglican and a Catholic) and handsome terraced townhouses built for prosperous merchants. Camera crews have been here filming upcoming spy drama, The Ipcress File - a TV remake of the 1965 Michael Caine flick. Potter around this photogenic neighbourhood with a flat white from cafe-roastery 92 Degrees (92degrees.coffee).
Another trusty location for directors is St George's Hall (stgeorgeshallliverpool.co.uk), part of a cluster of neoclassical beauties opposite Lime Street railway station. Inside this historic concert hall and criminal justice hub, I enjoy "The History Whisperer", an immersive new experience that transports you to the Victorian age. Touch-screens in the old cells reveal the misfortunes of real-life prisoners, their mug-shots brought to life with digital technology. Some - including Irish who'd moved to Liverpool to escape the famine - were nicked for minor offences, like stealing cheese and coats, but got 10 years' transportation and a ticket to the Australian penal colony of Van Diemen's Land. Upstairs, you'll take a pew and see where they were sentenced, as a judge's haughty voice reverberates around the wood-panelled courtroom. Scenes for Peaky Blinders - starring Cillian Murphy - were shot here and in the building's great hall, a lavishly-decorated events space. From May-October 2022, the neighbouring World Museum will host a new interactive Doctor Who exhibition.
Equally eye-popping - when the weather's Hollywood-esque, anyway - are Liverpool's suburban beaches, which are reachable on Merseyrail trains and, in the summer sunshine, have a look of California about them. Take Formby, where millionaire footballers (and Liverpool FC boss Jurgen Klopp) live in Beverly Hills-style gated mansions near a seemingly endless strip of golden sand backed by pine forest. Then there's Crosby, home to "Another Place" - a surreal, sprawling installation by artist Antony Gormley with 100 cast-iron, life-size sculptures scattering the beach. Some are half-swallowed by the tide, and walking among them, you feel like you're on a sci-fi movie set.
Occupying the ex-Liverpool Echo newspaper offices, the new INNSIDE hotel has rooms from £65 ($121). Its 17th-floor SkyBar has 360-degree views. See melia.com
StayCity has well located apart-hotels, with fully-equipped kitchens, at the Corn Exchange near Liverpool's waterfront and on Duke Street in Ropewalks. Rates from about £58 ($109). See staycity.com/liverpool
Emirates and Qatar are among the airlines that fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Manchester, which is connected to Liverpool by rail and taxi. Trains also regularly run from London to Liverpool, with the quickest services taking just over two hours. See nationalrail.co.uk
Double-vaccinated travellers no longer require a test to enter the UK, but must complete a passenger locator form before arrival. See gov.uk
Steve McKenna was a guest of Visit Liverpool and StayCity.