Heartland of the Industrial Revolution and home to some of the country's most beautiful landscapes, North West England is a diverse region to the north of the West Midlands and west of Yorkshire and North East England. It also shares smaller boundaries with North Wales, the East Midlands and South West Scotland. The south of the region is largely urban and home to the dynamic cities of Liverpool and Manchester. To the north is some of England's best countryside in the Lake District and Lancashire Pennines.
Stretching between the mountains of Wales and the Peak District moorland, the Cheshire Plain is known for its stately homes (and their gardens), footballers' mansions and the "black and white" city of Chester
Comprising England's tallest mountains and deepest lakes, this is the romantic landscape that inspired Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth.
The true northern metropolis is home to almost 3 million people, and offers the traveller unparalleled shopping, a thriving music scene, and a certain famous football club or two
The "Red Rose County" is smaller than it once was, but it still contains a windswept coast of tidal flats and dune beaches, oodles of industrial heritage and breathtaking Pennine scenery
Fab Liverpool is the main attraction, but you can also take a ferry (a)cross the Mersey to the old-timey Wirral resorts, or else muse upon Anthony Gormley's iron men, staring wistfully out to sea at Crosby.
North West England has many major towns and cities. For others, see county listing.
- 1 Blackpool - The gold standard for the Great British seaside resort is famous for its iconic Tower and Ballroom, promenade tramway and the Pleasure Beach theme park. On cold winter evenings, there's the added bonus of the Blackpool Illuminations.
- 2 Carlisle - A true frontier town, Carlisle's castle once guarded the Scottish border. Today, the city is an excellent base for exploring both the English and Scottish countrysides.
- 3 Chester - England's border with Wales is a much prettier affair, with medieval timber-framed townhouses on a scale rarely seen. Outside the city proper, Chester's zoo is reportedly one of the best in Europe.
- 4 Lancaster - Lancashire's county town is small but perfectly formed, boasting a wonderfully preserved castle, an impressive town hall and far-reaching views across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District
- 5 Liverpool - One of the world's great seaports is now a fast-changing twenty-first century city, with a gorgeous UNESCO-approved historic waterfront and dynamic architecture. Come for The Beatles, stay for Liverpool's impressive cultural offerings and warmly welcoming inhabitants.
- 6 Manchester - If "Cottonopolis" was a grim place of dark satanic mills, modern Manchester is a match of science and the arts made in heaven. World-leading universities, the best museums, galleries and nightlife outside of London, a network of canals and wharfs to get lost in and an exciting hub of alternative lifestyles.
- 7 Preston - A city that retains a traditional Lancastrian vibe, and hosts a collection of unusual museums, including the Grade 1-listed Harris Museum.
- 8 Salford - Barely outside central Manchester, Salford is nonetheless an independent city in its own right. While a pilgrimage to Old Trafford is a must for footie fans, you should also head to The Quays for imposing modern architecture, the Imperial War Museum North and a fine collection of L.S. Lowry's "matchstick men" paintings.
- 1 Lake District National Park - a remote and beautiful mountainous area situated in the heart of Cumbria.
- 2 Arnside and Silverdale - Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- 3 Wirral - seaside, rural area and many villages and towns, situated in Merseyside and Cheshire.
The North West is an area of varied landscapes ranging from beaches to lakes and forests to cities. It consists of the counties of Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire as well as the conurbations of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The area consisting of Manchester, Liverpool and Warrington is primarily urban. Lancashire and Cumbria are primarily rural with a few large town and cities, and Cheshire is mainly flat agricultural land.
The North West shows a wide diversity in people and language: the most common accents and dialects in the region are Scouse (from Liverpool), Lancastrian, Mancunian (also known as Manc) and the Cumberland dialect (Cumbria). There is also North West English, which is a combination of the above mainly spoken outside the accent areas. Most visitors will be hard-pressed to notice significant differences between the dialects but there are many to the trained ear. The people are generally friendly and do welcome tourists.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the main industry in the North West was textiles, and there is still evidence of this (especially in South Lancashire), but today the textile industry has all but disappeared from the region, giving way for the chemical industry (especially in Cheshire and Merseyside), and defence (especially around Barrow-in-Furness). Many big national and international retailers are headquartered in the region.
The region's weather is mild and wet, with frequent heavy outbreaks of rain. Nearer the west coast, the wind is stronger and can be very bitter. Temperatures on some summer days can reach the mid 20s in degrees Celsius. During heatwaves, temperatures occasionally exceed 30 degrees, especially inland. The coastal strip is usually cooler and scenic spots such as Formby or Crosby become very popular, which often leads to gridlock on local roads. The best advice most of the year, however, is to wear layers (it's very rare to see a North Westerner without a jacket on).
Most international flights to the region arrive into Manchester Airport (approx 9 miles from Manchester city centre), where most of the regions key tourist destinations can be reached from the airport railway station, with Manchester Piccadilly about 15 minutes away by train.
There are also low cost intra-European flights available from Liverpool John Lennon Airport (approx 7.5 miles from Liverpool city centre) and Blackpool International (about 3 miles from Blackpool town centre).
The North West can be reached from other regions as follows
- London and South East - M1 then M6
- Midlands (West & East) - M6
- North East - A1 then M62
- North Wales - A55
- Scotland - M74 then M6
- South Wales - M48, then M5, then M6
- South West - M5 then M6
- Yorkshire - M62
National Express and Megabus operate long distance coach services to the North West.
The rail backbone of the region is the West Coast Main Line connecting London to Glasgow via the North West, these trains are operated by Avanti West Coast. The hub of all other long distance trains is Manchester Piccadilly, from where you can connect to regional trains (either directly or via Manchester Victoria).
Liverpool, while not as well connected as Manchester still gets direct rail links from London, Birmingham, South Yorkshire, East Anglia and the North East.
Other cities with long distance rail links include Warrington, Chester, Wigan, Preston and Carlisle.
Birkenhead and Liverpool have ferries to/from the Isle of Man (Isle of Man Steam Packet), Dublin (P&O Ferries) and Belfast (Stena Line). Liverpool Cruise Terminal receives many large cruise ships, on a daily basis in the summer peak. Ferries from the Isle of Man and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland also dock at Heysham near Lancaster.
The North West is a reasonably compact region and is easy to get around by car. It takes around three hours to travel from north to south and about two hours to travel east to west. There is a dense network of motorways and dual carriageway roads. However certain parts of the area are very densely populated, so traffic congestion is a common occurrence, especially the rush hours of between 7am and 9am and 4pm and 6pm. Also, as with everywhere else, the motorway frequently undergoes maintenance works and accidents are an almost daily occurrence, so motorways can suffer congestion at any time.
Bus services are useful in rural areas where trains do not run, and for short journeys. They are cheap especially if "day tickets" are bought which allow travel all day in an area. There is also a place for buses within the major cities, as buses are fairly frequent. Bus travel can be slow owing to frequent stops and traffic congestion. Long distance coach services are infrequent in the North West apart from on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds route.
The North West benefits from a network of commuter and rural trains, most trains within the region are operated by Northern Rail. While trains are not as quick as those seen on mainland Europe, they are normally quicker than travelling by car, and some lines are quite scenic, especially outside urban areas. If you intend on travelling around the region, consider getting a North West Rail Rover, offering unlimited travel within the region on any four in eight days. As of June 2023, these cost £92.20 for adults without a railcard, £60.85 for adults and young people with a railcard, and £46.10 for children.
The North West is home to wide varied range of foods. If in or near the Lake District try Cumberland Sausage, Cumberland being a former county which is now part of Cumbria. These peppery sausages are very long and are usually presented in a coil shape. Herdwick lamb from the Cumbrian fells is also particularly tasty. When in Lancashire, try the eponymous Hot Pot, which is a dish of meat, often lamb or pork served with sliced onions and potatoes and other vegetables similar to Scouse from Liverpool.
The North West is also home to Lancashire and Cheshire Cheese, both have a crumbly feel and mild flavour both of which can hold their own against so-called 'superior' cheeses.
The coastal regions are a source of great fish and cockles and mussels which can be easily bought from a local chippy or at source in the fishing ports of Morecambe and Heysham. If however you prefer something more filling then there is always the classic fish and chips available in all towns in the North West, which can be eaten with curry sauce, mushy peas or gravy.
Dessert and confectionery includes Blackpool rock, Kendal mint cake, Eccles cakes from Manchester, or Chorley cakes. Of particular note is the Cartmel brand of sticky toffee pudding which can be purchased in the Lake District - this is an absolutely delicious must for pudding lovers!
The North West is safe for the most part. Rural areas are very safe, whereas larger urban areas (Greater Manchester and Liverpool) have the usual "big city" issues like pickpocketing, muggings, and drunken behaviours, though being street-smart will keep you safe.
The region suffered immensely from the fall of heavy industry, leading to some of the country's most deprived areas. Places like Blackpool, Blackburn, and Preston are particularly noteworthy for poverty and other socioeconomic problems.