Nothing beats the exhilaration of a major sporting event and, when it comes to edge-of-your-seat entertainment, the Grand National is up there with the best. The world’s most renowned steeplechase draws 77,000 excited race-goers to Aintree each April, and they’re all there to dress to impress, have a flutter and watch all the drama unfold. If you’re in Liverpool to attend this iconic event, you’ll be pleased to hear there’s a Premier Inn near Aintree, too – a great way to get your special break under starter’s orders.
The Grand National is the final day of a three-day festival of racing held at Aintree. It’s the one every jockey and horse trainer wants to win as, with a prize fund of over £1 million up for grabs, it’s the most valuable horse race in Europe.
But prize money aside, the race is also extremely challenging, pitting up to 40 horses against each other on an energy-sapping 4.5-mile course.
What makes the Grand National particularly gruelling is the obstacles, which are much larger than those found on conventional National Hunt tracks. There are 30 fences to be jumped in all over two laps, followed by a final, thrilling sprint to the finish line.
The first Grand National was won in 1837 by a horse named Lottery, and since then the steeplechase has had more than its fair share of magical moments over the years.
It was the race that made Red Rum famous and he remains the only horse to have won the Grand National three times. And who can forget the year when cancer survivor Bob Champion rode Aldaniti, a horse destined for the racing scrap heap, to a 10/1 victory?
Then there was 1993 and the race that never was. For the first time in its history, two false starts meant the Grand National was called a void and bookies were forced to refund an estimated £75 million in bets staked.
Getting to the Grand National is easy, with special services being laid on to ferry racegoers to and from the city centre. Seeing your fellow passengers catching the bus all done up in their finery is very much part of the fun!
Aintree is five miles from Liverpool city centre, on the road to Ormskirk. Follow the signs for Preston then, when you’re on the A59, follow the signs for the races. The main entrance to the racecourse via Grand National Avenue is just off the Ormskirk Road (A59). If you’re using your sat nav, punch in the postcode L9 5AS.
Aintree can generally be reached by jumping on the 300 310 or 345 bus, however there can be diversions because of road closures around the racecourse. More reliable is the Grand National shuttlebus service. These run from Great Charlotte Street in the city centre direct to the racecourse and run non-stop when the race is over to take people back into town again.
The best way to get to Aintree from the city centre is by train. Head to Liverpool Central Station (just a short walk from Lime Street) where trains leave every seven minutes on Grand National days.
It takes just 15 minutes to get to Aintree, and the train station is directly opposite the racecourse.
Although Aintree has space for up to 1,800 cars, demand for these spaces on Grand National day is very high, and it’s hard to park in the surrounding area too. If you want to grab a coveted parking space on Grand National day, you’ll need to purchase a pass in advance by contacting the racecourse directly.
If you’re arriving at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, take a taxi for the 20-minute drive. Public transport from the airport is do-able, but more fiddly. You’ll need to take a bus to Liverpool South Parkway Merseyrail station for a train to Liverpool Central where you can catch the train to Aintree. It’ll take you about an hour to get to the racecourse this way.
The Grand National may be a stylish affair, but that doesn’t mean you should turn up fashionably late if you want to beat the queues. The racecourse is open from 9am on Grand National day and you’ll need to make sure you get there as early as possible to get through the tight security measures. Everything needs to be searched and scanned, so avoid taking large bags as this could hold you up even further.
Read our hints and tips to make sure your Grand National day goes smoothly.
Fancy dress and sports clothes are not allowed, but besides that, there is no official dress code. However, you will look very out of place in jeans and a T-shirt. Men wear smart suits, ladies opt for glamorous dresses, skirts or jumpsuits and many wear hats or fascinators.
If you're thinking of taking a picnic, eat everything in the car park as food and drink will be taken by security when they search your bag. You won’t go hungry or thirsty, though. There are plenty of food and drink concessions and the hospitality at Aintree is legendary.
Aintree has made some significant upgrades to its facilities to ensure they’re accessible for disabled racegoers. There are raised platform viewing areas for wheelchair users, disabled toilets, ground floor bars and even lowered betting windows.
Liverpool is one of England’s most cosmopolitan cities and was the 2008 European capital of culture. Whether you’re passing through, looking for heritage, pop culture and entertainment, checking out the universities, or planning a weekend break, there are plenty of reasons to book a hotel room in Liverpool. And with quaint fishing villages and market towns on its doorstep, there's so much to see and do in the surrounding area of Merseyside.