Although the eyes of the world are on Aintree every April for the Grand National, the famous steeplechase is not the only thing going on at this picturesque racetrack. Aside from race meetings held throughout the year, there are pop concerts, countryside days and Christmas parties – and the hospitality at this iconic sporting venue is legendary. Whatever brings you to Aintree, you’re guaranteed to leave fed, watered and entertained.
Horse racing had been a popular sport in Liverpool since Tudor times, with racing across the sands at nearby Crosby a popular pastime. But Aintree as we know it today was originally created in 1829 by William Lynn, the landlord of the Waterloo Hotel in Aintree village, who created his own racetrack next to the pub. In 1836 he opened a grandstand for the public and held a four-mile steeplechase – the origins of today’s Grand National.
Amazingly, it’s not only horses that have raced here. The British Grand Prix was held at Aintree five times between 1955 and 1962. And the venue has seen its fair share of big-name pop stars too, with Michael Jackson performing his Bad World Tour to more than 125,000 people at Aintree in 1988.
At just six miles from the city centre, Aintree is easy to get to by public transport. But if you’re here for a swanky racing event you may not fancy catching a bus done up in all your finery. Luckily, there’s a Premier Inn near Aintree that’s almost on its doorstep. Stay here and it’s a safe bet that your day will get off to the best possible start.
Take the A59 and follow the signs to Liverpool – there’ll be yellow tourism signs as you get close to the track. If you’re coming from the city centre, a taxi will take about ten minutes and cost under £25.
Aintree can be reached by bus from the city centre by jumping on the 300, 311, 345, 350 and 351. For further information on bus routes, contact Traveline on 0871 200 22 33 or visit www.merseytravel.gov.uk
There’s a station directly opposite the course, so hardly any walking is required if you decide to get the train. You can jump on at Liverpool Central Station – trains run every 15 minutes on racedays.
Parking is easy (and free!) at Aintree, on all days except when the crowds descend for the Grand National festival. There’s space for 1,800 cars and plenty of disabled parking for Blue Badge holders.
Liverpool John Lennon Airport is a 20-minute drive away. Hop in a taxi, or get a bus to Liverpool South Parkway then a train to Aintree, changing at Central Station. The whole journey takes about an hour.
If you’re coming on raceday, make sure you get to Aintree early so you’ve got plenty of time to get through security – it’s rigorous! If you do manage to get in early, you’ll have time to take a look at Red Rum’s Garden. It’s open to all ticket or badge holders and is a hive of entertainment – the Ladies’ Day Style award is held here.
You’ll have a lot of decisions to make before you buy your tickets. Do you want a seat in one of the grandstands, or are you happy to stand among your fellow race-goers beside the track? No matter what ticket you get, you’ll have access to a bar, food concession stands and betting facilities should you wish to have a flutter.
Aintree has five main grandstands: there’s the Princess Royal, the County, the Queen Mother the Earl of Derby and the Lord Sefton, each offering a different view of the course. Within each one, you can either have a standing badge or a reserved seat badge. But no matter what badge you go for, you’ll be allowed to visit the Parade Ring and Winners’ Enclosure.
Disabled access at the course has improved recently. There’s Blue Badge parking and when that gets full-up, all shuttlebuses are fully equipped with ramps. All disabled toilets have radar keys and there’s a golf buggy service to anyone with mobility problems to view the course before the National. Aintree also provides free carer tickets for certain disabled customers.
Before the race, head to the Parade Ring where you can choose the horse you like the look of most before you place your bets. Afterwards, the Winners’ Enclosure is the place to be as it’s where you can watch the winning horses reunited with their owners. During the race, go trackside to watch the jockeys flash past.
Hospitality at Aintree is nothing short of fantastic. On National days there are concession stalls everywhere selling food from around the world. Inside, all grandstands and enclosures have bars, plentiful food options and betting facilities. There’s also a very popular Irish bar in the Princess Royal stand.
There’s no need to rush away from Aintree after your race is over. There’s plenty of eating and drinking options both inside and outside the racetrack for you to spend your winnings on.
The racecourse has two restaurants that open on any racedays. There’s the Golden Miller on the third floor of the Earl of Derby grandstand, with views of the racecourse and the Parade Ring. Or go more upmarket in the Princess Royal Restaurant, with fine dining and a great view of the finish.
If you do decide to venture beyond the racecourse, you’ll find plenty of pubs and restaurants around Aintree village. If you don’t fancy pub grub, you can get your fast food fix at the Aintree Retail Park, which opens until 11pm each day. Here you can choose from McDonald’s, Nando’s or Frankie and Benny’s.
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.