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.
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.
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.
If you’re not lucky enough to get tickets for a match, a stadium tour is definitely the next best thing. Take a look at the newly expanded Main Stand and then take your seat in the Kop – even if you’re not exactly a die-hard fan, the sheer scale of the place won’t fail to impress you. See how the other half live (and get some of the best views of the pitch) from the director’s box and then explore the manager’s dug-out for the perfect photo opportunity. All the tours are run by friendly guides who are skilled at answering questions and extremely knowledgeable about the club.
The Liverpool FC Story is the club’s interactive museum and it’s full of memorabilia from the club’s 120-year history. All of its five European trophies are on display here alongside an impressive array of silverware. There are state-of-the-art displays that are accompanied by a 40-minute commentary on a multimedia handset. And to keep the children (and big children) entertained, there are plenty of interactive games to play – they even get to take a penalty at the European Cup final.
Tickets cost around £17 per adult and £12 per child, and many offer a combined museum and meal deal, with food available in the Boot Room Sports Café.
Whether you’re at Anfield for a game or a trip to the museum, you’ll find plenty of places to eat and drink nearby.
Besides the food and drink concessions that only open on match days, the Boot Room Sports Café is open every day from 11am. It’s the perfect place to go if you’re enjoying a tour or a trip to the museum. Family friendly, it serves burgers, pizzas, steak and pasta and shows live sports on its many TV screens.
There are plenty of pubs and burger vans outside the ground. But for something different, try HomeBaked Anfield. Right opposite the ground, it’s a community bakery serving fresh pies and sausage rolls. Or there’s Georgie Porgy, a lovely family run café that’s filled with football memorabilia.
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 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.
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.
Liverpool is one of England’s most cosmopolitan cities; it was even the 2008 European capital of culture. Whether you’re passing through, looking for heritage, culture and live 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 really so much to see and do in the surrounding area of Merseyside.
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