Home to maritime docks, artistic heritage and spectacular coastal scenery, there's enough to have a Hull of a good time in the UK's City of Culture 2017
For a long time, Hull has been the butt of many a geographical gag. Even today, the old Beggar's Litany ('Hull, Hell and Halifax. Good Lord, deliver us') is still jokingly muttered outside of its 17th-century context - actually a plea made by those wishing to be spared the city's notorious jail.
Yet Hull's reputation as a dour industrial port has undeservedly stuck, and it's one that locals have had to laugh off for years. So, with the city's moment in the spotlight - as the UK's City of Culture 2017 - drawing to a close, what better time to rethink one of England's most underrated destinations.
History seeps from Hull's cobbles, boats, and even its bars. It's easy to explore, too, as all of the galleries and museums here are free. Start in Old Town, the antithesis of the city's popular image as a grey hub built on the fortunes of its fishing nets. Stroll its streets for cobbled alleys hemmed in by Victorian and Georgian facades, with the intricate brickwork of medieval Hull Minster rising proudly above low-rise lanes. Explore further and the ruins of Beverley Gate emerge, marking the 1642 siege of Hull that arguably started the English Civil War.
This is a city with rebellion in its blood, though. Long after Hull stood up to Charles I, cream (not red) phone boxes began cropping up on its streets as a nod of defiance by the only UK city not to join the national BT network. Be sure to also visit the Wilberforce House Museum, to learn more about local-born politician William Wilberforce, who led the bitter fight to abolish Britain's slave trade.
What is perhaps most remarkable, though, is that anything here is still standing. Targeted during wartime for its port, Hull was England's second-most bombed city (after London) during the Blitz, with around 90% of its buildings damaged.
Today, the city's much-changed waterfront is one of its biggest lures. Delve into maritime history on the Arctic Corsair, a trawler turned museum, or the Spurn Lightship that once guided boats along the River Humber's rough waters. Meanwhile, key to Hull's evolution has been the transformation of its marina, where a once derelict fruit market now buzzes with galleries, cultural spaces and eateries.
Away from the city, a glorious wilderness also awaits, stretching the Yorkshire coast. Cruise the dunes of Spurn Point in a 4WD or set out to spy cliff-hugging puffins and guillemots at Bempton. It's little wonder that between the city, the wilds and its medieval towns, this region has inspired artists. Poets Philip Larkin and Andrew Marvell all lived in and wrote about the area, and even Daniel Defoe was moved to wave off his luckless fictional castaway Robinson Crusoe from Hull docks.
It's about time the area got the recognition it deserves. The days of easy gags like Only Fools and Horses' Del Boy declaring he'd been "to Hull and back!'" are long gone. This year at least (and hopefully beyond), Hull has had the last laugh.
When to go
Spring and summer are best for fine weather and the return of nesting seabirds at both Flamborough and Bempton Cliffs (Apr-Aug). Autumn brings marine mammals, such as porpoises and common seals, to Spurn Point; these migrate to Bempton during winter, when owls can also be seen nearby.
Getting there and around
The Hull Paragon Interchange is the city's main train and bus station. Direct trains there run from Leeds (one hour), Manchester (two hours) and London King's Cross (2.5 hours), while National Express services go direct from London Victoria (6.5 hours). Humberside is the nearest airport, with the Humber Flyer bus (stagecoachbus.com) linking it to Hull in 50 minutes. By car, most routes go via the M62 and A63.
Where to stay
Five minutes' walk from Old Town lies Kingston Theatre Hotel (kingstontheatrehotel.com), a splash of Victorian opulence in a quiet garden setting. Or try the Whittington & Cat (whittingtonandcat.com), which has modern rooms set in an old-school pub, with fine views gazing out over Hull Marina.
Where to eat
The redeveloped Fruit Market, next to Hull Marina, is the 'dining quarter'. For fancier Yorkshire grub, its 1884 Dock Street Kitchen (1884dockstreetkitchen.co.uk) serves up top-end Yorkshire lamb. Tapasya@Marina (tapasya.org.uk) whips up Indian spices with locally sourced produce, while Ambiente (ambiente-tapas.co.uk) does Spanish tapas with a Yorkshire twist - try the morcilla (Yorkshire pork used to make a Spanish-style black pudding). And for a sweet bite, Cocoa Chocolatier's (cocoachocolatier.co.uk) range of pastries, cakes, chocolates and ice cream are heavenly, and well worth the extra calories.
Day 1: Explore the historic heart
Begin in Queen Victoria Square and dip into Hull's rich seafaring past at the Maritime Museum (all of Hull's museums are free) or wander the Old Masters and seascapes of the newly refurbished Ferens Art Gallery.
Head east past the remains of Beverley Gate, the site where Hull governor Sir John Hotham denied Charles I entry to the city in 1642, arguably sparking the Civil War.
Continue to Hull's collection of quaint pubs, including the Ye Olde Harte (home to the 'plotting room' in which the Civil War was allegedly schemed) and The George, which boasts England's smallest window.
Grab a pub lunch before heading to the Museum Quarter. Wilberforce House (pictured) follows the life of Hull's famed slavery abolitionist, while tours of the trawler Arctic Corsair are led by veterans of the fishing industry.
Follow the seafront to the Marina. Here, climb onto the Spurn Lightship (Jun-Sep only), which once guided boats along the River Humber. Close by is Humber Street - now a go-to foodie hotspot. Fill up at the Fruit Market's Spanish-Yorkshire tapas joint Ambiente, then watch the sun set with a drink on the harbourfront.
Day 2: The poet's path
No trip to Hull should miss out on The Larkin Trail (thelarkintrail.co.uk) and the old haunts of the area's famous former resident poet, Philip Larkin.
Start at Pearson Park (ten mins' drive from Hull). From here, wander its Victorian gilded gateway and greenhouse, and the wildlife-filled nature garden. A short walk away (ten mins) is the General Cemetery, which is wonderfully wild - Larkin called it 'the most beautiful spot in Hull'.
If there's time, pit-stop at Humber Bridge Country Park (pictured; 20 mins' drive) to catch a glimpse of its icon - once the world's longest single-span suspension bridge.
Larkin didn't just love Hull. Spend the afternoon in the medieval market town of Beverley (20 mins' drive). Lunch at Fountell's on Cross Street, a café hailed for its Yorkshire pudding wraps, before strolling the cobbles and shops of its Georgian Quarter.
The town is known for its churches, with the showstopper being the vast, gothic Beverley Minster (donations only). Stop at The Treasure House, too, for exhibitions on local heritage, while its tower offers fine views.
Drive back to Hull for another dip into the dining scene at the Fruit Market, this time for the top-notch Indian delights at Tapasya@Marina.
Day 3: Time to go wild
Start early by driving (50 mins) to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Spurn National Nature Reserve, a 5.6km sandy peninsula. Cars are forbidden, so a two-and-a-half hour Spurn Safari tour is the best way to cover it quickly. Ride a Unimog all-terrain vehicle over the dunes to the reserve's tip at Spurn Point.
Climb the lighthouse (pictured) for views and learn more about the Point's history as a former lifeboat station. The truck's lofty seat also affords the ideal viewpoint to spot grey seals (spring), peregrine falcons (winter), warblers (autumn) and roe deer (summer).
Grab a hearty lunch at the reserve's Blue Bell Café before driving north (1.5 hours) up the coast to the RSPB's Bempton Cliffs. Footpaths vein the strip, and viewing platforms offer spotting locations for the 500,000 seabirds that visit the chalk cliffs here between spring and autumn, with short-eared owls also skirting the grassy cliff tops in winter.
Split your afternoon between here and nearby Flamborough Cliffs (ten mins' drive; free), exploring the rock pools and sea caves below at North Landing and Thornwick Bay. Fill up on freshly caught fish at The Seabirds (theseabirds.com) in Flamborough village, then return to Hull through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Wolds.
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