It’s fair to say the good people at Rough Guide caused a bit of a stir when they declared Hull to be one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2016. On a number of levels. The Yorkshire city on England’s east coast has had its fair share of knockers and knock backs.
Regularly featuring in ‘the worst places to live’ lists, a workforce decimated by the loss of traditional industries, and one of the most deprived communities in the UK regularly at the top of crime and bottom of academic tables, it has rarely had much to shout about in the last fifty years. Yet, for those who cared to look, there has been a gradual swell of change. In the city itself and of how it is perceived by ‘outsiders’.
Perhaps it was the cities football team finally achieving world renown by playing in the Premier League? Local boy Luke Campbell winning Olympic gold or Hull Kingston Rovers playing at Wembley in the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final? Perhaps. But the biggest possible shot in the arm for this oft-ignored and derided community was being named as the UK’s City of Culture for 2017. Suddenly Hull was in the news and a wave of positivity engulfed the region.
Still, Rough Guide’s naming of the city as one of the world’s must-see destinations in 2016 was a heck of a shock. Not least because, in preparation for 2017, much of the city centre is a giant building site and will be for the rest of 2016. Yet, almost simultaneously, the Daily Telegraph included Hull in their list of the UK’s 10 Best City Breaks. So, the question is. What is it that Rough Guide and the Telegraph have seen to convince them that their readers should make the effort to visit Hull?
It's never dull in Hull
The slogan on the t-shirts may be slightly tongue in cheek but they’re not wrong. There is plenty to do in the city and it is also an ideal base for exploring the rest of Yorkshire, or even for taking a quick hop on the ferry across the North Sea to Holland.
In the city centre there are lots of museums and the famous Ferens Art Gallery. All the museums are free and the art gallery will host the Turner Prize in 2017. Particularly recommended is the Whaling Museum which charts Hulls fishing heritage and a short stroll away is the Arctic Corsair trawler which has been a museum ship since 1999.
Perhaps the most famous museum though is Wilberforce House, an amazing but very sobering history of slavery and of the man, William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in abolishing it in this country.
Eat and drink
There are numerous bars, cafes, and restaurants catering for all tastes. Follow the ale trail around the old town and drink in centuries old pubs including Ye Olde White Harte where, in the seventeenth century, the towns leaders took the fateful decision to prevent King Charles from taking control of the towns arsenal. The King took the decision to besiege Hull and the English Civil War had begun. However, the more urbane crowd may prefer to head away from the city centre and hit the hipster bars and artisan restaurants along the avenues near the university.
Shoppers are well catered for with the new St Stephens shopping centre near the rail and bus interchange or Princes Quay which is behind the art gallery suspended over the old Princes Dock.
Walk into history
To get a sense of the history and atmosphere of Hull walk through the old town (including the wonderfully named Land of Green Ginger) and along the docks and river front. Whilst you are there pop into the Deep, the award-winning aquarium housed in a futuristic building jutting out into the River Humber. And don’t forget to walk around the marina and maybe have a pint or a coffee at one of the riverfront bars.
A great time to visit is September when the annual Freedom Festival transforms the entire city centre into a stage. Bands, poets, artists, and street performers take over the city for an amazing long weekend of art, culture, and music.
There are plenty of reasonably priced hotels in the city centre if you need somewhere to stay including some of the big chains and Hull is a great base from which to explore the rest of Yorkshire with Leeds, Scarborough, and York all being within an hours drive.
In short. There is plenty to do in Hull. All of which makes the cities inclusion in Rough Guides Top 10 Places to Visit a little less surprising.
What you need to know about Kingston upon Hull
Wait. Kingston upon Hull? I thought it was just plain old Hull? Semantically speaking Hull is actually the river which flows through the city. Up to the thirteenth century the settlement at the confluence of two rivers, the Hull and Humber, was called Wyke on Hull. Edward 1, who needed a new port to supply his continental armies, conferred the title of Kings Town in 1293 and Kingston upon Hull was born. Want a few more bits of trivia?
- Hull was virtually flattened during the Blitz in the Second World War with 95% of its housing damaged or destroyed and well over 1200 people losing their lives. Despite suffering more than any city outside of London, Hull was never referred to by name in newsreels of the day and was simply described as a ‘northeastern town’.
- Pioneer aviator Amy Johnson is a daughter of the city.
- In the 18th century Hull MP William Wilberforce was the leading campaigner for the abolition of slavery.
- Australian poet Peter Porter once described Hull as “most poetic city in England”. With good reason; Andrew Marvell, Stevie Smith, Andrew Motion, Carol Rumens, Douglas Dunn and, of course, Phillip Larkin, whose statue can be seen in the railway station, all hail from or have links with the city.
- From 1902, Hull was the only city in the UK to have a municipally owned telephone company. Whilst red phone boxes adorned every other town and city, in Hull they were, and still are when you can find them, white.
- The English Civil War started in Hull. A fact not universally accepted I admit but the city openly rebelling against King Charles in 1642 was arguably the first real shots fired in anger.
- Once the busiest fishing port in the country, the trawler industry was virtually wiped out after the Cod Wars of the 1970s.
- Popular group the Housemartins once described themselves as “the fourth best band in Hull”.