This East Yorkshire port city, surrounded by the Humber Estuary and suburban towns, sits in an isolated spot—but don't write it off just yet: the best things to do in Hull will thoroughly entertain you.
The town's reign as UK City of Culture 2017, along with millions of pounds of investment, has given Hull a fresh lease on life, sweeping away any assumptions of it as a post-industrial, forgotten place.
The accolade didn’t just catalyze the arrival of a tonne of great new arts events, it also highlighted the city's best and most enduring qualities. This is a coastal town with a fascinating history (the English civil war started here), a shining literary heritage (Larkin, Stevie Smith, Andrew Marvell and Andrew Motion all have connections to Hull), a thriving music scene, quirky independent shops, eccentric pubs and an abundance of locally rooted art. Write it off at your peril. Now, g’on have a skeg.
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Best things to do in Hull
What is it? One of the only parts of the city to have survived the heavy onslaught of WW2 bombing. The Old Town is a treasure trove of Stuart and Georgian architecture, quaint quaysides, independent shops, and pubs bursting with character, all linked by winding cobbled streets.
Why go? Marvel at Hull’s splendid Minster, sink a Yorkshire ale in The Lion and Key, look out for England’s smallest window at The George Hotel and stumble across Prince Street, a gorgeous row of pastel-coloured Georgian homes – Notting Hill, eat your heart out.
What is it? We’re not ones to brag, but if it weren’t for Time Out this fabulous theatre might not exist. In 1971, founder Mike Bradwell placed an advertisement in the magazine reading ‘Half-formed theatre company seeks other half’ and the rest is history. Its pioneering drama brought a pinch of ’The Liverpool Scene’ to Yorkshire, and artistic directorships from the likes of John Godber have made it one of the most influential houses in the North.
Why go? To see great programmes of unique, powerful shows that are fierce with local spirit.
What is it? It’s hard to convey just what a massive impact this futuristic-looking aquarium had on East Yorkshire when it opened in 2002. Sir Terry Farrell’s sleek angular building transformed an abandoned industrial patch of land overlooking the city’s estuary. People from across the country flocked to see it, many making their first-ever trips to Hull. Years on it’s still one of the city’s most loved landmarks and holds over 3,500 sea creatures, including seven species of shark.
Why go? See Loggerhead sea turtles, nurse sharks, green sawfish and stingrays in the Endless Oceans section. Stop by Kingdom of Ice to look at the aquarium’s adorable colony of Gentoo penguins.
What is it? Full of dark oak-panelled walls, drooping beams, inglenook fireplaces and stained glass windows; this extraordinary drinking den is an Old Town relic. History oozes from its crooked walls. In 1642, the secret talks that triggered the English Civil war took place in its ‘Plotting Room’ – a wood-clad wonder of a space.
Why go? To feel the weight of history upon you as you sip one of their excellent cask ales. Spot the human skull that sits behind the bar and marvel at their huge array of malt whiskeys.
What is it? Nestled in a residential backstreet to the north of the city, this ramshackle terrace house is a music institution, even though it might not look it. Since 1984, the cream of the alt-indie scene’s crop has taken to the stage here, including The Stone Roses, Radiohead, Pulp, Primal Scream and Oasis. Hull’s very own Housemartins signed their first record deal in the tiny gig room.
Why go? To catch banging gigs from local bands and international acts as well as insanely good club nights nearly every night of the week. This is one of the most important spots in the city.
What is it? This ex-office building in the centre of town has been transformed into a one-of-a-kind arts venue, bar and restaurant. As well as a quirky bistro serving freshly cooked pizza and sharing plates, there’s an intimate exhibition-cum-events space where work by local artists hangs on the walls and you can see an assortment of events from theatre and live music to comedy, film screenings and community events.
Why go? To catch the best of Hull’s home-grown talent in a venue that puts regional creativity at the fore of its programming. If you want to see the fruits of Hull’s creative side, this is the place to go.
What is it? Looking out over the exquisite Queen Victoria Square, this gorgeous gallery houses one of the finest art collections in the North. Its impressive galleries hold everything from European Old Masters to contemporary British art. Lorenzetti, Canaletto, Hockney, Wearing? You’ll find them here. Now’s the best time to visit following its recent £4.5 million makeover so it could host the Turner Prize 2017 as part of the UK City of Culture programme.
Why go? There’s a reason this place was so central to Hull’s year as City of Culture. One of the jewels in city’s crown, this isn’t just a gallery; it’s a source of city pride.
What is it? This beautiful redbrick building was the birthplace of William Wilberforce, the Hull MP and slavery abolitionist. Inside its grand rooms you’ll find fascinating, moving, displays on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, its abolition and the part Wilberforce played in abolishing slavery in parliament. Special exhibits also touch on West African culture and deal with contemporary slavery.
Why go? There’s a glut of excellent museums to explore in the Old Town, but this one feels the most pressing. Hull’s often passed off as a forgotten city, and the exhibits here prove it’s had a bigger part to play in British history than many might think.
What is it? Take a stroll through this stunning Victorian, Grade II listed shopping arcade, topped with a gleaming glass roof. You won’t find any high-street fodder here, this is a space exclusively for retailers of the independent and quirky variety.
Why go? Visit hi-fi dealer Fanthorpes (established in 1946), Beasley's for vintage garb and Dinsdale’s joke and trick shop, which has been supplying the people of Hull with fart cushions and fake beards for 80 years – it also inspired Lance Longthorne’s joke shop in ‘The League of Gentlemen’.
What is it? Different Language had been hosting underground house and techno raves in unusual spaces across Yorkshire for nearly a decade before they took up residency at this old industrial estate on the banks of the River Hull. Set against a skyline full of warehouses, chimneys and factories it’s the perfect place for revelry to the tune of a thumping bass line.
Why go? To join one their infamous 13-hour parties that attract the finest of the scene, with past acts including Cassy, Tobi Neumann and Margaret Dygas. These are nights lifted straight out of Kings Cross in the 1990s.
What is it? A Willy Wonka chocolate factory for creatives. This three-story artist studios, gallery and project space is home to a library, printing press, zine shop and volunteer-run café, and puts on exhibitions, workshops, talks, performances and gigs; phew! It’s a beauty to look at too, with every bit of available wall space covered in prints and colour.
Why go? To join an artist talk, learn a new skill, listen to spoken word or see an experimental exhibition – you name it, they’ll probably do it. Stop by the loos too, which are covered in hand-drawn cartoons.
What is it? This charitable arts hub in an old red-brick church champions disadvantaged communities in the Humber district. Head along to see truly fascinating exhibitions borne from outreach programmes and community arts projects. Past shows include sculptures made by prisoners, snapshots of Northern women from early 1980s subcultures and paintings raising awareness for disabled communities.
Why go? Not only is this place a vital resource for Hull, the work it displays and fosters is unique, revolutionary and will be on your mind for hours after you’ve seen it. Want to broaden your horizons? This is the spot to go.
What is it? Once the first dock to be constructed in Hull, the port was filled in and transformed into a sequence of gardens in 1930. Today, it’s pretty slice of greenery in the city centre with fountains, duck ponds, blossom trees and colourful flower beds. It’s also home to a lot of Hull’s major annual events like the Jazz Festival and Freedom Festival.
Why go? You’ll find the Wilberforce monument and Robinson Crusoe plaque here (the fictional character set sail from Hull before getting stranded on the desert island), but also the more recent stainless steel Solar Gate sculpture, which was specially commissioned for the City of Culture programme. On a sunny day it’s the perfect place for a picnic and a 99-er.