Kingston-upon-Hull, or Hull, or ‘ull, as it is widely known by its inhabitants, is a small city on the coast of northeast England. Once one of the most prosperous ports in the world, Hull endured furious bombing during the Second World War. Hull’s economy and reputation deteriorated even further not twenty years later because of the collapse of its fishing industry.
In 2013, Hull was named the United Kingdom’s “City of Culture 2017.” It is currently in the infancy of its year in the British cultural spotlight, and so far, in spite of salacious low-brow tabloid “news” articles throwing similarly low blows in its direction, it is getting off to a fine start. What Hull lacks in quaintness it more than makes up for in grit and character. A certain stigma unfortunately attached itself to the city at some point in the twentieth century and stuck; after telling one girl I lived there, she responded somewhat ambiguously with “ha […] oh well.”
But I urge you to divest your minds of any prejudices and I, as a longtime Hull resident, will show you how to make the most of a weekend in this lovable, poetic city.
Nothing satisfies a weary traveller like good hearty fare. Head to Princes Avenue for an abundance of options and a cool vibe, particularly in summertime, when the restaurants – which invariably double as bars – spill out into the street, creating a European, alfresco sort of buzz (insofar as this is possible to accomplish by the side of a main road in rainy northern England).
Try Garbutts for traditional pub grub, or, if you dare to be emboldened, enjoy traditional Moroccan food at Marrakech Avenue. This unique restaurant offers traditional Moroccan cuisine and claims to deliver “something for everyone’s palate” in an incredibly atmospheric venue (think lots of colour, sumptuous fabrics, and fairy lights galore in the summer months).
Post-dinner, meander down the avenue and take an evening stroll in Pearson Park; originally known as the People’s Park, it was the first public park opened in Hull and still retains many of its original features, including a serpentine lake, a perimeter carriage drive, and seven Grade II-listed structures.
Newland Avenue, crammed with various evening hotspots where one can relax with a beer, a glass of wine, or even a toke of shisha for those more adventurous souls, is a short walk away.
This area is known for its diversity and creativity and last summer hosted an event called Assemble Fest.
For an entire day, a myriad of alternative performers took over the avenue, including a couple who strolled around nonchalantly, entirely inconspicuous but for the large papier-mache horse heads they both wore. Look out for similar events throughout 2017.
A tip: if you have time during the day, hit up the English Muse, a gorgeous cafe selling an array of pleasant non-alcoholic tipples and tasty, healthy baked goods in a sort of Alice in Wonderland, English-tearoom-with-a-twist setting.
Hull boasts a proud student nightlife. The Welly Club (or just Welly for those in-the-know) is unquestionably the most “indie” of the Hull clubs, drawing town and gown alike (and the occasional out-of-place 40-year-old). Good music, cheap drinks, and a grungy vibe are the pulls here.
But if you want a good, sweaty dance to stretch out your cramped traveller’s limbs, then definitely reserve Welly for later in the night or even the early hours, as it doesn’t tend to fill up before 11 pm (unless you’re partial to an empty dance floor upon which you can more energetically throw shapes without having to consider the welfare of fellow partiers).
After you’re done dancing the night away, head over to Al Pacino’s for some good, wholesome-isa nosh replete with Hull’s famous “chip spice,” which, disastrously, doesn’t seem to be a thing anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
For those lower on the spectrum on which “all-out party animal” is at the higher end, give Welly and its occasionally rambunctious revellers a miss and curl up with a book of Philip Larkin’s poetry.
Grab a takeaway coffee and spend the morning enjoying Hull’s Old Town, which is arguably most reminiscent of the days of yore when Hull was a thriving centre of commerce. There is an abundance of beautiful architecture to rival any in England. Sip your coffee and take some time to breathe easy: the relatively slow pace of life in Hull and lack of palpable tension make it a wonderful destination for those looking to briefly escape the confines of their hectic lives in southern England.
Observe the grand, clean lines of the City Hall, the Guildhall, Holy Trinity Church, and the Maritime Museum, and one can really glean a sense of the poetic allure of the city which inspired the likes of Larkin and Stevie Smith.
It’s sad, though, that Hull has its fair share of atrocious buildings, hurriedly raised after the bombings of the Second World War, which somewhat mar the city’s overall aesthetic. The juxtaposition between the buildings that survived the Blitz and those which replaced the ones that did not is sad and somewhat haunting, but also peculiarly beautiful.
Head to No. 5 Scale Lane, Hull’s only remaining timber-framed building, which is believed to date from the fifteenth century, for an example of this, and for a spot of lunch. The building now houses a thriving restaurant appropriately named the Old House. Or, if you’d prefer to be a little closer to the town centre, head to McCoys, a coffee house and restaurant in an impressive double fronted Victorian building with grand windows looking out onto the quay. They offer a delicious chicken pesto salad for just under £6, and an equally decently priced and tasty selection of vegetarian options.
After lunch, head to the museum quarter, also in the Old Town. My personal favourite is Wilberforce House. The birthplace of slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce, the house is a tender portrayal of his life and chronicles his involvement in the fight for the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Thanks to Wilberforce’s tireless work, the Slave Trade Act received royal assent.
Of course, a trip to Hull would not be complete without visiting the Deep, an aquarium housed inside an impressive ship-like building that asserts itself as “the world’s only submarium.” As well as being an immensely popular visitor attraction, it was voted the best family place to visit in Hull in 2013 and is a centre for marine research. Wander around and swot up on your knowledge of the history of the world’s oceans. Befriend slimy creatures in the process, all while enjoying your calming, inky blue surroundings.
Gorge upon a traditional fish and chip supper from Bob Carver’s in the old town before checking out Hull’s recently constructed theatre venue, the Hull Truck. This uber cool space — think lots of concrete, metal, glass, and dimmed lighting — puts on a wide array of productions to suit almost every thespian predilection. Sip a glass of red in the interval and bask in the knowledge that you are cool, cultured, and captivating and have not even had to fork out a great deal of money to achieve this next-level chic.
Pick up a freshly made sandwich in preparation for your journey.
The Olive Tree, a favourite of pupils who attend my former secondary school, offers an outstanding and delicious selection made right before your eyes.
After this, make your way to the new Hull History Centre to garner some final information about the city in a space described as being “like a giant caterpillar or a billowing tent.”
The museum houses archives including the city’s World War II records and a Slavery Special Collection.
Finally, wander round the Ferens Art Gallery for a last dosage of culture before heading homeward. The Ferens, as it is more commonly known, is a beautiful building that houses an extensive collection European art; it has recently reopened after a significant refurbishment, and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are set to visit on 8 February.
For the daring, alternative, and curious, I would suggest Hull as a worthy destination.
Things are changing; there is a progressive movement among its youth, a rich and fascinating history, and a wealth of art and culture upon which to feast. Hull deserves as much credit for the promise of its future as it does for the survival of its war-torn past.