Properly known as Kingston-upon-Hull – the ancient harbour on the River Hull was granted a royal charter in 1299 and became King’s Town – Hull has long been the principal port of England’s east coast, with an economy that grew up around carrying wool out and bringing wine in. It was also a major whaling and fishing port until the trawling industry died out.
Though it’s not going to win any prizes for prettiness, the city has a gritty appeal for those who appreciate Britain’s industrial past and enjoy getting away from the beaten tourist path. Famous as the home of poet Philip Larkin, Hull harbours a clutch of fascinating museums and one of Britain’s best aquariums. Named as UK City of Culture 2017, the town has set about the regeneration of its waterfront.
A minor cultural renaissance has taken place in the Fruitmarket district around Humber St, where derelict buildings have been reclaimed as artists’ studios and performance spaces, but progress is slow.
Top Things to See in Hull
Hull’s biggest tourist attraction is the Deep, a vast aquarium housed in a colossal angular building that appears to lunge above the muddy waters of the Humber like a giant shark’s head. Inside, it’s just as dramatic, with echoing commentaries and computer-generated interactive displays that guide you through the formation of the ocean and the evolution of sea life.
The largest aquarium is 10m deep, filled with sharks, stingrays and colourful coral fishes, with moray eels draped over rocks like scarves of iridescent slime. A glass elevator plies up and down inside the tank, though you’ll get a better view by taking the stairs. Don’t miss the cafe on the top floor, which has a great view of the Humber estuary.
This fascinating museum contains re-created street scenes from Georgian and Victorian times and from the 1930s, with all sorts of historic vehicles to explore, from stagecoaches to bicycles, buses and trams.
Hull & East Riding Museum
This museum traces local history and archaeology from Roman times to the present, with new Anglo-Saxon, medieval and geology galleries.
Behind the Streetlife Museum, marooned in the mud of the River Hull, is the Arctic Corsair. Tours of this Atlantic trawler, a veteran of the 1970s so-called ‘Cod Wars’, when the UK and Iceland clashed over fishing rights, demonstrate the hardships of fishing north of the Arctic Circle.
Built in 1927, Hull’s lighthouse-ship once served as a navigation mark for ships entering the notorious Humber estuary. Now safely retired in the marina, it houses an engaging exhibition about its own history, and offers an interesting contrast between the former living quarters of captain and crew.
Hull’s Old Town, whose grand public buildings retain a sense of the prosperity the town once knew, occupies the thumb of land between the River Hull to the east and Princes Quay to the west. The most impressive legacy is the Guildhall, a huge neoclassical building that dates from 1916 and houses vast areas of polished marble, and oak and walnut panelling, plus the Hull Tapestry, which records the city’s history (on view near reception).
Wilberforce House (1639) was the birthplace in 1759 of politician and antislavery crusader William Wilberforce. It is now a museum chronicling the slave trade and its abolition.
Hull’s most famous son, the poet Philip Larkin, is commemorated in this self-guided walking tour, which begins beside a bronze statue of the man himself in the railway station. It leads past places mentioned in his poetry, and on to some of his favourite pubs. Pick up a free leaflet at the tourist office.