As the saying goes – it is never dull in Hull – and lucky for our latest adventure it was also boiling in Belgium!
In 2013, Hull won the right to become the 2017 UK City of Culture and its safe to say, the people haven’t stopped partying since.
The locals are really embracing this opportunity to put their home city on the map and they are doing it using their best strength – good old fashioned Northern hospitality.
Hull appears to have it all. With historic streets which resemble York, free and interesting museums for all, arts and music culture in abundance, lively restaurants, pubs and plush hotels and a secret weapon – the ferry crossings to Europe – which are booming with people keen to go both ways to see what is on offer in Hull, Belgium and Holland.
With adventurers Ruaridh (10) and Flossie (7) in tow, we set off to test out this two centre holiday. Hull is only a two and a half hour drive from East Lancashire and you are welcomed with the lovely sight of the mighty Humber bridge.
The city itself has been given a major spruce up with City of Culture money which will be invested for the next 15 years, ensuring this lovely spot continues to thrive.
We stayed in the heart of the theatre district at the Kingston Theatre Hotel, a family run luxury Victorian hotel, which was once home to Madame Emily Clapham’s exclusive dressmakers shop, opened in 1887.
The hotel is handy for the town centre, boasts a lovely warm atmosphere and service and the rooms are spacious and have all the mod cons, with sumptuous breakfasts to set you up for the day.
The best way to see a place in a short time is to chat with the locals and we teamed up with English Heritage guide and Hull ambassador Paul Schofield.
Paul was an excellent guide and really loves his home city. Apart from a short stint when he was sent to Coventry, Paul has always lived in Hull and walking with him, he seemed to know just about everyone.
A mind of information too, Paul took us on a guided tour of the city and to the many hidden gems, which include the beautiful windy streets, the smallest window in England and the cream telephone boxes – Hull being the only place in Britain not to have red boxes.
We met Paul infront of the impressive City Hall, which has a wonderful addition infront of it, a dancing fountain, where the children and young at heart can spend their time skipping through the water, which is lit up in an array of colours at night.
This area is home to the Maritime Museum, which is currently holding Bill Bailey’s Cabinet of Curiosities, is a fun exhibition allowing you to work out the truth from the made up stories.
Opposite is Ferens Gallery, currently showing the Sea of Hull exhibition. In 2016, 3,200 volunteers stripped off, painted themselves blue and posed around Hull to promote their links to the sea, with impressive results!
Hull’s way of life is connected to the sea, with the huge tidal estuary, the Humber on its doorstep and then 25 miles away, the North Sea and the city is certainly proud of its links. Several years ago a fish trail was created in the old part of Hull, allowing people to walk round and spot the alphabet in fish engraved into the pavements, which can also be used for brass rubbings.
It’s a great way of teaching your children all the varities of fish and Ruaridh and Flossie loved it. Paul took us to see the newly upgraded Hull Minister, which has lovely new rippled pools of water embedded into the paved area outside.
We then headed for the museum quarter, all free and which include the Streetlife Museum of Transport, which is fun and even allows you to have a ride in a Victorian carriage.
Next door is the former home of William Wilberforce, the politician in the 1800s who was the leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.
The Deep aquarium in the maritime area of town is home to more than 3,000 creatures and there are chances to touch and see exhibits as well as watch the penguins being fed.
Strolling around Hull is fun too, as you discover the thriving Fruit Market, full of culture and lively bars and restaurants and the nearby Furley and Co, winner of the 2017 Lifestyle Bar of the Year, which serves up fabulous Freakshakes, milkshakes layered with doughuts and sweets and homecooked food.
Kardomah 94 near to the City Hall is the place to eat and drink as you watch live bands and comedy shows.
Once you have had your fill of Hull, it’s a short hop to the docks and time to jump aboard P&O Ferries’s sumptuous crossings to Zeebrugge or Rotterdam. The firm has an array of different crossings, from mini cruises to special event crossings to suit all.
We chose the overnight service to Zeebrugge on the Pride of York and with a fabulous five berth Club cabin, we settled down to enjoy the on board entertainment, restaurants and bars and of course the Duty Free shopping.
The cabin was nice and spacious, had lovely comfy beds, a free mini bar and tea and coffee making facilities, as well as classy toiletries in the bathroom.
The crossing was smooth and on time and a coach meets the ship to transfer you to Bruges, where you can enjoy this lovely spot or do what we did and walk the short distance to the railway station and hop aboard a train for an hour’s journey up to the beautiful beach town of De Panne, which is famous for its coastal tram, the longest in the world and a brilliant way of seeing Belgium.
We stayed at the Ibis Styles Hotel in the centre of town, a slick and modern hotel with all your needs attended to and one of the best breakfasts we have ever had, to boot!
The sun was out when we visited and we enjoyed the lovely beach, with its old fashioned Brighton style huts and clean sands and water.
Ruaridh and Flossie were in heaven, as the seafront was not only home to Belgian frites and waffles, but amusement arcades too.
The town centre is an array of smart hotels and shops and it has a real buzz about it, which makes it a great place to visit.
De Panne is also famous for Plopsaland, a wonderful theme park, with lots of scary rides and fun ones for the more timid. Its well set out and has so many sections to it, you need all day to get round and when you have had your fill, there is an aqua park next door too! It really was a fun way to spend a day and there was plenty of food and fun stalls to enjoy as well.
As we relaxed on the Pride of Bruges ship on the way back across the North Sea, looking out at the hundreds of sea wind turbines and passing traffic, it was time to reflect on a hectic, but fantastic adventure!
P&O Ferries run frequent crossings to and from Hull to Zeebrugge. There are lots of choices of cruises, with the Bruges minicruise a very popular one. The mini cruises (based on a short break, car and two adults and an inside cabin) from Hull for £129. For more information and offers ring 0800 130 0030 or check out www.poferries.com
Hull: www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com www.hull2017.co.uk
Hull Tourist Information Centre
Tel: 01482 300300
Kingston Theatre Hotel
Tel: 01482 225828
Guided tour of Hull
Furley & Co.
www.plopsalanddepanne.be/en - for prices see the following link https://buy.oxynade.com/?lang=en&flow=1f8907f8-453d-7067-894e-7270f1e6f44f&dist=93448&event=294301
The Belgian Coastal Tram is the longest tramway in the world. Cost for each train ticket – see https://www.delijn.be/en/vervoerbewijzen/ritkaarten-dagpassen/meerdagenpas-kind-west-vlaanderen.html
Single tickets cost €3.00 for adults but you can buy 1,3 and 5 day tickets – Prices vary https://www.delijn.be/en/vervoerbewijzen/ritkaarten-dagpassen/dagpas.html