In the 1950s Grimsby was the largest fishing port in the world.
This came after more than a century of constant expansion, leaving the town’s docks with giant monuments like the Victoria Mill and the Grimsby Dock Tower.
It’s sobering to think that thousands of men have lost their lives on fishing expeditions from this port.
In the 1950s alone, 32 Grimsby-based ships were lost.
Even if the industry has contracted since the Cod Wars (1958-1976), fishing is entwined with Grimsby’s personality, and the food industry remains a big employer.
Grimsby is contiguous with the Victorian seaside resort of Cleethorpes.
So while you can get to grips with the nitty-gritty of the North Sea fisheries, there’s a more genteel town with a beach, pier and seafront gardens a couple of stops on the train.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Grimbsy:
1. Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre
The place to come to terms with one of the toughest jobs on the planet, the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre takes you back to when this was the world’s premier fishing port.
In a modern building at the Alexandra Dock, dating to 1880, the museum has a world of interactive displays, often using authentic equipment and fixtures from broken up trawlers.
You’ll see how cod and haddock were caught and loaded into containers, learn about the hardships withstood by trawler-men and find out how the whole town was engaged in the fishing business, with women and children busy mending nets.
The museum also recreates some of the sounds and smells around Grimsby in those days, on street scenes, in pubs and old shops, while kids can dress up like fishermen in oilskin coats.
2. Ross Tiger
Berthed on the Alexandra Dock in front of the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre is the oldest surviving sidewinder trawler in Grimsby.
The Ross Tiger entered service in 1957 and at that time belonged to the world’s largest commercial fishing fleet.
The Ross Tiger is a symbol of the bravery of Grimsby’s fishermen in the mid-20th century, and a monument to the many who died on the job.
Guided tours are given by ex-trawler-men who will have exciting anecdotes to share about life on board.
You’ll see conveniences like a shower, central heating system and a flushing toilet that were didn’t exist on other trawlers from this time.
3. Time Trap Museum
At Grimsby Town Hall you can take a privileged look inside the former police cells and prisoner exercise area to lift the lid on the history of the town and get to know some of its characters.
It’s a fun museum to navigate, with lots of hidden corners and dark, meandering corridors.
The exhibitions go into depth on topics like Disease and Death, Law and Order and the Violence of Politics.
Following a series of lovingly assembled tableaux, you’ll learn about the rise of the fishing industry at the turn of the 19th century, and see inside a home, shop and theatre at the start of the 20th century.
If you book in advance you’ll also be given a tour of the Mayor’s Parlour and Council Chamber.
4. Grimsby Dock Tower
An enduring landmark for Grimsby, this Grade I-listed 94-metre Gothic Revival tower guards the entrance to the Royal Dock.
The design emulates the Torre del Mangia over the Piazza del Campio in Siena, and the tower was built in 1852 to hold a 140,000-litre reservoir.
Installed at a height of 60 metres, this reservoir produced the hydraulic power for Grimsby Docks for the next 40 years before being made obsolete by a hydraulic accumulator on the opposite pier.
Composed of more than a million bricks, the tower has been safeguarded for decades to come after a restoration in 2017.
5. Corporation Bridge
Traversing the Old Dock, in the shadow of the hulking Victoria Mill, is a Scherzer rolling lift bascule bridge dating to 1925. There’s almost no water traffic on the dock, so the bridge is only rarely lifted these days, normally for tests to comply with a law that requires it to be in working order.
One of the last occasions a boat passed through was when the Ross Tiger was berthed at the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre in the 1990s.
The bridge was formally opened by the future Edward VIII, and this event is commemorated by a plaque.
6. Grimsby Minster
Designated a minster in 2010, the Church of St James has been Grimsby’s main Christian place of worship since 1586. The building is even older, dating from well before the 12th century, when it was enlarged by the Bishop of Lincoln Robert Bloet.
St James’ was given a Victorian restoration in 1856 when the south transept was rebuilt and the chancel was extended.
Inside, try to find the 14th-century recumbent effigy to Sir Thomas Haslerton of Aylesby brought here from a nunnery suppressed during the 16th-century Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The minster’s tower is largely unchanged since the 14th century, while there’s surviving architecture from the 13th century in the nave and north transept, while the base of the baptismal font is from 1200.
7. People’s Park
A five-minute walk from Grimsby Town Station is a Victorian park that opened in 1883. On a U-shaped plot, the park has just come through a restoration and has a few things to recommend it on a warm day.
There are two circular tree-lined circular paths that join in the centre.
On the southern loop is the Grade II-listed floral hall, a lovely greenhouse raised in 1883. The northern loop encloses a lake, with a cafe on its southern shore.
In mid-July the Party in the Park is now in its 5th year, bringing children’s activities, live music and a host of market stalls.
8. Grimsby Auditorium
An important stop for touring musicians, musicals, comedians and famous personalities, the Grimsby Auditorium is the largest theatre in Lincolnshire and one of largest in the East of England.
Built in 1995, this receiving theatre can seat 1,200, and has a capacity of 2,000 for standing audiences.
The programme is diverse, and along with appearances by touring companies like the Russian State Ballet and Opera House there’s a long line-up of tribute acts, talks by sportsmen and famous UK television personalities, musicals for all-comers and stand-up comedians from national television.
9. Cleethorpes Beach
If you need to feel the sand between your toes, head a little way along the Humber Estuary and you’ll be met by Cleethorpes’ 4.5 miles of vast sandy beaches.
The beach is broad and flat, and when the tide goes out the mudflats and pools stretch to the horizon.
On the north end of the promenade, some 230 metres from the high tide mark you can see the roots and stumps of an ancient sunken forest (make a note of tide times). Back on shore you can lounge in the sunshine on a deckchair, and depending on their age children can hit the arcades, go on donkey rides or try out adventure sports like paddleboarding.
Cafes, ice cream parlours and fish and chip shops are all on the promenade behind.
10. Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway
Now over 70 years old, the Cleethorpes Light Railway is an icon for the resort, and obligatory for families.
Beginning at Kingsway by the leisure centre, the vintage steam engines track the waterfront for just over a mile down to the point where the Buck Beck flows into the North Sea.
At Cleethorpes’ historic boating lake there’s a rather impressive 37-metre viaduct.
Get off at Lakeside Central and you can order a drink at the miniscule Signal Box Inn, which claims to be the smallest pub on the planet.
From there you can take a walk through the Meridian Park, where you’ll come across a strip in the ground marking the Greenwich meridian at 0° longitude.
11. Cleethorpes Country Park
In the south of Cleethorpes the town opens onto this 150-acre nature reserve of woods and grassland around a lake.
The meadows are embroidered with wildflowers in May and June, while waterfowl and wildfowl make a home in this environment at different times of year.
Maybe the best time for bird-spotting is in Cleethorpes’ down season when waders like redshanks, ringed plovers and oystercatchers winter here.
The lake is rimmed with a path laid with tarmac, so is accessible for all, while there are designated spaces for boating, pond-dipping and fishing.
12. Weelsby Woods
The Boston Deep Sea Fishing and Ice Company donated this generous green space to Grimsby in 1950. In Victorian times this was the site of Weelsby Villa and its grounds, while during he Second World War Italian prisoners of war were kept in huts about where the children’s playground is today.
The park has lots of tall mature firs and broadleaf, and there are cultivated areas with clipped grass, as well as wilder parts that have been left to grow out and become a nature reserve.
At the main entrance check out the pair of stone lions.
These were commissioned way back in 1876 by an eccentric local fishing merchant and were eventually gifted to the town in 1948.
13. Cleethorpes Pier
In 2016 the restored Cleethorpes Pier was named Pier of the Year by the National Pier Society.
The structure dates from 1873, and used to be much longer before several hundred metres were chopped off the end to help prevent an invasion by sea in the Second World War.
The pier’s recent history has been chequered, but as of 2018 its pavilion is owned by the Papa’s fish and chip shop chain and claims to be the largest fish and chip establishment in the UK. On the slope behind are the Cleethorpes Pier Gardens, dating from around same time as the pier and have a tapestry of flowerbeds, a crazy golf course and a Victorian folly.
Known as Ross Castle, this was built in 1863 following the arrival of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in Cleethorpes.
14. Jungle Zoo
This small zoo by the Boating Lake in Cleethorpes strives to make a visit as interactive as possible.
Children will be encouraged to feed pigs and pygmy goats, feel a turtle’s shell, watch feeding sessions and listen to regular keeper talks.
Among the animals at the Jungle Zoo are common marmosets, meerkats, ring-tailed lemurs, capuchins, an array of exotic birds, as well as large tarantulas and a Burmese python.
If you know how to handle a wood or iron you may not find a better place to pass a sunny afternoon than Grimsby Golf Club.
This 18-hole course on the west side of the town is well-reviewed, and given the standard the green fees are reasonable, at £35.50 for 18 holes on weekdays and £40.50 on weekends.
The course isn’t exactly long, but is definitely testing for its sturdy sea breezes and constant undulations in an otherwise low-lying landscape.
For roughly the same price you can also play a round at Waltham Windmill Golf Club, which is open to visitors seven days a week and sits about 15 minutes south of the town centre.