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12 reasons to take a day trip to Hitchin

Historic buildings, cobbled streets, tonnes of indies, from vintage treasure troves to quirky boutiques, plus a café culture to rival even the capital’s coffee scene... it's got to be Hitchin. Here's our insider guide.

Not only did you vote this historic market town Herts’ Best Place to Live 2022, you, Muddy readers, also earned it an impressive second place across ALL the Muddy counties (narrowly pipped to the gold medal position by Surrey’s Godalming – but we’re very gracious runners up here).

If you already know the reasons why Hitchin is sooo fabulous, allow us to share some local secrets that you might not yet have discovered. And if you don’t – you’re in for a treat. Here are 12 super cool reasons to go on a Hitchin day trip. Flats on, tote packed, let’s go!

1. SUMMER FUN

Who needs the coast when you’ve got the Costa Del Hitchin on your doorstep? Not only will the Hitchin beach return this summer (2-29 August), transforming the Market Place into a sandy paradise for kids, with games and buckets and spades (and deckchairs for mums and dads), but did you know Hitchin has its own Lido, too?

The outdoor heated 50m pool has a sun terrace where you can max out on relaxing (and work on that tan) while the kids spash about to their heart’s content. It opens from 28 May this year, and is usually open until early September (closing date TBC).

2. BACK TO SCHOOL

Ready for a history lesson? Did you know that Hitchin is home to the last ever monitorial schoolroom? What’s that, you ask… well it was a system of learning whereby the senior pupils passed on their knowledge from the teacher to the younger ones in return for a small fee. The British Schools Musuem is now housed in the Grade II listed former school, which was founded in 1810 (80 years before the government provided free elementary education).

Visit the musuem to experience a Victorian lesson, see the fascinating collections and explore the changing exhibitions. Right now there are Easter craft sessions for kids (until 13 April), and on 14th April a performance of Wind in the Willows, followed by a craft fair on 11 June.

3. VINTAGE SHOPPING

If you’re a fan of retro clobber and rifling through cavernous shops hawking oldy worldly treasures, you’re in the right place. Hitchin is a vintage-seeker’s heaven. Raid the rails at H Town Rags and check out Jolly Brown for chic clothes, accessories and homeware. The Fleetville Emporium is an Aladdin’s cave of vintage finds, from nik naks and jewellery to furniture, while Vintage Bay is a go-to for hand-crafted, reclaimed and artisanal interiors pieces.

@jollybrownstudio ; Vintage Bay

4. FLOWER POWER

Ok, ok so you probably know about Hitchin Lavender Farm. In fact many out-of-towners just come here (and miss out on all the other fab stuff to do!). But did you know that as well as being able to fill your boots (well, a paper bag!) with enough lavender to overpower your granny’s perfume, you can also pick up lovely lavender goodies, from beauty products to the farm’s very own lavender flavoured gin and potted plants?

And there’s also a PYO wildflower and sunflower meadow, and cut flower area. You’ll leave with some stunning pics for the family album, too – let the kids run wild amongst the swathes of purple – just watch out for the bees though, and don’t forget your secateurs.

5. COFFEE BREAK

Hitchin really does have its fair share of seriously good coffee shops. We recommend The Groundworks, for both coffee and a hearty brunch. Overlooking the churchyard on a pedestrianised street it’s perfect for people watching, too. As is Chia Naturally Healthy, which is just across the way and serves tasty and nutritious vegan food with your organic hazlenut milk latte. Chilli Bs is another well-established local fave thanks to its extensive range of toasted and club sarnies. And don’t miss Hitchin Coffee Lab, which serves locally roasted Bionic Bull coffee.

6. MARKET MOOCHING

Love a local market? You’ll be spoilt for choice here. The town boasts one of the area’s largest outdoor markets with around 150 stalls on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. What’s more, there’s an antiques market on Fridays, a craft and farmers market on the last Sat of every month (the next ones are 24 April, 29 May and 26 June), AND specialist Saturday markets. Plus you’ll find a vegan market on the Riverside on 12 June and 18 Sept.

7. WILDLIFE SPOTTING

If you’re keen to venture out of town, you won’t find a shortage of fresh air and green space nearby. The Oughtonhead Common Nature Reserve runs alongside the River Oughton. The fen woodlands are home to birdlife including kingfishers (which you may be lucky enough to spot in the spring) and mammals such as the water shrew and pipstrelle bat (mostly seen in the summer months).

8. WINE TASTING

Squirrelled away in the Arcade, just off the town square is a fab little family run wine bar and shop, The Wee Vinoteca. Owner and sommelier, Duncan, is dedicated to demystifying wine through his tasting events and courses, or you can just come along and enjoy a glass or two (the bar is currently open on Thurs-Sat evenings) or pick some bottles to take home from the shop, with the team’s expert recommendations. Regular events include food and wine pairing – there’s a sushi one coming up on 12 May and an afternoon tea on 21 May.

9. BOUTIQUE HEAVEN

Fashion mavens head this way… forget High Street carbon copies, pick your wardrobe staples from the unique boutiques that Hitchin has to offer. At Muddy award-winning women’s store Rubarb you’ll find feminine pieces from independent brands, while Riot Lounge stocks bold and eclectic clothing for men, women and kids, as well as hosting regular pop-ups.

10. PICK OF THE PUBS

There are plenty of pubs to choose from in this happening town, but our faves are the 2021 Muddy Award winner, The Vic – a cool, sociable hub with street food pop ups and live music. Or for proper pub grub, a visit to Kite at the Red Hart is a no brainer, with its pimped up pub menu (relaunching this month!) and stylish setting within the surrounds of a 16th century coaching inn.

11. ART WITH HEART

Whether just looking, buying or creating yourself, you can do all three in Hitchin. Homewares store, Emmeline Art & Home, sells artist and print designer, Emmeline’s own bold and beautiful work. She also runs workshops, sneak peeks into her studio and special events from the shop. If you’re in the market for a statement piece for your wall, do have a wander around Arkley Fine Art, too – a family-run gallery showcasing emerging artists and contemporary art.

12. COCKTAIL O’CLOCK

Muddy readers voted hermitage rd. Herts & Beds’ best bar in the last three consecutive Muddy Awards, so we couldn’t write a guide to Hitchin without including it. The cool industrial space is in fact a former ballroom, where you’ll find a restaurant with an open kitchen, live music and a killer cocktail list. A pop-up cocktail bar even appears on sunny Fridays and Saturdays at the coffee and bagel shop downstairs. So proud are they of their concotions that you can book a cocktail masterclass with hermitage rd’s pro mixologists. For just £35 you’ll muddle your own mixes and create some iconic cocktails, too.

Loved this insider guide? Check out our guide to St Albans here for more Muddy-approved must-dos!

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