Purpose Heat exchangers (HEXs) are extensively used in many applications such as heating and cooling systems. To increase the thermal performance of HEXs, nano-sized particles could be added to the base working fluid which can improve the thermophysical properties of the fluid. In addition, further improvement in the thermal performance of nanofluids can be obtained by using two or more different nanoparticles which are known as hybrid nanofluids. This paper aims to improve the thermal efficiency of U-type tubular HEX (THEX) by using CuO-Al2O3/water hybrid nanofluid. Design/methodology/approach Numerical simulation has been used to model THEX with various configurations. Also, CuO-Al2O3/water hybrid nanofluid has been experimented in THEX in two various modes including parallel (PTHEX) and counter flow (CTHEX) regarding to the numerical findings. Hybrid nanofluids have been prepared in two particle concentrations and compared with CuO/water nanofluid at the same concentrations and also with water. Findings The numerical simulation results showed that adding fins and also using hybrid nanofluid can increase heat transfer rate in HEX. However, adding fins cannot be a good option in U-type THEX with lower diameter because it increases pressure drop notably. Experimental results of this work illustrated that using Al2O3-CuO/water hybrid nanofluid in the THEX improved thermal performance significantly. Maximum enhancement in overall heat transfer coefficient of THEX by using CuO-Al2O3/water nanofluid in 0.5% and 1% concentrations achieved as 9.5% and 12%, respectively. Originality/value The obtained findings of the study showed the positive effects of using hybrid type nanofluid in comparison with single type nanofluid. In this study, numerical and experimental analysis have been conducted to investigate the effect of using hybrid type nanofluid in U-type HEX. The obtained results exhibited successful utilization of CuO-Al2O3/water hybrid type nanofluid in HEX. Moreover, it was observed that thermal performance analysis of the nanofluids without any experiment can be done by using numerical method.