Top Ten: Sheffield

What do Jarvis Cocker, the Arctic Monkeys, the Human League and Henderson’s Relish have in common?

Sheffield’s finest

They’re all from Sheffield!

Enough of patronising introductions…Sheffield is one of Britain’s largest cities with a population of around 550,000. With a long industrial heritage (home of stainless steel!) Sheffield, built on seven hills, is also my home city (I’m from ten miles down the road). Over the Christmas break I rediscovered Sheffield and all it has to offer. Here are my Sheffield favourites.

1) Kelham Island: This was a 2013 find for me. Situated in one of Sheffield’s most historic areas on Alma Street (off Corporation Street) the Kelham Island Museum showcases Sheffield’s industrial heritage with archives and objects from days gone by, the main attraction being a 3-cylinder rolling mill engine.

A trip to the Kelham Island would not be complete without a visit to the Fat Cat, a no nonsense real ale pub which sells ale made next door at the Kelham Island Brewery (opened in 1990, owned by the Fat Cat owner). The Fat Cat serves great pub grub (no menus, just a chalkboard detailing the day’s menu options) and has a lovely beer garden. The pub has won the Good Pub Guide’s Best Value in Britain Pub three times and has featured in national publications on numerous occasions.

The Fat Cat, Kelham Island

The Fat Cat, Kelham Island

After all that ale at the Fat Cat, take a trip to the Grind Café, an independent café serving great coffee, old school sweets, and, um, sausage rolls. Only in the North. When I visited the owner let me choose which CD to play (60s hits- matched the laid back vibe…) and plugged an all day Bank Holiday Reggae Fest the café was holding. Go there now before word gets out.

2) Sheffield Theatres: Comprising of the Lyceum, the Crucible and the Studio there is a lot to offer for theatre fans in Sheffield regardless of interest/budget. Theatre lovers on a budget can often pay a mere £5 to see dress rehearsals of some of the biggest productions so check out the website for more details.The Crucible is home to the World Snooker Championships, held annually since 1977 and with the audience on 3 sides of the stage a trip to this theatre makes for a more intimate encounter than at the Lyceum (saw Oliver! at the Crucible over Christmas which was fantastic). The Lyceum opened in 1897, but was converted into a bingo hall (!) in 1968, reopening as a theatre in 1990, thanks to Sheffield City Council. Whichever theatre you choose, you will undoubtedly be in for a good night.

3) Ecclesall Road: Affectionately nicknamed ‘Eccy Road’, this road to the west of the city is known for its large variety of restaurants, bars and independent shops. Many students live in the Hunters Bar vicinity, ensuring prices aren’t extortionate. I’ve heard good things about Cocoa Wonderland, a chocolate shop/café where you can have your very own ‘chocolate lock-in’ (Choc-in?). Maybe I’ll venture in soon. 

4) Tamper Coffee: My favourite Sheffield cafe, Tamper promises to bring a slice of New Zealand contemporary café culture to the streets of Sheffield. There are now two of these amazing places, the original intimate Tamper can be found at 9 Westfield Terrace (just off West Street) whereas the new larger ‘Sellers Wheel’ branch (near the train station) at 149 Arundel Street has wooden benches and quirky decorations which wouldn’t look out of place in the cafés of Kreuzberg and Williamsburg. Tamper has FABULOUS coffee and friendly staff (also very attractive, always a plus). I went to the Sellers Wheel branch on Christmas Eve for coffee and probably the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t live so close, otherwise I would undoubtedly be nursing a Flat White here every weekend…

Tamper Sellers Wheel (courtesy of Trip Advisor)

5) The Showroom Cinema: Located in the Cultural Industries Quarter in an art deco building dating back to 1936, (close to Tamper!) The Showroom is one of the Europe’s largest independent cinemas. Guardian readers voted it their favourite independent cinema in 2002, so it must be good. The Showroom screens a mixture of blockbusters as well as cult indie and foreign language films. There are also regular film festivals and special events. Much better than any of the cinema chains.

6) Millennium Galleries and Winter Gardens: The Millennium Galleries (also close to The Showroom and Tamper!) opened in 2001 and is Sheffield’s largest art gallery (use the escalators to dodge one of the steep hills which lead from the train station into the city centre). Exhibitions change regularly and admission to most of the rooms is free, so there’s no excuse not to visit. Permanent displays include the Metalwork Gallery, showcasing Sheffield’s interesting steel heritage. One end of the Millennium Galleries leads into the Winter Gardens, a huge conservatory home to exotic plants from around the world (there’s also a couple of small cafés and lots of benches for you to take in the views). Also free!

Entrance to the Winter Gardens (courtesy of BBC South Yorkshire)

7) Parks: It would be silly to write about Sheffield without mentioning green spaces, given that Sheffield is reputedly the UK’s greenest city, with more trees than people (3:1 is the estimated ratio). Western Park on the Western Bank (one mile from the city centre) is lovely (and has a nice free museum too), as is Graves Park near Norton. My favourite green space is the Sheffield Botanic Garden, located off Ecclesall Road. The gardens are huge and it’s the perfect place to stroll around in spring/summer, also playing host to numerous summertime events, where attendees can pack a picnic and watch live performances for a very modest fee (I went to the Big Band night in 2012 with wine, chorizo and cheese in tow, perfect evening in my opinion).

8) Musical heritage: Ask anyone what they associate with Sheffield and music will undoubtedly come up. Sheffield has one of the best music scenes in Britain and a whole host of acts hail from the steel city (Jarvis Cocker, the Human League, Def Leppard, Arctic Monkeys, Milburn, Reverend and the Makers, Moloko, Richard Hawley, Joe Cocker and the Long Blondes to name a few). Jarvis Cocker has even made a 56 minute Musical Map of Sheffield which is definitely worth checking out if you have a spare hour;

Although its musical heritage is perhaps not quite as prominent as it once was Sheffield is nowadays home to the Tramlines Festival, held each July throughout the city where music fans can see a mixture of established and up and coming artists (my personal highlight was Annie Mac in the Octagon). Alas, since 2013 Tramlines is no longer a free event, however tickets are still ridiculously cheap when compared to other music festivals of this size.

Obviously there are places where music fans can see live acts throughout the year. The arena, close to Meadowhall (massive shopping centre for those who are unfamiliar) hosts large acts, Disney on Ice and old crooners (I avoid it), whereas more alternative acts can be seen in the much loved Leadmill (also a nightclub), Plug (also a nightclub) and the Harley, self proclaimed home of lazy posers (also a hotel/bar).

9) Devonshire Quarter: The area around West Street and Division Street close to the University of Sheffield is more commonly known as the Devonshire Quarter. This is the alternative Sheffield city centre, home to vintage shops, quirky bars and numerous restaurants. Unsurprisingly it’s also the place to be seen come Friday/Saturday evening. Here are my Devonshire Quarter favourites:

Devonshire Quarter (National Archives image)

The Forum: Shopping centre, music venue, bar, restaurant, this place has it all. One of the best night-time hotspots.

Bungalows and Bears: Cosy bar and food venue during the day this place really livens up at the weekend, attracting the hipster/alternative crowd.

Cow: Vintage shop on West Street (also in Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester). I’ve bought a few bargains here across the years.

The Great Gatsby: Described as a ‘veritable chameleon of a bar’ this place has a sunny beer garden at the back and is always packed at the weekend.

The Frog and Parrot: music bar (photo features in the first Arctic Monkeys album I’ll have you know). Food, ale, you get the idea.

10) The Peak District: Strictly speaking not Sheffield, but you couldn’t write about the Steel City without mentioning the Peaks. It would be unjust to condense all there is to see/do/marvel at in a short paragraph (I feel another blog coming on), but must sees are Bakewell, Eyam, the Edges (Stanage, Curbar, etc) and Edale.

Curbar Edge

Curbar Edge

So, there were my Sheffield favourites, what are yours?

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