Set deep in a valley of seven hills, Sheffield with its illustrious industrial past remains forged in steel yet offers a surprisingly cosmopolitan, welcoming and varied option for a weekend destination. I’ve accumulated and sifted testimonials from many locals from the city and added my own knowledge, gleaned from growing up in the city and frequently travelling back there to visit friends and family.
Stay in this welcoming, modern city with a village vibe to get to know what drives it, discover its industrial past and have a great time. Enjoy the many bars and restaurants in the Purple Flag awarded centre and be ready to be endearingly referred to as “love” or “duck”.In a related post, I’ll recommend the 10 Best Places to Eat in Sheffield, again recommended by locals as well as myself. There’s also a section at the end of this post on my favourite places to stay. If it’s beer you’re after, you won’t be disappointed as Sheffield has many craft and real ale pubs on offer. Take a look at my other post on the 10 Best Craft Beer & Real Ale Venues in Sheffield.
Photo Courtesy: Photo by Kateryna Babaieva from Pexels
1 Delve Into History - Weston Park Museum
I really love the Weston Park Museum which is free to enter and has a vast range of permanent and temporary collections, usually with a fresh local theme. The imaginative approach helps bring to life Sheffield’s industrial past. The surrounding park also makes for a pleasant stroll. The museum can be found close to Sheffield University by heading up out of the City Centre along West Street (the University tram stop is five minutes away on Upper Hanover Street). Oh, and did I say, it’s free to enter.
Photo: Sheffield Museums
2 Take A Hike In The Peak District
Not many people realise that almost a third of Sheffield sits within the boundaries of the Peak District National Park. A short drive, train journey or bus ride (or if you’re feeling fit a cycle ride) takes you directly into the heart of the High Peak, an area of breath-taking beauty. If you’re catching the train from Sheffield station, you’ll be whisked to another world such as the village of Edale, which sets you up nicely to hike to the summit of Kinder Scout via the infamous Jacob’s Ladder. Trains also stop at Bamford where you can hike along Bamford Edge for stunning views of the Ladybower Reservoir, Hathersage for its excellent outdoor heated swimming pool, or Grindleford for the jaw-dropping views afforded by Curbar Edge. You can see my post on this easy, rewarding walk here. Please keep an eye on my Hiking blogs section for other walks in the Peak District.
3 Chill Out Under The Canopy of the Winter Garden
The award winning, iconic Winter Garden brings the tropics to Sheffield in one of the largest temperate glasshouses built for a hundred years. It houses more than 2,500 plants from every corner of the globe and is set under a stunning arched glass canopy. Combine with a trip to the close by Millennium Galleries and perhaps lunch in one of the restaurants at the adjacent Peace Gardens. Find the Winter Garden in the heart of the City next to the Town Hall.
Photo: The Outdoor City
4 Catch a Play, Concert or Panto In The Theatre Quarter
Leave the Winter Garden via its Surrey Street doorway and you’ll find yourself in Sheffield’s Theatre Quarter. Set around a paved square, just along the street from the gothic looking Town Hall, it’s home to the famous Crucible Theatre, best known for hosting the World Snooker Championships, with its unique three-sided stage. Next door, the beautifully renovated Lyceum Theatre provides a wonderful venue for plays, pantomimes and concerts. The larger City Hall, is a short walk away on Barker’s Pool by the Cenotaph, and provides an intimate venue for pop and rock concerts. If film is more your thing, then The Light is a new multi-screen cinema with 4D viewing on The Moor shopping street in the city centre, as there are also cosy independent cinemas such as the Showroom and Curzon cinemas. Both offer occasional film making workshops and presentations.
Photo: Sheffield Theatres
5 Zap Some Space Invaders At the National VideoGame Musuem
The “NVM” (National Videogame Museum) is a new attraction to the city and celebrates one of the fastest growing global industries – video games. You can explore how video games are designed and made and, even more excitingly, get to play some of the most iconic games from the 80s and 90s as well as more contemporary digital offerings. There are also workshops where you can learn how to make your first tentative steps toward being a game developer or professional gamer.
As an added bonus, next door is the trendy Kommune street food hall and bar, for lunch or a snack to recharge your alien zapped energy.
6 Get Cultured At The MillenNium Galleries
Located close to the Peace Gardens, The Millennium Galleries host a collection of arts and craft galleries offering a varied range of ever-changing displays and exhibitions from fine and contemporary artists. Entry to the main exhibit is usually free, some temporary exhibitions may require a small fee (or donation) to enter.
7 Go Tropical In The Botanical Gardens
Just a short walk from the City Centre, the free to enter Botanical Gardens provide over 19 acres of heritage and architecture in addition to a Grade II listed glass pavilion brimming with exotic plants. Winding trails let you leisurely stroll through 18 different spaces, each with its own geographical or botanical theme. The Evolution Garden includes a 312 million years old Lepidodendrim tree-like fossil.
Much loved by children of all ages is a rare Grade II listed Bear Pit which can be found hidden between the recently renovated Mediterranean and Himalayan gardens. As a small child I recall racing my brother to the infamous Bear Pit, convinced there were real bears still prowling around in its shadows. Thankfully the trustees were sensible and wild animals have not been kept for many years.
Photo: The Outdoor City
8 Discover Sheffield's Heritage At Kelham Island Museum
One of my favourite school trips as a child, the Kelham Island Industrial Museum never fails to engross its visitors in bygone eras of Britain’s industrial prowess and world leadership.
Exhibits include one of only three remaining Bessemer Converter’s in the world (see photo) and a working steam engine, built in 1905 and used to roll armour plate for WW1 Dreadnought warships.
Whilst there, call in at the Peddlar’s Warehouse, especially if there’s a Night Market in progress, and enjoy great street food and a wonderful, shabby-chic vibe. See my upcoming Where to Eat in Sheffield post for further details.
Photo: The Kelham Island Museum Trust
9 Discover More About Sheffield's Heritage at Magna
If Kelham Islands sparks your curiosity about Sheffield’s glorious industrial history, take a tram or taxi to the outskirts of the City. By the M1 motorway and the Meadowhall shopping mall you’ll find the Magna Science Adventure Centre, a collection of themed exhibit rooms located in a giant, previously abandoned steel mill.
The many interactive exhibits aim to deliver a history of steel production in the city but manage to do so in an engaging way, making it suitable for all ages. The “Big Melt” for example, is an enormous electric arc furnace brought to life with a light, sound and special effects show giving you (literally due to the vibrations in the steel walkways) a feel for what it must have been like working in this gigantic steel mill.
Kids of all ages will love this museum due to its many “hands on” exhibits and shows (and also the excellent play park outside the main entrance).
10 See It All and Take a City Walking Tour
I always love to take a walking tour at the start of a trip to any city as it’s a green way to establish your bearings and plan the rest of your stay. Sheffield has several options for guided or self-guided walking tours.
Some walks take you around the main landmarks and point out the historical highlights of Sheffield’s industrial past, others focus on street food or locally brewed craft beer, ciders and spirits. In either case, you’ll discover hidden gems, like undiscovered walled gardens, delightful cafes and pubs that only the locals know about, and great street photography opportunities.
10+1 Delve Beneath The Surface On an Urban Caving Adventure
I’m going to cheat and allow myself to add an extra activity, which is okay because it isn’t available all of the time…
My niece made this rather unique and intriguing suggestion for whiling away a couple of hours. It will take you into the rarely seen underbelly of Sheffield. You’ll be escorted down into the maze of Sheffield’s underground Victorian storm drain network, known as “Megatron”, for what the website describes as “audio-visual spectacular”, including stories of criminals, murderers and general near-do-wells.
It’s a seasonal event, usually to coincide with various arts and film festivals and gets booked up well in advance, so check out the website for dates and booking details.
Safety equipment is provided but take your own wellies, gloves and a change of clothes as you’re likely to get a little wet!
Photo: Kerry Miskelly
Festivals & Special Events
In addition to this list of 10+1 wonderful things to do, Sheffield offers a wealth of exciting, regular special events, including the world famous Tramlines Festival of Music. This is an apt theme for a festival considering Sheffield’s heritage, bringing the world pop and rock bands such as The Arctic Monkeys, The Human League, Pulp, Def Leppard, ABC and Joe Cocker.
Every July Sheffield is taken over by pop, rock and most other music genres in a vast orgy of live music shows, food stalls and general happiness. Tickets for the main concerts sell quickly so book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Photo: Sheffield City Council
This festival of ghouls, zombies and ghosts usually takes place to coincide with Halloween. Some shows and activities need tickets but there’s usually a fairground with rides, food markets as well as free to participate in street theatre, face painting and other Halloween themed activities. Fancy dress is not mandatory, but why wouldn’t you?
Throughout March Sheffield showcases its claim to being “The Outdoor City” and brings together the vast number of organisers of outdoor groups, clubs and sports events across the city, providing one off shows, events, competitions and exhibitions.
An annual film, theatre and the arts festival held in June.
For over 45 years, every September or October Sheffield showcases the best of its brewing industry as well as allowing revellers to sample beers from every corner of the UK and worldwide. Street food markets keep you fuelled as you stagger from pub to pub, venue to venue, drinking yourself into a very pleasant stupor.
Sheffield is served by a modern railway station with mainline services to London, Manchester and most large UK cities, as well as the nearby Peak District. The station is close to Sheffield Hallam University campus and a short walk to most hotels.
You can walk to most of the attractions listed above and there is a tram system, rather grandiosely called the Supertram, that will take you to the out-of-town shopping mall at Meadowhall (if you really must – it’s known locally as MeadowHELL and for good reason). Uber offer a taxi service across the city, and the local taxi companies also have apps for ordering rides from your phone.
There is also an extensive bus network, albeit one that is a shadow of its “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” subsidised past, where a ride anywhere across the city would cost 2p for a child or 5p for an adult. In my teens, I recall one bus route being particularly good taking a long two hour circular route around almost the whole city, providing a good way to be able to hang out with your mates despite the worse the Sheffield climate could throw at you.
Places To EaT
There are so many great restaurants, cafes, bars and street-food venues across the city, I’m going to write a dedicated post on Eating in Sheffield. Please bear with me, I’ll post it soon.
Photo: Peddlar’s Warehouse
Places To Stay
I’ve focussed on City Centre hotels, or those just a short walk from there. There are also many splendid country hotels set amongst the green outskirts in the North or South of the city. You could also stay in the Peak District and drive or get the train into town if you prefer.
My favourite hotel (large, modern rooms, great bar, convenient for City Centre, free parking) is the hotel at the Sheffield United stadium, but this is temporarily closed as it transitions through a change of hotelier.
Located right in the City Centre in a renovated Victorian building that used to be government offices (I remember getting my first student grant from there in the late 80’s, actually paid in cash in a brown envelope!). The Leopold has the rather unique and welcome option of a floor dedicated to solo female travellers. Unfortunately, due to its central location, there is no parking on site, but discounts are offered for the nearby multi-story options.
About 20-30 minutes walk along and set amongst the pleasant tree-lined Victorian and Edwardian streets of Sheffield’s collegiate district. Close to the Botanical Gardens, this Edwardian hotel has free onsite parking.
Set right in the centre of the city beside the Winter Gardens, this is an upmarket option with great views from the suites if you want to push the boat out a little. It also has a swimming pool, but like the Leopold no car park though it does offer a valet parking service.
The Novotel is nearby but, in my honest opinion, isn’t a patch on the St Paul’s although it does have an underground car park and is usually a little less expensive.
A boutique option for a romantic stay, right next door to the Weston Park Museum in the heart of the University district and just a ten-minute walk to the main City Centre attractions.
There are plenty of IBIS and Premier Inn type places throughout the City Centre if you’re on a budget. There are also lots of good Airbnb apartments for rent, especially in the moody and slightly bohemian area of Kelham Island.
To Summarise - Should You Go?
To be frank, I am openly biased in my opinion. Sheffield is my home town and I lived there for the first 22 years of my life. I was educated there. I was born in a bedroom in a tiny “2 up, 2 down” terraced house just a stone’s throw from the football stadium on Bramall Lane.
But don’t let that dilute my recommendation, which is give Sheffield a go. As a City break destination, Sheffield has everything. There’s plenty to do, a heritage practically unique in the world, lots of good hotels, greenery galore, as much sport and outdoor activities you could need and, most importantly, a very warm Yorkshire welcome that cannot be surpassed anywhere else.
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