For an avid traveller who originally comes from the UK, I’ve visited surprisingly few major cities and areas in the country. However, since travel has become a lot more difficult since the beginning of the pandemic, eventually it was inevitable that I too would want to join in on the trend of exploring a bit more of my own country. I’ve spent around a month back in the UK visiting family, and while I’ve been here I decided to also visit a completely new city that’s been on my wishlist for a while – Sheffield!
Many of us who haven’t extensively travelled within the UK might know Sheffield mostly as the setting of old movies like The Full Monty, which is a humorous take on the economic downturn the city suffered as its traditional steel industry declined. However, the city has evolved a lot since its industrial days and is now a fun and vibrant destination that’s perfect for a weekend break. If you like cities with a bit of an industrial vibe mixed with plenty of greenery and a buzzing cafe/bar scene, then you might want to add Sheffield to your travel plans in the not-too-distant future.
I spent just a weekend there, from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, but that was enough time to have a good look around the city as well as a short trip out to the Peak District. In other words, 1-2 days is long enough to walk around all the city’s major areas, but it could also be worth staying a bit longer if you want to explore more of the surrounding areas, in particular the Peak District. In any case, I’ve gathered together a few ideas about things to do during a short trip to the Steel City.
Take a walk by the canal
One of the best things to do in Sheffield especially if the weather is on your side is to take a walk along its network of canals. This is a great way to get a taste of the city’s interesting combination of warehouse-style industrial architecture, waterways and greenery, plus there are a large number of cool cafes, bars and eateries located by the waterfront which are perfect for a summer’s evening drink. Whether you want a short stroll and then to stop for a coffee or beer, or to take a longer walk, there are plenty of different possible routes you could take starting from the city centre.
There was rain most of the weekend while I was there, but we were lucky enough to have a really sunny friday evening and I have to admit our walk culminated in a wine-tasting at one of the cool canalside bars. Prices are pretty reasonable especially when compared with London. The below wine ‘flight’ cost £12.
The city centre
As with any city, especially in the UK, there are more and less attractive areas of Sheffield, but like almost any city, it’s obviously worth sparing some time to look around the centre. Here the vibe is less industrial and there are typical modern city amenities like restaurants and bars, plus some more classic architecture, in particular the town hall, which makes me think of a small-scale Hogwarts, and the cathedral – not the most impressive one in the whole of the UK, but still worth a look. You can see more or less all there is to see in this area within 1-2 hours, or more if you want time to stop at one of the frankly disproportionate number of amazing coffee places that are dotted around the city. Trust me, you should make time to stop for at least one coffee while you’re here!
Kelham Island is a man-made island (actually it’s not quite an island since it’s connected to the mainland, but still…) which was constructed when they built a water mill to power a number of the nearby workshops.
The island is home to the Kelham Island Museum which is all about Sheffield’s industrial past. Tickets to the museum are completely free (you can make a donation if you wish), and booking is advisable due to covid, however we managed to get in without booking. Inside you can learn a lot about Sheffield’s history as a centre of metal industry and see various artifacts and exhibits including old-style steam engines. I think it’s a must-see to get some context about the city and how it was shaped by its industry.
Outside there’s also a pub with local brews in case you work up a thirst looking at all those engines and steel tools.
At this point you would be justified in thinking I spent most of my time in Sheffield drinking, but in fact you should also leave plenty of time for eating!
Vegan food (but not just!)
Almost every city in the UK now boasts a pretty reasonable vegan food scene and Sheffield is no exception. If you are of the vegetarian or vegan persuasion, I’ve selflessly tried a lot of food to ensure it’s all delicious. Spoilers, it is. Even if you’re not veggie, many of the options mentioned here are not strictly vegetarian and have options for all tastes. But they do all offer excellent vegan options in case you’re in the mood for a meat-free meal.
You might know the Botanist already since they have a few other locations in the UK as well, but since discovering it in Bath I am now a huge fan and decided to visit again in Sheffield. It has a stunning and very Instagram-worthy interior with loads of plants, plus an amazing menu where almost every option sounds delicious. The menu has a number of vegan options including a vegan roast on sundays and a vegan board/platter, as well as a range of other options with meat etc so a mixed group can easily dine here. I’m not a big cocktail fan but I make an exception here because the rhubarb and beetroot cocktail is incredible – a perfect mix of tart rhubarb and earthy beetroot that’s not too sweet or sickly. They’re not strong in terms of alcohol content and it’s likely you’ll be craving a 2nd one if you’re anything like me.
V or V
As you might guess from the name, this is a fully vegetarian venue with a mix of vegetarian and vegan options. It seems very popular so you’d probably want to book if you fancy eating here – tables were almost fully booked all weekend. If that doesn’t tell you how good this place is, maybe the photo of our food will! We had 5 vegan plates between 2 as suggested by the waitress, although this turned out to be rather a lot, so maybe go for 4 plates unless you’re absolutely starving. Everything was insanely good though, especially the papaya fritters and celeriac ‘wings’. I 100% recommend eating here – it’s a really nice change from ‘junk food’ style vegan food like burgers etc that are ubiquitous these days.
My coffee obsession knows no bounds and I’m definitely guilty of stopping for a coffee or two, or three, when I explore a new city. Maybe I’m wrong but I felt like Sheffield was one of the places with the highest concentration of cool coffee stops with great quality coffee and stylish interiors that I’ve visited in a long time. If you’re a fan of the good stuff, here are a few tried and tested caffeine purveyors to try.
A Scandi style interior, friendly staff (although friendly people are definitely not hard to come across in Sheffield) and delicious coffee. What more do you need? Gaard Coffee is fairly small inside but very relaxed and cosy and the coffees were delicious. They also have a range of snacks and pastries etc, including vegan options (try the chickpea sausage roll!)
Steam Yard is another typically-Sheffield coffee place with great coffee and loads of interesting sweet options. We may have gone a little mad ordering, as you can see below. Try the affogato with vegan coconut ice cream! It has a nice outdoor area with an industrial vibe, so I recommend sitting outside if possible.
The Grind Cafe
I didn’t take any photos of my coffee here (I guess you all know what coffee looks like by now anyway) but I did take a picture of my friend’s delicious-looking vegan brunch. The coffee was also really good and there were a number of seats both inside and outside. The Grind is located near to Kelham Island so it’s a good option if you’re heading to the museum or just looking around the island.
A day trip to the Peak District
Sheffield is located extremely close to the beautiful Peak District, which is an amazing spot for hiking and outdoor pursuits. Obviously the Peak District is a huge area and there are many ways to visit it. One option (as we did) is to take a bus from Sheffield to Castleton, a cute small town in the Peak District which has loads of things around to visit and is a good starting point for a large number of walks and hikes. The 272 bus takes approximately 50 minutes to travel from Sheffield city centre to Castleton so it makes a good day trip.
Once in Castleton there are several interesting things to do:
Peveril Castle is an old Norman fortress located on a steep hill overlooking Castleton. Entry costs £8.90 for an adult ticket and you need to pre-book a slot for covid reasons. However if you haven’t booked in advance it may still be possible to book last minute. Once you enter you walk up a steep hill (5-10 minutes walk depending on how fast you fancy marching up a hill) and can then explore the small ruins (I recommend about 45 minutes total for the visit). It’s certainly worth it for the view as well.
Peak Cavern / Speedwell Cavern
Unfortunately we didn’t actually get to enter Peak Cavern as there were no suitable timeslots left (yes, you guessed it, you need to pre-book for a particular time). Tickets are £15 each. The reviews are pretty good and it looked interesting from the outside which was all I got to see! Maybe next time. I also didn’t visit Speedwell Cavern but this sounds really intriguing since you can take a boat trip within the cavern which takes about an hour. Worth having a look if you manage to book it in time.
Mam Tor / hikes for all
Whether your level of hiking involves serious boots, sticks and weatherproof jackets or just sneakers and a hopeful attitude, you’ll find a suitable walk near Castleton. We had a go at hiking up the nearby hill, Mam Tor – pretty tiring walking up it but there’s a great view and it’s quite quick coming back down again! I’m not sure how busy this area normally is but it was very busy when we visited, probably due to increased local tourism due to restrictions on travel abroad. In any case you can choose from all kind of routes depending on your preferences and if you want to escape the crowds I’m sure it’s possible.
There are also plenty of places to grab a bite in Castleton, with lots of quaint tea rooms etc as you might expect from this type of town. We even found a vegan option here (vegan brunch in ‘1530’ in case you want to know).
All in all, Castleton is really well suited as a day trip out from Sheffield to get out of the city and experience some nature.
Where to stay
I don’t always like to comment on accommodation since everyone has different tastes/budget/requirements and usually I haven’t tried enough places to make a comparison, but the apartment we stayed in in Sheffield was so perfect I wanted to drop it as a recommendation here. We booked our apartment from a brand called Opulent Living via Booking.com – and for the price (around £75 a night for a 2 bedroom flat), I was pretty impressed. Accommodation prices in the UK are currently high as so many people are staycationing here and yet I thought this place was pretty good value considering the convenient central location, 2 bedrooms and bathrooms, plus beautiful interior decor. This was a pretty perfect stay for 2 people and I’d recommend it if you are staying in a group of 2-3.
Obviously a weekend isn’t enough time to see absolutely everything in and around Sheffield, so this was just a quick rundown of some of the stuff I did while I was there. If you’ve visited any of the above spots or have other recommendations, please let me and other Sheffield fans know in the comments!