Sheffield, England

So, the long awaited Sheffield post… Sheffield is not the most exciting area in England, not gonna lie; however, it is a pretty nice place to live. It is also on the edge of the Peak District, so if you’re headed out there at some point, here are some things to do to kill some time in Sheffield.

#1 The Crucible & Lyceum Theatres: I spent a large portion of my expendable income in those two buildings, and they are on par with a large number of West End and Off-West End productions in London. From large scale musicals like Enron to tiny experimental theatre projects like Tea is an Evening Meal, the diversity offered in their programming is wonderful. The main thing I would suggest from a cultural standpoint is to experience a panto if you’re in the area around November or December. The year I was living there, they performed Peter Pan. I had no idea it was a panto (or even what panto was, since we don’t have that in America), and actually found that I hate panto and was not a huge fan of the production, but it was, without a doubt, the most uniquely British theatre experience I had all year (coincidentally, my Japanese friend was equally befuddled by the performance). Tickets can be purchased online through the Sheffield Theatres website, or you can buy them in person at the Crucible in City Centre.

#2 The Showroom Workstation: If live theater isn’t your thing, check out the Showroom cinema, which shows assorted indie and popular films, as well as some old classics. It’s got a lovely bar and a decent selection of food as well for meeting up with your mates before or after a show. Occasionally they also have live music in the bar. Tickets are reasonably priced – for students they were £4 Sunday-Thursday and there were often deals through Groupon and Living Social.

#3 Wander through City Centre: In the heart of Sheffield, right across from the Cathedral tram stop, is a large shopping, eating, all around everything area. There are several gorgeous buildings to check out including the Cathedral, City Hall, and Town Hall. Outside of Town Hall on the sidewalk are embedded the names of all the famous Sheffieldians. There are always lots of buskers and events happening in this area. My personal favorite is around Christmas when they build Santa’s Grotto (an amusing phrase to me, because at home we totally don’t visit Santa’s Grotto… it always made me think of the ghetto) and install an ice skating rink. They also have tons of winter-y food stands full of amazing and delicious food. If you walk through this area, you’ll come to the Moor, which is sometimes mocked for being the cheap part of town, but as a grad student there, it was pretty much where I lived. I loved a small store called Stone the Crows – definitely worth popping into.

#4 Football: If you aren’t so interested in the arts and sports are more your thing, Sheffield has two football teams – Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. A friend of mine took me to experience my first British Football game and an experience it was. The security at these things is crazy, I mean, the police are a presence in America, but in the UK they’re part of the experience. The history of crazy football game riots has not left Sheffield untouched – there was a massive stampeding accident at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium years ago that killed several people. At any rate, the match was a lot of fun and actually made a very lazy football fan out of me (and by very lazy I mean, I’d tell you I’m a Blades supporter, but I have no idea how they’ve done this season, I sort of just like the Pirate).

#5 Cholera Monument & Clay Woods: Sheffield has a fair amount of hiking. There is a 10 mile or so hike called the Sheffield Round Walk that I always wanted to do, but never managed to quite complete. I did do several of the bits at different times. One nice walk I took was up to the Cholera Monument. Back in the early/mid 1800s, so many people died of Cholera in the city that they had to create a mass grave to bury them. This monument marks the spot and it’s actually a nice little park with a fantastic view down to the heart of the city.

#6 Sheffield Botanical Gardens: The botanical gardens are another nice walk. If you go down Clarkehouse Road from the city centre, it’s impossible to miss. Inside is a large and lovely park, full of all sorts of plants and flowers. My favorite area is the old bear pit, which you can go in and explore as it is now vacant of all bears. I always thought it would be a cool place for a performance piece. The park also hosts a number of activities that you can check out through their website.

#7 Beer & Cider Festivals: If you are in Sheffield in the spring and into the summer, there are lots of beer and cider festivals. They’re advertised everywhere and are pretty reasonable. I like them even though I’m not a big fan of beer (although cider and I are on pretty good terms). The craziest thing I tried at one of them was the Tactical Nuclear Penguin by a company called BrewDog – it’s 32% ABV and it’s more like a beer shot than anything else… I wasn’t a huge fan. At the time, it was the strongest beer in the world. Since then BrewDog has surpassed the Tactical Nuclear Penguin and it currently in competition with a Dutch company to create the strongest beer (notably though, their current strongest beer is served in a road kill koazie. No joke). Most beer festivals live music as well, so they’re an all around great place to spend an evening with friends.

#8 Aerial Extreme: Aerial Extreme started out as a whim with a Living Social coupon. I was looking for different things to do when people visited me and I came across this, so with no real knowledge of what I was buying, I purchased a buy one/get one admission. I actually thought it would be like a little kid playground. We had to take the tram out of the city centre towards the Motorpoint Arena (same stop), and as we walked up to the course, it all looked a little sketchy. The area was totally deserted and the whole thing looked a little lame. Boy, were we wrong. This course kicked my butt. I was so proud of myself when I completed it. I was actually a little astonished it existed in England considering how health & safety crazy they are compared to the States. That’s not to say the course isn’t safe, you do wear a harness that you are firmly connected to the course with at all times. That harness doesn’t make the course any easier though. I can’t recommend this as an activity enough, it was so much fun. Tickets are £20 per adult, but if you keep an eye out on Groupon and Living Social, you’re likely to see deals. I know it popped up more than once while I was living there.

Home of Sheffield Theatre Students Through the Ages…

#9 Places to Eat & Drink: Honestly, I was pretty lame while living in Sheffield and didn’t really broaden my eating or drinking horizons, but I did have a few regular places I enjoyed. The main place that sucked up a lot of my money was the West End pub, located next door to the Sheffield Drama Studio. Reasonably priced, decent atmosphere and tolerable food, I suspect the main reason we frequented it so much was it’s proximity to all of our classes, none the less, it was the main hang out for my MA group. If you’re looking for a quick take-away bite, I enjoyed New Roots, just down Glossop Road a bit further – possibly my favorite vegetarian place to eat, granted, as I’m not a vegetarian, it’s a pretty short list, but the food was genuinely good. If I had any idea how to cook like that, I probably could be a vegetarian. One place I miss far more than I should is the Fancie Cupcakes kiosk in the Sheffield Student Union. I have never had cupcakes like that in my life. They were so good, it was unbelievable. Fancie is actually a chain, so you can get these amazing cupcakes in several locations in Sheffield. Finally, one of the best places to grab a beer in Sheffield is the Sheffield Tap, located right at the train station. They have an extensive selection of beer and a nice ambiance.

#10: Steel City Ghost Tours: I saved the best for last. I love ghost tours. I love the weird, campy theatricality of them, and I like the creepy locations. I think that a ghost tour relies entirely on how good of a tour guide you have, and Mr P Dreadful was exactly what his name suggested. Without a doubt, he was the worst ghost tour guide I have ever experienced. I’m not sure he’s ever taken an acting class in his life and his story telling was unbelievably dull. At one point during the tour, one of the friends I talked into coming turned around and said to me, “We’ve just made a mistake, is all, a terrible, terrible mistake,” in reference to our decision to attend the tour. You know how something can be so bad, it’s good? This is not that tour. As students, we paid £4, but I believe the regular adult admission is only £5. Why am I even telling you this based on what I’ve just written? Because the night did indeed wind up unbelievably weird and worth £4 by the end of it. After an interminably 1.5-2 hours of really poorly told stories, you are deposited at a “haunted” pub. While there, Mr P Dreadful tells you stories of his life and his psychic abilities that are so odd and unbelievable, the evening truly does become entertaining at this point. While talking about himself, Dreadful is far more relaxed, entertaining and to the point than during his long winded  spiels about the actually rather dull ghosts of Sheffield. All in all, it was a  much better than evening than just wasting away in a pub or catching a movie for the 100th time.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to stop by Sheffield for a few days. There’s more to the Steel City than just being the gateway to the Peak District.

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