Michelle Mannion uncovers indoor gardens, trendy music venues and a rich art scene on a walking tour of the Yorkshire city.
Graves Art Gallery
Start your tour at this impressive gallery on Surrey Street, ten minutes’ walk from the station – it showcases eclectic pieces from the past 500 years. Situated on the third floor of the attractive art deco Central Library, Graves Gallery opened in 1934 at the behest of John George Graves, a local entrepreneur and keen art collector who gifted almost 700 works to the city. It displays everything from 16th-century Dutch paintings to a Turner landscape, a sketch by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, bronze sculptures by Henry Moore and Picasso, oil paintings by Matisse and Gauguin, and a striking self-portrait of Sam Taylor-Wood.
Open Wed-Fri 10am-2pm and Sat 11am-3pm. Entry is free. Visit museums-sheffield.org.uk
Turn right when you leave the library and into Tudor Square, home to the Lyceum and Crucible theatres. The latter has played host to many productions over the years but is best known as the home of the annual World Snooker Championship. On your left is the Winter Garden, one of the largest urban glasshouses in Europe. The arch-shaped, 70-metre-long structure opened in 2003 and holds more than 2,000 plants, including towering palm trees and pines, eucalyptus, bamboo and cacti. It’s used variously as a public walkway, a shelter from the rain, a meeting spot and a setting for wedding photos, so it’s fun to people-watch. Open 8am-11pm (8pm Sun). The adjoining Ego Mediterranean restaurant in the Mercure St Paul’s hotel looks straight on to the garden and is handy for an express lunch.
At the far left-hand end of the Winter Garden you’ll see the entrance to the Millennium Gallery, which has showcased art, craft and design since 2001. You may find the Ruskin Collection intriguing – an unusual array of artefacts collected by Victorian writer John Ruskin – but the metalwork collection, which tells the story of the city’s light metal trades, is the highlight. A pre-eminent manufacturer of cutlery for many centuries – in the 1600s, three in five Sheffield men were cutlers – the finest of the city’s handiwork is displayed here, with knives and spoons dating back to the 13th-century sitting alongside modern pieces. In the foyer, check out Johnny White’s charming Barking up the Wrong Tree, a giraffe sculpture made of cutlery.
Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm; entry is free. Visit museums-sheffield.org.uk
Cut back to the Winter Garden and exit to the left – you’ll find yourself in Millennium Square and the Peace Gardens. First laid out in 1938 and originally known as St Paul’s Gardens, after the church that previously stood here, the gardens fast garnered their “peace” nickname with the onset of the Second World War, and were officially named so in 1985. A recent redevelopment has created a pleasant space with lawns, a fountain and cascading water features that in good weather is popular with lunching locals. Have a seat and take in the Town Hall, which the gardens front on to. Built in the 1890s, the imposing Gothic structure was opened by Queen Victoria, though legend has it that she wouldn’t get out of her carriage as the streets were too dirty. The 64-metre-tall clock tower is topped by a statue of Vulcan, the god of fire and metalworking.
Bungalows and Bears
At the top of Pinstone Street, continue up the main shopping avenue of Fargate and have a look at Sheffield Cathedral. One of the oldest buildings in the city, parts of it date back to the 12th century, though an extension added in the sixties has some weathering to go before it blends in properly. Retrace your steps and continue on to Barker’s Pool, past City Hall, on to Division Street. You’re now entering the Devonshire Quarter, home to a smattering of independent shops and bars. One of the latter worth popping into is Bungalows and Bears, a laid-back spot in a former fire station. Sheffield is well known for its music scene – acts to have come out of here include Joe Cocker, Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys – and this venue continues the tradition, having hosted gigs by artists such as Richard Hawley (also a Sheffielder) and Gruff Rhys. The look is suitably industrial, with exposed brick walls, big windows, lived-in leather sofas and LP covers adorning the walls. Food is served all day and there is a decent selection of beers on tap.
Open 10am-12am (until 1.30am Fri-Sat, from 12pm Sun); bungalowsandbears.com
Rare and Racy
Continue on to Devonshire Street, taking a peek into the Forum shopping arcade, where you’ll find Dirty Harry’s music shop, a men’s fashion boutique and Golden Harvest – a smoking shop selling “everything you need except the weed”. It’s quite amusing watching sheepish students peruse the bongs and other paraphernalia on offer. Walk to the end of the street for a more refined experience. Open since 1969, Rare and Racy (at number 164-166) is a treasure trove of second-hand books, music and art. Tomes on every topic, ranging from 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps to an early edition of Lolita, pack shelves reaching to the ceiling. Almost every inch of the walls are covered with antique paintings by local artists, vintage children’s annual covers and prints of rock stars. There’s a wide range of classical and jazz vinyl, along with CDs, tapes and comics.
Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; rareandracy.co.uk