You’d be forgiven for thinking that Sheffield Festival City was another fitting moniker for our multi-tasking city. Now home to some of the UK’s most innovative cultural festivals, festival tourism is growing here every year, and who are we to get in its way?
Here’s a mini guide to the top times of year to visit Sheffield for culture.
Art Sheffield – March/April (biennial)
Every other year the city opens its doors for a spectacular festival of contemporary art.
Exhibitions, film screenings, talks, and fringe projects can be found in galleries all across Sheffield, as well as more unusual spaces which, last time, included old cutlery works, a park, and a yet-to-be-demolished Castle Market. There's always a lot to pack in – so put a whole day or two aside to make the most of it.
DocFest – June
Each June screens across Sheffield redirect their audiences' attention from fiction to fact, for six heady days. Sheffield Doc/Fest (full name Sheffield International Documentary Festival) ships in documentary films and their creators from around the world, putting together an amazing programme that, year on year, gets ever more diverse and compelling.
The festival was set up in 1994 and held at the brand new Showroom cinema. Back then it was the only documentary festival in the UK. Today, having outgrown the city's cinemas, its screenings reach as far as the caves and country estates of the Peak District, and it's one of the most important documentary festivals in the world. Not only does Doc/Fest showcase incredible stories, it also champions innovative use of new media and technology in the act of storytelling.
Tramlines – July
No other festival takes over the city and brings people together quite like Tramlines. Extending its limbs far and wide across Sheffield, Tramlines brings all kinds of music to all manner of places for one weekend each July.
The big names on the bill tend to focus around central venues, including Ponderosa Park, the Harley, the Leadmill and Sheffield Cathedral. Between the leafy branches of Endcliffe Park is the Folk Forest, a corner of acoustic calm away from the city centre bustle. The buskers bus, meanwhile, bombs around the city, keeping passengers entertained as local musicians play bumpy sets on the top deck. And on top of all that, pubs, bars and clubs all over the place create their own line-ups for free Tramlines fringe gigs.
With so much going on, there are countless ways to enjoy the festival.
Festival of the Mind – September (biennial)
Festival of the Mind is a biennial, cross-city event devoted to creating something new and engaging out of academic research. Organised by the University of Sheffield, the festival puts academic and creative heads from the city together, to collaborate on projects that inventively and imaginatively express a certain area of study.
Expect a programme ranging from music documentaries to digital installations; lively philosophical debates to reenactments of scientific experiments; robotic artists to innovative feats of engineering. It's designed to feed your mind.
Sensoria – September
Opening in late September each year, Sensoria is a festival of film, music and digital art. It pops up at cinemas, bars and exhibition spaces across the city, as well as the odd less traditional location.
Since it started out in 2008, Sensoria has projected films in places we would never have anticipated making for decent cinemas. It's staged bands and installations in buildings that we'd thought were completely out of bounds. Like the law courts that acted as cinema for courthouse classic 12 Angry Men. Or the outdoor swimming pool at Hathersage, where the audience swam along with Jean Reno in The Big Blue.
It’s not your average festival, so prepare to be awed and entertained.
Off the Shelf – October
Off the Shelf is Sheffield's festival of words. Running for around a month each autumn, Off the Shelf always has a packed line-up of talks from world famous authors, renowned poets and famous folk off the telly, as well as some interesting and knowledgable locals.
Over the years Off the Shelf has also commissioned poems from several renowned poets, including Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Andrew Motion, that you'll find written large on the sides of Sheffield's buildings, in its libraries, and on monuments – pick up Our Favourite Places' Poetic Tour of Sheffield to find out more (£1 from their online shop or Millennium Gallery).