"Sheffield has declared its ambition is: ‘To be the most creative city in the UK by 2020.’ If current evidence is anything to go on, it’s well on its way."

Having produced some of the UK's greatest bands, Sheffield is now becoming known for its more alternative innovations. A theatre-owned pub (The Riverside), a critically acclaimed indie comedy film (Four Lions) and a helter-skelter slide in an office building (Electric Works) are just a few examples of the creative spirit that defines this northern gem. Having made it to the final rounds in the bid to be named 2013 UK City of Culture, Sheffield has moved into the spotlight, showing it's about much more than just steel and cutlery.

It's this entrepreneurial spirit that's driving the city in the 21st century. Currently in the middle of exciting redevelopment, with £1 billion poured into buildings and infrastructure - including the £15 million work on the Crucible Theatre and a city centre retail complex opening by 2014 - the watchwords are 'independent' and 'authentic'. So prepare for some energetic, gritty and surprising sights and experiences.

Arty smarty

Barely have you stepped out of the station than your eye is caught by huge lettering on the side of Sheffield Hallam University's Owen Building. What If? is a poem by former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. It could be argued that this sums up the attitude of this ballsy, can-do city.

From here it's only a few steps to the city's heart, where loads of things vie for your attention. The sleek, glass-and-concrete Millennium Gallery's four exhibition spaces showcase one of the world's finest metalwork collections as well as contemporary design and major touring exhibitions. Take the rickety lift to the top of Sheffield Central Library, where the recently renovated 1930s rooms of the intimate Graves Gallery hide a surprising collection, including Turner, Cézanne, Bridget Riley and Marc Quinn's stunning Kiss. After something thought-provoking? Head to the Site Gallery, nearby in Brown Street, which showcases cutting-edge art and installations, often by artists never before seen in the UK.

Park life

If, after all that art, you fancy just chilling out, there are green spaces aplenty. In fact, Sheffield is the greenest city in Europe, with 78 public parks, 10 public gardens and part of the Peak District National Park within its boundaries. The Winter Garden by the Millennium Gallery is a strikingly modern take on Victorian glasshouses with more than 2,500 plants from around the world. Next door are the lovely Peace Gardens, with magnolias and gunneras (prickly rhubarb), fountains and cascades.

To stretch your legs, take a walk along the River Don, an area once at the heart of the city's steel-making and now being revitalised with factories and mills turned into studios, apartments, bars and restaurants. Here, the Kelham Island Museum showcases Sheffield's industrial story from skilled craftsmen to mighty mass production. The names alone are impressive - Bessemer Converter, Grand Slam Bomb, River Don Engine - and provide a glimpse into the past.

Grub's up

Hungry? Victorian pub The Milestone turns out modern British food with pork from its own farm and local allotment vegetables. It's proved so popular that a sister pub, The Wig & Pen, has opened in the city centre. The Fat Cat in Alma Street offers award-winning vegetarian food, while the Kelham Island Tavern has twice been named CAMRA's National Pub of the Year. Discerning beer drinkers will feel at home in Sheffield; it boasts numerous breweries and regularly tops CAMRA's national poll for the city with the highest number of cask beers. If you've time before your train leaves, try The Sheffield Tap, the refurbished refreshment room at Sheffield Station.

A relaxed place for simple and seasonal food any time of the day is the cafe at Showroom, Sheffield's arthouse cinema. One of the largest independents in Europe, it is in the heart of the city's cultural quarter that also boasts the largest theatre complex outside London, including The Lyceum and the recently reopened Crucible Theatre.

The music scene in this city is legendary - birthplace of bands that include Cabaret Voltaire, Pulp and Arctic Monkeys. If you're looking for next-generation bands, check out pubs and bars like Devonshire Street's The Bowery. This area is also great for trendy cafés, and shops such as Forum for vintage clothes and vinyl. There's more vintage to be found in Heeley, while Ecclesall Road is worth a wander for quirky finds like Cocoa Wonderland.

When it's time to hit the sack, a great, albeit unusual, place to stay is on a narrowboat on the canal. Award-winning Houseboat Hotels offer everything you'd expect for overnight comfort while the gentle sway of the water lulls you to sleep. Prefer chic-boutique? The Leopold is a converted Georgian school with bold colours and double-height suites.

Sheffield has declared its ambition is: 'To be the most creative city in the UK by 2020.' If current evidence is anything to go on, it's well on its way.

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Festival fever

Sheffield Children's Festival
Children take centre stage with art and craft, storytelling, magicians, games, picnics and messy fun at venues across the city between 18 June-14 July.
Info: sheffieldchildrensfestival.org

Tramlines Festival 2012
An urban music festival that promises no tickets and no mud, playing in 70 venues around the city centre. Taking place between 20-22 July, the line-up includes We Are Scientists and Roots Manuva.
Info: tramlines.org.uk

Sheffield Jubilee Fayre
Historical re-enactments, horticulture shows, craft marquees, market stalls, traditional fairground rides and shows, this is a two-day bonanza at Norfolk Heritage Park from 26-27 August.
Info: welcometosheffield.co.uk

Sheffield Food Festival
Celebrating food and culture in Sheffield with chef demonstrations, tasting events and masterclasses in restaurants, cafés and bars across the city. Takes place from 14-16 September.
Info: welcometosheffield.co.uk



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