Named by Time Out as a top place for a city break in 2022, Sheffield is a friendly university city in South Yorkshire and the 4th largest city in the UK. With more than one-third of the city located in the Peak District National Park, Sheffield also boasts five rivers, 800 (!) managed greenspaces and more trees per person than any other European city.
Once synonymous with its steel industry, today Sheffield is famed for its professional ice hockey team (the Sheffield Steelers) and the Crucible Theatre – host of the World Snooker Championships since 1977.
Travelling on a budget? There are so many free things to do in Sheffield, including checking out the fascinating heritage, thriving arts scene, superb parks and excellent museums.
With the fastest trains from London to Sheffield taking less than two hours, Sheffield is the perfect destination for a great day out from London or elsewhere in the UK.
Best Free Things To Do In Sheffield
Read on for my recommendations on why you should add the lovely city of Sheffield to your next UK trip.
1. Visit the Sheffield Botanical Gardens
Moments from Sheffield city centre, the botanical gardens are one of the most beautiful free attractions to enjoy when you visit Sheffield.
Winding paths lead you through amazing gardens based on geographical and botanical themes in this unique historical and architectural site. It’s in Sheffield city centre but feels a million miles away.
The gardens are particularly lovely on Spring mornings when the cherry trees are in bloom and in Autumn as the myriad trees blaze red, orange and russet.
2. The Bear Pit
The 19th-century Bear Pit was home to two bears until the 1870’s when a child fell into the pit and was fatally injured by the bears. The structure is the best surviving example of the cruel practice of bear baiting in the United Kingdom.
Today, a 2.4-metre tall steel sculpture of a bear (2.4 m tall) serves as a reminder of the former use of this structure. The bear was initially pale grey but designed to rust naturally, creating a realistic grizzly-brown colour.
3. The Winter Garden
Located next to the Peace Gardens and the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield’s Winter Garden is one of the largest and most beautiful temperate glasshouses in the UK.
The 70-metre long, 22-metre high building holds more than 2,500 plants from around the world. After browsing, there are cosy places to stop for light refreshments.
4. The Peace Gardens
Moments from the Winter Garden and Millennium Gallery, you’ll find the delightful Peace Gardens, the Goodwin Fountain and the Spanish War Memorial.
Formerly the churchyard of the 18th century St Paul’s Church, the Peace Gardens were originally called the St Paul’s Gardens. On the 6th August 1985 – Hiroshima Day – the gardens were dedicated as the Peace Gardens in the presence of three survivors of the atomic devastation of the city of Hiroshima.
Top Tip: Look out for the steel Bochum Bell that was presented to the people of Sheffield by the German city of Bochum in 1985. Find the bell in the top flowerbed on Pinstone Street.
Free Museums in Sheffield
Incredibly, Sheffield has more than a hundred museums and galleries, so you’re sure to find something to pique your interest when you visit.
Here are the best free museums in Sheffield that you won’t want to miss:
6. Weston Park Museum
Weston Park Museum was a private house within an extensive estate when it opened in 1875. Today, the museum tells the story of Sheffield – from pre-history to the present day. As the museum is located in a busy area with limited car parking, public transport is the best way to visit.
Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TP
7. The Alfred Denny Museum
For more than a century, biology students at the University of Sheffield were the only people who got to see inside this hidden treasure trove of fossils, jarred specimens and skeletons. It’s quite small, but really rather marvellous.
Today the museum hosts guided tours, allowing the public to see its bizarre exhibits, including the ‘terror bird’ and giant salamander. It’s undoubtedly one of the quirkiest things to do in Sheffield for free.
8. Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet
Visit the fascinating Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet to discover what life was like in the early 18th century for folk living and working at a rural scythe and steelworks and to learn how Sheffield earned its reputation as the Steel City.
The museum is a delight to potter around. You can explore the Manager’s House, a Worker’s Cottage and the Counting House, plus, you’ll see the waterwheels, the dam that powered the Hamlet, and the last surviving crucible steel furnace in the country.
Abbeydale Rd S, Beauchief, Sheffield S7 2QW.
9. Kelham Island Museum
Located in one of the city’s oldest industrial districts, Kelham Island Museum stands on a 900-year-old man-made island.
The museum opened in 1982 to tell Sheffield’s industrial story from the Victorian Era through to two world wars. Fantastic interactive galleries tell the story of steelmaking, from the light trades and skilled workmen to mass production.
Visitors learn what life and work were like in Sheffield during the Industrial Revolution and discover how steelmaking forged the steel city of today and the world!
Top Tip: Check out the massive Bessemer converter – one of only three left in the world!
Kelham Island Museum, Alma Street, Sheffield S3 8RY
10. Shepherd Wheel Workshop
In this knife-grinding workshop, visitors can learn about the dangerous and dirty job of knife-grinding. In fact, knife grinders only had a life expectancy of 26 years!
The old Mill was powered by a water wheel that’s still used for demonstration purposes. You can see the wheel drive belts, which turn the grinding wheels used to grind knife blades.
Hangingwater Rd, Sheffield S11 2YE
Free Historical Sites in Sheffield
11. The 16th Century Bishop’s House
The Bishops’ House is Sheffield’s best example of a timber-framed house. When it was built in 1554, in the short reign of ‘Bloody’ Queen Mary, the house was a remote farm surrounded by fields, while Sheffield was still a tiny village.
Expect to spend about an hour visiting the Jacobean-style rooms, looking at the cabinets of artefacts, and reading the detailed information boards. Afterwards, enjoy the fine view of Sheffield, or join the Sheffield Round Walk.
Lees Hall Avenue, Sheffield S8 9NA
12. Sheffield Manor Lodge
Once a vast medieval deer park, the Earl of Shrewsbury remodelled the medieval hunting lodge in the 16th century into one of the grandest manor houses in the North of England.
The most famous resident was Mary, Queen of Scots – cousin of Queen Elizabeth I – who was held prisoner in the Manor House from 1570 until 1584.
Today, only the Tudor gatehouse remains, although there are plenty of ruins to explore and beautiful wildflower meadows to wander and relax.
Top Tip: The excellent Rhubarb Shed Cafe serves supremely tasty treats. The cafe gets busy, so it’s best to reserve a table! Tel +44 (0)7375 366429
Open hours: Sundays only, from April to September.
197 Manor Ln, Sheffield S2 1UJ
13. Victoria Quays
Sheffield Cultural & Heritage Locations
14. Photograph Sheffield’s Street Art
If you love street art, you’ll love Sheffield! Some of the best places to spot graffiti in Sheffield city centre include:
- “Phlegm” (Snuff Mill Lane)
- “Now Then, Then Now” (Howard Street)
- “The birds” (Charles Street)
- “Fraud’s Isa” (Pitt Lane)
- “Metamorphosis” (Vincent Road)
15. Portland Works
Portland Works is a historic site of worldwide significance, as it was the first place in the world to manufacture stainless steel cutlery. Today, it’s home to around 30 independent makers who have their workshops within the building. It’s fabulous and fascinating to visit!
Portland Works, Randall St, Highfield, Sheffield S2 4SJ
16. The Women Of Steel Statue
Visiting the Women of Steel statue is one of the best things in Sheffield to understand the life of the city’s women in the early 20th century.
The bronze statue of two women steelworkers represents the thousands of South Yorkshire women who were conscripted to aid the war effort. These brave women took on demanding and dangerous jobs in factories and steel mills – replacing male workers who were away at war.
As the war ended, the women were dismissed – their vital role in the war effort relegated to history until four surviving women made a case for their work to be recognised.
Holly St, Sheffield City Centre, Sheffield S1 2HB
17. The Green Police Box
Before the advent of mobile communications, police boxes dotted the UK, enabling ‘Bobbies on the beat’ (patrolling police) to contact their station. Sheffield’s 120 police boxes were painted green and white and – unusually – were also used to detain suspects.
As radio communication became available, police boxes across the country disappeared, leaving only one remaining in Sheffield.
Surrey St, Sheffield City Centre, Sheffield S1 2LG
Discover the Outdoor City
Sheffield is one of the best places in the UK to explore outdoor spaces. Within the city, here are some incredible options:
18. Hike The Five Weirs Walk
The 7.5km Five Weirs Walk is a footpath and cycleway following a stretch of the River Don through Sheffield’s industrial heritage, from Lady’s Bridge in Sheffield city centre to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre. The walk is named after the weirs that contributed to Sheffield’s industrial evolution.
Most of the path follows the riverbank, and you can return to the city using the Blue Loop – a lovely 8-mile stretch of waterway.
✅ Download the Blue Loop route and points of interest here
19. Sheffield Round Walk
If you love hiking, the 14-mile Sheffield Round Walk is a scenic trail through the southwest of the city that you won’t want to miss!
From Hunter’s Bar, the route passes through picturesque valleys, including the Porter Valley, Limb Valley and Gleadless Valley, with pretty stretches through Ladies Spring Woods and Ecclesall Woods.
Part of the trail also runs through some of Sheffield’s beautiful parks – Graves Park, Meersbrook Park and Chelsea Park, before returning to Hunters Bar.
20. Rivelin Valley Trail
Nature lovers adore the superb 2 1/2 mile Rivelin Valley trail in the North West of Sheffield. Where rural industry once scarred the landscape, many types of plants, trees, animals and birds have taken over since the decline of the watermills,
The remains of 20 watermills and 21 mill dams from the 16th century onwards that were key to the success of Sheffield’s cutlery and steel industry of Sheffield are still visible, but the valley has been reclaimed by nature.
The best time to visit is Spring to enjoy bluebells, cow parsley, stitchwort and wood sorrel. Expect to see great and long-tailed tits, robins and wrens in the trees, and you may catch a glimpse of grey herons and kingfishers along the river. As dusk falls, look out for bats flying low over the mill dams!
21. Ecclesall Woods
One of the most beautiful bluebell woods in the UK is located in the southwest suburbs of Sheffield! Visit in April or May for the best display. The paths to the south of the Woodlands Discovery Centre are where you’ll find the most beautiful spots.
Sheffield City Parks
Sheffield is blessed with lovely city parks – it’s no surprise that it’s sometimes called ‘The Outdoor City’. Here are some of the best parks to explore:
22. Norfolk Heritage Park
Norfolk Heritage Park, in the south of Sheffield, is a 28-acre Victorian park with plenty of space for picnics, woodland to explore, and excellent views of the city.
23. Endcliffe Park
Beautiful Endcliffe Park is a peaceful place to meander, with trails, woods, a brook, weirs, ponds, and waterfalls to discover. There’s a great café with sublime hot chocolate in the Old cricket pavilion on the banks of the River Porter.
Top Tip: Nip across the stepping stones from the café to see the ‘Mi Amigo’ war memorial on the river’s opposite bank.
24. Forge Dam
The springtime walk from Endcliffe Park to Forge Dam is carpeted with bluebells. However, there’s much to see here all year round in this green haven, from babbling streams and tumbling waterfalls to quaint bridges and stepping stones.
Other lovely Sheffield parks that you may enjoy:
- Graves Park
- Millhouses Park: A water park located on the banks of River Sheaf, with a picnic area and a boating lake.
- Hillsborough Park: a vast, open space with a large lake, perfect if you are visiting Sheffield with your dog.
- Damflask Reservoir: a large lake perfect for a walk at the water’s edge before dining in one of the many nearby restaurants, pubs, and cafes.
Great Buildings in Sheffield
Free things to do in Sheffield city centre….
25. See Sheffield City Hall
Grade II listed Sheffield City Hall, located in Barker’s Pool, is a popular events venue. Before visiting Sheffield, check out the Sheffield City Hall events here.
Sheffield also has two beautiful cathedrals:
26. Sheffield Cathedral
There’s an entrance fee to visit many UK cathedrals. Sheffield Cathedral, however, is free to visit and worth exploring as the interior is stunning, with detailed architecture, stained glass windows and ceilings.
27. Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Marie
The Gothic revival St Marie’s Cathedral is tucked away in a quiet Sheffield street. Inside, the cathedral is rich with symbolic decoration, stunning stained glass, and intricately painted ceramic Victorian wall tiles.
Highlights include a fully restored 1875 Lewis Organ, over 200 decorative angels, and seven alabasters dating from the 15th century.
Free Galleries to Visit in Sheffield
In addition to all of the beautiful free museums in Sheffield, the city also has a diverse group of galleries without an entrance charge. Whether you’re a real art aficionado or you just want a quick browse, here are some of the best:
28. The Graves Gallery
Tucked away atop the Sheffield Central Library, on the corner of Surrey Street and Tudor Square, the Graves Gallery is filled with contemporary pictures and sculptures.
Check out the quirky 8-metre Comfort Blanket by Grayson Perry and enjoy the varied collection of temporary exhibitions.
29. The Millennium Gallery
Sheffield city centre is where you’ll find the Millennium Gallery. Drop in here to browse diverse collections ranging from archaeology and natural history to visual art and metalwork.
Check out the museum shop, too, for unique gifts and souvenirs. Many have a funny Yorkshire twist, including signs and mugs with typical Yorkshire sayings, such as “Ey Up” (Hello) and “Eee By Gum”.
30. Christmas Lights at Meadowhall Shopping Centre
Home to hundreds of shops, with brands ranging from luxury to high street, Meadowhall is easily accessible by tram and train, and car parking is free. It’s a great place to browse, plan your next purchase, or simply stop for coffee and people-watch!
Top Tip: The annual Christmas lights switch-on is a spectacular event and very popular.
Where To Stay In Sheffield
📍 Mercure Sheffield St Paul’s Hotel: This four-star hotel is located in the heart of the city, next to the Peace Gardens and directly opposite Sheffield City Hall.
The spacious rooms are well equipped, and some have stunning city views. There’s indoor heated swimming, and the excellent restaurant serves a variety of delicious international food, with a very good breakfast. If you prefer to eat out, you’ll be moments from Brown’s Brasserie and Bar.
We love this hotel for its excellent location. It’s perfect for visiting Sheffield’s main attractions and is only a 12-minute walk from Sheffield’s train station.
Conclusion – Free Things To Do In Sheffield 2022
There are so many free things to do in Sheffield, from the Botanical Gardens and glorious parks, to the myriad free museums and galleries, and Sheffield and incredible places to eat. You could easily spend a week in this vibrant, exciting city and not see everything. If you can, extend your trip, get your walking boots on and explore Sheffield!
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Planning a trip to Yorkshire or just want to read more about the county, take a look at what else I’ve written about it.
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