8 of the North’s most vibrant creative cities

Outdoor gig in Manchester

There’s never been a better time to visit Northern England’s cultural cities, whose galleries and theatres are packed with events and festivals, awards and ideas.

Our neat little round-up includes the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, an ever-changing display of some of the world’s greatest artworks, and a maritime city so excited about its role as UK City of Culture 2017 it’s planning more events than there are days in the year. 

So what are you waiting for… get stuck in!

1. Feel the buzz in Hull, the UK City of Culture 2017

Sporting the grand title of UK City of Culture 2017, and a cultural heritage that’s unique and eccentric, Hull is ready to show off its finest colours to the world by planning a whole year’s worth of events. A highlight will be the prestigious Turner Prize ceremony held at Ferens Art Gallery, where Britain’s elite art collectors rub shoulders with the country’s most exciting visual artists. Get a taste of what’s to come at Hull’s 2016 Freedom Festival, the city’s premier annual cultural event, with established international and emerging talent taking over the streets in a riot of colour, music and fun.

Find out more about Hull

2. Soak up the creativity of Manchester’s Northern Quarter

Alternative, bohemian and creative, the Northern Quarter is a uniquely ‘Mancunian’ neighbourhood. You can easily while away hours in its countless independent bars, cafes, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and vintage stores. Don’t miss Afflecks shopping emporium, with four floors dedicated to independent designers and traders, or The Manchester Craft and Design Centre, where you can pick up unique handmade gifts. The Northern Quarter is also one of the best places in the city for a night out. Taste local British ingredients at TNQ restaurant before heading to Apotheca to sample its range of quirky and inventive cocktails.

Find out more about Manchester's Northern Quarter

3. Get a dose of culture on the Quayside

The banks of the River Tyne and the thriving Quayside area of NewcastleGateshead form the city’s most fashionable district, packed with world-class cultural – and easy-on-the-eye – venues. You’ll find the curvaceous, shimmering Sage Gateshead, one of the world’s premier music venues, and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, which is housed in a towering former flourmill and free to explore. The BALTIC is also the perfect place for lunch or a cocktail at SIX, its rooftop restaurant and bar. The river views from here are simply stunning. No fewer than seven iconic and highly photogenic bridges span the River Tyne, including the unique Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Nicknamed the ‘Winking Eye’, it’s the world's first and only tilting bridge.

Find out more about NewcastleGateshead Quayside

4. Find world-class opera, ballet and art – all in Leeds

Opera North is the country’s national opera company in Northern England and one of Europe’s leading arts organisations. Don’t miss the chance to see their exciting, challenging and, above all, entertaining performances  in the splendid 19th century Leeds Grand Theatre. Northern Ballet is a powerhouse of inventive dance and one of the world’s best-loved dance companies, whose full-length ballets take audiences on a journey of emotions. 

Find out more about Leeds

5. Choose from Liverpool’s rich cultural gems


Liverpool has more museums and galleries than any other UK city except London, and is a magnet for leading international exhibitions, many of which are free. Tate Liverpool is a must-visit for contemporary art lovers, and is the UK’s most visited gallery outside London. FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) is the UK's leading media arts centre and offers a unique programme of exhibitions, film and participant-led art projects. Expect great things also from Liverpool Biennial 2016 (9 July – 16 October) including Sir Peter Blake’s Everybody Razzle Dazzle, which covers an iconic Mersey ferry in a discombobulating colour and monochrome pattern.

Find out more about Liverpool


6. Explore nine floors of British film history in Bradford

Yorkshire’s National Media Museum is a fabulous free museum in Bradford – itself a UNESCO City of Film – devoted to film, photography, TV, radio, gaming and the web. Among the museum’s collections are three significant ‘firsts’: the world's earliest known surviving negative, the earliest television footage and the camera that made the earliest moving pictures in Britain. It’s also home to the UK’s first IMAX cinema, with a screen as big as five double decker buses and an entertaining programme of films.

Find out more about British film history in Bradford

7. Challenge your art mind in Sheffield

For theatre to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, head to Sheffield, home to the largest regional theatre complex outside of London. The Crucible offers cutting-edge in-house productions; it has a unique thrust stage meaning no-one is more than 22 metres (24 yards) from the activity on stage. Sheffield has also just kicked off Going Public, a new and challenging art project (until 12 December 2015) where you can come face-to-face with powerful artworks at Sheffield Cathedral, including a sculpture of a naked bleeding man hanging upside down and a large tapestry bearing images of drowning African migrants and the Twin Towers.

Find out more about Sheffield

8. Get your groove on in Lancaster

Every autumn, the free Lancaster Music Festival kicks off across 50 venues, with 200 acts and performances in the city’s historic squares and in the 1,000-year-old castle, which often hosts summer concerts in its splendid courtyard. In fact, the whole of Lancashire has a thoroughly alive, kicking and dancing side, hosting some fantastic music festivals. Now in its 26th year, the Great British R&B Festival has been voted Europe’s number one R&B festival. Taking place in August each year, the event sees hundreds of Blues musicians bust out their instruments in pubs and bars across the former mill town of Colne.

Find out more about Lancaster Music Festival and the Great British R&B Festival 


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