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Sheffield, South Yorkshire Hotels, Resort Accommodations

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SHEFFIELD
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Yorkshire's second city, and England's fourth-largest, SHEFFIELD remains inextricably linked with its steel industry, in particular the production of high-quality cutlery. As early as the fourteenth century, the carefully fashioned, hard-wearing knives of hard-working Sheffield enjoyed national repute. Technological advances in steel production later turned Sheffield into one of the country's foremost centres of heavy and specialist engineering, which meant the city suffered heavy bombing in World War II, yet several of its grand civic buildings emerged remarkably unscathed. More damaging than bombs to the city's pre-eminence was the steel industry's subsequent downturn, which by the 1980s had tipped parts of Sheffield into dispiriting decline. However, as with Leeds, the economic and cultural revival has been marked and rapid. The "Heart of the City" project is fast transforming the centre; a glut of sports facilities (including the Ski Village, Europe's largest artificial ski resort) backs Sheffield's claim to be considered "National City of Sport"; while the city that gave the world The Full Monty - the black comedy about five former steel workers carving out a new career as a striptease act - has made a tribute to the industry in the Magna centre, one of the country's most enterprising visitor attractions.

Millions of pounds have been earmarked to turn Sheffield city centre away from the twin legacies of Victorian solidity and late-twentieth-century sterility. There's been most progress in the revamped post-industrial area near the train station - known as the Cultural Industries Quarter - where clubs and galleries exist alongside high-tech arts and media businesses. The interactive museum at the National Centre for Popular Music on Paternoster Row - a Sheffield landmark, consisting of four giant stainless-steel drums - is temporarily closed. But the centre is still a lively night-time venue and the hip ground-floor café-bar shows signs of rivalling the Showroom cinema-and-bar complex across the road.

Castlegate and its traditional markets are still undergoing ambitious redevelopment, while the main changes so far have been around the impressive Victorian Town Hall , at the junction of Pinstone and Surrey streets. The city's new centrepiece is the Millennium Gallery (Mon, Tues & Thurs-Sat 10am-5pm, Wed 10am-9pm, Sun 11am-5pm; free). As well as visiting exhibitions (£4) loaned by London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the gallery also holds the Hawley collection of Sheffield hand tools and, of more general interest, the city's Ruskin collection, founded by John Ruskin in 1875 to "improve" the working people of Sheffield. An extension to the gallery in the form of a Winter Garden (6am-midnight; free) is due for completion in 2002. North of the town hall, Fargate meets Church Street, where the city's Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul retains elements of its fifteenth-century origins. Across Cathedral Square sits the Cutler's Hall of 1832, an imposing reminder of Sheffield's traditions. The Company of Cutlers was first established in 1624 to regulate the affairs of the cutlery industry, and this is the third hall on the site. South of the town hall, the pedestrianized Moor Quarter draws in shoppers, though the nearby Devonshire Quarter , centred on Division Street, is the trendiest shopping area.

The Graves Art Gallery (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; free), on the top floor of the City Library (entrance on Surrey Street), leans most heavily towards nineteenth- and twentieth-century British artists. Sheffield's most instructive museums, however, are those devoted to its industrial past, including the Kelham Island Museum , Alma Street (Mon-Thurs 10am-4pm, Sun 11am-4.45pm; £3.50), on Kelham Island, one mile north of the city centre (bus #47 or #48 from Flat Street). Exhibits here reveal the breadth of the city's industrial output, ranging from a colossal twelve-thousand horsepower steam engine to a silver-plated penny-farthing made for the tsar of Russia.

This has, however, been eclipsed by Magna (daily 10am-5pm), the UK's first science adventure centre, set in the building of a former steel works a mile north of the city (bus#69 from the Interchange or the train or supertram to Meadowhall). This offers four gadget-packed, themed pavilions around the four basic elements of earth, air, fire and water. Although most of the centre is aimed at children, the half-hourly Big Melt will have everyone gripping onto the railings. An original arc furnace is used in a bone-shaking light and sound show, showing the moment when metal is transformed into white molten steel. For a recovery stop you can chill out in O2 , an inflatable resturant designed by Per Lindstrand, Richard Branson's balloon maufacturer.

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