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9 ways to get your culture fix in Bradford

17th August 2019

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One of the UK’s smaller cities, Bradford is often overshadowed by its noisy neighbour, Leeds - but with the rolling Yorkshire hills right on the doorstep and a rich cultural history that spans from Pop Art to Bollywood, you could do worse than spend your time exploring its many attractions.

Here are just a few things you should pay attention to if you’re looking for a lecture-free cultural weekend in Bradford…

1. Embrace the UNESCO City of Film

It’s a city that has film in its blood, so it’s no surprise that Bradford was bestowed the title of the world’s first UNESCO City of Film in 2009.

The associations that this city has with film are well-founded - aside from acting as a screening location for films including The Railway Children and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Bradford’s diversity and its deep connections with British Bollywood set it uniquely apart.

Today, you can experience its film heritage at the National Science and Media Museum, and at various film festivals that take place regularly across the city. The Pictureville Cinema, housed inside the National Science and Media Museum, has been called the best in Britain by Chariots of Fire director David Puttnam. Step aside, Cannes.

2. Visit the National Science and Media Museum

A free museum that’s dedicated to all things media - including three cinemas and a 60 foot IMAX screen - the National Science and Media Museum is the cultural centre of Bradford, reflecting the history of media in the UK in a way that’s anything but dull.

Recent exhibitions include “Never Alone”, an exploration of the stories behind The Internet of Things, and 2019 has seen a calendar of adult-only Lates and a series of events focused on the gaming industry.

3. Catch a musical at the Alhambra Theatre

Well-established as the region’s leading theatre, the Alhambra pulls in visitors from far outside Bradford itself. In 2019, its programme so far has included the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet and Matilda, as well as versions of Dirty Dancing, Avenue Q, and Little Miss Sunshine.

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4. Be dazzled by David Hockney

Born in 1937, Bradford boy David Hockney went on to become one of the leading artists of the 20th Century - contributing to the emergence of Pop Art in the 1960s, amongst many other achievements. This November saw the sale of his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) break the world record for a living artist, when it sold for £70 million at Christie’s in New York.

Today, you can explore Hockney’s work and influences at The David Hockney Gallery, inside Cartwright Hall - the only place, Hockney has said, that he “could see real paintings” as a child growing up in Bradford.

5. Explore the Bollywood connection

Bradford’s history as a hub for the UK’s South Asian community goes back half a century, to when families would regularly venture from all over the north to catch a Bollywood film in one of the city’s many cinemas - a way to “reconnect with home”, says Irna Qureshi, whose father set up one of the city’s first Bollywood membership schemes.

Now it's a regular filming location (Bollywood stars have used Bradford as a base as recently as last autumn), and although the majority of the city’s old cinemas have closed, various exhibitions in recent years have kept the spirit of Bollywood alive.

6. Wander through literary history

It’s well-known that the West Yorkshire hills have inspired some of our most beloved literature - from the Brontes to Ted Hughes. Jump in the car or on the B2 Bronte Bus (yes, it’s a thing) from Bradford Interchange to Haworth, where you can spend a delightful day learning about Bronte history at the Parsonage, uncovering the inspiration for Wuthering Heights at Top Withens, and drinking hot chocolate in cafes set on picturesque, steeply cobbled streets.

If you’re into the mythology that surrounds Ted Hughes and his ill-fated wife Sylvia Plath, you can also cross the moors to Heptonstall, where you’ll find a small museum that’s dedicated to the area’s most poetic son (sorry Branwell.)

7. Browse Waterstones in the Wool Exchange

Some have said this Waterstones, housed inside a Victorian Gothic building close to Bradford Interchange, makes “the Sistine Chapel look like Grimsby Bus Station”. Who are we to argue? Waterstones suggests that you grab a book and a slice of cake from the on-site cafe and spend a while drinking in the architecture. We can’t think of anything better, honestly.

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8. Get festival tickets

A large number of festivals have established Bradford as their home over the past few years, including Ilkley Literature Festival, Saltaire Festival (a celebration of arts and community that regularly attracts 30,000+ people), and Widescreen Weekend, a film festival hosted at the National Science and Media Museum that takes place in October and uses “new Cinerama restorations” to celebrate both the history and the future of film.

9. Think hard at the city centre art galleries

Housed in Centenary Square, the Impressions Gallery offers a diverse range of photography - including an exhibition on the landscape that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Other exhibitions include the coexistence of animals, humans and nature, and recent showcases have explored identity amongst working class Asian men and boys, and women’s photography in the First World War. Fascinating.

In the same building, you’ll find Bradford 1 Gallery - a free gallery that aims to bring internationally acclaimed modern art to the city. Find out more here.

Lead image: SAKhanPhotography

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