Bradford has many charms and in 2025 will be UK City of Culture. But what do locals like to see and do the most? Sophie Mei Lan finds out.
Bradford is rightly known for its curries and culture and its locals know just how amazing it is. But for most of those of us, the city’s the graffiti saying “Welcome home sexy” is more of a novelty than the familiar – so we asked Bradfordians where they recommended to eat, shop and visit.
There’s nobody more proud of being from the area than Gita Mistry, who is the first Asian woman ever to win any BBC show.
“Obviously I am going to say my house when it comes to the best place to eat in Bradford, but when it comes to eating out we are spoilt for choice when it comes to curries,” she says
“There’s International and Akbar’s. I know Akbar personally from my youth. It depends what kind of thing you’re wanting.”
Gita, who was described by food critic Jay Rayner as the “best Indian cook” in Britain, said the curry houses in Bradford are second to none.
It’s even home to two of the “oldest curry houses” – the Kashmir and the Karachi – which opened in the 1950s.
But Gita said while her passion is food, she loves all of Bradford’s hidden gems such as one of the UK’s most stunning bookshops, a Waterstones, housed inside the Victorian Gothic Wool Exchange building complete with a cafe.
She said: “You can chill and have a coffee and look at all of the books.”
It opened in 1996, a good 30 years after wool trading ended in the 1960s, following a period in which the Venetian gothic building dating back to Bradford’s Victorian golden age had been used sporadically as a market and music venue.
Gita adds: “Bradford is my city and I love it. There’s a hidden gem around every corner. Even the nearby chemist has an interesting heritage.”
She is referring to Rimmington’s pharmacy which has been in Bradford for more than 180 years, founded by Felix Rimmington (1818 to 1897), who was dubbed the “Sherlock Holmes of forensic science,” and also worked as Queen Victoria’s chemist.
Gita adds: “There’s obviously Centenary Square and Alhambra for a show which is the perfect pre or post curry venue.”
Another local who loves the theatre is blogger Shannon Palmer who grew up in Bradford just a stone’s throw away from her friends, the popular band Bad Boy Chiller Crew.
She said Bradford is known for its music and entertainment in all genres.
“My aunty Ellen Boyle started club nights at Tickles Music Hall. She has hosted everyone from Elvis tributes at her Vintage Tuesday events and then Bad Boy Chiller Crew on a weekend,” said Shannon, who also works as a dementia nurse.
Tickles, as it is affectionately known, has a proud heritage with its building dating back as far as 1884. It was given a superb refurbishment, being developed into a live music venue, giving birth to Tickles Music Hall.
It was opened by businessman John Holmes in 1982, in the style of an old Victorian music hall after he had restored several aspects of the original decor.
Plasterwork in the ceiling had been painted dark red, white and yellow and the bar and stage had been designed with sloping canopies of tiles. Even the security staff had joined in with the theme by wearing Victorian-style bowler hats.
Another entertainment venue is subterranean entertainment venue Sunbridge Wells. It is home of the original Wallers Brewery, opened in 1878. This triggered construction work to be finished raising the ground level to create Sunbridge Road. The area was raised 30 feet to connect with Godwin Street. The tunnel system then ran beneath Sunbridge Road with access to the brewery and bottling plant on Aldermanbury.
Sunbridge Wells was developed and reopened in 2017 by the late Graham Hall who had secured a range of independent outlets and a bar to function from inside the former brewery.
This part of the city may be steeped in history but is right by Bradford’s state-of-the-art Broadway Shopping Centre.
Self-taught make-up, hair and beauty therapist Shaheen Akhtar said Bradford is known for its beauty and shopping scene.
Shaheen, owner of Shaheen Bridals, says: “While there’s some good shops in Bradford it is all about the bazaars. People come from all over to go to the bazaars because you can get everything from them.”
From The Bradford Bazaar to the City Bazaar, these stores are a one stop shop for clothing, jewellery and celebratory gear.
Shaheen adds: “People either go to Birmingham or Bradford for shopping and beauty.”
But Bradford is also the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, having long been home to the National Science and Media Museum as well as one of the oldest amateur filmmaking clubs in the world, Bradford Movie Makers.
The film A Bunch of Amateurs, by Kim Hopkins, shone a light on this group of cinephiles’ attempts to save their filmmaking club.
The film had its World Premiere at Sheffield DocFest, where it won the Audience Award.
Other films set in Bradford include Billy Liar, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, The Selfish Giant and Ali and Ava.
Raj Parmar, MD of Sunrise Radio and Regency Hall, an entrepreneur and influencer who helped Bradford secure the 2025 win, said: “We’re not just the city of film, we’re the city of media.”
One thing that all locals we spoke to agreed on was that the real gem of the district was its diversity of people and places.
For this reason, Yorkshire Society is hosting the first heritage summit in the stunning suburbs of Bradford at Saltaire.