Bradford, this week announced as the UK’s 2025 city of culture, was my home for more than 30 years. I was raised there, went to the university there, and landed my first journalism job at the local paper. It is also the place where I first came up with my debut novel, The Khan. Misunderstood and much maligned by those who don’t know it, Bradford is a great city, and the love I feel for it runs deep.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Bradford.
Rolling hills and deep valleys
Bradford is stunning. Its beauty strikes me every time my train pulls into Forster Square station. A city of rolling hills and deep valleys, nestled among lush greenery, it’s a balm for the soul. Whether you’re driving down Oak Lane in the heart of Manningham, or standing at the top of Undercliffe Cemetery, the view is breathtaking. Its beauty is replicated in the 55 acres that are Lister Park, which was once voted the best park in the country, home to Cartwright Hall Museum and art gallery, Mughal water gardens, and the Norman arch that crime writer AA Dhand wrote about in his book Streets of Darkness.
Sugar, spice and everything nice
Food is life in Bradford. It was voted curry capital of the UK six years in a row, and you’ll hear people talk about the countless excellent curry houses here, from the Karachi, to Mughals, and on to Mumtaz. But Pakistani food isn’t all that this city has to offer. Drive up the road that runs straight from the centre through to Leeds, and you’ll find everything from American diners to ice-cream parlours, Turkish grills and Syrian eateries where you can’t get a table without a reservation. Entrepreneurship is a hallmark of this city. Indeed, many businesses that began in Bradford, such as MyLahore, now have branches across the country.
A trend-setting literary festival
Hailed as one of the most diverse and inclusive festivals in the country, Bradford literature festival is one of the jewels in this city’s crown. It was set up by Syima Aslam and Irna Qureshi in 2014, and was attended by about 1,000 people; four years later, that figure had risen to more than 70,000. It’s a favourite with writers and attendees from minority groups, with volunteers coming from a cross-section of society. You’ll find Robert Peston rubbing shoulders with Nikesh Shukla, Anita Rani and Lemn Sissay. This festival is a tastemaker and a trendsetter for readers and industry alike.
The most beautiful bookshop in the world
After you’ve been to events at the litfest, you’ll want to buy the books, and you will discover that you’re in the right place. The Waterstones in Bradford is possibly the world’s most beautiful bookshop. The ceilings are high and arched, with beams running across them and beautiful windows set within arches made of Yorkshire stone. Once the city’s wool exchange, the listed building now has a modern glass wall running up the side of it. It’s a quiet place, with a curved stairway leading up to the mezzanine floor that houses a cafe where people sit sipping tea with their new reads. Memories of its large wooden doors swinging open – revealing soft light, marble pillars the colour of salmon and the delicious smell of new books – still fill me with a feeling of immense contentment.
The water that flows throughs the rolling hills of Bradford might just be imbued with music. This is the home town of One Direction’s Zayn Malik, who once set the internet alight after tweeting about going for a “Shimla”, as fans struggled to figure out what that meant, eventually realising it was his favourite curry house. It’s also the place where Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud was born and raised. Bob Hardy, bass player for indie band Franz Ferdinand, grew up in the outskirts of the city and went to Bradford grammar school. A few streets away, musician, actor and LGBTQ+ rights campaigner Heather Peace was also sitting in a classroom, with me.
A giant of the art world
You can’t mention Bradford without talking about David Hockney. Born in the West Yorkshire city in 1937, the artist studied at Bradford school of art before going on to the Royal College of Art in 1959. The painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer, who is an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s, is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.
Hockney’s work can be seen in the BD18 postcode of Bradford, which is the Unesco world heritage site of Saltaire. This beautiful part of the city was previously a Victorian industrial village. Once the “wool capital of the world”, Bradford was then home to more than 70 mills. Mill owner Sir Titus Salt built the village for his workers. It now attracts millions of visitors who come to view the magnificent architecture and gallery, browse the independent shops, or take a stroll by the Leeds and Liverpool canal or walk through Roberts Park to Shipley Glen Tramway.
Dancing in the streets
England’s largest learning disability performance and live arts company, Mind the Gap, is based in Bradford. They have been creating cutting-edge, world-class theatre since 1988. George Webster, the first CBeebies presenter with Down’s syndrome, was a member of the organisation.
Jane Eyre’s birthplace
Haworth, the home of the Brontë family, is one of many villages in the Bradford district. It is a literary mecca, with people from all over the world coming to visit the parsonage where the writers lived, walk its historic cobbled main street and gaze at the vintage charm of the village. It makes you feel you’ve stepped back in time.
In cinemas now
The city’s relationship with film runs deep. Home to the National Science and Media Museum, it is a Unesco City of Film. You’ll have seen it in Rita, Sue, and Bob Too, and in Band of Gold. More recently, Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava was shot here. With its neoclassical architecture, Little Germany is often used as a backdrop by TV and film-makers. Once home to the Bite the Mango festival, it was responsible for bringing Bollywood stars such as Anil Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan to the city, and inspiring a new generation of storytellers. I know this, because I am one of them.
• Saima Mir’s The Khan is published by Oneworld.