As the Romans knew, Leicester is in the heart of England, easy to access from any part of the country. It is still easy to get to, but surprisingly overlooked as a tourist destination. I went to the city to find out more, to discover what there is to see and do in Leicester.
Why Visit Leicester?
Leicester can claim to be the birthplace of tourism: it was from here that Thomas Cook, father of the package holiday, arranged his first organised excursion in 1841. He realised that the city and its surroundings have much to offer tourists, from 2,000 years of history to abundant green space. Today the offering also includes museums, street art and numerous places to eat and drink.
Leicester is also one of the country’s most multicultural cities. With more than 70 languages spoken here, you’ll find an enormous diversity of festivals, shops and restaurants, and places of worship. The city is home to the largest Diwali festival outside India, and the so-called Golden Mile is full of shops selling gold, jewellery, fashion and spices, and – of course – Indian restaurants.
What To See And Do In Leicester
I soon realised that there is much more to see and do in Leicester than you could fit into a short visit. I concentrated on the history and street art but there was plenty left for a return visit…
Explore Leicester’s History
From the Romans to the Middle Ages to the present day, there is history around every corner. Walk the streets of the medieval city, then visit the Cathedral, Guildhall and later civic buildings. Whatever you do, don’t miss the King Richard III Visitor Centre, an excellent presentation of the Wars of the Roses and the discovery of the remains of Richard III.
Read more: Explore The Historic Sites Of Leicester.
Discover The Street Art
Leicester’s street art scene may come as a surprise, but you’ll find vibrant and quirky artworks in a variety of styles. The murals are all round the city but the greatest concentration is in the St George Cultural Quarter.
What Else To See And Do In Leicester
The Leicester Museum and Art Gallery is a family friendly venue with a wide variety of natural and cultural exhibits. And the National Space Centre has a planetarium, a Rocket Tower and lots of space-themed displays.
Take a walk through the Castle Gardens, alongside the Grand Union Canal, or through the Abbey Park, built on the ruins of a former monastery. Then stop to browse in Leicester Market, the largest covered outdoor market in Europe.
Exploring Beyond The City
If you have a car there is plenty more to explore just a short distance from the city. Bradgate Park is a large medieval deer park, and the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey. Enjoy the very attractive grounds with their trees and unusual geological features – and look out for the deer and the water birds. The grounds contain the ruins of Bradgate House (where Lady Jane Grey lived), and the visitor centre has more information about the Grey family and about the natural history of the park.
For something a bit different try a wine tasting at the Rothley Wine Estate (you will need to book this one in advance). This is an award-winning vineyard run by Liz Robson, in a historic site on the banks of the Rothley Brook. You’ll finish your tasting on the scenic jetty beside the fast-flowing water – if you’re lucky you may spot a kingfisher!
Incidentally the vineyard is on land once owned by the Knights Templar, as was the nearby Rothley Court, now a pub and hotel. The hotel incorporates an ancient chapel once used by the Knights Templar.
Other possibilities include Stoneywell, an Arts and Crafts house now owned by the National Trust, and the Great Central Railway, a heritage line running steam trains between Leicester and Loughborough.
How To Visit Leicester
- I was a guest of the very comfortable and centrally located Gresham Aparthotel, housed in a grand Victorian building that was previously used as a department store. Today it has 121 studios and apartments with cooking facilities, ideal for a short break or a longer stay. (I stayed on the top floor and enjoyed access to a roof top terrace…)
- The Gresham has its own restaurant and bar, the Black Iron Social, where I had an excellent meal (I can recommend the truffle and sage arancini). Black Iron offers breakfast, brunch, dinner and cocktails.
- You’ll also find numerous bars and restaurants serving an incredible range of food across the city.
- It is easy to get to Leicester by train from London. Regular trains run from St Pancras Station, and the journey time is just over an hour.
- If you are arriving by car there are three Park and Ride car parks outside the town. Or you can use the central multi-storey car park at Newarke Street.
Thanks to Stacey Ballard and Visit Leicester for arranging my visit to Leicester, and to Rothley Wine Estate, Gresham Aparthotel and Black Iron Social for their hospitality.
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