The British city of Leicester hit the headlines in 2012 with news of a remarkable discovery – the bones of King Richard III, long thought lost, had been discovered beneath a council car park there. With this, Leicester suddenly found itself the center of international attention
It celebrated the find by establishing a museum and historical tours of the city, and come 2015 the reburial of its unlucky king drew huge crowds and worldwide coverage. Visitors who had flown in for the ceremony were impressed: Leicester was friendly, tidy, multicultural, and home to many exciting and unique attractions. Though London was still the most popular tourist destination in Britain, Leicester was starting to catch up with its neighbour.
So what else, apart from dead kings, does Leicester have to offer? Well, it’s full of educational but fun experiences for both old and young. For science buffs, the National Space Center hosts events, activities, exhibitions and the odd sci-fi convention. You can drop in and see the Blue Streak and Thor Able rockets in the tower built specifically to hold them, or you can make a whole day of it and take in the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium, the interactive displays and the gift shop as well.
Just across from the Space Center is the Abbey Pumping Station and accompanying museum. Dating back to 1891, the Pumping Station houses multiple beam engines restored to their former condition, as well as a narrow gauge railway and vintage vehicles. Steam enthusiasts come from all over the country to take a look.
And next, how about a dead…. queen? At Bradgate Park in Charnwood, you can view the ruins of Bradgate House, childhood home of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen of England. There’s a small museum nearby depicting scenes from her life. Up the adjacent hill you can find Old John, a folly built by the Greys in 1784. And in and around the park you can observe the Bradgate Park deer, once introduced into the area for hunting purposes but now happy to interact with humans.
For more interaction with Leicester’s past, you can visit the Jewry Wall to see some of the tallest surviving pieces of Roman masonry in the country, go to the supposedly haunted Guildhall near Leicester Cathedral, or head to New Walk museum to take in their art and science exhibits. (Kids will love the dinosaurs). All these are just a short walk from the city center.
In the city center itself, you can visit the Highcross, Leicester’s recently refurbished shopping center which boasts John Lewis as its flagship store. It also features a Cinema De Lux, a multitude of restaurants, and popular shops from all over the world. The high street features much of the same, as well as independent stores, and you can find cafes selling food from almost every culture sandwiched in amongst the Subways and KFCs.
Lastly, there are plenty of hotels in Leicester if you want to stay in the city itself. Two of the most popular are the Beaumont Hotel and the Regent, both once Victorian houses and both located around the beautiful New Walk area. There’s also a Premier Inn right next to the train station.
Leicester has carefully cultivated its image with regards to tourism in the past few years, and the result is a delight. But – naturally for a city that found a king in a car park – a lot of the charm of Leicester comes from discovering unexpected things for yourself. Take a look around, talk to the locals, turn down some of the quieter streets, and find out what’s on offer.