48 Hours in… Leicester
‘Let’s go to Leicester on holiday’ said no one, ever. Certainly not me, anyway. I’d never previously been to this compact Midlands city but, a friend’s wedding and the chance to explore a place my partner, Miss Pretty Shoes knows well, meant that I was delighted to be introduced to the myriad attractions of this under-rated destination.
The main attraction is that it is a vibrant city. Small enough to walk around comfortably, there are really only two main shopping streets, criss-crossed at regular intervals by lanes which gives it the feeling of Brighton without sea.
You can find all of the things we associate with modern Britain – Nandos, a plethora of Subway franchises, tanning shops, betting emporia and soulless chain drinking dens – but don’t be put off. Just around the corner will be a cutesy independent store selling original t-shirts, bookshops or antiques priced at a sensible level. And, in fairness, even one of the ghastly chain boozers is named The Last Plantagenet which is a quality pub name anywhere.
The big attraction is definitely history and Richard III in particular. Since being rescued from the less than celebratory location of a city centre car park in 2012, the city has gone Dick mad. The King Richard III Visitor Centre (www.kriii.com) is spread over two floors and allows you to learn the basics of his reign before heading upstairs to cover the details of the discovery of his final resting place and the science behind it. It is a beautiful venue, all the more impressive that it opened only two years after the discovery. It caters to people of all ages, incorporating interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations and displays throughout. I was particularly taken with the archaeology dig pit filled with iron filings to allow you to uncover pieces found at the gravesite – but that’s because I’m a big child. You can also see the actual location of where the body was found and – if you must – walk on top of it, (I’m afraid I must. And I did.) The guides were friendly and knowledgeable and took the time to answer questions and debate historical events with Miss Pretty Shoes, which pleased us no end. The visitor centre isn’t cheap – around £25 for two adults and a gift book – but if you’re interested in this most maligned monarch then it is money well spent.
Across the road – past the statue of the man himself wielding a crown and, as in popular mythology, presumably crying out for a horse – is the charming Leicester Cathedral (www.leicestercathedral.org). The day we visited was a Sunday so a distinct balancing act between people coming to engage in a normal service had to be offset by church officials against the large crowd of visitors looking to see the site of the newly interred monarch. The Cathedral is free, but donations are suggested and with the volunteers offering a guide to the building and the constant stream of visitors, the suggested £3 is not outrageous, if for no other reason than the upkeep of the fabric of the building. There has definitely been a bit of Dicky III fever in the city indeed, but almost all the cashing in seems to be in a vein of quiet, respectful bandwagon jumping, so good on them!
We walked. Leicester is one of those small cities which just beg you to explore on foot. We walked up New Walk past beautiful architecture from the Georgian era, the Victorian Age as well as past the loveliest Art Deco-style fire station I’ve ever seen. Then we walked to the University of Leicester which Miss Pretty Shoes had previously graced with her presence. (www.le.ac.uk) The main attraction for her – then and now I reckon – was that Richard and David Attenborough had been brought up on the campus as their father – Frederick Attenborough – was the Principal of University College and instrumental in the conversion to University status with the award of the Royal charter in 1957. Their house remains on the grounds and a tower was built in his honour.
Leicester has one of the most multi-cultural populations in the UK and this is most abundantly clear in the wide variety of food available. Leicester’s Market (www.leicestermarket.co.uk) is a wonderful place to stroll around, packed with high quality fruit and veg (as well as t-shirts, DVDs and second hand TVs) including one Lineker’s stall which hosts beautiful strawberries and also produced a former England captain many will have heard of.
Kayal is an Indian restaurant specialising in healthy seafood with a South Indian origin. The food is delicate – superbly filling and has been promoted by guests such TVs The Hairy Bikers and The Times. The fish platter starter alone is enough for a main course and comes heaving with delicately battered calamari. The service is gentle, knowledgeable and considerate and it is a place I can no recommend highly enough for an evening meal. (www.kayalrestaurant.com)
On our last day, we stopped for lunch at the adorable Kuru Kuru Sushi (www.kuru-kuru-sushi.com) which offers a wide variety of sushi and sashimi at really affordable prices. The food is delicate and the service is kindly and efficient. It is not large – four seats at a breakfast-style bar – but the mint-infused tea and the quality of the fish should persuade you to go early. Take-away – both in person and over the phone – is available for those who don’t want to sit next to strangers.
Our final destination was the National Space Centre (www.spacecentre.co.uk) which is situation two miles outside the town centre. Here you can visit the Patrick Moore Plantetarium and watch a documentary (aimed at children really) called We Are All Stars narrated by Andy Serkis. From here you can explore rockets, see real moon rock and lose yourself in a wide variety of activities covering pretty much everything to do with space. It’s an absolute knock out venue which, especially with children, I would heartily recommend.
So, that was my 48 hours in Leicester. A vibrant city of multi-cultural influences, gorgeous food and a surprisingly wide array of activities I never thought I’d find in the middle of England. ‘Let’s go to Leicester on holiday,’ said no one ever. Except me, next time, I reckon.
*Myself and Miss Pretty Shoes stayed at the Premier Inn Leicester City Centre. None of these venues knew I would be writing about them, nor paid for any endorsements.