The Daily Telegraph - Travel
Leicester is in a league of its own
As readers may have noticed, Leicester City have won the Premier League. And today at the home game against Everton, the team will receive the trophy and be formally crowned champions of England. Crowned is the apposite word, for there are many who suggest that this most unlikely of triumphs was all down to the discovery here in 2012 of the skeleton of Richard III and his reburial with due pomp and circumstance in Leicester Cathedral.
Certainly the fortunes of the city – in its time a Roman garrison town, a Saxon bishopric, a medieval market hub and a coal scuttle of the Industrial Revolution – have soared, and the world is looking at Leicester anew. Just as with the football team, there are hidden depths to the city, which can now take its rightful place on the tourist map. Here are 11 reasons to visit a place where fairy tales really do come true.
The beautiful game
If you come to the city because of the on-pitch exploits of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, you may find watching the football team (0344 815 5000; lcfc.com) in action hard to achieve. With the club’s unprecedented success fresh in the memory, tickets for matches in the 2016-17 season will be difficult to procure – with 32,312 seats, the King Power Stadium, south of the centre, is big, but not enormous. You can, though, book behind-the-scenes tours, priced at £10. Check the website for dates this month.
Tiger, tiger burning bright
While Leicester’s football team has just one top-flight title to its name, its rugby union behemoth Leicester Tigers (0116 319 8888; leicestertigers. com) can claim 10 (the most recent in 2013). The most decorated side in English rugby union’s professional era plays at Welford Road stadium (also south of the centre), with match prices starting at £20.
Leicestershire County Cricket Club (0116 283 2128; leicestershireccc.co.uk), currently lurking in the second tier of the County Championship, cannot boast a similar recent pedigree, yet there is an undoubted joy to a foray to the Fischer County Ground on a summer day (match tickets start at £10).
It is still something of a shock that Britain’s most maligned monarch has become a tourist attraction. But this is what he is. The King Richard III Visitor Centre (0300 300 0900; kriii.com; daily 10am-4pm except Saturday, 10am-5pm; £7.95) tells the story of how this 15thcentury warrior came to be unearthed in such remarkable circumstances (his grave – discovered in 2012 beneath a council car park – was covered over when Greyfriars Church, in which he was buried, was demolished in 1538 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII). The museum occupies the former Alderman Newton’s School – a Victorian institution which was built over the king’s head. The exact spot where he was found is preserved under a glass floor – alongside a reconstruction of his battle-scarred skeleton. The man himself lies two minutes’ walk away in Leicester Cathedral (0116 261 5200; leicestercathedral.org; daily 8am6pm except Sunday, 8am-4pm; free). He was reburied there in March last year – almost exactly the point at which the fortunes of the football team began to revive.
Those who want to trace the king’s tale to its nadir can do so 13 miles west of the city at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre (01455 290 429; bosworth battlefield.org.uk; daily 10am-5pm; £7.95). An archaeological survey in 2010 revealed that what was long deemed the battle site – at Ambion Hill, near Sutton Cheney – had been misidentified, and that the real location was two miles south, near Stoke Golding. But the centre does a good job of charting what happened in the Leicestershire mud on August 22 1485. Monthly “Wider Battlefield Walks” take visitors to “both” battlefields (£17; next walk May 15).
There is more to Leicester than sporting triumph and regal relics. The New Walk Museum and Art Gallery (0116 225 4900; leicester.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture; daily 10am-5pm except Sunday, 11am5pm; free) has a broad scope, offering everything from Egyptian mummies and dinosaur bones to art by Kandinsky and ceramics by Picasso.
The Jewry Wall Museum (0116 225 4971; same website as the New Walk Museum; daily 11am4.30pm; free) recalls the Leicester of the Roman world, including the surviving fragments of its firstcentury bathhouse.
The football club’s triumph has put the city in the limelight. Chris Leadbeater reveals a team’s-worth of reasons to explore further
Picnic in the park
Abbey Park, north of the centre, is a leafy enclave, divided into two by the River Soar, where the ruins of the city’s 12th-century abbey are complemented by a boating lake and pretty gardens.
The “Golden Mile” – a portion of Belgrave Road, northeast of the centre – is, in effect, a tribute to Leicester’s rich multiculturalism, dotted with enticing curry houses. The Curry Fever (0116 266 2941; thecurryfever. co.uk), which has occupied its groove at number 139 since 1978, is among the most respected. It is joined, back in the centre, by Maiyango (0116 251 8898; maiyango.com) – a genteel eatery which has been praised by the latest Michelin Guide for its “oriental feel”, “relaxed, funky vibe” and “modern dishes featuring Indian spices”.
Come on you clubbers
The whole world now knows about Leicester City Football Club, but there are clubs of other kinds that might appeal when the match is won. With two universities at its heart, Leicester has a youthful feel in the evening – and a thirst to match. Cosy Club (0116 408 0008; cosyclub.co.uk), one of the more intriguing bars, is part of a chain of watering holes which makes clever use of old buildings – in this case, a one-time knitwear factory.
A city which has proved a master of surprise takes one more unexpected turn. Wander north of Abbey Park and you encounter the National Space Centre (0116 261 0261; spacecentre. co.uk; weekdays 10am-4pm, weekends 10am-5pm; £14) – a fascinating hotspot which peers at the weighty topics of astronomy and extraterrestrial flight. Exhibits include the Rocket Tower, which houses a selection of spacecraft, and a 192-seat planetarium. The centre also has experience in reaching for the stars. In 2003, it was mission control for the failed Beagle 2 project, which deposited a research vehicle on to Mars, only for it to fall silent once it had reached its destination.