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Best things to do in Leicester in 2021

Rory Mellon
19 Mar 2021

Nestled in the heart of the Midlands, Leicester is one of the UK’s most culturally diverse cities

In a country with a strong north-south divide, in between the two lies the often-overlooked Midlands. Leicester, which rests in the East Midlands, is further overshadowed by popular Midlands shopping destinations Birmingham and Nottingham, which has seen the city historically starved of the attention it deserves.

However, over the last decade, the tide is slowly starting to turn. Events of global interest such as the discovery of King Richard III’s remains in a local car park and Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League victory in 2016 have put the city on the map worldwide.

Once the UK has opened up again, it’s about time that Leicester received some recognition. As locals will tell you, the city has been a hub of activity for decades, with some of the best attractions, green spaces and – due to its big South Asian community – Indian food in the whole of the UK.

If you’re visiting Leicester for the first time, or are planning your next trip to the Midlands and need some inspiration, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in the city and surrounding areas.

Keep in mind that under current government guidelines, hotels and other kinds of indoor hospitality will not reopen until 17 May at the earliest. Non-essential retail, public buildings and outdoor hospitality will not reopen until 12 April at the earliest, and nightclubs won’t be open until 21 June at the earliest.

These plans are subject to change, so be sure to check the latest information on Covid restrictions before booking anything. Our recommendations assume that attractions and hospitality are safely open.

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How to get to Leicester

Thanks to its convenient Midlands location, Leicester is the ideal city for a staycation or city break. Whether you’re coming down from the north or up from the south, there are great transport links to get you into the city.

Leicester Railway Station is on the city’s bustling London Road, and just a stone's throw from the city centre. If you’re based in the capital, you can be in Leicester in around 90 minutes with frequent direct services from St Pancras International. Regular direct services also run from Birmingham, Leeds and Cambridge.

Getting to Leicester by coach is also a viable option, assuming you’re not coming from too far away. St Margarets Bus Station is located just a couple of minutes’ walk from the popular Highcross Shopping Centre. Several bus companies operate from this base, including National Express; however, do note that while cheap-operator Megabus does offer services to Leicester it drops you at Fosse Park, which is 3.5 miles outside of the city centre.

If you’re coming from a little further away, then East Midlands Airport is the closest commercial airport to Leicester. While the airport is nearly 20 miles from Leicester, there are regular buses that will take you from the arrivals gate to the heart of the city.

Leicester is also extremely accessible for motorists. Regardless of whether you’re coming from the north or south, you’ll find getting into Leicester by car a cinch, with the city located a mere four miles from Junction 21 on the M1 motorway.

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Where to stay in Leicester

There’s plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation in Leicester, with high-quality hotels for those seeking luxury and for the slightly more budget conscious as well. While Premier Inn Leicester is often regarded as an eyesore by locals, its reliable service and central location - less than a minute’s walk from the train station - make it a great pick for those who want to be right in the thick of the action.

The Belmont Hotel is a quaint, family-owned, establishment that sits opposite New Walk, giving you easy access to the city centre. If you want a slightly more luxurious stay, then St Martins Lodge offers stylish rooms alongside a great location - opposite the historic Leicester Cathedral. If you want a hotel that’s removed from the buzz of the city centre, then College Court offers a great range of facilities and a tranquil setting. If you’re after a close proximity to the motorway then the Marriott Hotel Leicester sits on the edge of the city and has all the amenities you’d expect from the trusted hotel brand.

The things to do in Leicester

1. Delve into the remarkable story of King Richard III

In 2013, the global media turned its attention to Leicester after the remains of Richard III, the notorious monarch who ruled England from 1483 to 1485, were found in a city centre car park. The excavation site was subsequently transformed into a visitors’ centre, which tells the story of Richard’s life, death in battle and the long search for his remains. The quest to find Richard’s burial site has been dubbed one of the greatest archaeological detective stories ever told by historians, and the centre tells the tale through a series of slick and engrossing multimedia exhibits. The centre is opposite Leicester Cathedral, where Richard’s remains were reburied in a grand tomb, and is also worth a visit.

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2. Blast off to the National Space Centre

You’ll struggle to find someone who grew up in Leicester who hasn’t visited the National Space Centre at least once. The centre is that rare combination of being both informative and hugely enjoyable. Comprising six individually themed galleries, including the visually striking rocket tower, the centre is crammed full of space suits, technology, artefacts and interactive exhibits. It also features the UK’s largest domed planetarium which shows a range of space-themed films on its full gigantic 360-degree screen. If all that wasn’t enough, in normal times there’s also a vast schedule of themed events that tend to happen throughout the year, from astronomy evenings to Star Wars and Doctor Who weekends. Whether you’re an inspiring astronaut or not, this is one attraction that really is out of this world.

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3. Go for a curry

With one of the largest South Asian populations in the UK, it’s no wonder that Leicester is almost unrivalled when it comes to the quality of Indian cuisine available. In fact, curry is so popular in the city there is even an annual awards gala where the best curry houses are decided by a panel of experts. In terms of Indian restaurants, there are literally hundreds of options, but Lilu Cuisine, Spice Bazzar, Kayal and the Mumbai Inn, which was named Restaurant of the Year at the Curry Awards 2019, are all great picks. If you really want to soak up some South Asian culture, then Belgrave Road - often referred to as the Golden Mile - is lined with restaurants, bars and shops that are well worth a visit (as pictured above).

4. Browse the stalls at Leicester Market

With a history dating back more than 700 years, and once referred to as the ‘Saturday Shambles’ by Queen Elizabeth I, Leicester Market is the biggest outdoor covered market in Europe. Come rain or shine, you’ll find the enthusiastic stallholders inviting you to check out their wares, and if you have the gift of the gab, you could spend all afternoon bartering for the best possible price. From fresh fruit and veg, unique clothing, handcrafted ornaments and curiously odd nick-nacks, you can get pretty much anything at the market. There’s also a bustling food hall, which contains several top-notch butchers, and the recently redeveloped market square, which was opened in 2017 as part of an extensive multi-million-pound redevelopment of the market space.

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5. Trek through Bradgate Park

Located around 30 minutes outside of the city, Bradgate Park offers 850 acres of sprawling greenery ripe for exploration. Whether you’re just after a family stroll, or you take your hiking seriously, there’s a route for you here - or if you’re really brave, just set off and see where you end up. Bradgate Park features several popular landmarks, including Old John, the highest hill in the park that is named for the iconic folly that sits on the summit. There’s also a towering war memorial and Bradgate House, the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey which is now a historical ruin. If you want to escape from the noise of the city for an afternoon then there’s no better place in the whole of the Midlands than Bradgate Park.

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6. Tread the Boards at Curve Theatre

Situated in the city’s St George’s Cultural Quarter, Curve is one of the crowning jewels of the rejuvenation Leicester has enjoyed over the last decade and a half. This world-class theatre is famous for hosting an eclectic range of events, from nationally touring plays to original, boundary-pushing productions. The local pubs and bars on its doorstep are also well worth a look for a drink before curtain up. Curve is more than a playhouse, however: it also hosts regular workshops focused on everything from acting craft to critical understanding of theatre as an artform. When it comes to the dramatic arts in the city, the Curve is Leicester’s beating heart.

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7. Explore the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery

New Walk is a nearly 250-year-old pedestrian promenade that leads from Victoria Park all the way into the centre of the city. The pathway is lined with points of interest, including two churches and several bars, but most popular is the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. Featured collections include Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, wild space, Victorian art, Picasso Ceramics and the Attenborough Collection, among other fascinating treasures. There is also a range of rotating exhibitions focused on specific themes. The onsite cafe and gift shop complete the experience. Plus, did we mention that entry is completely free? If you’re in the area, you’ve absolutely no excuse not to dedicate some serious time to exploring the museum’s packed corridors.

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8. Wander the Botanical Gardens

Located a short distance from the Leicester Racecourse, in the charming suburb of Oadby, the University of Leicester Botanical Gardens are a pleasant way to escape the city without having to drive miles into the countryside. The gardens provide 16 acres of perfectly cultivated grounds and greenhouses for you to potter around in. There are also speciality gardens, including a water garden and a rock garden plus a tropical plant collection and arboreum. It’s the wide variety of plants, flowers and woodlands that really makes this place popular with both locals and tourists. Whether you’re a budding botanist or not, you’ll find an afternoon spent in the Botanical Gardens a truly tranquil experience.

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9. Enjoy a night on the town

Like most metropolitan areas, Leicester has a thriving nightlife scene. If you’re after a romantic drink or two then The Classroom offers a broad menu and a cosy atmosphere. The Cookie is a popular city-centre venue with frequent events, from music performances to stand-up comedy, plus upstairs you’ll find The Attic, a rustic gin bar, which really comes alive in the summer as people swarm to its roof terrace. Soar Point is a great student bar, with street food, pool tables, live sport and video games console - who doesn’t want to play Super Smash Bros while enjoying a craft beer? If you’re visiting Curve, or are in the Cultural Quarter area, make sure to stop by Manhattan34 for a cocktail or two. If it’s a more traditional pub you’re after, then The Globe has been serving patrons since 1720, and it’s remained popular with locals ever since.

10. Visit Abbey Pumping Station

Originally a sewage treatment plant when it first opened in 1891, Abbey Pumping Station has since been transformed into a museum dedicated to celebrating Leicester’s industrial, technological and scientific heritage. There’s a little bit of everything here, but it's the interactive displays that will really delight the kids - especially the one that shows how a flushing toilet operates! The pumping station also features a rare example of Georgian engineer Arthur Woolf’s compound rotative beam engines, which on special event days are put to use puffing out steam. Located opposite the National Space Centre, it is possible to experience both educational museums in a single day - though you might need longer to do them both justice.

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