Leicester: 48 hours in the home city of the new Premier League champions

Spend some extra time in the home town of the season’s unlikely title winners

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 03 May 2016 08:21 BST
A satellite truck transmits the spirit of Leicester to the world
A satellite truck transmits the spirit of Leicester to the world (Simon Calder)

Why go now?

One of the greatest stories in travel began in Leicester 175 years ago, when Thomas Cook organised his first excursion: a Temperance awayday to Loughborough.

And one of the greatest stories in football reached its climax on 2 May, when Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City FC won the Premier League for the first time in their history.

Common to both Cook and Ranieri: a global outlook, a belief in teamwork and a recognition of strength in diversity - virtues that are reflected in Leicester itself. The East Midlands city is well worth two days of your time.

Touch down

Leicester railway station (1) is astride the Midland mainline from London St Pancras to Sheffield, and just over an hour from either city. There are also direct trains from Birmingham, Cambridge and many other towns and cities. Schedules and fares are available on 03457 48 49 50 or at nationalrail.co.uk.

East Midlands airport is 18 miles north-west of the city centre; a campaign is under way to re-brand it as Leicester airport. The Leicester Skylink bus takes 53 minutes, so it may be quicker to get a bus to nearby East Midlands Parkway station and travel by train from there.

Leicester players celebrate winning the Premier League

Get your bearings

The usual combination of Luftwaffe bombing along with dismal post-war planning has left Leicester’s medieval heart scarred. A sequence of main roads forms an inner ring in roughly the shape of a diamond, separating the city centre from its surroundings - and the railway station (1). There is plenty of interest within the central area, with the Cathedral (2) and the Town Hall (3) useful landmarks. The ruins of the Castle (4) lie just to the west, alongside the River Soar. The revived West End area is south-west along Narborough Road (5). The main artery of the area where East African Asians settled in the 1960s and 70s is Belgrave Road (6), also known as the “Golden Mile”. In recent months the focus of the world has shifted to a new structure beside a patch of industrial semi-dereliction a mile south of the centre: the King Power Stadium (7), home to Leicester City FC.

Visit Leicester (8) is at 51 Gallowtree Gate (0116 299 4444; visitleicester.info). It opens 9.30am-5.30pm daily (10am-4pm on Sundays).

Check in

The Grand Hotel (9), which dominates Granby Street (0844 815 9012; mercureleicester.co.uk) now labours under the title Mercure Leicester The Grand Hotel, but its extravagant Victorian flourishes remain undimmed. A double room typically costs £109, with breakfast an extra £10 per person.

The city-centre boutique choice is the Hotel Maiyango (10) at 13-21 St Nicholas Place (0116 251 88 98; maiyango.com), which also includes a restaurant and a tasting room. Web rates start at £79 double - with a Sunday-night special of £109 for two including a three-course dinner.

Football fans who want to stay as close as possible to the home of Leicester City (7) can check into the Holiday Inn Express adjacent to the ground (0116 249 4590; exhileicester.co.uk), where doubles are typically £77.

Day One

Take a hike

Turn right when you leave Leicester station (1) and you bump into the king of travel, Thomas Cook. The statue commemorates the man who, starting in 1841, revolutionised the travel industry. Cross the busy ring road and head along Granby Street. Pop into the Grand Hotel (9) to admire the flamboyant public spaces, and see if the French Gothic Revival-style Leicestershire Banking Company (11) is open; it is now owned by the Hare Krishna movement, but is sometimes open to the public. The street becomes Gallowtree Gate, and aims towards the handsome Haymarket clock tower (12). Just before it, on the right, is a statue called Sporting Success, featuring cricket and rugby as well as football. Directly opposite, above the Foot Locker store, is the former HQ of Thomas Cook - with reliefs depicting the entrepreneur’s transportational achievements.

Turn left along Silver Street, which leads through the Leicester Lanes area - passing the medieval Guildhall (13) before reaching Jubilee Square (14) - where a single column, now on a plinth, is all that remains of High Cross, the former market.

Lunch on the run

High Street, which runs east from Jubilee Square (14), has dozens of eating options - but for some local flavour, head for the far end. Turn right along Cheapside and you can either stop at the Walker & Son 1824 pie shop, which has been supplying pork pies for almost two centuries, or continue to Leicester Market (15) for a wide range of fast but good food.

Window shopping

Railway bridge over Narborough Road, the most diverse street in Britain
Railway bridge over Narborough Road, the most diverse street in Britain (Simon Calder)

Besides the market (15), the widest range of independent retailers can be found beyond the city centre. The stretch of Narborough Road (5), between Hinckley Road and Upperton Road, has been rated the most multicultural street in Europe - with shopkeepers from 23 nations; the Canadian-run Tin Drum Books is at number 68 (0116 254 4607).

South of the University of Leicester and its adjoining Victoria Park, Queen’s Road (16) has plenty of one-off stores - including a colourful and well-stocked delicatessen at number 50 called Salvador Deli (0116 270 4186), with local cheeses and Mediterranean indulgences. The adjoining Cuban-themed Bar Dos Hermanos and the tapas bar Barceloneta are part of the same business.

On the day Leicester City won the Premier League, the fan zone shop at the King Power Stadium (7) ran out of kit - but it is now getting in extra supplies.

Cultural afternoon

The tomb of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, where the monarch was reburied in 2015
The tomb of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, where the monarch was reburied in 2015 (Simon Calder)

The discovery of the grave of Richard III is as astonishing a 21st-century story as the success of Leicester City. The troubled and controversial monarch died nearby at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. More than five centuries later, archaeologists discovered a skeleton that, through DNA matching, was confirmed to be that of Richard III - the last English king to die on the battlefield. The car park under which he ignominiously lay has now been expertly transformed into the King Richard III Visitor Centre (17) (0300 300 0900; kriii.com; 10am-4pm daily; to 5pm on Saturdays, bank holidays and during school holidays; £7.95). It sets the scene for the last battle of the War of the Roses, then explains the remarkable sequence of events that led to the discovery of the king’s remains.

View the location where the skeleton was found. Then head across to Leicester Cathedral (2), where the Archbishop of Canterbury reburied Richard III in a ceremony in 2015. Pride of place in the Cathedral is given to Richard III’s tomb, which has been joined by two new stained-glass windows inspired by the monarch’s life. Outside, a statue of the tragic king shows him holding a sword in his right hand and reaching for his crown with his left.

An aperitif

Just around the corner, Taps (18) at 10 Guildhall Lane (0116 253 0904; .taps-leicester.com) was formerly a jail and a brothel (though not at the same time). You can pour your own from a tap at the table, or order one of many craft beers. Or try the King’s Head (19) at 36 King Street (0116 254 8240), a more traditional pub, where locally brewed Leather Britches Belter is on draught. At either establishment, while you toast the Foxes, the locals will be happy to explain how the team outplayed their Premier League opposition.

Dining with the locals

Numerous buses - including the 5, 25 and 54 - will take you a mile or so north-east to the Golden Mile, the stretch of Belgrave Road lined with a glittering strip of shops and restaurants (together with a statue of Mahatma Gandhi). Gujarati vegetarian dishes are excellent - especially at Bobby’s (20) at 154 Belgrave Road (0116 266 0106; eatatbobbys.co.uk). The decor is shocking pink, the dishes finely spiced and textured. With quantity as generous as quality, be wary of ordering the Special Thali (£8) on your own. While Cobra beer is available, Masala Chaas is a more interesting alternative - buttermilk flavoured with herbs and spices (£3).

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Belgrave Road, Leicester
Statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Belgrave Road, Leicester (Simon Calder)

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

The area around the ruined Castle (4) is a quiet retreat on the edge of the city centre. Beside the fragments of the fortifications, St Mary de Castro church (21) has early 11th-century origins - it celebrates its 900th anniversary next year. The original Norman church, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “a showpiece of late Norman sumptuousness”, is paralleled by an Early English extension with Victorian embellishments by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Sunday services are at 9.30am and 11am; the church is also open during the week, usually around lunchtime.

Just to the east, you find the first Jain temple outside India - a tribute to the rich spirituality of Leicester. The Jain Centre (22) at 32 Oxford Street is a spectacular conversion of a former church (0116 254 1150; jaincentre.com). It opens to all at 7.30 every morning, to 6.30pm on Sundays and 8pm on other days.

A walk in the park

New Walk, following the course of a Roman Road through Leicester
New Walk, following the course of a Roman Road through Leicester (Simon Calder)

Three minutes’ walk east from the temple (22) takes you to the start of New Walk (23), a unique green thoroughfare across the city. It was laid out in 1785 along the course of the Via Devana, the Roman Road from Leicester to Colchester. It is now flanked by elegant Georgian townhouses, and provides the ideal approach to Victoria Park - where the notable features are a mighty War Memorial (24) and, leading from it, the Peace Walk.

Out to brunch

In the West End district, North Bar and Kitchen (25) at 42 Hinckley Road (0116 225 5961; northbarandkitchen.co.uk; noon-6.30pm on Sundays) features an open kitchen with the staff on view. Brunch dishes include North Haddock, smoked and served on spinach, topped with a poached egg (£9.50).

Take a view …

… into distant galaxies at the National Space Centre (26) on Exploration Drive, two miles north of the city centre (0116 261 0261; spacecentre.co.uk; 10am-5pm at weekends, to 4pm on other days; £14). This window on the universe includes the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium (the UK’s largest) and the 138ft-high Rocket Tower - home to the Blue Streak and Thor Able rockets.

Take a ride

Close by, Leicester North station (27) is the southern terminus of the Great Central Railway - the UK's only double track, main line heritage railway, as used for filming by Top Gear (01509 632323; gcrailway.co.uk). A Runabout ticket on the half-hour run to Loughborough, follows in the tracks of Thomas Cook’s first outing.

Icing on the cake

Portrait of Thomas Cook in New Walk Museum and Art Gallery
Portrait of Thomas Cook in New Walk Museum and Art Gallery (Simon Calder)

Leicester’s sense of wonder is best encapsulated by the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery (28) - a cheerful muddle of marvels crammed into the former home of the city’s Literary and Philosophical Society (0116 225 4900; bit.ly/NeWalk; open 11am-5pm on Sunday, from 10am on other days, admission free). The highlights on the first floor: the Attenborough Collection of Picasso Ceramics, and a rich collection of German Expressionists - founded in 1944, while the Second World War was still raging. Downstairs, the Egyptian section contains ancient mummies as well as a representation of Boris Karloff in The Mummy - together with a reminder to travellers that “Safe, comfortable holidays in Egypt were invented by Thomas Cook of Leicester”.

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