I know what you’re thinking: a weekend in Leicester? And you wouldn’t be alone. Even the locals thought it was a bit odd. But I’m in this underdog of a city for two good reasons, and while I’m here I find a whole lot more to make me want to stay.
Weekend in Leicester
My weekend trip has come about because my boyfriend wants to explore the city’s connections to one of its most famous sons: Arts and Crafts architect and designer Ernest Gimson. It’s also happening because I’ve been a bit obsessed with Richard III since reading Shakespeare’s play of the same name in high school. When the king’s remains—which had been missing for over 500 years—were suddenly discovered under a parking lot in Leicester in 2012 I made a mental note to visit someday.
So now we’re off on our weekend getaway. We travel by train thanks to the sponsorship of a new independent train booking company called ticketclever, which finds cheaper train prices for journeys across the country with no card or booking fees. In just over an hour, we get from London to Leicester and start exploring.
And there’s a lot more to explore than I imagined. I had worried that there wouldn’t be enough things to do in Leicester to keep us busy for two days, but we end up having the opposite problem.
Things to Do in Leicester
We start with Richard III. A new visitor center dedicated to the controversial king opened two years ago. It leads us through the story of his final days in 1485 and the rediscovery of his remains. At the end it takes us to the very spot where his bones were found. Goosebumps.
Across the square outside lies Leicester Cathedral, where Richard III is now buried. We go in to see his tomb and discover that it’s only one of the amazing works of art housed within the walls.
There’s more outside, too. Behind the cathedral is the lovely 14th-century Guildhall. Its half-timbered facade is straight out of a storybook.
Down the street is a set of full-blown Roman ruins. I’m a huge sucker for Roman history, and seeing the Jewry Wall, one of the tallest surviving pieces of Roman masonry in Britain, is pretty amazing. That’s to say nothing of Saint Nicholas Church next door, which exhibits a fascinating mix of architectural styles dating back centuries.
But we’re not just here to look at medieval and Roman Leicester. There’s a lot to the city from more recent times. One of the things that delights us about Leicester is that seemingly every street has gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian buildings above the often bland shopfronts. It’s easy to miss them if we don’t look up, but when we lift our eyes it’s like magic.
As we absorb everything from the Thomas Cook Building—it was erected to honor the travel entrepreneur—to the Turkey Cafe—it amuses us with its Art Nouveau nod to the Thanksgiving bird—we’re awed by how much beauty there is here.
Still looking up, we make our way through the city center to the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. The museum is under renovation, but usually has an impressive Arts and Crafts collection on display. We see an exhibition and the exhibits that are still open, then go out to explore one of my favorite places in the city: New Walk.
Established in 1785, this long pedestrianized stretch transports us back in time. Lined by historic buildings on both sides, it’s a lovely place to soak up Leicester’s past.
Another lovely place is 15 minutes outside the city. Stoneywell house was designed by Ernest Gimson for his brother at the end of the 19th century. A stunning example of Arts and Crafts architecture, it was converted into a museum two years ago.
We take a tour of Stoneywell, absorbing the intimate interior and exploring the wild garden landscape outside. It’s the perfect counterbalance to the city, and a great way to end our weekend in Leicester.
As we travel back into town to catch our train to London, we can hardly believe how much we’ve found to love about Leicester. In fact, we’ve enjoyed it so much that we can’t help going for a last glimpse of some of our favorite streets and buildings before we leave.
Once en route to the capital, it doesn’t take us long to start planning our next visit. When the New Walk Museum is fully open again we’re going to head back and take in the collections and a lot more of the city. When we do, we’ll know to leave ourselves plenty of extra time to explore.
Have you been? How would you spend a weekend in Leicester?