LandscapeAlthough Leicestershire is not usually high on the list of priorities of tourists planning a holiday to the UK, this relatively small county has much to offer. The cosmopolitan reputation of the county’s main city, Leicester, is a huge plus point, with cultural activities and culinary delights to be indulged in. The county has been responsible for some important contributions to British cuisine, such as Stilton, Red Leicester cheese and pork pie. The towns of Leicestershire, like in much of the East Midlands, also sit in some of the most picturesque countryside in England. Together with its sites of historical interest and conserved market towns, Leicestershire has something to please just about everyone.

Leicestershire is a landlocked county, bordered on all sides by seven other counties. Shaped somewhat like an inverted triangle, the county is divided into seven districts nicely arranged around the unitary authority of Leicester in the middle. The market town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch and the National Forest are at the northwest of the county, while the southern part of the county is dotted with rural villages and rolling countryside. Much of the county’s population is concentrated in and around Leicester.

National Forest www.nationalforest.orgLocated on the northwestern border of Leicestershire, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, (pop. 12,800) commonly known as just Ashby, is a small market town sitting within the National Forest. The French part of the town’s name was appended after Ashby came under the possession of the French La Zouche family by marriage, in the 12th century. The past significance of the town’s medieval castle is evident – here Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a time by the Earl of Huntingdon; and Sir Walter Scott chose to set his novel Ivanhoe. In the 19th century the spa trend hit the town, a legacy that can be seen in the architecture of some of the buildings in town. Of further interest in the town are St. Helen’s Church and the Ashby-de-la-Zouche Museum. The Heart of the National Forest Visitor Centre is located nearby, making Ashby a good base for exploring the National Forest.

Leicester  flickr plentyofantsThe county town of Leicestershire, Leicester (pop. 12,800) has been in existence since Roman times, when it served as a military outpost. Evidence of its long, rich history can be seen around the city in the form of Roman ruins and venerable old buildings. Despite considerable bombing damage during World War II, Leicester is today forging a proudly multicultural and dynamic image. It is estimated that during term time 12% of its population is made up of students. With a large Asian population, festivals like Diwali and Eid-ul-Fitr are celebrated in the city, and its cuisine is often thought of as one of the city’s biggest attractions. The city is the reigning Curry Capital of Britain, a title it is gearing up to defend in the future competitions as well.      

Leicester lies along the A50, but driving in the city can be a headache because of the many one-way streets. The Market is more or less at the centre of town, and many attractions lie within a 500-metre radius around it. Two major shopping centres are located just north of centre, and Castle Park lies a little to the southwest. The Leicester Train Station is about 500m east of centre, while the two bus stations are to the north.

Leicester Clock tower  Wikipedia MaksimTown Centre:  Many important architectural landmarks lie in and around the centre. Leicester’s Market is the largest covered market in Europe. One of the most prominent of the city’s landmarks, the Clock Tower, stands nearby. A few steps to the west you will find Leicester Cathedral, which, although small, dates from the 11th century. The Guildhall nearby dates from the 14th century and functioned as a town hall from around 1500 onwards.         

Jewry Wall Museum [St. Nicholas Circle, +44 116 2254971, Free.] Interestingly, the name of the Jewry Wall is derived from “jurats,” the senior administrators of the city during Saxon times, rather than having anything to do with Judaism. The wall is the only surviving part of what were once splendid Roman baths that stood on the site. At the time, Leicester was a settlement of considerable importance, as can be deduced from the grandeur of the baths constructed here, and its location along a major transport route of the time. The adjoining museum tells more about the city’s Roman history, with fascinating artifacts on display, including coins, frescoes and mosaics.         

New Walk Museum www.leicester.gov.ukNew Walk Museum and Art Gallery [New Walk, +44 116 2254900, Free.] A great family-friendly place to visit, this museum boasts Europe’s largest dinosaur skeleton – a 165 million year old sauropod dubbed the “Rutland Dinosaur.” As the museum’s Dinosaur and Geology Galleries are currently undergoing refurbishment, however, you might want to time your visit for summer 2011 when the galleries are due to reopen. The museum’s other galleries are nevertheless well worth the visit, especially the Ancient Egypt collection, the Fine Art galleries, and the interactive exhibition on natural history.        

Newarke Houses Museum [The Newarke, +44 116 2254980, Free.] Two fine period houses from the 16th century make up this museum, which documents daily life and times in Leicester over different time periods, up till the 20th century. The exhibits include room interiors, toys and games, and a 1950s cinema where you can watch clips of old films. The museum also houses the Royal Leicestershire Regiment Gallery. The pleasant gardens around the museum are the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic or a rest after your visit.  

Leicester Space Centre www.spacecentre.co.ukNational Space Centre [Exploration Drive, Leicester LE4 5NS, +44 116 2610261, Ad/Ch: £13.00/11.00] This highly acclaimed attraction is the largest of its kind in the UK. Fun and educational for the whole family, the centre explains everything about space science, from the history of astronomy to the life of an astronaut. In the Space Now section you can catch up with current news from space, tracking current space projects and viewing satellite images from those missions. The centre is located off the A6, about 3km north of Leicester city centre.   

Places of worship like the Jain Centre [32 Oxford Street, +44 116 2541150] attest to the pluralism of Leicester. The only Jain temple in Europe, it was converted from an old church, and constructed using materials specially shipped from India. The Centre’s marble façade attracts much admiration, and the stone carvings in the interior are no less impressive. The Centre welcomes visitors by appointment.