The Best Things To Do in Leicester
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
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Leicester is a bustling city in the East Midlands, with that rare perfect blend of history, culture, and interesting attractions to visit. With a history dating back over 2000 years, Leicester is one of the oldest cities in England, so you can bet that there are plenty of unique things to do in Leicester to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. Like many visitors to Leicester, the big draw for me was the recent discovery of King Richard III's remains, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many more attractions in Leicester to visit which gave me a further appreciation for the city.
Leicester is also a thriving university city, so if you're not overly interested in learning about the city's history day in and day out, there are plenty of modern things to do in Leicester, which includes a very popular nightlife scene and some fantastic restaurants too. If you have enough time in your schedule, I would recommend going on a couple of day trips from Leicester because there are some fantastic historical attractions in Leicestershire that are well worth driving to.
Things To Do in Leicester
Regardless of what your main interests are, you'll undoubtedly find a lot of great things to do in Leicester. If this isn't your first time visiting my blog, you'll know by now that I love visiting historical attractions, so for the purpose of this guide to Leicester that's what I'll be focusing on.
King Richard III Statue
You can't plan a trip to Leicester without adding at least one attraction to your itinerary that has to do with King Richard III. If you're visiting Leicester on a budget, there are plenty of sites you can stop at that are either free or relatively cheap to visit. This bronze statue of King Richard III, for example, stands proudly outside of Leicester Cathedral and is completely free to access. It's very easy to locate if you're heading to the King Richard III Visitor Centre too.
King Richard III Visitor Centre
Across the road from the bronze statue is the King Richard III Visitor Centre, which is one of the most popular attractions in Leicester. It's a fantastic interactive exhibition where you can learn about Richard III's background story, his claim to the throne, and how the last Plantagenet king of England ended up being discovered under a parking lot. They've also created a glass floor over the exact spot where the king's remains were found during the excavation, which is incredible to see in person. Entry costs £9.25 per adult, and since it's one of the best places to visit in Leicester you won't want to miss it!
Looking for free things to do in Leicester? This may surprise you, but Leicester Cathedral is completely free to enter. You can of course give a donation at the door if you want to though. The site of the cathedral dates back over 900 years, but it wasn't until 1927 that it was given cathedral status. Since 2015 the cathedral has been the final resting place of Richard III, and you can see his tomb on display at the far end of the cathedral. Make sure you double check the opening times before planning your visit!
Sitting just next to Leicester Cathedral is the Leicester Guildhall. It was built in 1390 for use as a meeting place and banquet hall, and is the oldest building still in use in the city today. It's also considered to be the most haunted building in Leicester, and may have played host to a performance by Shakespeare himself in the Tudor period. It's certainly a very historical attraction in Leicester to visit so don't forget to stop by as you make your way through Leicester's old town!
Leicester's Old Town
One of my favourite things to do in Leicester was to walk around its old town. Some of the streets are for pedestrians only which is ideal for taking photos - especially if you get up at sunrise like I did. You'll find plenty of unique restaurants in Leicester in this part of the city, as well as numerous shops and some of the city's main attractions as well. Our hotel was located right in the heart of the old town which was perfect!
Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower
As you make your way through the streets of Leicester's city centre, you'll probably come across this unique clock tower. The Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower is one of the city's most iconic landmarks and for decades has stood as a popular meeting place for people. It was originally built in 1868 on the site of a former hay and straw market, with the purpose of helping with traffic congestion. It's an interesting thing to see in Leicester and is worth making a stop at.
St Nicholas Church
St Nicholas Church is one of the many churches in Leicester that you can visit, but it's the oldest place of worship in the city which makes it one of my favourites. Parts of the church date back over 1100 years, and there is even evidence of some Roman architecture on the site as well. Just behind the church sits the Jewry Wall, which is a Roman wall dating to the 2nd century AD, and is one of the largest surviving Roman structures in the country. It was sadly closed for renovations during my trip, but I hear that it's a must-see in Leicester.
St George's Cultural Quarter
Another area of Leicester's city centre that you should explore if you have time is St George's Cultural Quarter. In Victorian times this area was filled with textile factories and shoemaker shops, but today these factory buildings have been turned into a thriving centre for the arts, and one or two fantastic cafes as well. Exploring this area on foot is one of the many fun things to do in Leicester and is something that's unique to the city.
If you're looking for more tranquil places in Leicester to visit, I would recommend taking a walk along New Walk. The walkway is a rare example of a Georgian pedestrian promenade that dates back to 1785, and is lined with elegant houses and some picture perfect cafes and restaurants too. This street has always been at the core of life in the city, and was even used in Roman times by soldiers. New Walk is about 1 mile long from start to finish and walking along it is one of the best free things to do in Leicester - especially if you have nice weather!
If museums are your thing, you can find the Leicester Museum & Art Gallery sitting along New Walk, which is completely free to go inside. The museum hosts a number of unique exhibitions and events throughout the year, and is a popular place to visit with the kids in Leicester as well. It was opened to the public in 1849, making it one of the first public museums in the whole of the UK. The museum has everything from dinosaurs to a permanent Egyptology exhibition in it, with other exhibitions coming and going throughout the year. Visiting this museums is the perfect thing to do in Leicester when it's raining!
The Magazine is a very impressive 15th century gateway which would have granted entry to the religious area of the city known as The Newarke. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the gateway was used to imprison Catholics, but it wasn't until the English Civil War in the 17th century that it gained its current name. It's a very interesting thing to see in Leicester and is close to other important landmarks in the city too.
Something that you really do need to appreciate as you walk around Leicester is its street art. Many of them are very Instagrammable spots in Leicester and are well worth taking photos of. This one is called Newarke Street and is located next to The Magazine. It pays homage to the former owner of Leicester City Football Club who died under tragic circumstances, but played a huge role in the recent success of the club. You can follow this street art guide to find more of these unique locations in Leicester.
Not far from The Magazine is a very important historical spot in Leicester that's often overlooked by tourists. The Turret Gateway (Prince Rupert's Gateway) was built in the early 15th century and would have been the main gateway from The Newarke into the castle. A plaque on the wall reads that this was also the gateway that Richard III's body passed under after his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth. The Turret Gateway was one of my favourite things to see in Leicester, and the historic area around it is beautiful to walk around too. You can find the Newarke Houses Museum just around the corner from the gateway too.
The original construction of Leicester Castle dates to around 1070, and it would have formed part of the medieval town defences. Today all that remains is the original mound from the motte and bailey castle, part of the castle walls, and the the great hall which sits behind the 17th century brickwork you see in this photo. It may not look like a castle by today's standards, but this area played an important role in the development of Leicester, and is worth visiting.
St Mary de Castro Church
St Mary de Castro Church sits opposite Leicester Castle, and in fact looks a lot more medieval than the current castle does. The church was originally founded in 1107 as a place of worship within the castle complex, and was where Henry VI was knighted in 1426. It's also said to be the location of the marriage of Geoffrey Chaucer (the author of the Canterbury Tales) to his second wife. It's one of the more unique places to go in Leicester if you enjoy learning about history.
If you want to escape the city for a bit, I would recommend visiting Abbey Park. As well as having a great selection of activities to do with the family in it, Abbey Park is also home to a couple of interesting historical sites. The remains of Leicester Abbey can still be seen within the grounds of the park, which at one time was one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country. It was destroyed in the early 16th century and the gatehouse was later turned into a mansion. You can still see the remains of Cavendish House next to the abbey ruins. Visiting the park wasn't high on my list of things to do in Leicester, but I'm glad I decided to visit in the end.
Abbey Pumping Station Museum
If you're interested in learning more about Leicester's Victorian history, a trip to the Abbey Pumping Station Museum is a must. This pumping station was built in 1891 in response to the city's sewage problems, but today it acts as a museum where you can see the impressive steam engines as well as a few other interesting exhibitions. Visiting the museum is a great cheap thing to do in Leicester and is usually open daily (it's actually a free attraction in Leicester, but they recommend making a donation where possible).
National Space Centre
Sightseeing in Leicester isn't complete without stopping at the National Space Centre. It's home to the UK's largest planetarium, has 6 interactive galleries inside it, and has a 42m high rocket tower. It also sits right next to the Abbey Pumping Station, so you can cross two things off of your Leicester itinerary at once. It's the perfect place to go for a day out with the kids in Leicester. Even if you don't have kids, it makes for a very interesting visit and after spending a couple of hours inside of the centre I understood why it was so popular. Entry to the National Space Centre costs £15.50 per adult. Don't miss out on one of the top things to do in Leicester!
Where To Eat in Leicester
As you make your way through the city, you'll soon come to realize that there are a lot of fantastic places to eat in Leicester. If your hotel doesn't offer breakfast, you won't be short on cafes to choose from in the city centre, and in terms of lunch and dinner options, the places to choose from are endless. Although we were on the go quite a bit during our trip to Leicester, we did manage to stop for some food every so often. Here are my recommendations for where to eat in Leicester:
Esquires Coffee Wullcomb
A great way to start the day is with breakfast from Esquires Coffee. We chose to visit their Wullcomb location which was only a short walk from our city centre hotel. They have a good menu selection for breakfast and brunch, which includes things like smashed avocado on toast, pancakes topped with berries, and a selection of continental options too. They also offer freshly made fruit juices which I would recommend adding to your meal. If you don't have time to sit in and eat, you can always take your food to go !
Yes, you read that right - there is a Tim Hortons in Leicester! After being away from Canada for so long, I was really excited to be able to sit down to a Boston cream doughnut and get an everything bagel. This may not be the most exciting or unique place to eat in Leicester's city centre, but for a Canadian like me it definitely made my day. It's a great option for a takeaway if you're on the go too.
Kobe Sizzlers is a great option if you want to go to a steakhouse while you're visiting Leicester. It's located next to the main train station, and is only a short walk from the start of New Walk too. There's something for everyone on this menu, from steaks to halloumi burgers. You also shouldn't miss the opportunity to try out their giant milkshakes or their sizzling brownie for dessert - it's pretty fun to watch how it's presented!
It can be difficult to eat healthy while travelling, which is why the Grounded Kitchen is a great choice if you're looking to grab something while on the go but don't want to go to a fast food restaurant. Currently, the Grounded Kitchen is only offering takeaway at their Leicester location, so we took our delicious rice bowls back to our hotel room. There are plenty of options to choose from on their menu and they also have a great selection of fresh juices too. This was one of my favourite places to eat in Leicester.
Pho Restaurant is a very unique place to eat in Leicester's city centre that offers healthy Vietnamese food. This was my first time trying Vietnamese food and I absolutely loved it! They have a massive menu to choose from and everything is freshly made on-site. The portions can be quite large, so if you're wanting to sample different dishes I would recommend coming here on an empty stomach. Sadly there are no desserts on the menu, but you can treat yourself to one of their healthy juices instead!
On our way out of Leicester, we decided to stop by the newly opened Boo Burger located at Fosse Park Shopping Centre. They offer a selection of handcrafted burgers here that are all made with fresh ingredients - even the buns are locally sourced. I opted for their crispy halluomi burger which was a lot more filling than I expected. Boo Burger also have a location in Leicester's city centre which will be easier to get to if you don't have a car.
The Dovetail, Oakham
The Dovetail is located in Oakham, which is about a 40 minute drive from Leicester. It's 100% worth the short trip though! This is the perfect restaurant to go to if you want to treat yourself or have a romantic dinner. The Dovetail is a contemporary fine dining restaurant that uses the best locally sourced ingredients to create their dishes. The atmosphere in the evening is incredible, and the presentation of the food is just as impressive as the flavours. You should definitely treat yourself to a cocktail while you're here as well! Oakham is a great option for a day out from Leicester too if you have time in your schedule.
Days Out Near Leicester
Speaking of day trips from Leicester, you may or may not be surprised to learn that they come in an abundance. Leicestershire is largely a rural county, meaning many of the places to visit near Leicester consists of small villages, country parks, and the odd historical attraction or two. That being said, I wish I had more time in my schedule to visit more places around Leicester. Here are some recommendations for the best days out near Leicester to help you plan your trip:
One of the best options for a day out near Leicester is Belvoir Castle. Unlike many castles in the area, this is a fairly modern one as it only dates back to the 19th century. There have, however, been a few other castles built on this site, dating as far back as the time of William the Conqueror. Its opulent interior is reminiscent of Versailles in some rooms, and you may recognize the exterior from the hit show The Crown, as it was used in place of Windsor Castle. The castle certainly has an interesting history behind it, so I would highly recommend going on a guided tour. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and gave us loads of interesting facts about the castle. Make sure you check out the Picture Gallery because Belvoir Castle has got its hands on the famous Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII!
Having afternoon tea at Belvoir Castle is a must, as it's where the tradition was invented. They currently offer afternoon tea in one of their newly refurbished rooms which makes for a very royal experience! After exploring the castle, you can head out for a leisurely stroll around the castle gardens and woodlands. The woodlands are a bit hilly, so if you struggle with walking I wouldn’t recommend trekking along the entire trail. A combined castle and gardens ticket costs £18 per adult. Before heading home, I would also suggest heading to the Engine Yard which is the castle’s unique retail village situated in restored estate buildings. You can also grab something to eat or drink here at the Fuel Tank Restaurant. A trip to Belvoir Castle really is the perfect option for a day trip from Leicester.
Kirby Muxloe Castle
If you’re looking to visit somewhere that’s a bit closer to Leicester’s city centre, a short drive to Kirby Muxloe Castle is a great option. Construction of this fortified manor house began in 1480, but in 1483 its owner was executed by Richard III so the building remained incomplete. Despite it being a ruin, it’s a very scenic location and is popular for picnics as well as fishing in the moat. When we visited the castle was sadly closed, but we did manage to walk around the outside of the castle and look at it from across the moat. If you’d like to check out the ruins of the castle during its opening times, entry costs £5.90.
1620's House & Garden
There are plenty of unique things to do near Leicester, such as planning a day trip to the 1620’s House & Gardens. This attraction is perhaps not as well known with tourists as other places around Leicester, but it’s the perfect example of a historical hidden gem. The manor house was originally built in the 13th century, but underwent a number of modern renovations in the 17th century. As soon as you step inside the house you’re transported to the 17th century, and each room has an information sheet in it so you can learn more about what the room would have been used for in the past. You can also take a stroll around the very well maintained gardens, and grab a slice of a homemade cake from the cafe. The entry fee is £5.95, and if you keep the ticket you’re able to reenter this historical site for an entire year.
Another unique day trip from Leicester is to the Foxton Locks. It’s a very peaceful area where you can take a walk along the canal, with a couple of restaurants and cafes to choose from as well. The major attraction here though are the locks, as they’re the longest and steepest in the country. They were originally built in the 19th century, and are still in operation today. While we were there we saw a few canal boats passing through the locks, and were able to watch how the water levels were being manually lowered and raised when needed. It’s one of the more popular days out in Leicester, especially among locals, and is completely free too!
Brockleby's Pie Making Experience
Melton Mowbray is a very popular village near Leicester to visit, best known for its pork pies. They became popular in the late 18th century when the area became a hunting capital. The pork pies are still made today using a specific type of pastry that's a lot more durable than what you'd normally find pies made of, making it ideal for hunters to throw in their bags while they went hunting. The best way to learn about the history of pork pies in this area is to head over to Brockleby’s Pies and take part in their pie making experience.
The experience lasts around 2 hours, and not only do you get to learn about the origin of the pork pie, but you get to try your hands at making your own too! It’s a very unique process, and even if you aren’t the best at working with pastry (like me), you should have no problems making your own pie as you’re guided through every step. You can take your pie home with you to bake, and they also have a great selection of pies to purchase at the end of the workshop too. Their Pie Making Experience costs £25 per person or £40 per couple, and is run in the evening. They also run their Ultimate Pie Making Workshop during the day which costs £50 per person and includes a take-home pie and ploughman's lunch!
Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre
If you’re a die hard history fan like me, you’ll want to plan a trip to the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. The battle was an important turning point in English history, as it’s where Richard III was killed, marking the beginning of the Tudor period. There’s a very interesting interactive exhibition here that teaches you more about the battle and who was involved which costs £8.95 to enter, and the ticket is valid for the whole year as well so you can revisit the exhibition at your leisure. The country park that surrounds the centre is completely free to walk around, and there's even a viewing platform that looks out over the field where the battle would have taken place. It’s a very popular day trip from Leicester to go on!
If you’re planning a trip to the Foxton Locks, you could also add a quick stop at Market Harborough to your itinerary for the day. While I wouldn’t plan a full day trip here, it’s a nice town to walk around for a bit and hop between the shops and restaurants. The town has a long standing history dating back to the Anglo Saxon period, and also played a prominent role in the English Civil War. By the 19th century, Market Harborough was a popular place for fox hunting and today is a charming market town to visit near Leicester.
Just under an hour from Leicester sits Rockingham Castle, in the county of Northamptonshire. Like many castles near Leicester, Rockingham Castle has a history dating back to the time of William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and was an important strategic castle due to its elevated position in the countryside. Tickets to the castle and gardens cost £12.50 each, which allows you to take a self-guided tour of the castle.
You can also explore the gardens where you'll find the original hill that the motte and bailey castle of the 11th century would have stood on. The great thing about a self-guided tour is that you can take your time and thoroughly look through each of the rooms. Unfortunately, since the castle is still lived in today, photos are not permitted inside but you can take as many photos as you want in the gardens. There is also an on-site cafe and the castle regularly hosts events, so check out their website before planning your trip. Visiting Rockingham Castle is one of the best historical things to do around Leicester!
On our way into Leicester, we decided to make a stop at Bradgate Park. It’s located just outside of Leicester, near the popular village of Newton Linford. There’s actually a very nice pub in the village called The Bradgate which offers pub food as well as stone-baked pizzas - a great spot for lunch. Bradgate Park is a very popular option for a day out from Leicester, and is the oldest enclosed medieval deer park in the East Midlands. As well as seeing herds of deer freely roaming around, you can stop at the ruins of Bradgate House, which was once the home of Lady Jane Grey in the 16th century, and climb up to the highest point of the park to see Old John Tower. Apart from parking charges, the park itself is completely free to enter and is perfect for a day trip from Leicester if you want to go for a peaceful walk.
Where To Stay in Leicester
While there are many hotels in Leicester’s city centre to choose from, not all of them are situated inside a historical Georgian Grade I listed building. The City Rooms is located in the heart of Leicester’s old town and is one of the most popular wedding venues in Leicestershire. Although it’s mostly used for events, you can also book one of their rooms to stay in when they aren’t hosting a wedding or other event. Their rooms are all double bedded suites, and due to the age of the building they are only accessible by stairs, so keep this in mind if you struggle with walking upstairs. I loved the modern design of our suite and the amount of room that we had as well. There is no breakfast available at The City Rooms, but it’s surrounded by some of the best cafes in Leicester so you won’t have far to walk to find one.
>> Click here for the most up to date prices at The City Rooms <<
For those of you who prefer to stay outside of the city centre, but still have easy access to it by car, Winstanley House would be a great option for you. This boutique hotel is set within a Grade II listed Georgian house, surrounded by parkland, and is another very popular wedding venue in Leicester. In fact, when we checked in there was a wedding just finishing and the hotel looked stunning with the wedding decorations still up. The hotel is also home to the Black Iron Restaurant, which is a contemporary steakhouse and restaurant that is open to the public.
We stayed in one of their Deluxe Double Rooms which had a very comfortable bed and a huge marble tiled bathroom in it. The hotel offers a good breakfast selection, with the hot breakfast options all being made to order, which is served in the Black Iron Restaurant. Winstanley House is one of the more unique hotels in Leicester to stay at, and is ideal if you enjoy staying in historical buildings that have a modern touch to them.
>> Click here for the most up to date prices at Winstanley House <<
I have to admit, Leicester was not at the top of my list of places to visit in England, but I’m glad I visited this incredible historic city! There are plenty of things to do in Leicester to keep you busy for a few days, but there are even more incredible places to visit near Leicester too that are worth adding to your itinerary. Leicester is an underrated city with tourists, but its prime location in between London and Manchester means that it’s also an ideal place for a staycation or a weekend away. Even Liverpool isn’t too far by car! So, if you’re thinking of visiting the East Midlands sometime soon, remember to plan a visit to Leicester as well - I promise you won’t leave disappointed.
Have you been to Leicester before? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the city, and any other things to do in Leicester, or nearby, that I missed out on. And don’t forget to follow my travels on Instagram too for more photos from my trip to Leicester!