The big idea

What makes this city different is the level of diversity and the optimism that goes with it; and the eagerness to explore our past, present and future: think fossils, dinosaurs and mummies, and what came before us; think different cultures and travel in the world around us today (this is after all the home of the man who brought tourism to the masses, one Thomas Cook); and think space exploration, and what lies beyond us waiting to be discovered.

It’s a great city to get a 360° perspective on the world we live in, in the widest possible sense. As such it’s a city of possibilities and openness; a city that’s well worth a visit.

A sense of wonder across time

This perspective on the wider world can be explored in a number of ways.

Fancy a step back in time? Head to the New Walk Museum for mummies, dinosaurs and fossils (it was here that a certain Sir David Attenborough was inspired as a child) or to Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park to imagine one the country’s most famous battles, which set a new course for the history of the England; or to the oldest Roman remnant in any city in the land, the Jewry Wall, which is nearly 2000 years old.

More interested in exploring the here and now?

Very apt, as this is the home of boots, for walking, and of modern travel; it was here, in Leicester, that Thomas Cook started his company in 1841, taking people to Loughborough on the train. A modest start but it wasn’t long before he saw the opportunity of taking people farther afield and the modern tourism industry was born. But you don’t need to go abroad to experience different cultures with a trip to Leicester. The sheer volume and colour of the numerous festivals in the city pretty much bring the world to you.

Or maybe you want a glimpse of the future? For the future of modern entertainment check out Phoenix Square with its cutting-edge cinema – with leather rocking seats – and digital entertainment; for infinity and beyond head down to the National Space Centre, the country’s largest space visitor attraction.

Optimism with diversity

Leicester is fascinating; everywhere you turn is a new experience, a new culture to explore and enjoy – after all, this is the first city in the country with no majority race, and with that you get a sense of excitement, the possibility of trying and experiencing new things. There’s the unique Jain Temple here, the only one of its kind in the Western world, and plenty of amazing festivals, such as Diwali, the Leicester Belgrave Mela, Rathayatra and the Caribbean festival.

It’s also plain to see the sense of pride the city has, and the commitment to making the city a major player, as is evidenced by the attractive new Highcross shopping and entertainment centre – the glass and white filigree pattern on the exterior is a delight – and the stylish new Curve Theatre. And there’s plenty more investment on the way in the city’s 25-year development plan. This place is definitely moving forward; and if you need any more evidence of pride in a city, take in a rugby match at Leicester Tigers, the most successful English rugby club of the professional era.

The essence

With such diversity on display, and the forward/ backward/ global possibilities it offers, this is the 360 degree city.

Who’s it ideal for/how it can make you feel

What a great for city for families; for those who’ve always fancied themselves as an explorer; and for those who simply have a hunger for understanding the world around them. And for shoppers, Highcross plus the Lanes makes for a contrasting shopping experience; throw in the country’s biggest, and recently voted  the best, outdoor market, and you’re pretty much sorted whatever your retail tastes.

So a visit to Leicester can quite simply open your mind and allow you to see new possibilities.

The interesting bits in the history

Leicester is one of the older English cities, being the capital of the Celtic Corieltauvi tribe of the East Midlands. The Romans further put the place on the map when they captured it in AD 47 and subsequently built a fort in AD 48. The settlement thrived as the Romans built the Fosse Way and goods were traded in the market. They also built baths (evidence of which can be seen at the Jewry Wall Museum today). After the Romans left, the town floundered until the Danes took over in 877, making it one of the five towns in the East Midlands to come under the Danelaw – the name Leicester likely comes from the words ‘Castra’ (camp) on the ‘Ligore’ (river) – and remained this way until the Norman Conquest (many of the city’s current street names are of Danish origin), when the French took the town and William the Conqueror built a castle here.

In 1143 the abbey was founded and the town gained religious significance, alongside the growing wool and leather trade. By 1239, Simon de Montfort became Earl of Leicester (he left quite a legacy: de Montfort University and de Montfort Hall were both named after him) and famously forced King Henry III to form the first British Parliament. By the end of the 13th century, Leicester held a charter to hold markets, and by the end of the 14th century the town built its Guildhall.

In Tudor times, the future uncrowned Queen Regnant of England was born in Bradgate Park, near Leicester. Unfortunately, Lady Jane Grey, a granddaughter of Henry VII, only reigned for nine days, in July 1553. It should be of no major surprise incidentally, given the city’s fame in the creation of Parliament, that during the Civil War Leicester was staunchly Parliamentarian.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw a transport boom as both the Grand Union Canals and the railways arrived in Leicester and the marvellous station was built in 1840. It was only a year later that Thomas Cook organised his first trip to Loughborough and revolutionised modern travel, making it accessible to the masses. The boom industries in the town, for which it became renowned, were hosiery and footwear. But alongside these engineering firms were flourishing and Leicester had a broad manufacturing base. It was this lack of emphasis on any single industry that ensured the city fared much better than others during the lean times of the early 20th century: indeed it was one of the richer cities in Europe at the time.

In 1919, Leicester was granted city status (for the second time, it was granted city status in mediaeval times, but lost it due to a power struggle between the aristocracy and Church) and within a decade the church of St Martin’s became the cathedral. The central location of the city today means it’s got a thriving distribution sector, and retail has become an important element of the city’s offer.

How to experience

Why not start at Castle Gardens: there’s several important parts of the city to take in within this single area, such as the Castle Mound, the remains of the original castle; Castle Hall – originally the Great Hall of Leicester Castle, said to be one of the finest Norman halls in England- and nearby the Magazine Gateway.

Across the busy St Nicholas Circle, you can check out the Jewry Wall Museum, and the wall itself, one of Leicester’s most famous landmarks, and the tallest piece of Roman masonry anywhere in the country. In the Museum itself you’ll find painted walls from the era, mosaics and cavalry wear. From here pop over Castle Park and head for the Guildhall, which is600 years old, beautifully preserved and rumoured to be where Shakespeare was inspired to write King Lear-, and then go next door to the cathedral -it’s at the cathedral you’ll find a memorial stone to King Richard III, who was killed at nearby Bosworth.

Stroll along until you’re into the Leicester Lanes part of the city, good for small, independent shops and boutiques. From here it’s a short step onto the High Street and the impressive brand-spanking new Highcross Shopping Centre, with three department stores, including John Lewis, a range of places to eat, and a Cinema de Lux complex.

At the end of the High Street is the Clock Tower, standing over 70ft tall, with four statues of famous sons of Leicester on the base; this was the first traffic island to be built in the country. Pop down nearby Cheapside, and have a butchers at the shop at number 4-6. This was the original butcher’s shop ran by Henry Walker, who later decided to move into the manufacture of crisps (rather a big brand today and associated with another famous son of the city, one Gary Lineker).  Carry on to Market Place and spend some time browsing the huge, and buzzing, Leicester Market – not only award-winning  and the biggest, but also the home to various festivals. If you head out east along Halford Street you’ll find the city’s state-of-the-art theatre, The Curve, with two auditoriums designed by renowned architect Rafael Vinoly. Head south and you’re at the Town Hall Square, an attractive open space with the Queen Anne-style Town Hall built on what was previously the cattle market. Behind the square try and find the well-known local ‘Pork Pie Chapel’ on Belvoir Street, which was designed by Joseph Hansom (he of Hansom cabs fame).

Head further along Belvoir Street, turn down King Street and you’re at the start of a walk quite unique in English cities, the New Walk. Laid out in 1785 it was probably the first pedestrian walk of its kind in the country, and is now an idyllic route under leafy trees amongst beautiful architecture and a variety of wildlife. At the heart of the walk is the New Walk Museum, a beautiful building which houses a wide collection spanning the natural world and different cultures. This was where the Attenborough family spent so much time, so obviously there’s something here to open your eyes to new possibilities...

Heading further out to the south east you’ll find De Montfort Hall, a superb entertainment venue (the world famous Philharmonia Orchestra is resident there, and claim it to be one of the best places to play music in England). Finally, head to the north of the city for the National Space Centre, the country’s leading space attraction, and recent winner of the National Large Attraction of the Year award. On display here you’ll find the only Soyuz spacecraft in Western Europe, six galleries of displays, rockets and exhibitions, the UK Government’s official Near-Earth Object Base, and a wonderful reminder of why this city is all about imagination and possibilities.

When to visit

City pics