Car-free in and aroundLeicesterLeicestershire
Space rockets, steam trains, and King Richard III, spicy food and sequinned saris… the city of Leicester is a varied and fascinating destination, spanning continents and centuries. Birthplace of Adrian Mole author Sue Townsend and footballer Gary Lineker, childhood home of naturalist David Attenborough and his actor brother Richard, Leicester continues to make history in sport, science and culture. It's packed with murals, markets, memorials and museums and features a buried king, a planetarium, and the UK’s largest collection of German expressionist paintings. It takes just over an hour to reach the city from London St Pancras and 17 minutes from East Midlands Airport; regular trains arrive from Sheffield, Birmingham and beyond.
1. Blast off to the National Space Centre
Walk into a model of the solar system or a replica of the Columbus Module from the International Space Station. Operate a remote-control rover on the mocked-up surface of Mars, become an on-screen weather forecaster, or find out if you have what it takes to be an astronaut. Leicester University’s scientists, who helped develop this huge museum, have been involved with space for decades and cooperate on international projects at their Space Research Centre, opened in 1988.
- The National Space Centre, built with a millennium grant, reflects a mission to share the excitement of this research with a wider audience: six interactive galleries orbit a central planetarium.
- Don’t miss the show in there – a brief history of everything, from the big bang to human evolution narrated by Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
- Bus 54 runs every 10 minutes (every 20 mins on Sunday) from Stand EG just outside Leicester station to the Space Centre. Get off after about 15 minutes at the stop called Abbey Lane near Byford Road. Cross the main road and follow Exploration Drive opposite, next to Asda.
- The brick chimney next door marks Leicester’s Science and Tech museum, housed inside the old Abbey Pumping Station. It has displays of industrial and scientific heritage and is open free, 11.00am – 4.30pm daily, February to October.
2. Explore Abbey Park
On the bus to the Space Centre, you pass neighbouring Abbey Park – a great place to picnic on the grassy riverbanks. You can walk back there from the Space Centre: simply turn left past Asda and keep straight over the main road to find the arched gateway on your left.
- On one side of the River Soar, you’ll find the remains of 12th century Leicester’s 12th-century abbey; across the water, are a Victorian boating lake and gardens and a miniature railway. You might find this map handy. Gate F is closest to the Space Centre.
- Walk ahead past Pet’s Corner and the atmospheric ruin of 17th-century Cavendish House and head right along the curving line of trees towards the cloister garden. You can see the abbey’s largely-demolished walls nearby.
- At the café, turn left across the beautiful medieval bridge. From here you can wander right through the flowers or left past the lake and bandstand. You can even hire a boat in the summer.
- Keep heading towards the far left corner and exit, just beyond the car park, back onto Abbey Park. Turn right over the Grand Union canal. There’s a bus stop here, where you can catch the 54 back into town, or you can keep straight on for the next adventure.
3. Stroll down the Golden Mile
Sparkling jewellery shops, multi-coloured fabrics, embroidered kurtas, enticing wafts of garlic and ginger… Leicester’s Golden Mile (Belgrave and Melton Roads) will bring you a taste of India in the heart of England. You can walk there from Abbey Park (see 2 above) or simply catch bus 5 or 6 from Leicester’s Haymarket bus station.
- Soon, you’ll find yourself transported to the subcontinent. There are colourful racks of bangles, shops full of saris or spices, cafés, temples and a statue of Mahatma Ghandi. The area’s Diwali celebrations every autumn are the largest outside India, boasting fireworks, fairground rides and Bollywood dancing.
- Stock up with silver-leaved sweets or tasty pakoras at popular Sharmilee or try a crispy South Indian-style dosa pancake (they’re almost as wide as the table!) at Dashkin over the road.
- Catch bus 5 or 6 back into town for more adventures.