The county of Leicestershire hit the news in 2012 when the body of King Richard III was found.
The notorious 15th-century ruler had been buried in an unmarked grave after dying at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. If you’re a history geek you there’s loads of places to satisfy your Richard curiosity around Leicester, from the battlefield where he was slain to his final resting place at Leicester Cathedral.
But there’s much more besides: Leicester has superb museums, and the countryside is adorned with stately homes and sweet little villages with thatched cottages.
You can spend time at vibrant university towns like Loughborough, or head for one of the many food festivals at Melton Mowbray, home of stilton cheese and the pork pie.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Leicestershire:
Since his remains were rediscovered under a car park in 2012 Richard III has become the centre of attention in Leicester.
There’s a new visitor centre in the city detailing how his grave was found and the methods used to identify his 500-year-old-skeleton.
There’s a lot more to Leicester though, with high-profile attractions, museums and venues like the National Space Centre, Curve Theatre, the half-timbered 15th century Guildhall, the New Walk Museum and the Cathedral where Richard III was re-buried in 2015. In 2016 the city gave us one of sport’s most amazing underdog stories when Leicester City won the Premier League despite starting the season with odds of 5,000-1. The Foxes play at King Power Stadium with a healthy capacity of more than 30,000.
2. Melton Mowbray
Two well-known English delicacies are on the menu in Melton Mowbray.
First up is the pork pie, which is uncured seasoned pork chopped and contained in a pastry.
This portable food is intended cold and first gained favour with foxhunters here in the 19th century.
The market town is also one of the few places permitted to make blue stilton, a powerful, crumbly cheese that goes well will port at Christmas.
In these traditional surrounds there are festivals and events every year to honour the town’s culinary contributions: There’s the Melton Mowbray Food Festival in October and the Cheese Fair at the end of April, to name but two.
The largest town outside Leicester is swelled by Loughborough University, which makes up a quarter of the population during term time.
So outside summer the town can be fun and youthful and from June to September it’s a little more sedate, depending on what you prefer.
In October there’s the Loogabarooga Festival, a literary event bringing authors and illustrators to the town, and with lots of fun things for kids to get up to.
The centre of Loughborough was updated in the 1930s, granting it some eye-catching art deco architecture, like the cinema on Cattle Market.
The weekly markets the town also remind you that you’re in a healthy rural community, trading on Thursdays and Saturdays, with a vintage market on Fridays.
4. Market Harborough
A building that will catch your eye straight away in Market Harborough is the Old Grammar School.
Now more than 400 years old and restored in 2014, the unusual timber-framed building had a grammar school on the first floor, and stood over a butter market, which is now an artisan market on Saturdays.
In Harborough Museum the show-stealer is the Hallaton Treasure, the largest hoard of Iron Age coins discovered in Britain, numbering more than 130 and unearthed in 2000. And next to the Old Grammar School is the Grade I-listed St Dionysius’ Church, mostly from the middle ages and with a solemn 47-metre spire to round off the historic scene in the centre of the town.
5. Market Bosworth
You can pick up the trail of Richard’s last days at this picturesque market town a few minutes north of the battlefield where Richard died, ending the Plantagenet era and heralding the Tudors in 1485. After Richard’s body were discovered the king’s funeral cortege came through Market Bosworth in 2015 en route to Leicester Cathedral.
The Bosworth Field Heritage Centre is in a country park, and has indoor galleries with weapons and armour, some original and some reproductions for you to try on.
There are also regular guided walks to show you the significant locations around the site and add historical colour to what you see.
Some way south of Market Bosworth, Hinckley is also convenient to the Battlefield at Bosworth if you want to swot up on a momentous event in English history.
But the town’s manufacturing past is also interesting: The big business in Hinckley was hosiery, going back to the 1600s when the framework knitting machine was introduced.
The Hinckley and District Museum is in a set of original framework cottages and will tell you all you need to know about the town’s knitting history, with historic hand-operated frames to see.
As with almost everywhere, church attendance in Hinckley had been dwindling for years.
But the medieval St Mary’s Church is still involved in the community as a north chapel has been converted into coffee bar and there’s also an informal bookshop.
In the very south of the county, Lutterworth is a market town that gained its market charter in 1214 and a few grocery stalls observe this tradition on Thursdays.
For inquisitive folk there are a few thatched buildings and minor landmarks to see in the centre.
Lutterworth Town Hall is a late-Georgian building from 1836, distinguished by its rounded edges and designed by the same man, Joseph Hansom, who gave us Birmingham Town Hall and the hansom horse-drawn cab.
There are two fine old pubs: The Cavalier Inn and The Shambles Inn, both with thatched roofs, and the latter dating back to the 1500s.
Stanford House, is the plush local manor from 1690, while at the Lutterworth Museum you can view the patent for the world’s first jet engine.
One of the top five most sought-after addresses in Leicestershire, Mountsorrel has loads of period property and is surrounded by lush and undulating countryside, but is also a swift commute to Leicester to the south.
The meeting place in Mountsorrel is the Butter Market, which has a classical design from the 1790s.
Curiously this replaced a 16th-century market cross, which was taken by the Lord of the Manor to his estate at Swithley, where it still stands.
Treat young ones to the Stonehurst Family Farm, a working farm where kids can handle all kinds of domestic animals and where there’s also a motor museum with a surprising fleet of vintage tractors and sports cars.
A residential town a few minutes from the centre of Leicester, Oadby has a lot of things to recommend it.
In the Brocks Hill Country Park, amid 30 hectares of woodland and meadows, is an Environment Centre with solar panels, wind turbines and rainwater collectors to teach kids about renewable energy.
A stunning park of a different variety is the Botanic Garden of Leicester University, maintained by the uni’s genetics department and surrounded by lovely Edwardian property.
Also in Oadby is Leicester Racecourse, which hosts meetings for National Hunt (jumping) and races on the flat, so should have something on whenever you’re in town.
10. Kirby Muxloe
Also integral to the Richard III trail is this village a couple of miles west of Leicester.
Kirby Muxloe Castle is a beautiful and very evocative 15th century ruin encircled by a moat.
Anyone who has studied Shakespeare’s Richard III will know its owner, William Hastings.
A follower of Richard’s House of York, Hastings was accused of betrayal and executed in the space of minutes in London in 1483. Work on his home and fortress stopped immediately, which only makes the ruins of the castle more compelling.
You could make a day of it at the high-rated Kirby Muxloe Golf Course, welcoming non-members and in business since 1893.
11. Newtown Linford
Another village that ranks up there with Leicestershire’s most liveable places is Newtown Linford, which is in the Charnwood Forest.
The countryside here is noticeably hillier, and the geology of the place is pretty fascinating: The rocks in Bradgate Park are 600 millions of years old and volcanic in origin.
For as long as humans have been here they’ve quarried the area for stones to sharpen tools and mill grain.
And Bradgate House has its own tale to tell, as this ruined estate was home to Lady Jane Grey, Queen for nine days before her execution in 1553.
In the west of Leicestershire, Ashby is a proud market town inside the National Forest.
This park is a major project to replant the enormous woodland that spread over most of the Midlands until the Industrial Revolution, attracting wildlife back to former industrial sites.
Hicks Lodge is a good way to see what it’s all about, at a cycle centre on an old colliery gradually being taken over by trees.
Ashby Castle was another property owned by Lord Hastings, who had turned it from a manor house to a fortress in the 15th century.
Even though it was half-destroyed in the English Civil War you can still scale the tower for magnificent views and go underground in the secret passage between the tower and kitchen.
A popular family day out in the Leicester area is Tropical Birdland, an aviary where many species of parrot can fly around in semi-freedom before returning to their enclosures at night.
A large number of these birds are former pets re-homed to a more humane environment.
There’s a children’s play area and tea room at the attraction.
Before you arrive or after you leave you could park up in Desford for lunch at the Blue Bell in or have a wander around the village.
The church is Norman with 13th-century extensions, and the Old Hall on Desford’s high street goes back to the early-1600s and has Flemish-style gables.
This cute village is just east of Melton Mowbray and is set in Stilton cheese-making country.
There’s a caravan park filled in summer with holidaymakers who want to revel in this swathe of typical English countryside.
This lies at the foot of the Wymondham Windmill, which has a 200-year history and has been converted into a tea room and shop.
There’s a friendly pub in the village, the Berkeley Arms and St Peter’s Church is from the 13th century with an Early English design.
For a day out, Belvoir Castle is only 15 minutes to the north and is still the seat of the Dukes of Rutland.
Originally this was a Norman fortress but after centuries of damage and rebuilds, a gothic-revival palace was erected here in the 19th century.
The grounds have gorgeous vistas of the Belvoir Vale and the interiors are richly decorated.
This town is one of those places where it helps to know what you’re looking at to be able to appreciate it.
As the name suggests, Coalville is an industrial town that didn’t exist before the 1830s and was home to thousands in a matter of years after coal seams were discovered.
The centre has the kind of 19th century cottages constructed for workers that aren’t as common in Leicestershire as the counties to the west and north.
There’s much to see in the immediate area, like the sensational Donington-le-Heath Manor House, constructed in the 13th century and once owned by the brother of Everard Digby, implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and executed in 1606.