Leicestershire’s second-largest town is halfway between the cities of Leicester and Coventry, close to the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). From the 1600s to the 20th century Hinckley was renowned for its stockings, first made in framework knitters’ cottages and then in large factories still standing around the town.
One group of half-timbered knitters’ cottages holds the town museum, while a former industrial-era factory was converted into the Concordia Theatre in the 1970s.
The UK’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer, Triumph has been based in Hinckley since the 1980s and recently opened a new visitor experience, involving a tour of the high-tech factory and an exhibition.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Hinckley:
1. Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre
England would never be the same again after the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. This effectively won the Wars of the Roses for the House of Lancaster, brought an end to the long-ruling Plantagenet line, and put Henry VIII on the throne.
The exact location of the battle has been disputed, but an acclaimed heritage centre opened a few miles north of Hinckley in 1974, in the middle of a country park.
This brings the reality of the battle to life using interactive exhibits and lots of facts and figures.
One display shows how long a soldier would have survived in the battle depending on the kind of weapons and armour he was carrying.
You can tour the grounds on signposted trails and tuck into a hearty Medieval-style meal at the replica oak tithe barn.
For extra colour there are also costumed guided walks, while the Bosworth Medieval Festival stages large-scale re-enactments in mid-August.
2. Triumph Factory Visitor Experience
After the original Triumph motorcycle company, founded in 1902, went bust in 1983, production moved to Hinckley under a new owner.
Today Triumph is the UK’s top motorcycle manufacturer, and in 2018 Prince William showed up to open the factory’s new visitor experience.
Touring the factory you’ll discover the leading-edge technology that goes into a new Triumph, and pick up exciting snippets about each step in production.
There’s also an exhibition giving you a timeline for the marque, and displaying some of the landmark Triumph models over the last 120 years.
At the end of the tour you can treat yourself to something at the slick 1902 Café, serving artisanal coffee.
3. Hinckley & District Museum
This town’s museum is set in the most complete half-timbered buildings in Hinckley.
Dating to the 17th century, this range of cottages was home to framework knitters, and so is the perfect place to get a handle on Hinckley’s hosiery trade.
Here you can step inside a framework knitter’s room and view the kind of hand-operated frames that were used before the industry moved into big factories in the 19th century.
In 2019 there were lots of other interesting things to see like Victorian costume, an exhibition on the Battle of Bosworth and profiles of extraordinary women, from Ada Lovelace to the Hinckley-born Victorian novelist Charlotte Mary Brame.
4. St Mary’s Church
The oldest building in the town continues to be a fixture of daily life for many.
St Mary’s Church has installed a coffee bar in the north chapel, with comfy sofas and second-hand books for sale.
The church is also a venue for many cultural events like the Hinckley Opera Festival in spring, and hosts regular lunchtime concerts by bands, choirs and organists.
The nave, chancel and tower are the building’s oldest elements, dating to between 1246 and 1400. That tower is more than 25 metres tall with walls 1.7 metre thick and is prominent on Hinckley’s skyline.
It holds one of the UK’s greatest peals of bells, five of which were first cast in the 1600s.
Inside the most impressive feature is the Decorated Gothic tower arch from the early 14th century.
5. Hollycroft Park
Winning the prestigious Green Flag Award every year for the last decade, Holycroft Park was landscaped in the 1930s and is unchanged since it was donated by the important local Atkins family.
In July one of the main public events in Hinckley’s calendar, the Proms in the Park takes place at the park’s fine Art Deco bandstand.
There’s also a pitch & putt course, tennis courts and a bowling green with an elegant pavilion.
You could just visit to saunter around the formal flowerbeds and appreciate the many specimen trees.
There are so many in fact that the council has set up a 32-stop Tree Trail with an accompanying booklet to help you identify the most spectacular.
6. Burbage Common and Woods
The biggest countryside site in the borough is a blend of semi-natural woodland and unspoilt grassland in 200 acres.
In days gone by this was a place for commoners to graze their livestock, while the woodland is the last surviving tract of the Hinckley Forest, dating back to Medieval times, with timber still harvested using traditional coppicing techniques.
The common is an island of calm, with nothing but open countryside to the north, south and east.
Head here for blissful walks, a visitor centre and the dog-friendly Mays Cafe.
7. St Margaret’s, Stoke Golding
Moments outside Hinckley, the village of Stoke Golding has a Grade I church, the fabric of which dates from the 13th and 14th centuries, with outstanding workmanship.
Approaching St Margaret’s from its south side there’s a row of six pointed three-light windows with intricate tracery from the turn of the 14th century.
The main chancel window is also exquisite, with five cinquefoil-headed lights.
Among the many fittings, get a good look at the octagonal font from the mid-14th century, with tracery and carved figures of St Margaret and other saints on the panels around the basin.
On the left-hand side of the south aisle’s east window is a corbel strangely carved as a man’s head.
Also check out the incised sword from the end of the 13th century commemorating Sir R. de Champaigne, as well as the decorative tablet to Henry Firebrace (d. 1690).
8. The Great Meeting Chapel
Hiding up Baines’ Lane in the Hinckley Town Centre Conservation Area is an early Nonconformist chapel, built in 1722. Nonconformists were Protestants who didn’t conform to the usages and governance of the Church of England following the Act of Uniformity 1662 that established the church’s various rites.
Nonconformists were barred from many spheres of public life, and to see this brick building, next to an old hosiery factory, you would never guess it is a place of worship.
Inside, the chapel has held onto its 18th-century oak-panelled galleries, as well as its panelled pulpits that have alcoves on either side for theological students in the 1700s.
9. Tropical Birdland
On the northern edge of the village of Desford there’s a sanctuary for parrots and a wealth of other exotic birds.
Tropical Birdland is in 6.5 acres, providing aviaries for more than 250 feathered residents, including owls, hornbills, toucans, macaws, cockatoos, the list goes on.
On the Parrot Path you can interact with many of the inhabitants, which can move freely around but may try to steal jewellery or buttons if you’re not careful.
There’s also a chick room, where you can view newborns through windows and may get to see a chick breaking out of its egg.
Youngsters will be pleased with Tropical Birdland’s new, improved play area, while the Real Macaw Cafe is well-rated, and has a seasonal menu.
10. Twycross Zoo
The hugely popular Twycross Zoo opened in 1963 and is noted for its many primate species.
The zoo is the only one in the UK to host all four great ape species: Orangutans, gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees, and has one of the largest collections of gibbons of any European country.
In 2018 the new habitat, Chimpanzee Eden opened, with viewing platforms and windows allowing you to watch the chimps interact and play from new angles.
Among the many other inhabitants are giraffes, snow leopards and Humboldt penguins, as well as all sorts of exotic butterflies at the Butterfly Forest.
At Lorikeet Landing you can feed these dazzling parrots by hand, while the walk-through Explorer Zone lets children stroke goats and get up close to donkeys.
For your own little monkeys there’s a world of fun at the park’s electric safari cars, Wet ‘n’ Wild water playground, soft play area and outdoor playground.
11. Sutton Cheney
A good partner for a visit to the Bosworth Battlefield is the adjacent village of Sutton Cheney, which has a couple of handsome old coaching inns, at the Royal Arms and Hercules Revived, still used as pubs.
The 14th-century St James’ Church in Sutton Cheney is claimed to be the place where Richard III worshipped for the last time in August 1485. Sutton Cheney is also on the Ashby Canal where there’s a picturesque wharf.
There you can pause for a drink or light meal by the water and strike out on the 1.25 Bosworth Battlefield Trail in the country park.
12. Stoney Cove – National Dive Centre
A picturesque flooded quarry a few minutes from Hinckley has become one of the country’s top inland diving sites.
Stoney Cove has attracted divers since the 1960s and over time has developed into an incredible underwater park open 362 days a year.
A lot of interesting things have been submerged at this site, like a block house, aircraft wreck, tugboat, Land Rover and APC tank, while carp, perch and pike are some of the aquatic species to be spotted.
Confident divers can show up, hire gear (£48.20 for a full package) and start diving, while a host of PADI courses are offered by the dive school, which uses a heated pool.
Beginners can work towards Open Water or Advanced Open Water certificates, while veteran divers can sign up for speciality courses for things like wreck diving and night diving.
13. Grange Farm
For a healthy and rewarding family activity in the local countryside you could spend an hour or two picking your own fruit.
Grange Farm is a soft fruit farm, where you can bring your own container or borrow one from the sales hut and weigh your produce when you’re done.
The farm is open from mid-June at the start of strawberry and gooseberry season, through to mid-August , when you can still pick blackberries, redcurrants, blueberries and raspberries.
Come at the very start of July for blackcurrants, which are in season for just a short time.
14. Concordia Theatre
A prized part of cultural life in Hinckley, the Concordia Theatre opened in a converted hosiery factory in 1972, and is run and looked after by volunteers.
A host of local amateur dance, drama and opera societies are based at the Concordia Theatre, staging around 30 productions each year.
One of these is Stanley Opera, responsible for the Hinckley Opera Festival, held in early spring each year.
At the 2019 edition there was a production of The Marriage of Figaro at the Concordia, as well as lunchtime recitals at St Mary’s Church and a programme of evening talks, workshops and master-classes.
15. The Crescent
In the 2010s Hinckley’s run-down bus station in the centre of town has been demolished and regenerated as an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment hub.
The bus station has reopened, but is now accompanied by branches of Sainsbury’s, TK Maxx and Superdrug, as well as High Street dining options like Prezzo, Costa Coffee and Burger King, a gym and a Cineworld multiplex cinema.
The Crescent has been a hit, pulling in people from neighbouring Nuneaton, where Hinckley locals used to go to shop.