Leicestershire, in England’s East Midlands, is an astonishing county with a rich history to explore. Visitors can find Iron Age fortifications and splendid Regency castles, as well as medieval cathedrals and early modern halls.
Famously, the county was the secret burial place of the former King Richard III, whose body was discovered near Leicester Cathedral.
Join us on a tour of the county’s 10 best historic sites.
1. Leicester Cathedral
The original Norman church was built some 900 years ago, but most of what can be seen today was added during the Victorian age. Famously, the remains of King Richard III were reburied in Leicester Cathedral in 2015 after they were uncovered nearby on the site of the lost Greyfriars chapel.
In early 2022, major renovation works commenced on the building, with the aim of restoring and revitalising the historic structure.
2. Leicester Guildhall
This timber-framed landmark was constructed in 1390 and used as a meeting place and banquet hall for the Guild of Corpus Christi. The building has survived through many historic events. The city celebrated the defeat of the Spanish Armada in the Guildhall, while during the English Civil War it was looted by Royalist troops. Since the 17th century the building has had a multitude of different uses – as a town hall, library, court, police station and jail.
These days the old Guildhall serves as a museum detailing Leicester’s medieval history. The building also houses a wide range of musical concerts, plays, comedy performances, craft fairs and exhibitions.
3. Burrough Hill Iron Age Fort
This impressive Iron Age fort can be found on top of the 210m high Burrough Hill. The site was especially active with human activity between 100 BC and 50 AD. Following the end of the Iron Age, farm and pastoral lands took over the hill and surrounding areas.
Burrough Hill Country Park is open to the public. The site is perfect for anybody looking for scenic walks.
4. Leicester Abbey
The ruins of Leicester Abbey can be found north-east of medieval Leicester. The site was originally founded in 1138-1139 and demolished around 1538 following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. Throughout the centuries all traces of the Abbey disappeared, before excavation works in the 19th and 20th centuries revealed the plans of the principal buildings.
Today the ruins are open to the public. Visitors can also pass the ruins of Cavendish House, the old gatehouse that was turned into a mansion.
Originally constructed in Norman times, Ashby de la Zouch Castle was the property of the Zouch family until the end of the 14th century, when it passed through a number of hands before landing in the possession of Edward IV’s Chamberlin, William, Lord Hastings in 1462.
Today, Ashby de la Zouch Castle’s ruins are managed by English Heritage, with the site a Grade I listed building. Visitors can immerse themselves in its eminent history, from enjoying entertaining audio tours and exploring its sunken gardens to embarking on tours of its underground passageways.
6. Loughborough Carillon
The 46 meter high memorial tower was built following the end of World War One. Designed by Sir Walter Tapper, construction was completed in 1923, becoming England’s first grand carillon (musical instrument consisting of at least 23 cast bronze bells in fixed suspension).
The tower is the home of the Loughborough Carillon Tower and War Memorial Museum. Visitors can climb up the structure to look over the surrounding area from the balcony.
7. The Old Grammar School
Constructed in 1614 in Market Harborough, the Old Grammar School was originally intended for impoverished children from the town. It was constructed on stilts to allow local farmers’ wives to use the area for their weekly butter market. By the end of the 17th century the majority of attendees were children of the local nobility and gentry. The site served as an educational facility until 1892.
Rooms of the Old Grammar School can be booked for personal and professional events.
8. Grace Dieu Priory
This small Augustinian nunnery was founded in the mid 13th century near modern day Thringstone village. Like many other monasteries, Grace Dieu Priory was dismantled following King Henry VIII religious reforms in the 16th century. The site has become famous for being allegedly the home of many female ghosts dressed in either white or grey.
The ruins provide a stunning backdrop and are open to the public. Visitors can take part in one of the many guided walks around the former nunnery.
9. Belvoir Castle
The magnificent Belvoir Castle was built between 1801 to 1832. The site had been the home to three earlier fortifications, with the earliest being from Norman times (11th century). It served as the ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland, who to this day own the land and the property. It is said that Belvoir Castle is one of the finest examples of Regency architecture in the country.
The Castle together with the estate gardens are open to the public. The site is also home to a lovely tearoom and a wide range of events. Guests can stay in one of the many holiday cottages or camp outside in one of the Bell Tents provided by the estate.
10. Great Central Railway
Leicestershire is one of the only place in the world where visitors can see full size steam engines passing each other. The Great Central Railway is the only double track in the UK. The line goes from Leicester to Loughborough and back.
The Great Central Railway is a perfect place the relive the excitement of the steam era with trains running every weekend of the year.