Since the discovery of King Richard III’s skeleton under a parking lot in Leicester, the English city has stepped up its connection to the notorious monarch. For years, there have been statues and plaques and even businesses honoring Richard (the King Richard III Pub? Why not?), but now there is a brand-new museum and a new walking tour, not to mention a new hole in an otherwise unremarkable parking lot that is attracting history buffs from around the world.
Getting to Leicester from London for a day trip (or longer) is very easy: Trains depart St. Pancras regularly, and depending on the number of stops in between, the trip can run between 60 to 75 minutes.
Statue in Leicester pays tribute to the king who died in battle there.
For a Day Trip
Reach out to Leicester Shire Promotions to arrange a tour with a Blue Badge Guide. (Virginia Wright is highly recommended.) These professionals are certified by the Guild of Registered Tourist Guides, and know the full history of the city. In Leicester, a history tour can take as little as an hour or as long as several: Some sites are historic, like a house that was standing in 1485 when the king marched out of the city, and some are more contemporary, like a statue raised by the Richard III Society to help rehabilitate his image.
The Leicester Cathedral was renovated in the Victorian era (and was only consecrated as a cathedral in the 1920s), and has a large central flagstone dedicated to Richard’s memory. The Bow Bridge that Richard crossed when he set off to Bosworth was dismantled years ago, but a new bridge in its place has plenty of Tudor and Yorkist iconography to celebrate the spot’s place in history.
And then there’s the Guildhall, a central building that has served as a Town Hall and theater and meeting space for centuries. The old-fashioned architecture has been maintained, the windows are largely original from Richard’s time, and it is very likely that the king himself (and other kings, and Shakespeare) spent time in the main room. It was in the Guildhall that researchers from the University of Leicester first announced that they had discovered a skeleton that might be Richard’s, and an adjacent building has been turned into a museum about the search for the long-lost monarch.
The temporary “Richard III: The Search For a King” exhibition at the Guildhall is free to the public and covers details of Richard’s life, death, burial and discovery. (A permanent museum is scheduled to open in early 2014.) A table has a life-sized touch screen with a digital model of the king’s skeleton, and visitors can “touch” different bones to see what scientists were able to learn from them. The upcoming permanent Richard III Visitor Centre will have two floors of exhibition space and a new covered area that will give visitors access to the grave in which the king’s remains were discovered. There will also be a new courtyard garden, glass entrance hall, viewing balcony, café and visitor entry from Peacock Lane.
The parking lot (or “car park,” as the English say) is used by a private business and ever since the bones were found, the space has been closely guarded. Tour guides, however, can access the site and walk right up to the hole in the ground—all the more reason to book a local guide.
Visitors to Leicester should make time to walk down the New Walk, a lovely tree-lined walking path that goes straight through the heart of the town, passing plenty of shops, local pubs and restaurants. One can easily forget that one is in a modern city while strolling down New Walk, and escape into an old-fashioned English town.
Just off the New Walk is the Chutney Ivy, an upscale Indian restaurant where foodies can spend several hours sampling the “feasts”—multi-course meals that bring out a little bit of everything on the menu. (There is a vegetarian option as well.) Ask for Shaf Islam when making reservations: He’ll make the meal extra special.
The Belmot Hotel overlooks New Walk
For a Longer Stay
If a visitor has a bit more time, it’s worthwhile to stay overnight in Leicester (and enjoy a leisurely meal at Chutney Ivy), and explore some of the historic sites around the old city.
The Bosworth Battlefield Heritage & Visitor Centre is approximately 30 minutes by car from Leicester, and history buffs can learn all about the 90-minute fight that ended one English dynasty and launched another. (A tour of the museum and the memorial can easily take longer than the battle that changed the country’s history so dramatically.)
For the record, the center is not located exactly where the battle took place, but nearby. One advantage to its location, however, is that visitors can look across all the surrounding farm fields to get a broader sense of where the different armies were at different points during the conflict.
The museum is geared for families, and presents a fully immersive experience to explain not only the Battle of Bosworth but its overall place in English history. Videos re-create not only the battle, but the daily lives of people in the conflict (a soldier, a serving girl, etc.). Visitors can pick up re-creations of medieval weapons and try on era-appropriate clothing and even armor. Guided tours help put everything in context.
Good to know: The center gets plenty of school groups during the week, so ask in advance when booking if crowds are expected. Those looking for a more exclusive experience would do well to get there early.
Leicester Shire Promotions also recently launched The King’s Tour, a full-day trip that includes a morning walk of the city and an afternoon trip out to Bosworth Field, with plenty of time to tour the museums and exhibits at both. While the tours for 2013 seem to be booked up for the rest of the year, more may be scheduled soon. Reach out to Simon Gribbon, head of communications for Leicester Shire Promotions for more information.
Where to Stay
The Belmont Hotel is a family-owned property comprised of several historic buildings turned into one gorgeous maze of a hotel. The buildings date back 150 years, and the combined space has winding hallways and big bay windows and fireplaces and a genuine Old English sense of place.
General Manager James Bowie ([email protected]) is the fourth generation of his family to run the Belmont, which was bought by his great-grandmother in 1934.
The top room is #135, although room #108 has a separate lounge. For best views, ask for Executive Bedrooms that look out over New Walk. The hotel also has three family suites that have a main bedroom and additional room with bunk beds for children under 12.
The hotel’s restaurant has a selection of five-week aged West Country beef steaks, and restaurant Manager Mike Butler can help guests pick the right cut. Tip: Tables 2 & 5 are in the bay windows and look out onto New Walk. Agents can call Butler at 011-44-0116-254-4773.
The closest airport to the hotel is East Midlands, but international visitors will probably fly into London or Birmingham, which is approximately an hour away by car or train. The hotel is a quick walk from the train station, making transfers largely unnecessary, but taxis can be arranged.
News From Europe
Dorchester Acquires Rome’s Hotel Eden
The 121-room Hotel Eden Roma has been acquired by Dorchester Group Limited, which is working closely with the previous management company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, to ensure a smooth transition for hotel guests, partners and employees. Originally built in 1834 and converted to a hotel in 1889, Hotel Eden Roma will soon undergo a restoration. Overlooking the Seven Hills of Rome in the Eternal City, the hotel is positioned between the Spanish Steps and Via Veneto, convenient to the Vatican, St. Peter’s Cathedral and Piazza Navona.
Suite bedroom at Hotel Eden Roma
A&K Adds River Cruises With Amadeus
Abercrombie & Kent is offering new Connections European River Cruise Journeys aboard the Amadeus fleet. A&K offers private sightseeing excursions led by a dedicated tour director, small groups of no more than 24 guests, and pre- and post-cruise city stays with exclusive experiences only available to A&K guests. A&K tour directors serve as on-board concierge and lead private shore excursions. A&K also offers Onshore Connections, such as visiting markets and neighborhoods and meeting local artisans, musicians and culinary experts who share their gifts.
Norwegian to Fly to Three California Cities
Good news for travelers between the U.S. and Scandinavia: Norwegian will launch new routes between Scandinavia and Los Angeles (LAX), Oakland-San Francisco (OAK) and Orlando (MCO) in spring 2014 operating the 787 Dreamliner on the routes. At the same time Norwegian will launch a new route between New York (JFK) and Copenhagen. Norwegian currently operates six weekly flights between Scandinavia and New York as well as five weekly flights between Scandinavia and Bangkok. In November, the airline will commence flights from Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen to Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Crossroads Offers Off-Season Rates to Turkey
Crossroads Tours International has posted lower, off-season prices for its six-day/five-night “Istanbul & Cappadocia” and 10-day/nine-night tour “Discover Turkey” programs. The former is priced at $690 per person, double through October 31 and $610 throughout November. The latter costs at $1,090 and $1,000, respectively. Tours include airport transfers; accommodations at four-star hotels; meals as specified in the respective itineraries; motorcoach transportation; services of English-speaking escort/guide; entrance fees to all of the sites, museums, and other attractions visited while on tour; plus hotel taxes and service charges. Through April 2014, Crossroads Tours is offering travel agents 15 percent commission on all land packages.
BA to Launch Austin Service in March
British Airways will operate direct flights from London to Austin, TX, starting in early March 2014 with five flights a week. On May 5 frequency will increase to daily flights. The airline’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with its three-cabin layout, will serve the route to the Texas capital.
‘Fairy Chimneys’ in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Insight to Offer Wi-Fi in Tour Coaches
Effective November 1, Insight Vacations will be offering complimentary Wi-Fi on its coaches in more than 25 European countries. North American coaches will be wirelessly connected by January 1, 2014.