The city of Leicester may not seem the most obvious destination for a family visit, but that’s where you’d be wrong. True, it isn’t the most beautiful place we’ve ever been to, but if you’re looking for stuff to entertain the children, aesthetics don’t matter that much. And there’s certainly a lot to do.
We spent just two days in this bustling city, and enjoyed ourselves tremendously, despite the rain. Robert has already written about our visit to the National Space Centre, which we would highly recommend for a day out, and we also had great fun at a theme park called Twin Lakes, which had some excellent rides and a very scary maze (I clung onto Brian for most of this). We didn’t have time to visit Conkers, with its climbing and outdoor activities, but it sounded like great fun too. This was because, having had rides and space, I wanted a bit of my favourite subject, history.
Leicester suddenly became the focus of worldwide attention back in 2012 when the body of Richard III, the former King of England made infamous through Shakespeare, was found, in a local car park. Confirmation that it was Richard, who died aged 32, was announced to the world in February 2013, after DNA testing. He was known to have been killed at the Battle of Bosworth, but it was thought that his bones had been thrown into the river nearby. That was clearly wrong…
Now the city has a Richard III visitor centre, positioned on the site of a former school, and complete with the area where you can see how the body was found. Just across the way you can visit a rather beautiful small Cathedral where this former King was reinterred in March. We did both.
The centre starts downstairs with a video. I enjoyed this, but think that if you did know any of the history of the Wars of the Roses, you might find it a bit confusing (young children may find this in particular). It was not that helpful to have a timeline on the floor, as not only was this right where you would also stand to watch the video, but also where people who weren’t interested in the film would walk over and onto the next bit. I’m sure it sounded like a great idea when the centre was in the planning stages, but it was not particularly effective.
After this, we walked through into the rest of the “Dynasty” section which was all about the historical side of Richard – how he came to power and his reign. We liked this a lot as it had good explanation, interactivity and was pitched so that those who did know some of the background could enjoy it as much as those who didn’t.
The upstairs is different, but rather wonderful. Firstly there is a timeline all about actors and those in the creative world (from Johnny Rotten to Kevin Spacey) who have played or been influenced by Richard. And then there is the story of his discovery, plus reconstructions of his face (and explanations of how this was done) and a replica of his skeleton.
There are also some short videos – featuring all the major players in the Richard III dig. Unfortunately, some of these had sound which dipped constantly, so you caught some words and missed others. It would be great if this was fixed as the interviews were fascinating. It would also be good if they had subtitles as there are no headphones, and it’s quite noisy up there anyway (there didn’t seem to be any option for foreign subtitles either).
The most wonderful part of our visit was seeing the original car park! This may not sound impressive, but it has been done beautifully with a hologram of the skeleton, positioned as it was found, lighting up under a glass floor. It was amazing to see this – and to see that Richard did indeed have a real curve of the spine. Sometimes propaganda does contain some truths!
We left the centre to go to the Cathedral and would definitely recommend this to round off your visit. The tomb is beautiful and our whole visit helped us learn a lot, as well as made us think.
The Centre is situated in centre of Leicester which is pedestrianised and easy to get about. There are lots of shops and restaurants nearby.
The Richard III visitor centre is open every day from 10am to 4pm and until 5pm at weekends. It costs £7.95 per adult, and £4.75 for children aged up to 15. A family ticket for two adults and two children is £21.50. Leicester Cathedral is free and has services throughout the week. It is open to visitors from 10 till 5pm every day except Sunday, when it is only open to see the tomb from 12.30 to 2.30pm.