Leicester, based in the Heart of England in the East Midlands, is a vibrant and buzzing City surrounded by the tranquil and rural beauty of the Leicestershire countryside and beautiful market towns.

The city & county have a diverse culture and rich history making it a unique place to live, work & visit. To show just how unique we are, we have compiled a list of 13 fascinating facts about Leicester & Leicestershire that may surprise you!


 

1. Leicester hosts the largest Diwali Festival outside of India

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world and is one of the most significant festivals in Indian culture.

Due to the large Indian population, there is no surprise that the festival is a big deal in our city, but did you know Leicester hosts the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India? The lights along Leicester's Golden Mile are usually turned on two weeks before Diwali day itself, with the festivities usually attracting up to 45,000 people each year!


 

2. Leicester is the birthplace of modern tourism

I’m sure we’ve all been on a package holiday before, and most people have either heard of or been on holiday with Thomas Cook. However, did you know Thomas Cook himself organised the very first package holiday? A bespoke train trip from Leicester to Loughborough back in 1841.

A statue of Thomas Cook, which was unveiled in 1991 to celebrate 150 years since that first trip, can be found outside of Leicester Railway Station today.


 

3. Leicester’s market is the largest outdoor covered market in Europe

Right in the heart of the city centre, close to the Clock Tower, you’ll find the largest outdoor covered market in Europe. Leicester Market is around 800 years old and has been at its current site for around 700 years.


 

4. Leicester hosts the largest Comedy Festival in Europe

First taking place in 1994, Leicester Comedy Festival is not only the longest running comedy festival in Europe, but it has grown to be the largest as well. The 2022 festival had an incredible line-up of more than 560 shows and 800 performances across 64 venues. It has also been dubbed as one of the best comedy festivals in the world!


 

5. We’re the Kings of Crisps

Who hasn’t had a packet of Walkers crisps right? But did you know the famous crisp brand is from Leicester? That’s all thanks to butcher Henry Walker, who in 1948 took the potato and created a delicious new snack – Walkers Crisps.

The Walkers Crisps factory is still based in Leicester and currently produces 11 million bags of crisps a day!


 

6. Leicestershire is home to the Pork Pie & Stilton Cheese

It’s pretty obvious that Red Leicester cheese comes from Leicester, but did you know that famous delicacies the Melton Mowbray pork pie and Stilton cheese are also from Leicestershire? What’s more, they are both from Melton Mowbray and thanks to protected status, can only be made in this locality, just like the Champagne region in France!

For centuries Melton was the place to be for hunting, with the royal, the rich and the famous spending autumns and winters in this Leicestershire town.

Needing a bite to eat mid-hunt, pork pies became a saddlebag favourite and were literally ‘eaten whilst on the hoof’. Nowadays, rich, crunchy pastry and succulent British pork ensure these unique pies remain popular.

Dickinson & Morris’ Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe, established in 1851, is one of Melton’s top attractions. As well as buying a pie, Stilton cheese, fresh bread and chutneys, groups can join a pie-making demonstration and have a go at making one themselves. This makes for a fun and engaging activity for your delegates.


 

7. Leicester is one of England’s oldest cities

Leicester’s history dates back more than 2000 years. Romans encountered an Iron Age settlement in Leicester in the 1st or 2nd century BC.

Evidence of the Romans can still be found in Leicester. One of Leicester’s most famous landmarks, the Jewry Wall, was part of the Roman town's public baths. It is one of the tallest surviving pieces of Roman masonry in the country standing at over 9 metres tall and dating back to AD 160, impressive remains of the bathhouse can also be found on the site.

The Jewry Wall Museum, which is on the site of the ruins, opened in 1966 and is currently undergoing an impressive renovation, which is part of an £18 million project to create an immersive experience that will transport visitors back to Roman Leicester. Key themes of the museum will include Leicester’s place in Roman Britain, life in Roman Leicester, the Jewry Wall baths and Leicester’s archaeological pioneers. The full project is expected to be completed in spring 2023.


 

8. We’ve been ‘Painting the Town Red’ since 1837

We’ve all either heard of or used the expression ‘painting the town red’ but did you know this common phrase is thought to have originated in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. It is said that in 1837, after drinking heavily at the races, Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford and a group of friends ran around Melton Mowbray painting the town's tollbar and several buildings red.


 

9. A King Found in a Car Park

When Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, his body was unceremoniously buried at Grey Friars Church and all but forgotten about. The destruction of the monastery at the hands of the Reformation further ensured that his grave would be lost forever.

Fast forward more than 500 years to August 2012 and a team of historians and archaeologists began excavating the site they believed to be the Grey Friars Church, which at this point was a car park in a modern city. Within days they not only uncovered the old church but also a skeleton with battle wounds and a curved spine.

Experts from the University of Leicester used DNA sampling to link the skeleton to Richard III’s descendants. Results from carbon dating of the bones coincided with Richard III’s death and the bones were identified to be of a man the similar age as Richard when he died – 32 years old.

In February 2013 the University of Leicester announced that the skeleton found was that of Richard III.

The last Plantagenet King of England was reburied at Leicester Cathedral in 2015, with his funeral being broadcast live on TV.


 

10. The University of Leicester is the birthplace of DNA fingerprinting

As we’ve just mentioned the University of Leicester & DNA fingerprinting it’s only right that we explain the link between the two. DNA fingerprinting has become fundamental in solving criminal cases and identifying inherited genetic diseases, as well as identifying lost kings. Did you know the technique was in fact discovered at the University of Leicester?

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys discovered the technique in 1984 at his laboratory in the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester.


 

11. We are home to the National Space Centre

Leicester is the UK’s leading location for the space industry. We are home to the National Space Centre, a museum and educational resource covering the fields of space science and astronomy, along with a space research programme in partnership with the University of Leicester.

Opposite the National Space Centre is the brand-new Space Park Leicester, the £100 million research, innovation and teaching hub for space-related high-tech companies and researchers. It was developed by the University of Leicester in collaboration with local, national, and international partners. The Park was officially opened by British astronaut Tim Peake in March 2022 and provides a community of industry, academia and students driving world-leading research, innovation and skills development in space and space-enabled sectors.

The University of Leicester has a long history of playing a leading role in pioneering space research and missions from across the world, with there being at least one piece of Leicester-built equipment operating in space every year since 1967!


 

12. Leicester is an Elite Sporting City

Just like many cities across England we are obsessed with sport, but did you know we are the only city outside of London which is home to a Premier League football club (Leicester City, 2015/16 Premier League Champions), Premiership rugby club (Leicester Tigers) and a first-class county cricket club (Leicestershire County Cricket Club).

We are also home to elite clubs in basketball (Leicester Riders, the oldest basketball club in the British Basketball League), speedway (Leicester Lions), netball (Loughborough Lightning), hockey and badminton.

The world-renowned Loughborough University is also based in Leicestershire. The university is a world leader in sports-related subjects and its reputation for sporting excellence spans performance, facilities, expertise and working partnerships. Their strong association with elite performance sport is boosted by the number of famous sporting alumni, which include Sebastian Coe (British politician and former track and field athlete), Paula Radcliffe (former long-distance runner and three-time London Marathon winner), Clive Woodward (England Rugby’s World Cup winning manager), Liam Heath (GB’s most successful Olympic canoeist), and Steve Backley (former javelin throw world record holder).

One of the most internationally renowned motorsports circuits in the world is also Leicestershire. Donington Park was first created between the First & Second World Wars, but after a period of disorder it was revived in the 1970s and has gone on to become the home of the British leg of the MotoGP motorcycling championship.


 

13. Leicester has one of the largest concentrations of textile firms in the country

Did you know Leicester is of the UK’s largest textiles and fashion clusters? With 1,500 firms in the City & County, we have the second largest concentration of textile firms in the country. The textiles manufacturing sector was at the heart of Leicester and Leicestershire’s economic development throughout the 19th and 20th century and there are still some big companies based here today.

The renowned fine English sock maker Pantherella was established in 1937 in a small factory in the city of Leicester. They have remained in Leicester, now occupying pretty much the whole street opposite their original factory, but they have grown to be a world-renowned high-quality brand with clients including Vivienne Westwood and some of Savile Row’s most renowned stores, as well as having their own private label which is sold in high end department stores such as Harrods & John Lewis. The Leicester factory now produces around 720,000 pairs of socks each year.

Another Clothing brand based in Leicestershire is NEXT. Originally founded in 1870 as Kendall & Sons, an umbrella, rainwear and ladies wear company, it was sold to Hepworth and Sons in 1984 who embarked on a journey to convert the stores into the NEXT brand. The company is now the largest clothing retailer by sales in the United Kingdom, with over 700 stores, and its headquarters are here in Leicestershire.

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