St Albans began in the Iron Age as the Catuvellauni settlement of Verlamio, renamed and developed by the Romans as Verulamium. Burned to the ground by the rebellious Iceni princess Boudicca during her rebellion, it was soon rebuilt. Ruins of portions of the Roman wall, the theatre and a hypocaust can be visited today. A resident of Verulamium named Alban became the first British martyr of Christianity, and thus St Albans became an important abbey and monastic centre in the Middle Ages. The cathedral, founded as the Abbey Church of the monastery on the site, is built partially of stones taken from the old Roman town. After the Reformation St Albans faded from prominence, becoming a typical Home Counties market town. Today it is a well-off suburb, with many workers commuting into London.
St Albans is close to the M1, A1M and M25 motorways. From the M1 take Junction 6 for the A405 or Junction 8 for the A414 (previously known as the M10). From the A1M take Junction 3 Hatfield for the North Orbital Road/ A414. From the M25 take Junction 21a for the A405/North Orbital Road or Juncton 22 for the A1081.
St Albans is easily accessed via the Thameslink railway which runs from London St Pancras (25 minutes, easy connections to the Eurostar, and King's Cross Station for Edinburgh and York) to the main 1 St Albans City station, located on Victoria St. Going north is Luton Airport Parkway, Luton (Midland) & Bedford (Midland) (40 minutes). From Luton and Bedford, one can connect north to Leicester, Sheffield and Leeds. Going south, the train runs to Gatwick Airport (70 minutes) and Brighton on the south coast (100 minutes). Trains also stop at the London stations of West Hampstead Thameslink, Kentish Town, St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, Elephant & Castle, East Croydon & Wimbledon.
Fares to London are relatively high, but are slightly cheaper if travelling off peak (departing St Albans/London after 9:30AM, and departing London 4:30-7PM), or super off peak (weekends and bank holidays). Open returns (return within 1 month) are not available from St Albans, but are from London. A Travelcard bought from St Albans includes the return fare from St Albans to London, as well as unlimited travel around London on the tube, overland train, bus and trams service.
The city's second railway station, 2 St Albans Abbey station, is to the south of the city centre in the Verulamium neighbourhood, at the foot of Holywell Hill, and is the terminus of the local line to Watford Junction Station from which you can connect to London Euston, and north to Northampton and Birmingham. The train runs as a shuttle every 40 minutes.
St.Albans is well linked to neighbouring towns, although despite the distances, journey times are relatively long. There is a frequent direct bus service to London Heathrow Airport, the No. 724 [dead link]. This takes between 70-120 minutes (depending on the time of day) and costs £9 one way. This stops at the main station and the Abbey station (on request only).
You can explore the city in a number of ways. Residents Parking means that on street parking is restricted and car parks can be busy so once you have a space its best to leave the car and walk. Shopmobility scooters are available in St Albans (office is on the ground floor entrance of the Drovers Way car park).
From edge to edge St Albans takes an hour to walk, the city centre, most hotels and B&Bs and the main attractions much less. The only obstacle comes from the fact the city is built on a relatively steep hill, with Verulamium Park and the Roman remains at the bottom, the medieval and modern town centre at the top, and the Abbey halfway up. The main station (for London, airports, Bedford & Brighton) is a 10-minute walk to the city centre, and the Abbey station perhaps 15 minutes.
There are cycle routes around the city but best to avoid the town centre (St Peters Street/High Street). Plan your route and beware of steep hill as above. You would need to bring your own bicycle as no hire facilities.
Buses run around the city, but are not of use for most visitors. Could be a good option getting to/from the stations to town centre for those with pushchairs or mobility issues.
By taxi or minicabEdit
Taxis are a good option but can be expensive. There is a taxi rank both at the main station, and on St Peter’s Street. There is a taxi marshal scheme to help people return home safely from bars, clubs and pubs with late licences (and reduce alcohol related violent incidents). There are a number of minicab firms operating in the area (must be prebooked). Uber is also available in St Albans.
St Albans is packed with a rich history with something around nearly every corner.
The Romans left their mark on St Albans (Verulamium as they would know it). There is so much from this time that you can still see.
- Roman remains in Verulam Park (with a nice view of the Cathedral) is the Roman Wall that was once the defensive wall of Roman Verulamium
- Roman Theatre of Verulamium, Bluehouse Hill, AL3 6AE (By car: off the A4147 (Sat Nav AL3 6AE) By train: nearest station St Albans Abbey Station), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Mar-Oct: 10AM-5PM, Nov-Feb: 10AM-4PM. A well-preserved stone theatre that lies the other side of the main road near the Verulamium Museum. From here you can walk up to the manor house of Gorhambury (home of the Earl of St.Albans) which is open Thursdays only, May-September, 2-5PM, and some special occasions. Adults £2.50, students and seniors £2.00, children (5-16) £1.50, under 5’s - free.
- 1 Verulamium Museum, St Michael's, AL3 4SW (by car: accessible via St Michael's Street or off Bluehouse Hill (the A4147) follow signs. By foot: about a 20-minute pleasant walk from the Town Centre. By train: about a 30-minute walk away from St Albans City Station (Thameslink) and 10-min walk from the St Albans Abbey Station (Abbey Flyer)), ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-5:30PM, Su 2-5:30PM, last admission 5PM. Tells the story of the Roman city of Verulamium (that was the third largest city of Roman Britain). The museum is home to some of the finest Roman mosaics and wall plasters outside the Mediterranean, along with pottery and other artefacts. Within the museum they have recreated Roman rooms as well as having hands-on discovery areas. Some of the Sandridge Hoard of Roman gold coins are on permanent display. During the week there are often school groups, so try and schedule your visit for after the school day. Verulamium Museum is wheelchair-accessible. Adults £5.00, children (under 16s) £2.50, under 5s free, senior citizens and concessions £3.50, residents of St Albans District (with proof of residency) free, group and family discounts are available.
- 2 Hypocaust (Verulamium Park Hypocaust), Verulamium Park, AL3 4SW (by the football pitches in Verulamium Park). This 1800-year-old hypocaust and mosaic floor was uncovered during excavations in Verulamium Park in the 1930s. Although the Hypocaust is wheelchair accessible, it is off of a gravel footpath and up a bit of a hill. Free.
Medieval times shaped the look of St Albans to the picturesque town you can see now.
- 3 Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban. A cathedral which has the longest true nave in Britain. The Shrine of St. Alban is inside. There is no entry free, just a suggestion donation. Most weekdays there is a free Evensong concert at around 5PM. There are free guided tours M-Sa at 11:30AM, Sa 2PM, and Su-F 2:30PM. A shorter “highlights” tour runs daily at 1:05PM. Tower Tours run on some Wednesdays and weekends between May and October, and cost £8 per person. Approximately 4 times a year there is a candle-lit night-time tour. Tickets cost £10 per person and include a drinks reception before the tour. The building is referred both as the Cathedral and the Abbey... they are the same place, so don’t “do” one, then go looking for the other!
- 4 Clock Tower. This medieval tower was built in the early 15th century. You can climb the tower most weekends and bank holidays from Easter to September, open 10:30AM-5PM. Adults £0.80, children £0.40.
- 5 Sopwell Ruins (Sopwell Nunnery / Sopwell Priory / Lee Hall), Cottonmill Lane, AL1 2BY (A 10-min walk from St Albans Abbey Station). Ruins of a Tudor mansion built around 1560 by Sir Richard Lee. It was built on top of the medieval nunnery. It is a good spot for a family picnic and included in two Ver Valley walks. Surrounded by level grass but there is no path so may be unsuitable for those less mobile. Free.
- 6 St Albans South Signal Box (Close to St Albans City Station. Sat Nav use AL1 3AJ). Su 2PM-5PM (selected days only). The largest preserved Midland Railway signal box in the UK and one of the few preserved boxes that's open to the public. The site is fully accessible except for the long flight of steps to the upper floor of the signal box. For those unable to get upstairs a video of the upstairs workings can be shown downstairs. Accessible toilet and hand washing facilities available on request. By donation.
Sights & exploreEdit
It is worth taking time to explore and discover St Albans.
- Fishpool Street, picturesque street leading to St Michaels
- St Albans is home to three markets that are worth an explore. The Charter/Traditional market which is the world’s longest running street markets, the Farmers market for locally produced products and the European style Christmas market. More details below in the Buy section.
- The St.Albans Festival runs for two weeks in late June, and features a series of events in and around St. Albans.
- 7 St Michaels Street (from town centre either walk through Verulamium Park or down Fishpool Street). This pretty street with a mixture of houses, some thatch roofed and some half-timbered makes for a charming area to have a wander around. St Michaels Bridge takes you over the River Ver. Two traditional pubs and Kingsbury Mill (now the waffle house) are located here. Look out for the "Hertfordshire Puddingstone" found at the front of the mill. The street has the feel of an old English village.
As seen on screenEdit
St Albans has appeared as the backdrop in many films and TV shows. As you explore the city you may recognise some places.
- Birthday Girl with Nicole Kidman as a St Albans bank clerk was set entirely in St Albans and the surrounding area
- First Knight with Richard Gere and Sean Connery used St Albans Cathedral for a wedding scene
- Incendiary with Ewan McGregor used St Albans Cathedral and the city station
- Johnny English with Rowan Atkinson used St Albans Cathedral as a double for Westminster Abbey
- Mike Bassett England Manager with Ricky Tomlinson used St Albans to double as Norwich (locations included the town hall)
- Foyles War with Michael Kitchen filmed scenes in Fishpool Street
- Holby City has filmed at St Albans City Station
- Inbetweeners with Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison and James Buckley the field trip episode was filmed by the town hall
- Inspector Morse with John Thaw and Kevin Whatley scenes where shot at Ye Old Fighting Cocks and St Albans Cathedral
- Life Begins with Caroline Quentin & Alexander Armstrong filmed at various places around St Albans including Market Place & French Row
- Midsummer Murders with John Nettles filmed a scene at St Albans School
- Porridge with Ronnie Barker the opening titles used the old prison gate house in Victoria Road
- The Apprentice with Lord Sugar had the introduction and ‘walk of shame’ exit sequences (series four onwards) filmed at the Viglen HQ building in St Albans.
- Morethan: In 2013 Morethan dedicated a whole advert to St Albans
There is lots to do in St Albans whether its just for a short few hours, day trip or longer holiday.
- Old Gorhambury House. Free and open nearly every day of the year and at “any reasonable time”, excluding all Saturdays in winter when the road is closed the public.
- The St Albans Organ Theatre. Contains theatre organs, punch-card cafe organs and other instruments. It opens every Sunday afternoon, when visitors have the opportunity to see and hear the fascinating instruments.
- Verulamium Park. An enormous stretch of greenery lying to the south of the city centre. There is a lake in the middle, and the River Ver flows to the side. To get here, walk from the Chapter House entrance of the Cathedral through the Orchard to the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub, then over the little bridge. Alternatively walk down George Street from the Clock Tower, turning left onto Romeland, and then through the millennium old Abbey Gateway, then following the road down the hill to the pub and bridge. From the park, you can easily walk to the Verulamium Museum.
- 1 Alban Way (cycle path). A cycle path that runs from St Albans, close to St Albans Abbey railway station and the site of Roman Verulamium, through Fleetville and Smallford to Hatfield, ending close to Hatfield railway station. The route follows the former Hatfield to St Albans railway line.
- St. Albans: Let's Walk, St. Albans City & District Council, Tourist Information Centre, The Old Town Hall, Market Place, St. Albans, Herts AL3 5DJ, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The St. Albans Tourist Information Centre has information about a large number of guided walking tours in St. Albans. These tours are led by trained guides. Most tours now start at the clock tower due to the old town hall being closed for redevelopment. £5 for adults, £2 for children (5-15 years old).
Theatres and cinemaEdit
- 2 The Odyssey, 166 London Road, AL1 1PQ (By foot: a 15-min walk from town centre. By car: on London Road (A1081). By train: nearest station St Albans City Station). An independent single screen Art Deco cinema. Showing a broad selection on film titles each month, including new releases & classics.
- 3 Abbey Theatre, Westminster Lodge, Holywell Hill, AL1 2DL (By car: off Holywell Hill use Sat Nav AL1 2DL. By train: nearest station is St Albans Abbey Station just across the road from the theatre), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A small theatre built and run entirely by members. The resident production company being the Company of Ten. The theatre has visiting professional and amateur groups which helps provide a truly diverse programme of events throughout the year. Wheelchair accessible with disabled toilet.
- 4 The Maltings Art Theatre, Level 2, 26 The Maltings, AL1 3HL (on Level 2 of the Maltings Shopping Centre next to the Library), ☏ . The Maltings Arts Theatre is a lively, buzzing fringe venue in the centre of St Albans providing high quality performances at affordable prices and a platform for the best local creative talent.
The main shopping street in St Albans is St Peters Street which has a selection of usual high street stores. Market Place with its more oldie worldly feel is often used in pictures to depict St Albans with the Cathedral tower in the background.
- St Albans Traditional Street Market (St Albans Charter Market) (Along the length of St Peters Street). W Sa 8:30AM-5:30PMish. St Albans market is is one of the World’s longest running street markets, with almost unbroken continuance since the late 1200s. It gained its Royal Charter in 1553 and goes back as far as the 9th century. You will find a range of items from food, cloths, gifts and plants to electrical items at this bustling market. On Wednesdays a food section of the market can be found in Market Place selling sweet and savoury bakes, hot and cold food and street food.
- St Albans Farmers Market (On St Peters Street opposite the Town Hall). 8AM-2PM on the second Sunday of every month. With local farmers, growers and producers this is a vibrant and entertaining shopping experience.
- St Albans Christmas Market (Vintry Garden). Runs annually from late November to Mid December. Market takes place in and around the walled Vintry Garden next to St Albans Cathedral. It is based on a European-style Christmas Market.
- 1 The Maltings (Maltings Shopping Centre), 28 The Maltings, AL1 3HL (in St. Albans city centre; bounded on north by Victoria Street and on west by St. Peters Street), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su 10AM-5PM. This pedestrian shopping centre has a variety of shops, eateries and service establishments. It has approximately 50 establishments on two levels. Its largest shops are Wilko and T K Maxx. The Maltings is also home to the local public library and to the Maltings Arts Theatre. On its east side is a multi-level 800-space car park. The car park is much of the time extremely crowded.
- 2 Christopher Place Shopping Centre, Upper Dagnall St, AL3 5DQ, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com.
St.Albans has a wide variety of restaurants and pubs serving food, though nothing of particular excellence. The Hot Cross Bun (the Alban Bun) originates from St Albans, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk at St Albans Abbey, distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361. The Alban bun is available from the Abbots Kitchen (St Albans Cathedral) during the run up to Easter. There are lots of places around St Albans suitable for a picnic when the weather is fine. A good alternative to bringing a picnic and carrying it round with you is buying a supermarket meal deal (Tesco/Boots in the town centre & Sainsburys to the south of Verulamium Park).
- The Waffle House. Su-W 8:30AM-6PM, Th-Sa 8:30AM-8PM. St Michael's Place serves sweet and savoury waffles, in a converted watermill (worth a quick visit in its own right). Very busy for lunch during holiday times so prepare to queue.
- Wagamama, Unit 6, Christopher Place, ☏ . M-Sa noon-11PM, Su noon-10PM. A trendy Japanese noodle restaurant in the town centre. Prices are moderate (£10-15/person) and the staff are well trained and friendly.
- Pizza Express, 11 Verulam Road, ☏ . Su-W 11:30AM-11PM, Th-Sa 11:30AM-midnight. The local branch of the popular pizza restaurant chain.
- Côte Brasserie, 3 High Street, AL3 4ED, ☏ . M-F 8AM-11PM, Sa 9AM-11PM, Su 9AM-10:30PM. Excellent French restaurant, with a little garden in the back.
- Cafe Rouge, chain restaurant on Holywell Hill; the building is a former seed hall used by Samuel Ryder who donated the Ryder Cup, a golf trophy played for between the United States and Europe
As with most UK cities, there are plenty of curry houses
St Albans has the largest number of pubs in one square mile in England (and the EU). On Friday and Saturday nights, most bars and pubs are full, and may have bouncers on the door checking ID. Closing times vary between 11PM and 2AM, so ask when you're at the bar what time 'last orders' is. There are plenty of very nice country pubs nearby St Albans, although you'll need your own transport to get there. On sunny days, plenty of people drink in Verulamium Park. This is allowed in certain areas. There are signs where alcohol is prohibited. Tesco on St Peter's Street is generally cheaper than off-licences.
Pubs & barsEdit
St Albans has an large range of pubs and bars given its relative size, most of which offer a selection of food.
- 1 Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, 16 Abbey Mill Lane, AL3 4HE, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Britain's oldest pub that still runs today. It dates back to the 8th century with the pub you can see today built in the 11th century. Full of history cock fighting used to take place in the main bar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the octagonal half-timbered structure was once a medieval dovecote. The old building is full of charm with low ceilings, a bread oven next to the main fireplace, nooks and crannies. There is a nice beer garden in the back. Serves pub grub food.
- St Michael's Village is one of the oldest areas of St. Albans, and features some lovely old pubs including the Six Bells, the Rose and Crown and the Lower Red Lion.
- Other recommended pubs include The Boot next to the Clock Tower, The Blacksmith Arms which has a large range of Ales and a large beer garden, and The Goat which is quieter and has a large number of board games for a rainy day.
- The Farmer's Boy, 134 London Rd, AL1 1PQ, ☏ . This traditional local pub with log fire, board games and suntrap garden. They serve home cooked style food everyday (with a BBQ menu in the summer).
- The Horn (Was The Horn Reborn), Victoria Street, AL1 3TE (Near St Albans City Station), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. A pub and live music venue. Has a selection of original bands, tribute acts, cover bands, acoustics and comedy. Ticket may be required. Pub grub is also available.
- Club Batchwood (Batchwood Nightclub), Batchwood Drive, AL3 5XA (By Batchwood golf course/tennis club), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. F Sa 11PM-4AMish. Local nightclub just outside St Albans town centre to the north-east in Batchwood Hall. Clientele mainly 18-24 year olds.
Campaign for Real AleEdit
St Albans is home of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) head office. The Farrier's Arms, in Lower Dagnall Street, is the quiet local's pub where in 1972 the first CAMRA branch was formed. CAMRA has over 185,000 members around the world.
- St Albans Beer & Cider Festival, Alban Arena, AL1 3LD. Runs for four days in September. The Campaign for Real Ale hosts its annual beer festival every September. The festival has hundreds of real ales on offer along with real ciders and bottle conditioned beers. A Beer Tokens system is used so you get served quicker at the bar. A refundable glass (£3) is required. Free CAMRA members & non members £3 or £5.
Brewing & tastingEdit
- Verulam Brewery, 134 London Rd, AL1 1PQ (at the back of the Farmer's Boy), ☏ . It brews beers for the Farmer's Boy Pub and other outlets. They offer brewery tours with samples, taste lecture and Q&A with the brewer.
- Beer Shop, 71 London Road, AL1 1LN, ☏ . An independent retailer of craft, traditional and foreign bottled beer with tasting rooms. They hold regular Beer Nights (informal tasting evenings) drinking a curated selection of brews.
St Albans has a range of hotels and B&Bs, although no youth hostels. If visiting from London on a day trip, there is no need to stay in the city overnight, although there are some nice options if you want to get out of London.
- St Michael's Manor Hotel, Fishpool Street, AL3 4RY. Has a good location in St Michaels’ Village, approximately 10-minute walk from the city centre. It was very close to the Verulamium Museum. There is a good restaurant, and nice grounds. Rates from £145 to £265 per night.
- The Comfort Hotel has rates from around £75 per night. 27 Holywell Hill, AL1 1HG
- Ardmore House Hotel, 54 Lemsford Road, AL1 3PR. From £65 per night including breakfast.
- See also: Hertfordshire#Cities, towns and villages
- London Colney - village a couple of miles to the south-east where St Alban was captured by the Romans; has a couple of nice parks and an old mental hospital turned housing development
- Hatfield - best known for Hatfield House, where Queen Elizabeth I grew up, which has beautiful Renaissance gardens