St Albans is a town in Hertfordshire, easily accessible from London by a 20 minute train. I knew of it as the town with the most expensive house prices in England. Others more knowledgeable than me, may have known it as one of the first major towns built by the Romans. Either way, I recently decided to spend the day checking it out to see what all the fuss was about.
St Albans town centre
We arrived at St Albans city train station and made our way to the town centre by walking straight up Victoria Street for about 15 minutes. There was no need for a map, it was easy to know we had made it to the town centre once we found ourselves at the end end of the street, looking at the square in front of the town hall, full with market stalls and buzzing with people. So far, St Alban’s wasn’t looking any different to other big English towns, except for the sheer amount of people walking around. We followed the narrow Market Place street towards the clock tower. It was hard to take anything in since there wasn’t much space to walk around given the street was filled with market stalls and more people.
Thankfully the clock tower marked the end of the craziness. It was time for some nice English tea, and after having been on the lookout for a tearoom I finally found it – I spotted a small shopping alley at the end of which I found Abigail’s tearooms. A small cafe with a very homy and cozy feeling, and most importantly, a beautiful garden terrace overlooking the back of the cathedral. The tea and the home-made cakes were delicious!
St Alban’s cathedral is definitely the most impressive thing about St Albans. It is named after the first Christian martyr in Britain, St Alban, who was executed at a site nearby in 209 AD. You can read about his story in panels inside the cathedral, where he is also buried. Apparently, the cathedral also has the longest medieval nave in the country. And now that I have gotten the key historical facts out of the way let me tell you: I am more about the great outdoors and landscape that I am about buildings and architecture, but this is the most impressive cathedral I have visited in recent years. Apart from the fact that it is absolutely massive, it is filled with beautiful details.
We were making our way to the main entrance at the back, when we overheard music through an open door to the side. We decided to go in and we found ourselves listening to an orchestra/choir rehearsal. It was amazing and took us completely aback. I re-watched the video as I was preparing to write this post and it gave me goosebumps again! Unfortunately, I am not going to share it as I feel like it was a private rehearsal and I don’t even know their name. But basically, go see a concert in there if you get the chance! Once the rehearsal was over, we spent some time exploring the rest of the cathedral. Just when we thought we had seen the best part, there was something else to blow us away! And I should say, it is free entry, so whatever you do, do not visit St Alban’s without visiting the cathedral.
We exited the cathedral and made our way down a beautiful green hill towards the River Ver. The atmosphere was completely different here – the sun had come out, and we were surrounded by happy families walking their good-looking dogs. Once we made it to the river we found what is apparently the eldest pub in Britain: Ye olde fighting cocks. A sign outside states the English revolutionary Oliver Cromwell used to frequent it. The history lessons never end with this town!
And so we made it to Verulanium Park. Verulanium is actually the original name the Romans gave to the town, the remains of which actually still lie underneath the park. The park is a vast extension of beautiful green with random hills, which are apparently due to the roman remains that lie underneath. There are also roman remains (mostly walls) scattered above ground as well as a very well conserved mosaic towards the top of the park.
After a very relaxed stroll across the park, we made it to the Verulanium museum. It’s 5£ in, and even though it is not very big, it’s worth a visit if you’d like to learn more about the roman history of verulanium park. If you are not really into history and roman remains, I’d recommend skipping it.
Once we were out of the park, and after passing St Michael’s church to our left, we made our way to the little village of St Michael’s. And when I say village I mean just one small street, but what a beautiful street! Emanating charm and history, it’s marked on both sides by some half-timbered some thatch roofed small houses, as well as two traditionally cute English pubs: the Six Bells and the Rose and Crown. We tried the Rose and Crown, and I’d definitely recommend it. They even have an adorable beer garden out the back, with gnome figurines included! I can definitely see myself enjoying a jug of Pimms on a sunny summer afternoon there.
Also worth noting, is the Verulanium Roman theatre, located between Verulanium park and St Michaels village. We didn’t have time to pay it a visit this time (it closes at 5 pm) so I have no idea whether it is any good.
All in all, I really enjoyed St Alban’s and I think it makes a great day-trip from London, particularly on a clear summer/autumn day. The only down-side to this walk however, is that it is linear, meaning that the best way back is the same way we originally went. However Verulanium park is so big that you can take another route towards St Albans cathedral. And to be honest, when I like what I see, I don’t mind seeing it twice!