Area Guide: The vibrant Cathedral city of St Albans
Herts Ad Property team
- Credit: Jane Howdle
A thriving Cathedral city packed with pubs, shops and excellent schools, it's easy to see the appeal of this suburban hotspot.
In addition to its rich history and varied amenities, including a speedy rail link into London, St Albans is surrounded by countryside.
Not surprisingly, living somewhere this appealing is far from cheap, and the city centre is home to some of its best (and most expensive) properties.
Homes currently for sale here include a Grade II listed former pub on Holywell Hill for £1.2m, a three-bed Victorian terraced house on Liverpool Road for £850,000 and a two-bed apartment on Verulam Road for £475,000.
One thing St Albans certainly isn't short of is history - it dates back to around 20BC, and became one of the largest towns in Britain in AD43 following the Roman invasion.
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It features in the Domesday Book (when it had a population of around 500), the first draft of the Magna Carta was drawn up in what was still a small settlement in 1215 and two battles in the War of the Roses were fought in the area, in 1455 and 1461.
The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain, and the heart of all things historic in the city. It was built over the burial site of St Alban, Britain's first Christian martyr, who died in AD304.
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St Albans Abbey is said to have been founded in AD793 by King Offa of Mercia and the principal Abbey was used by the Benedictines. However, the Abbey was not made a cathedral until 1877.
Fantastic state schools are one of St Albans' main draws and there are plenty of popular primaries in the city centre. These include Maple (ranked 'outstanding' in its last Ofsted inspection), Alban City, Aboyne Lodge and St Peter's (all 'good').
School catchments are notoriously tight throughout the city, but children in the centre are sometimes able to secure a place at 'good' co-ed secondaries such as Marlborough and Samuel Ryder Academy, an all through school, or Catholic girls' school, Loreto College ('outstanding').
St Albans Girls' School ('outstanding') and Verulam School ('good'), a boys' school that accepts girls in sixth form, are also a possibility.
St Albans also has a clutch of popular independents: St Albans School, St Albans High School for Girls and St Columba's College.
St Albans City station offers commuters a direct link into central London in around 20 minutes on the Bedford to Brighton line, while St Albans Abbey is a branch line between the city and Watford. Strong road links are also on offer, with the M1, A1(M) and M25 all a short drive away.
Sport and leisure
Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre has three pools, a gym and a spa, among other amenities, while Verulamium and Clarence parks are the city's biggest and best known green spaces.
There are also many sports clubs across St Albans, including Old Albanian RFC, St Albans Cricket Club and St Albans City FC.
St Albans has plenty of entertainment venues, from Abbey Theatre, with its diverse range of performances, to the Alban Arena, which hosts comics, live music acts and the annual panto, among others.
Various city centre pubs also host live bands, including The Horn and The Mermaid.
Then there's The Odyssey, an Art Deco cinema which offers a mix of classic and recently released films in a plush, theatre-like setting.
As well as the long-established Verulamium Museum there is the St Albans Museum + Gallery, which opened in 2018.
Eating and drinking
St Albans residents are spoiled when it comes to hostelries, with historic pubs such as The Boot and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.
Almost every culinary taste is catered for in the city centre, from Italian (Per Tutti) to Thai (Thai Rack) to Mediterranean (Tabure), Indian (Veer Dhara) and hearty steak (Prime).
The city is also home to a wide array of coffee shops — a source of dismay to some residents, who feel a number of these units would be better used as shops. The fact that they're usually all so busy explains why there are so many of them, however.
In addition to popular chain stores found mainly on St Peter's Street, The Maltings and Christopher Place, St Albans offers a mix of independent shops selling everything from clothes to comics, gifts and records, notably on High Street, Holywell Hill, Heritage Close and picture perfect George Street.