Area Guide: The historic cathedral city of St Albans explored

Market Place, St Albans.

Market Place, St Albans. - Credit: Jane Howdle

Widely regarded as one of the most desirable place to live in Britain, historic St Albans offers residents a winning mix of green spaces and outstanding schools within easy reach of London. We found out more about the popular cathedral city...

St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire

St Albans Cathedral - Credit: Will Durrant

St Albans dates back to around 20BC, and was one of the largest towns in Britain in AD43 following the Roman invasion.

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.

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.

St Albans' medieval Clock Tower

St Albans' medieval Clock Tower. - Credit: Alan Davies

Schools

Fantastic state schools are one of St Albans' main draws and there are plenty of popular primaries in the city centre. These include Maple, Alban City, Aboyne Lodge and St Peter's, which were all ranked 'good' by Ofsted at their last inspections.

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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.

Travel

St Albans City station offers commuters a direct link into central London in around 20 minutes, 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.

Entertainment

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.

The Odyssey cinema is directly opposite Gabriel Square on London Road

The Odyssey cinema is directly opposite Gabriel Square on London Road - Credit: Archant

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.

The red phone box outside The Boot pub in St Albans.

The red phone box outside The Boot pub in St Albans. - Credit: Laura Bill

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 cafes — 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. 

One thing St Albans isn't short of is coffee shops, with Nkora and Caffe Nero being two of many. Pic

One thing St Albans isn't short of is coffee shops, with Nkora and Caffe Nero being two of many. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Shops

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.   

Property

Living somewhere as lovely as St Albans doesn't come cheap, and the city centre is home to many of the area's most unaffordable properties.

Homes currently for sale here include a £2.5m Grade II listed detached house on Verulam Road, a £1.5m six-bed home on Alma Road and a £325,000 one-bed flat on Upper Lattimore Road. 

This area guide is sponsored by Frost's, who have offices in St Albans, Marshalswick, Wheathampstead and Harpenden...

This area guide is sponsored by Frost's, who have offices in St Albans, Marshalswick, Wheathampstead and Harpenden (www.frosts.co.uk/branches) - Credit: Archant