St Albans is a peaceful, small historic city that sits just north of London. It’s a breath of fresh air from the busyness of the English capital and offers a wealth of unique attractions. It’s the site of the former Roman settlement of Verulamium, and ancient ruins are found throughout the city.
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It also contains century-old churches, picturesque parks, and fun shopping options. This is the kind of city that caters to everyone.
If you’re planning a day trip from London, why not visit St Albans one of the smallest city, yet closet city to London (only 20 minutes away from London by train) and escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day (or more), it’s the perfect addition to any itinerary.
Let’s get into everything you need to know about visiting St Albans.
Top Things to Do in St. Albans
Although St Albans is a relatively small city, it offers lots of fun activities and attractions. In fact, if you’re only planning a day trip, you may have a hard time fitting in everything included in this guide. But not to worry, considering it’s so close to London, you can always just save the activities you don’t get to for your next visit.
From museum wandering to nature exploring and shopping in St Albans, here are the top things to do.
St Albans Guided Walking Tours
If you’re trying to decide what to do in St Albans first, a guided walking tour is a great option.
Not only will you gain historical insight about this fascinating city, but you’ll also become more familiar with the layout, which is sure to come in handy.
St Albans Tour Guides offers a nice variety of themed walks throughout the year. And it’s very affordable, costing just £5 per adult, and £2 per child.
St Albans Cathedral
The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is one of the city’s most popular points of interest. This gorgeous, imposing church was built between 1077 and 1893. Because it had such a long construction timeline, it was built in multiple architectural styles, including Norman, Romanesque, and Gothic.
The cathedral was named after Britain’s first saint and recorded Christian martyr, Alban. It houses his shrine as well as many displays that give insight into the Abbey and the city itself.
The church is open for visitors every day of the week. Entrance is free, and free daily tours are also offered – although donations are always welcomed.
I recommend doing the free tour of the cathedral conducted by a member of staff, and you’ll get some insight into the church. Plus, you’ll also get to see where in the cathedral the different architectural begin and end.
The Verulamium Museum was built on the site of a former Roman city. It gives you a glimpse of what everyday life was like in Britain during Roman times.
Inside, you’ll find all sorts of ancient treasures, including mosaics, gold coins, pottery, and more. There are recreated rooms, interactive displays, and a fun gift shop. It’s well worth a visit for children and adults alike.
The museum is open every day except Sunday.
St Michael’s Church
St Michael’s Church is a beautiful little old church next to the Verulamium Museum. It’s considered one of the most significant surviving Anglo-Saxon buildings in England, making it one of the best historical places to visit in St Albans.
The church was built either in the late 10th century or early 11th century and partly constructed using Roman bricks. Then in the 12th century, it was enlarged, which gave shape to the building we see today.
It contains a wealth of historical remains, including 14th-century memorial brasses, portions of medieval paintings, and Victorian oak pews and stained glass.
The church is open daily, and entrance is free.
Roman Theatre of Verulamium
The Roman Theatre of Verulamium is an ancient excavated theatre built around 140 AD.
It’s unique in that it’s not an amphitheatre, as was commonly built during Roman times. But rather, it resembles a design similar to a modern theatre, with a raised stage.
Walking around the ancient ruins, you’ll feel as if you’re in another time. There are informative displays around the site that explain what the site was used for and how it developed over the years.
It’s definitely one of the more interesting St Albans things to do. You don’t need to budget a lot of time for this stop, and it only takes about 20-30 minutes to explore.
Verulamium Park is a sprawling 100-acre green space. It features all sorts of attractions, like a basketball court, playground, splash zone, small outdoor gym, and even ancient Roman ruins.
Go for a relaxing stroll or have a seat on the grass lawn overlooking the scenic lake. It’s perfect for both nature lovers and history buffs.
There is a beautiful ornamental lake in the park, and this is the main draw of the park and a great place to have a picnic. There are swans playing in the lake and even a small footbridge that you can walk over, placing you in almost dead in the centre of the edge of the lake.
The Roman Mosaic and Hypocaust
The Roman Mosaic and Hypocaust is an ancient underfloor heating system that ran beneath a mosaic floor. It was discovered during a 1930s excavation and is estimated to be around 1800 years old.
The floor is remarkably well preserved, and the design is very detailed, with many geometric patterns. It’s thought to have belonged to a reception room of a large house.
It’s located inside Verulamium Park and admission is free.
River Ver Walk Trail
The River Ver Walk Trail is a 17-mile-long walking route. It starts in the village of Kensworth Lynch and ends in the village of Bricket Wood, passing through St Albans along the way.
You can hop on the trail in Verulamium Park and enjoy a nice gentle stroll along the river. It takes you right next to some of the city’s top sites, like the Abbots Nunnery ruins and the Watercress wildlife reserve.
It’s a nice country walk that’s well maintained with proper signage.
St Stephen’s Church
St Stephen’s Church is another one of St Albans’ historic churches. It is believed to have been founded in 948 AD. Although little remains of the original building, the windows by the door to the Parish Centre have been dated to roughly 950 AD.
Different structures and relics were added throughout the years, with the building we see today being largely medieval. It reflects a quintessential old English church, complete with a lush grassy lawn and a small graveyard.
The church is usually open every day and guests are free to visit.
The Clock Tower
St Albans’ Clock Tower is a 15th-century belfry that was constructed from 1403 to 1412. It’s England’s only remaining medieval town belfry and is located in St Albans’ town centre.
For a very small fee, you can climb the 93-step narrow spiral staircase to the viewing area at the top. You’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the city and countryside. Do check first to make sure the Clock Tower is open, as on my visit it was closed.
Visit morning or night, it’s open from 10:30 – 22:30.
Visit French Row
French Row is a pedestrian-only street in St Albans’ city centre. It’s right next to the Clock Tower and lined with a few popular eateries and shops. It will only take you a minute or so to walk down, but it’s an interesting historical area where you can admire some of the city’s older buildings.
St Albans Museum + Gallery
St Albans Museum + Gallery details the history of the city from the Roman period to modern times. Through the many artefacts and exhibitions, a story is weaved together that traces the timeline of St Albans.
It’s housed inside the old Town Hall building. Several of the historic rooms have been restored to their former glory. Among these are The Assembly Room, which was used for balls and galas, and the old courtroom and cells, where law and order were carried out.
The museum and gallery is open every day and admission is free.
Heartwood Forest is a large 858-acre forest. It features miles of beautiful woodland to explore with many well-marked walking paths. Whether you fancy a walk, jog, picnic, or just a peaceful environment, it makes for a quiet reprieve from the city centre.
Parish Church of St. Peter
The Church of St. Peter is a historic place of worship with a timeline that can be traced back to roughly 948 AD. Originally it was an Anglo-Saxon structure made of wood, but in the 13th century, the church was rebuilt.
It has been restored and added onto many times throughout the years. It’s a grand old building with many stunning stained-glass windows and historic features. The church and surrounding property is a nice, peaceful spot to check out when you visit St Albans
Sopwell Nunnery is one of the more unique St Albans tourist attractions. The site houses the crumbling ruins of a Tudor mansion that belonged to one of Henry VIII’s advisers. Its timeline goes further back, however, as it was once the site of a nunnery founded in 1140.
Today, it’s a popular outdoor area for walking, picnicking, and exploring. There is still shape to some of the rooms, windows, and doorways. Guests are free to wander around the inside and outside of the old mansion.
St Albans Pilgrimage Trails
St Albans Pilgrimage Trails is a three-mile route that runs between the city’s four historic churches: St Albans Cathedral, St Michael’s Church, St Stephen’s Church, and St Peter’s Church.
You can hop on the trail at any one of the churches and walk for as long as you’d like. At each church, you can collect a Pilgrim Stamp to mark your journey. The route goes through the city centre, so you could always break for a beer or something to eat.
St Albans Organ Theatre
St Albans Organ Theatre is a must-visit for music lovers. This small, intimate venue features a collection of self-playing mechanical musical instruments, including theatre pipe organs, dance organs, and player pianos.
Most pieces were made from 1930 – 1950 and beautifully crafted with much attention to detail. Seeing a performance will take you back to the good old days when music wasn’t digitised and mechanical instruments were listened to for entertainment.
Performances are only offered every second Sunday of the month. If your trip to St Albans coincides with this time, you’ll be in for a treat. You can book your ticket online beforehand or take your chance at the door.
If you’re looking for things to do near St Albans, visiting Hatfield House is a must. Built in 1611, this Jacobean-style mansion is large and showy. The rooms are designed to the smallest detail and are full of lavish decorations and ornate furnishings.
The estate also includes surviving parts of an earlier palace that was used as a residence for Henry VIII and his three children in the mid 16th century.
The extensive grounds cover 42 acres and include a series of beautiful formal gardens, called The West Garden.
Hatfield House is located seven miles from St Albans’ city centre. If you have some extra time during your visit, it’s a great activity to add to your sightseeing itinerary.
You can drive or take a taxi there in about 20 – 30 minutes (depending on traffic). The train and bus also connect these two areas, but they can take close to an hour.
De Havilland Aircraft Museum
De Havilland Aircraft Museum is an aviation museum that features an impressive collection of different aircraft and engines.
The indoor and outdoor displays house many different models, including jet, trainer, and transfer aircraft as well as WWII designs. You can sit inside several of the aircraft and try out a WWII LINK ground stimulator that was made to aid pilot training. It’s a fun attraction for both adults and kids.
The museum is five miles outside of St Albans city centre. It’s open every day except Monday from 10:30 – 17:00.
Shopping in St Albans
If you’re the kind of traveller that enjoys shopping, St Albans has lots of fun options that cater to all budgets. Whether you’re looking for a local souvenir or something from one of your favourite department stores, here are the best places to check out.
Maltings Mall is an outdoor shopping centre with all your typical high street staples. It caters well to the casual shopper. Although it’s relatively small, you’ll still find a nice variety of shops, including H&M, Lush, Tk Maxx and Top Shop.
Thrown in the mix are some chain eateries like Subway and Costa.
Christopher Place Shopping Centre
Christopher Place Shopping Centre is one of the best places to do some St Albans shopping. It’s set in the historic quarter and mostly features high-end stores. You’ll find everything from clothing to accessories and homeware.
If you need a break, there are several cafes and restaurants where you can relax and have a drink or a meal. The dining options are more contemporary and include eateries like Wagamama and Zizzi Italian.
St Albans Traditional Street Market
Every Wednesday and Saturday from 08:30 to 16:30 the city hosts a traditional street market.
Browse over 160 stalls set up along St Peter’s Street. Shop seasonal produce, top-quality cheeses and meats, freshly baked pastries, street food, jewellery, clothes, local souvenirs, and much more.
The market has a very local feel and a lively atmosphere. And, it’s in a great location to continue exploring the city.
Where to Eat in St Albans
This ancient city has a tangible sense of history that’s evident in every aspect – including its century-old pubs and restaurants. When you’re in need of a meal, stop into one of these cosy eateries. They have so much charm and character, they’re considered St Albans attractions too.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is a public house/pub that claims to be one of the oldest in England – although this can’t be officially proven. It’s a nice cosy spot to grab a traditional British meal and beer. They do a fabulous Sunday roast and their Cask Ales are award-winning.
The Goat Inn
The Goat Inn is a historic pub, restaurant, and accommodation all in one. It dates back to the 15th century and is situated just a few minute’s walk from the town centre.
If you’re visiting on a Sunday, they regularly host a carvery. On the other days of the week, you can enjoy a cosy pub meal and one of their many drinks on tap.
The Boot is a typical English pub that’s housed inside a building that dates back to around 1500. All of the meals are homemade with locally sourced ingredients. Their drink selection includes Real Ales, Craft beers, ciders, spirits and more.
The pub sits right in St Albans old town centre and outdoor seating is available.
Where to Stay in St Albans
As previously mentioned, you can easily visit St Albans on a day trip from London. However, if you want to stay the night, here are some charming accommodation options in the heart of the city.
White Hart Hotel
The White Hart Hotel is a 600-year-old inn located right in the centre of St Albans, just opposite the Cathedral. Each room is individually furnished and features modern amenities like a TV, free WiFi, and tea/coffee-making facilities.
The romantic on-site restaurant serves home-cooked meals with candle lighting. Each morning, a full English breakfast is available.
Torrington Hall is a hotel housed in a former mansion that was built in 1882. It’s just a stone’s throw from St Albans Cathedral, with some of the rooms overlooking the church.
The hotel has original features as well as new contemporary additions. The rooms are spacious with high ceilings and include a kitchenette and dining area. When you’re ready to head out to the shops in St Albans, you’ll be less than a five-minute walk from the city centre.
Clarion Collection Hotel St Albans
Clarion Collection Hotel is set in an Edwardian building in the heart of St Albans. Each room has a modern design and features air-conditioning, a flat-screen TV, and a tea/coffee maker.
For drinks and refreshments, there is an on-site bar and room service is available. Breakfast is also offered each morning for a fee. When you’re ready to head out, the town centre is just a 6-minute walk away.
How to Get to St Albans From London
Only 25 miles separate London from St Albans. If you want to break up your sightseeing in the English capital and escape the city, here are the best ways to get to St Albans.
London to St Albans By Car
If you wish to drive to St Albans from London, it takes between 45 minutes – 1.5 hours depending on traffic. Having a car can be beneficial, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Most of the sites in this guide can be travelled between on foot.
If you do have a car, keep in mind that on-street parking is restricted, so finding a car park is your best bet. These can fill up fast, so once you secure a spot, it’s best to leave your car there and walk as much as possible.
London to St Albans By Train
The train is the quickest way to reach St Albans from London. Board at St Pancras International and you’ll arrive at St Albans City Station in just 20 minutes.
Once you arrive, it will take 10 – 15 to reach the city centre on foot. As long as you don’t mind walking, taking the train is the most convenient way to travel to St Albans from London.
London to St Albans by Bus
Several bus routes connect London with St Albans. However, the train is a much faster and more efficient method for transport. The bus service could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Final Thoughts on St Albans Things to Do
From historical sites to hidden gems, there are so many fun things to do in St Albans. You’ll find more than enough activities to fill your day. Discover the ancient Roman ruins, go on a scenic nature walk, and shop till you drop in the bustling town centre.
Whether you’re planning a day trip or a weekend getaway, this guide has everything you need to know about making the most out of your time in charming St Albans.
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