Lying just half an hour from London, St Albans offers visitors the chance to escape from the grime and enjoy an eclectic blend of old and new. With a beautiful cathedral, bustling street market and numerous historical sites, St Albans is a treasure trove for culture vultures as well as offering plenty to do for those looking to enjoy top-notch shopping and evening entertainment.
Known as Verulamium in Roman times, the town was renamed after the first Christian martyr, St Alban who was brutally executed for his religious beliefs during the third century AD. His remains are believed to be buried beneath the Cathedral which has a shrine for visitors to pay their respects.
St Albans is the oldest town in the whole of Hertfordshire and during Roman times was the largest settlement in Britain. However, after the Romans left, the town centred around a Monastery founded by Abbot Ulsinus. The Abbey Church is still standing today, as part of the Cathedral, and stretches across the skyline, capturing your attention from whichever direction you arrive.
Elsewhere in the city there are many other sites which tell the story of its past.
The Clock Tower is one of just two medieval belfries in the whole of England and has been standing since the early 15th century. With the bells which have rung out for more than 600 years, the Tower provides magnificent views of the surrounding area.
St Albans also boasts the only Roman Theatre visible in Britain, which lies within a complex with the remains of a Roman house, a hidden shrine and a row of shops from the period. The Theatre would have held shows at religious festivals but also would have been the site for armed combat displays as well as shows with wild beasts!
Culture buffs will not want to miss the Verulamium Museum, an award-winning site which successfully recreates every aspect of Roman life, with wall plasters and mosaics reminiscent of the Mediterranean, along with interactive displays. If you visit on the second weekend in the month you may well be faced with a member of the Roman army (a re-enactment group visits to recreate Roman soldier tactics for the benefit of visitors).
The only totally visible Roman theatre in Britain.
The Cathedral and Abbey Church
Even if history isn’t quite your thing, you will still be blown away by the beauty of St Albans Cathedral and Abbey Church. Towering across the skyline, the building includes the Cathedral, the Abbey Church and the remains of the monastery, more than 4900 square metres to roam around with a bell tower reaching 144 feet into the air.
The remains of St Alban are believed to be buried in the Cathedral and his shrine is a popular pilgrimage for Christians every year. The Abbey walls are covered in ancient paintings including a beautiful rendition of Madonna and child.
For those who are feeling energetic, it is possible to take a tour to the top of the Tower, a lung busting 193 steps but the chance to get a close up view of the famous Rose window before admiring the panoramic scenery makes it all worthwhile. Visitors are able to see the 21 bells which peal out the melodic chimes as well as climbing out onto the roof to take time to enjoy the view.
The spectacular St Albans Cathedral and Abbey Church lit up by night
Shopping and entertainment
But St Albans is not just a city rooted in its past, it also offers a thriving and bustling city centre with a famous market which takes place twice a week. With more than 160 stalls, shoppers can browse local goods which include fresh produce, fish, household items and even healing crystals. Once a month a Farmers Market takes place and continental markets are also a regular occurrence.
St Albans is well known for its markets, with some of the traders having been around for more than 20 years. In recent years one of the stallholders won a retail award, beating high street stores to the prize.
However, the city also offers a fabulous shopping experience for those keen to browse through stores. But rather than being all crowded under one faceless mall, St Albans provides visitors with the chance to wander through the streets large and small, with shops in timber framed buildings and medieval arches. All of the typical high street names can be found, with two traffic free zones in the city, along with a large number of boutiques, craft shops and independent retailers to provide a unique shopping experience.
And when the day is over, there are more than 120 restaurants, bistros and coffee shops to pick from with food from all corners of the globe on offer including Turkish, Thai, Indian, Italian and Japanese.
St Albans offers a city experience like no other. With a Roman inspired green park, beautiful historical remains and great shopping, visitors will wonder whether there is any need to travel the 22 miles south to London!
Image Source: Feggy Art and Cybaea.
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