The cathedral city of St Albans is gearing up for an Easter with a slightly festive theme
The Easter break is the perfect time to get out and about. If you’re looking for culture, cuisine and children’s activities then head to St Albans this April – it’s also said to be home of the original hot cross bun! We’ve put together a list of 20 things to do in the city…
Easter Panto in St Albans
Building on the success of the Christmas panto season, the city-centre’s entertainment venue, the Alban Arena, will be putting on a pantomime at Easter for the first time, starring Gareth Gates in the lead role of Robin Hood with an all-star cast of merry men including the much-loved characters George and Zippy from 1980s hit children’s TV show Rainbow.
The panto will be performed on 12 and 13 April and tickets can be booked at alban-arena.co.uk
Hot cross buns
St Albans lays claim to being the home of the original hot cross bun. The spicy Easter cake, also known as the Alban bun, is said to originate in St Albans, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th-century monk at St Albans Abbey, developed the original recipe and distributed the Alban Bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361.
The bun is on sale from St Albans Cathedral shop and Abbot’s Kitchen cafe.
An historical break in the cathedral city of St Albans
St Albans is home of Britain’s first Saint, and an old stomping ground for Queen Boudicca herself, and is jam-packed with historic buildings as far as the eye can see. Numerous Roman remains; an 11th Century Cathedral in which the first draft of Magna Carta was drawn up; the oldest working medieval clock tower; a multitude of pretty Tudor inns, including the oldest one in the UK; and exquisite Georgian architecture, create a beautiful British historical theme-park providing the perfect British backdrop to some fantastic shopping and dining experiences – not forgetting the 100 acres of stunning parkland.
There is so much for a family to do in this pretty city steeped in history – all great value for money – including many things families can do for free in St Albans.
Visit St Albans Cathedral
The Cathedral is somewhere visitors must see and is completely free to visit. Built on the spot in the City on which Britain’s first Saint – Alban himself – was beheaded, the Cathedral is the oldest place of Christian worship in the UK and the jewel in St Albans’s crown.
Once the most important Cathedral outside London, it is a site of huge historical importance, not least because the first draft of the Magna Carter was drawn up here in 1213. It also has the longest nave of any Cathedral in England, which, along with the distinctive Rose window and Norman tower give the Cathedral its individuality.
Picnic in Verulamium Park
Before you get stuck into the great shopping St Albans has to offer, exit the Cathedral at the Abbey orchard end and take a stroll round the 100 acres of Verulamium park, named after the major pre-Roman city of Verulamium, in which Boudicca was said to have rampaged. Remnants of the City walls, including the entrance to the city itself, can still be seen, as well as Britain’s only surviving Roman Theatre, built around 140AD, and, in the middle of the park an original Roman floor mosaic, with one of the first heating systems to be installed in this country (a hypocaust).
The 100-acre park also has a free splash park and children’s playground for little ones, and, for bigger ones, beach volleyball courts (using Olympic sand), and an outdoor adidas gym.And for nature lovers there’s also a beautiful lake with a central island which is home to a heronry and attracts thousands of keen twitchers each year.
Visit the UK’s oldest pub
Staying with birds, on the way back to the town centre, have a pint in Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, the UK’s oldest pub according to the Guinness Book of Records, which is on the fringes of the park and offers a fantastic menu of food for all the family. As numerous tourists from overseas will confirm, it is well worth a visit – especially on a sunny day as its extensive garden has a perfect view of the lake – and the Roman walls – and that view is free!
Roman Theatre of Verulamium
Just a short walk from the park are the remains of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium. Built in about 140AD, it is the only example of its kind in Britain as it was a theatre with a stage rather than an amphitheatre. The ruins were unearthed in 1847 and subsequent excavations have revealed a row of shop foundations, a Roman Villa and a secret shrine, all thought to date from the 1st Century. For more info visit www.enjoystalbans.com
Also, in the village of Sandridge, just a mile outside St Albans is Heartwood Forest, the Woodland Trust’s largest wood in England, covering more than 850 acres.
The wood is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, with a number of species of birds, mammals and insects being recorded, so you’re never far away from seeing anything from a red kite to deer. The site has miles of pathways and bridleways clearly signposted, with a good sized car park. Visitors can also walk into Sandridge village for a hearty lunch or dinner at one of the local pubs.
Easter events at Verulamium Museum in St Albans
This museum of everyday life in Roman Britain is pulling out all the stops to keep the kids entertained over Easter. Workshops include: Crafty Capers; Keep Calm and Colour; Memories and Mementos; Paper Engineering; Front-page News – Tales and Tabloids Holiday Activity; Tots Tales; and Meet a Roman Soldier. More details at stalbansmuseums.org.uk/verulamium/
Easter at Willow’s Activity Farm
Check out the Peter Rabbit Playground at the much-loved Willows Activity Farm. The playground has been specially created with a focus on learning through imaginative play and brings together many of the locations and characters the children love from the CBeebies animated Peter Rabbit series.
As well as the new playground, there’s a whole host of activities for children to enjoy including Captain Chicken’s Egg Dodge, Woolly Jumpers indoor play barn, The Big Dig, JCB Young Drivers Zone, Animal Feeding Area, Tree House Adventure and the Peter Rabbit Woodland Play Trail.
During the Easter break, there’s also sheep shearing, sheep racing and Easter egg hunts. www.willowsactivityfarm.com
The Clock Tower opens in St Albans
The only surviving medieval clock tower in England, opens to the public in April. The tower and its fine bell, right in the centre of the city, has survived over 600 years of use. The view of the City and the surrounding countryside from the top of the clock tower are breath-taking. You have 93 steps to climb to get to the top – but the views are worth it. (Adults £1, children free).
Naomi’s Wild & Scary at The Alban Arena
On Wednesday 5 April at 1.30pm, children’s TV presenter Naomi Wilkinson comes to The Alban Arena. The show will be packed full of fun and surprises as Naomi is joined on stage by ‘Animal Mark’, and some of his scariest creatures.
Easter egg hunts in St Albans
A fundraising Easter egg hunt for the Woodland Trust will be taking place at Wick Wood, St Albans on 15 April.
Take a walk with St Albans Tour Guides
There will be a number of walking tours throughout the Easter break, including: ‘A Roman City Revealed Guided Walk’ on Saturday 1 April. Discover the lurid past of Roman Britain’s third city, revolting Celts and a fire to rival the Great Fire of London. See the hypocaust, the Roman central heating system not surpassed in England for over 1400 years, and part of the Roman Wall.
‘A Monastery Revealed Guided Walk’ on Sunday 2 April will show how the city owes its existence to the monastery, which was once the most important in England. From Dedication to Dissolution, powerful Abbots controlled the town, the lives of its people and of course the monks.
On 8 April ‘Fishpool Street – Rags and Riches’ will journey from St Michael’s, the village within the Roman walls, taking in medieval pubs and houses and a 16th-century watermill, to Fishpool Street. How did this street, once a major 18th-century coaching route, degenerate to a slum and backwater, then become a prime residential area? You will have the opportunity to look at the architecture of some of the 72 listed buildings which range from a manor to workmen’s cottages.
‘Historic St Albans: A City Revealed’ takes place on 9 April. St Albans, the unheralded jewel of Hertfordshire, a 1000-year-old city at the heart of English History. Tour well known and lesser known sites of the City – hear about revolting peasants, martyrs, heretics, monasteries and monks. Find out what is unique to St Albans and see its medieval clock tower and parish memorials.
‘Aristocrats, Paupers & Philanthropists’ on Friday 14 April is based in the St Peter’s area. You will hear of London orphans and their wet nurses, the philanthrophy of Winston Churchill’s ancestors and find out about the “heir and spare”. Why is there an arrow above the Pemberton Almshouse on St Peter’s Street and why is there an unusual milestone in Hatfield Road? An interesting stroll around the lesser known historic features of St Albans
‘Coaching Inns’ on 16 April, reveals how for over 1,000 years, St Albans has been a town of inns, taverns and alehouses. Find out why there were 15 inns in one street alone. At one time, stabling was required for more than 2,000 horses. This fascinating walk also looks at the architecture and the people who were part of this vibrant area of St Albans.
Accommodation in St Albans
St Albans has a range of accommodation options but a really cost-effective way of having a break in this ancient city is by staying in an apartment in the city centre with views of the Cathedral. It costs £140 a night in a 2-bed apartment (sleeping 4) in The Strawhouse, a beautiful building, lovingly restored from a former straw hat factory, and from which you can see the Cathedral.
And just down the road is… The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour!