A weekend guide to the vibrant City of St Albans
Enjoy a summer’s break in the stylish city of St Albans. Here’s everything you need to know for an unforgettable trip.
Start your Saturday at Charlies Coffee and Company. It’s a fabulously hip and tiny cafe serving carefully sourced and roasted coffee.
From there, wander up to the city centre and enter the Cathedral’s new Welcome Centre via Sumpter Yard. Discover the story of Alban, Britain’s first saint, then take an hour or so to enjoy some of the Cathedral’s hidden gems (can you find the Nine Men’s Morris board scratched into the stone where pilgrims would wait to visit the Shrine?) or book ahead to climb the tower as part of a tour.
Step out of the West End of the Cathedral to admire its gorgeous facade, before walking back through the churchyard towards Waxhouse Gate and the Clock Tower, proudly keeping time for the City since Medieval times. On Summer weekends you can climb its 93 narrow, steep and uneven steps for a great view.
Food and Drink in St Albans
Time for some lunch? There’s a thriving street food hub at the Clock-tower end of the Market where you’ll find anything from aromatic Brazilian feijoada (a warmly spiced stew of pork and beans) to the most gorgeous crunchy falafel wraps, bright with pickled and fresh veggies.
You might want to opt for something to eat on the hoof while you mosey around the Market, which was operating on Wednesdays and Saturdays for hundreds of years even before the granting of the Market Charter in 1553. Beloved by locals, but a magnet for visitors, it offers all the fresh fruit and vegetables you could want along with jewellery, gifts, cut flowers, party wares, picture framing, watch batteries, fresh bread, fabrics, clothing, cheese, toys and shoes. First time visitors marvel at the sheer range on offer – the effect is of a range of top-quality pop-up shops run by knowledgeable and long-serving traders.
From the Market head to George Street for its lovely independent shops then carry on down the hill to St Michael’s Village, where, if you’re feeling peckish, you can enjoy a waffle and walk it off in the atmospheric surroundings of a 16th Century watermill
Built on the site of the third largest Roman City in Britain. There are impressive remains here, including a well-preserved hypocaust. You can learn all about it at the Museum near beautiful St Michael’s church.
Finish your tour of the park with a stroll back up through the Abbey Orchard, not forgetting to stop off at Britain’s Oldest Pub Ye Olde Fighting Cocks on the way.
The Cathedral Quarter offers a wealth of fabulous options for dinner, from Turkish to traditional British, Thai to Italian. A slightly more unusual option is the wild, foraged food on the menu at The Foragers at The Verulam Arms.
Places to stay in St Albans
Golf fans should consider staying overnight at the former premises of the Ryder Seed Company, whose founder donated the trophy to the tournament that bears his name. A suitably grand building – with its former exhibition greenhouse next door – it’s now a hotel.
Things to do in the city of St Albans
Stroll back into town on Sunday morning to see what’s going on. If you’re visiting on the second Sunday of the month, there’s a fantastic Farmers’ Market where you can shop for locally produced meats, cheeses and fresh produce – even locally grown and ground flour – to the strains of live music. Other Markets and events – such as regular antique and vintage markets – take place throughout the year, check enjoystalbans.com for details.
The backdrop to all this activity is the newly restored jewel in the City’s crown: St Albans Museum + Gallery. It tells the story of the City (did you know it was the site of two battles in the Wars of the Roses?) and hosts top-class touring art exhibitions, as well as being a wonderful building to visit in its own right. From grand sweeping staircase to its courtroom with cells below, it’s a beautiful emblem of this varied and fascinating City.
For Sunday lunch, try a roast at one of the City’s wealth of cosy pubs, such as The White Lion. If you’d prefer something bright and airy try Lussmanns. It’s been tempting locals for 15 years with its delightfully eco-conscious menu.
If your timing is right you could conclude your visit to St Albans with a visit to one of two unique treasures: St Albans South Signal Box, next to the City Station, or the St Albans Organ Theatre. Built in 1892, the Signal Box is the largest preserved Midland Railway signal box and one of the few that’s open to the public and on a mainline railway. The Organ Theatre houses a collection of rare mechanical musical instruments, dance organs, player pianos and theatre pipe organs.