14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in St. Albans, England
Author Bryan Dearsley traveled to England in the spring of 2022 where he spent eight weeks exploring its towns and cities, including the medieval city of St. Albans.
The picturesque old market town of St. Albans in Hertfordshire sits on a hill above the left bank of the River Ver. The town attracts particular interest because of its 14th-century Abbey Gateway, part of the large Benedictine Monastery at St. Albans that once dominated the town, as well as its impressive cathedral.
Also historic is the old Roman settlement of Verulamium, the first formalized Roman municipality in Britain. The town, in fact, owes its name to St. Alban, a Roman mercenary, who was converted to Christianity and suffered a martyr's death in 304 CE.
In addition to visiting the tourist attractions associated with the town's rich history, there are many other fun things to do here. Those who enjoy shopping flock to the Christopher Place Shopping Centre, just a short walk from the cathedral, while the Maltings Mall offers a theater and numerous dining options.
Outdoor enthusiasts are well catered to, with numerous hiking and biking trails crisscrossing the city and the surrounding area. Traditionally popular activities like cricket, rugby, and football are all available to do here, too. A good place to visit for those who enjoy water-based activities is nearby Stanborough Lakes, a 126-acre water park with excellent sailing and rowing.
For more about these and other great places to visit in this often overlooked corner of England, be sure to review our list of the top tourist attractions and things to do in St. Alban, Hertfordshire.
- 1. Tour St. Albans Cathedral
- 2. Explore the Old Town and Climb the Medieval Clock Tower
- 3. Visit the Verulamium Museum and Roman Ruins
- 4. See the Roman Theatre of Verulamium
- 5. Visit St. Albans Museum + Gallery
- 6. St. Michael's Church
- 7. Take a Stroll Down Fishpool Street
- 8. International Organ Festival
- 9. Enjoy a Performance at St. Albans Organ Theatre
- 10. Make the Trip to Old Gorhambury House
- 11. Visit the de Havilland Aircraft Museum
- 12. England's Largest New Forest: Heartwood Forest
- 13. Take the Kids to Willows Activity Farm
- 14. Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery
1. Tour St. Albans Cathedral
St. Albans Cathedral, officially referred to as the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban, sits on the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain. Alban, the first martyr, was buried here after giving his life for his faith more than 1,700 years ago.
Built in 1077, the cathedral boasts a total length of 556 feet, making it second in size only to Winchester Cathedral.
Inside the west entrance are a few bays in early English style, with five more on the south side of the nave. Remains of 13th-century frescoes, including a notable depiction of the crucifixion, are on the columns flanking the north side.
A beautiful wooden coffered ceiling spans the lay chancel, separated from the nave by a 14th-century rood screen. The large gatehouse on the south wall, the Abbey Gateway, was built in 1361 and is all that remains of the former monastery.
Other features of note include the Monks' Chancel, roofed by ribbed vaulting featuring painted ornamental stucco dating from 1461, and the altar wall at the east end, with its many fine statues.
The Saint's Chapel, built in 1315, houses the tomb of St. Alban, while the tomb of St. Amphibalus, who converted St. Alban to Christianity, is on the north wall of the gallery. A cathedral shop and café are located on the premises, and free guided tours are available.
Location: Sumpter Yard, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.stalbanscathedral.org
2. Explore the Old Town and Climb the Medieval Clock Tower
Standing in the center of the old town of St. Albans is the Clock Tower. Built in 1405, it provides fine panoramic views across the many historic streets of the old town and the surrounding countryside. This fun 93-step climb is available weekends only, spring to fall, so plan your visit accordingly (it's well worth it).
The bustling town center is also the setting for the Market Place. Known for its shopping and bustling weekly street market, the market has been a tradition that can trace its roots as far back as the 9th century. Also worth visiting is the majestic Town Hall. Built in 1829, it's notable for its imposing Palladian façade.
Address: High Street, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/clock-tower
3. Visit the Verulamium Museum and Roman Ruins
Settlement on the site of Verulamium, once the third largest Roman city in Britain, arose around 40 CE and was the first formal Roman "municipium," or municipality, in the country.
Finds from various archeological digs are displayed in the adjoining Verulamium Museum and range from collections of gold coins to mosaics and wall plasters. A highlight of a visit is the chance to wander recreations of a number of Roman rooms. You'll also want to allow time to explore Verulamium Park, with its lovely views over the city and lake, as well as its pleasant trails.
If there's time in your St. Albans itinerary, check out Britain's oldest inn, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks Inn. Built in 1539 and located near the river and overlooking Verulamium Park, the building's foundations date from 793 CE, and tunnels once ran between the cathedral and the inn's cellars.
Address: St. Michaels Street, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/verulamium
4. See the Roman Theatre of Verulamium
Located a short walk away and across the road from the Verulamium Museum and picturesque St. Michael's Church is the must-see Roman Theatre of Verulamium. Part of the Gorhambury Estate, it's the only visible example of its kind in Britain, and is unique due to having a central stage rather than the usual amphitheater so popular with the Romans.
Linked to two temples, the theater was used for religious festivals, armed combat, and wild animal shows. Nearby is the Hypocaust, a remarkable piece of Romana engineering designed to heat buildings.
Theater and music fans should check the official website for news of upcoming events, as this ancient theater makes for an excellent backdrop for outdoor performances.
Address: Bluehouse Hill, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.gorhamburyestate.co.uk/The-Roman-Theatre
5. Visit St. Albans Museum + Gallery
Part of the St. Albans Museums group, which also operates the Verulamium Museum and the Medieval Clock Tower, St. Albans Museum + Gallery is a must-see when visiting the area. Established in 1898 and with a focus on local history, the museum's exhibits are now located in the former St. Albans Old Town Hall, a grand old building that was built in the 1800s.
Part history museum and part art gallery, the museum includes a mix of permanent and visiting exhibits of artifacts and artworks. In addition to visiting national and international exhibits, the museum has also undertaken to rotate exhibits of its many collections, ensuring there's always something new to see.
All told there are three floors to explore, along with a rich program of special events, workshops, and educational opportunities for all ages. Be sure to also visit the old courtroom and prison cells, too. Free tours are available daily, and a café and shop are located on the premises.
Address: St Peter's Street, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/visit/st-albans-museum-gallery
6. St. Michael's Church
Built on the site of the ancient Roman Theatre and near the Verulamium Museum stands the trim St. Michael's Church. Its Norman nave contains the tomb of philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626), also commemorated here by a monument. Guided tours are available. It's believed the site was also where Saint Alban was put on trial before his execution.
The picturesque 16th-century Kingsbury Water Mill, now a restaurant, is nearby. Perched on the banks of the River Ver, it makes a scenic photo opportunity. From here, you'll want to walk picturesque Fishpool Street back up to the cathedral.
Address: St. Michael's Street, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.stmichaels-parishchurch.org.uk/
7. Take a Stroll Down Fishpool Street
Undoubtedly one of the most attractive old byways in England, Fishpool Street is well worth a wander. Winding down from the cathedral to the also-pleasant St. Michael's Street, this very photogenic street is a lovely place for a walk. You can make a loop of it by cutting through Verulamium Park.
Over 900 years old, Fishpool Street was the last stop between London and Manchester, with examples of old architecture spanning the centuries. In addition to the old homes that line the street, there's also a charming 4-star hotel, St. Michael's Manor Hotel, which is worth considering for an extended stay.
Whether you stay or not, take your time, and have your camera ready to snap some great shots of this village-like thoroughfare.
Location: Fishpool Street, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.fishpoolstreet.org/our-street
8. International Organ Festival
The International Organ Festival and competition takes place every two years in early July (odd-numbered years only). Events include orchestral, choral, and chamber concerts, as well as recitals, art exhibitions, and lectures.
The repertoire ranges from traditional to contemporary, and visitors can catch performances in the St. Albans Cathedral, local churches, and St. Albans School. The cathedral's impressive Harrison & Harrison organ, built in 1963, serves as the centerpiece of the festival.
Address: 320 Camp Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.organfestival.com
9. Enjoy a Performance at St. Albans Organ Theatre
To discover a magnificent collection of mechanical musical instruments, old music boxes, and barrel organs, head to St. Albans Organ Theatre. In addition to its impressive collection of musical instruments, this fun attraction hosts regular performances throughout the year, along with special seasonal shows.
Sundays are a particularly good time to visit. The whole day is filled with music as each organ is put through its paces in performance. Christmas is a great time to visit, but book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Be sure to visit this fascinating attraction's website for news of upcoming events and concerts.
Address: 320 Camp Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: https://stalbansorgantheatre.org.uk
10. Make the Trip to Old Gorhambury House
Old Gorhambury House is a great place to visit if you fancy a drive into the countryside. It's just an easy 10-minute drive west of St. Albans, and you can also follow the well-marked trail from the Roman Theatre for a pleasant country walk.
However you arrive, you'll be rewarded with the chance to explore the remains of a huge Elizabethan mansion built in 1563 by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Queen Elizabeth I's Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. It later served as the home to his famous son, Sir Francis Bacon.
The once-grand ruins include a two-story porch with parts of the hall, chapel, and clock tower to view. The pleasant estate grounds are fun to explore. Admission is free.
11. Visit the de Havilland Aircraft Museum
Operating with a mandate to preserve Britain's first aviation collection, the de Havilland Aircraft Museum in the quaint village of London Colney is well-worth a visit. Highlights include displays of a variety of aircraft, aero-engines, propellers, missiles, rockets, and memorabilia made by one of the country's oldest aircraft manufacturers.
Among the attraction's collection is a unique Mosquito prototype, the only surviving early example of one of WWII's most versatile and successful fighting aircraft. Other highlights are numerous hands-on displays and vintage flight simulators.
A well-stocked shop is located on-site and sells memorabilia, models, and books related to de Havilland.
Location: Salisbury Hall, London Colney, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk
12. England's Largest New Forest: Heartwood Forest
As England's largest new forest, Heartwood Forest is a must-include on your St. Albans travel itinerary. And it really is a "new" forest, opening to the public in 2018 after a mammoth tree planting program undertaken by locals and the country's Woodland Trust. This impressive feat saw over 600,000 trees planted in just 10 years.
The results are truly impressive. Located close to the village of Sandridge, a few minutes' drive northeast of St. Albans, Heartwood Forest covers an area of 860 acres, some 80 percent of it new-growth trees. Named after the leaves of the original lime trees found here, the forest now includes numerous oak, willow, and birch trees, along with native local fruit trees.
It's a delight to explore the numerous trails available, either on foot, by bike, or even on horseback. An especially nice time to visit is in spring, when the forest comes alive with pretty bluebell flowers.
Address: Sandridge, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: https://heartwood.woodlandtrust.org.uk
13. Take the Kids to Willows Activity Farm
If you're visiting St. Albans with kids, you'll definitely want to include a stop at Willows Activity Farm. This working farm makes for a fun day trip for children of all ages, and their parents, and is located just 15 minutes' drive southeast of downtown St. Albans.
In addition to the fun of interacting and petting a wide variety of domesticated animals such as sheep, goats, and cuddly critters like rabbits, there are plenty of fun activities to participate in. These include workshops and educational programs, farming demonstrations, as well as character "meet and greets," including Peter Rabbit.
Bring a picnic, or feed the gang at the on-site restaurant, café, or kiosk.
Address: Coursers Road, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Official site: www.willowsactivityfarm.com
14. Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery
Ever wondered how bread used to be baked in the old days? Then pay a visit to Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery. Located on the River Ver just three miles north of St. Albans, this historic, still-working 18th-century mill sits on a site used for the purpose of milling flour for over 1,000 years.
A visit is not only informative, as you'll learn about the history of the trade over the centuries, it's also, well, yummy. The on-site bakery makes good use of the flour produced here, baking a variety of unique and traditional breads. Fun baking experiences area also available to participate in.
The mill is also set in the midst of some stunning countryside, and makes for a great walking tour destination.
Address: Redbournbury Mill, Redbournbury Ln, St. Albans,Hertfordshire
Official site: www.redbournburymill.co.uk/