8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in St Albans
The old market town of St. Albans, in Hertfordshire, lies on a hill above the left bank of the River Ver and attracts particular interest because of its 14th-century Abbey Gateway, part of the large Benedictine Monastery at St. Albans that once dominated the town. 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 AD 304.
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. Sports enthusiasts are well catered to as well, with numerous hiking and biking trails crisscrossing the city and the surrounding area, along with traditionally popular activities like cricket, rugby, and football. 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.
See also: Where to Stay in St. Albans
1 St. Albans Cathedral
St. Albans Cathedral 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 (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.
Location: Sumpter Yard, St. Albans
1 The Old Town and the Medieval Clock Tower
Standing in the center of the old town of St. Albans is the Clock Tower, built in 1403 and providing fine panoramic views across the many historic streets 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 center is also the setting for the Market Place, known for its shopping and bustling weekly street market, 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 and notable for its imposing Palladian façade.
Address: High Street, St. Albans
Settlement on the site of Verulamium - the third largest Roman city in Britain - arose in around AD 45 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.
A short walk away is the Roman Theatre, the only visible example of its kind in Britain. Linked to two temples, the theater was used for religious festivals, armed combat, and wild animal shows. Also worth checking out is Britain's oldest inn, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks Inn. Built in 1539 and located just across the river, the building's foundations date from AD 793, and tunnels once ran between the cathedral and the inn's cellars.
Address: St. Michaels Street, St. Albans
4 St. Michael's Church
Built on the site of the ancient Roman forum near St. Albans' Clock Tower 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 (tours are available). The picturesque 16th-century Kingsbury Water Mill (now a restaurant) is nearby, on the banks of the River Ver, and makes a scenic photo opportunity.
Address: St. Michael's Street, St. Albans
5 Gardens of the Rose
A favorite tourist attraction for horticulturalists, the Gardens of the Rose are located at the headquarters of the Royal National Rose Society. The grounds boast the largest rose gardens in England, with more than 15,000 individual roses and more than 5,000 varieties, some of them dating from the 1800s. Set amid five acres, the display gardens and International Trial grounds were established in the late 1960s after the society moved from its original offices in Westminster, London. It is open to the public, and in bloom, from June to July.
Address: Chiswell Green, St. Albans
6 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 cathedral, local churches, and St. Albans School (the cathedral's impressive Harrison & Harrison organ, built in 1963, serves as the centerpiece of the festival).
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 (Christmas is a particularly popular time to visit, but book ahead to avoid disappointment).
Address: 320 Camp Road, St. Albans
7 Old Gorhambury House
Old Gorhambury House, an easy 10-minute drive west of St. Albans, consists of the remains of a huge Elizabethan mansion built in 1563 by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Queen Elizabeth I's Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The once-grand ruins include a two-story porch with parts of the hall, chapel, and clock tower, along with pleasant grounds that are fun to explore.
Location: Gorhambury, Hertfordshire
8 de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre
Operating with a mandate to preserve Britain's first aviation collection, the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre presents 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.
Location: Salisbury Hall, London Colney, Hertfordshire
Where to Stay in St. Albans for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels in St. Albans a short hop from popular attractions like St. Albans Cathedral:
- St. Michael's Manor Hotel: 4-star luxury manor house, beautiful gardens, individually decorated rooms, conservatory-style restaurant.
- Clarion Collection Hotel St. Albans: mid-range hotel, central location, Edwardian building, tea and coffee-making facilities.
- Holiday Inn Express St. Albans - M25, Jct. 22: affordable rates, short drive to town, bright rooms, free parking.
- Premier Inn St. Albans City Centre Hotel: budget hotel, comfortable rooms, modern decor.