As a proud resident of St Albans, I’m bursting with ideas of places to go and things to see, and have given quite the number of guided tours to visiting friends. Sometimes it’s not until you detach yourself from the sites you’re so used to seeing, the cobbled paths you’re so used to walking, and the coffee shops you’re so used to haunting that you see the value in what you have, through the eyes of an outsider. Be a tourist in your own town. It’s something I love to do and it’s the only way to discover new places that have popped up.
WHAT NOT TO MISS
You know St Albans is an important site of Roman history, yeah? So you just can’t visit without a trip to the Roman Theatre, see the Roman ruins in Verulamium Park, pop into one of the museums – oh, and the Cathedral is pretty spectacular too.
IF IT RAINS
Well, it is England…you’ll be safe and entertained at these indoor spots
St Albans Museum & Gallery
On a blue day, it’s great to be outside in these green spaces
Vintry Garden (adjacent to the Cathedral)
Clarence Park (ideal if you’ve come by train)
WHERE TO GET COFFEE
So I’m not a great fan of high street chains; yes we have them but you can’t beat supporting independent businesses and jumping ship every now and then to try some new coffee beans. Space is limited of course so I suggest hitting these popular spots at off-peak times (or shadily standing around outside and nabbing a free table as soon as it appears)…
Your one stop shop for breakfast, lunch and light snacks, I guarantee you’ll go in just wanting a coffee and end up ordering a delicious sweet or savoury item. I know I’m guilty. It all looks so damn tasty.
You’ll be drawn in by the smell of coffee beans but the wooden chairs mean you won’t stay for long. Sometimes the queue is out the door but don’t let it put you off, grab a take out and head to the Vintry Garden on a dry sunny day.
There are so many reasons to visit this place and each of them is sweet, naughty and delicious. Sunday night is movie night and what’s better than sinking into a chair with a treat and your best people? This is definitely on my to-do list. If you don’t make it in store look out for the Pudding Stop van, which usually parks up around the St Christopher’s Place end of town at weekends or at the train station on weekday evenings.
The Exquisite Peacock Emporium
A relatively new addition to the shopping area known as The Maltings, it desperately needed a watering hole in a central location, and keen shoppers flock here for a gorgeous-looking mocha and indulgent muffin with shopping bags engulfing their feet.
Okay of course this is purely my opinion, but you can’t beat a trip to Waterstones (and naturally stay for a coffee) and Clarks Cameras – where you will most likely end up treating yourself to a vintage camera (at least I do!)
A special shout out to the Shop On The Hill for being a constant source of jewellery inspiration (if you’ve noticed that I wear a lot of rings, check this place out) but there’s a tonne of independent stores (okay and chains) waiting for you to find them, it just depends what you’re looking for…
Explore the high street and smaller shopping areas of The Maltings and the boutique stores of St Christopher’s Place.
Check out the new St Albans Museum & Gallery, with its restored courtroom – which you can now have your coffee in – and jail, plus large art gallery and exhibition spaces.
You may be lucky and catch the Clock Tower on one of its open days (I seem to remember these being more frequent, and when I was a youngster, you could climb it for about 20p!) and if so it’s worth the claustrophobic squeeze up the spiral staircase for a little view over the historic city centre.
Then explore the two small shopping arcades that you can find opposite the Clock Tower, which also give you plenty of opportunity for a coffee stop. Don’t forget that Holywell Hill, London Road and Chequer Street are all shopping areas too; they have a little less footfall but some quirky shops worth perusing.
Walk through Waxhouse Gate and enter St Albans Cathedral from either side – take the left and you’ll be entering the “main” visitor entrance (currently being renovated at time of writing) or take the right path through the graveyard to see the grandeur of the front and enter straight into the nave. You’ll find a shrine to Saint Alban and lots of awesome stained glass (and if you’ve just caught mass, the best smell of incense).
Descend the hill – watch those knees and maybe grab an ice cream en route, you can usually find an ice cream van – and when you’re on level ground and can hear the faint murmur of the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks pub before you round the corner, you know you’ve found Verulamium Park.
Enjoy a stroll around the lake, not missing the Roman wall ruins and the hypocaust, of course. Stop for refreshments at the Inn On The Park, and go and explore Verulamium Museum where you’ll learn all about this important Roman site. When you’ve finished here, cross through the car park and do a loop around St Michael’s churchyard. Pass the school, follow the road around to the left, and cross the main road to visit the Roman Theatre on the Gorhambury Estate. Coming back the same way, follow the road around the bend and walk through the very pretty St Michael’s village. If you feel inclined, stop off at the Waffle House, and depending what takes your fancy, pick the trail back up at the entrance through to the park, or loop back around into the town centre via the quaint cottages of Fishpool Street.