St Albans, named after Britain's first Christian martyr, dates back over 2,000 years. Its narrow medieval streets of half-timbered houses contrast with wide roads of elegant Georgian residences and other modern buildings. Once a major Roman town called Verulamium, located on an important crossing of the River Ver. Parts of the old Roman city wall can still be seen in the town park, plus a semicircular Roman amphitheatre that once held an audience of some 1,600 spectators.
St Albans Cathedral Church © TAB
The current town grew up around the abbey and many important medieval buildings from the era still remain. The 15th-c clock tower, initially built as a curfew tower, is one of only two left in Britain. Located just behind the Clock Tower is the Medieval French Row, with its fine half timbered houses. It is named after the French soldiers who lodged there during the 13th-c; recruited by the barons to fight the French King John. The town boasts some of the oldest inns in England, including the Fighting Cocks and Fleur de Lys. The timber-framed White Hart, dates from the 15th-c.
Little remains of the original abbey monastery, destroyed during the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The abbey church and the gate-house is all that is left of the original buildings. The church, which is one of the longest in Britain (550ft), was granted cathedral status in 1877, when St Albans became a city. The gatehouse (opposite the Cathedral entrance), was originally the main entrance into the monastery. It was called the Waxhouse Gate because candles and tapers were sold there to travellers visiting St Alban's shrine.
The town park (Verulamium Park) covers the site of the original Roman town, which was strategically built on the banks of the River Ver. Several Roman remains can be seen above ground in the park, which also has a large ornamental lake backed by wide green fields. Detailed information on Verulamium and its origins can be found in the Museum located there.
A few miles north of St Albans is the much sought after small London commuter town of Harpenden. An attractive place centred around a large green with pleasant views. A useful centre from which to explore the county. The main thoroughfare is lined with attractive old houses and quaint shops. The flint tower of the parish church dates from the 15th-c.
Founded in 1898, this fascinating Museum traces the history of the town from the Roman occupation right up to the present day. Visitors can learn more about the tragic story of St Alban, Britain's first Christian martyr and the Abbey that became his legacy. Exhibits include social history, a medieval gallery, and the Salaman collection of craft tools. A special exhibition gallery hosts a number of changing exhibitions throughout the year. To the rear of the museum is a wildlife garden with a children's trail and picnic area.
Opening times: all year, daily
10am to 5pm, Sun 2 to 5pm (closed Xmas) - Free
Location: 9A Hatfield Rd, St Albans AL1 3RR - Tel: 01727 819340
A working collection of rare mechanical musical instruments, including a colourful collection of fairground organs, mechanical organs and other memorabilia.
Opening times: times vary see website for details - Admission Charge
Location: 320 Camp Rd, St Albans AL1 5PE - Tel: 0300 365 6565
A fine city abbey church built in 1077 on the site of the shrine of the St Alban - the Roman Soldier who was martyred here because of his faith. His shrine can still be visited in the Cathedral precinct. The Cathedral's architecture is a mixture of periods and partly built from Roman bricks salvaged from the old Roman settlement of Verulamium.
Opening times: daily, 9am to
5.45pm - Donations welcome
Location: Sumpter Yard, St Albans AL1 1BY - Tel: 01727 860780
On display here are some of the best examples of Roman decorated wall plaster in Britain. Visitors can also view sections of Roman mosaics, magnificent pavements, a painted ceiling with bird images, and many other important artifacts. A model of Verulamium shows how the town would have looked at that time. Other exhibits include jewellery, glass and coins; all discovered during excavations on the site.
Opening times: all year wkdys 10am to 5.30pm, Sun 2pm to 5.30 pm (closed Xmas) Admission Charge
Location: St Michaels, St Albans AL3 4SW - Tel: 01727 751810
This early 15th-c curfew tower, which faces the High Street, provides fine views over the city (especially of the abbey) and the surrounding countryside. It is the only medieval curfew tower in the country. A cerfew bell, older than the tower itself, strikes on the hour.
Opening times: Easter to Oct, Sat, Sun & BH 10.30am to 5pm Small Admission Charge
Location: Market Place, St Albans AL3 3DR - Tel: 01727 819340