If you love beautiful churches, Roman history, and/or cute buildings, then St. Albans will make the perfect day trip from London.
During my time in London, I made a day trip up to St. Albans twice. Once to see the Christmas markets and again just for fun because I liked it so much the first time. It’s such an easy day trip from London.
Updated October 2020.
A brief history of St. Albans
St. Albans was first settled during the Iron Age by the Celts and, in AD 43, adopted the name Verulamium after the Roman conquest of Britain. It then became one of the largest towns in Roman Britain.
Around AD 250, a citizen of Verulamium named Alban was martyred for his Christain faith. He became the first Christian saint in Britain. In 793, King Offa founded St. Albans Abbey and the town grew from it.
In 1455 and 1461, St. Albans was host to two battles during the War of the Roses. King Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in 1539.
In 1877, the Abbey Church was granted Cathedral status, and the town was given a city charter. Today, the city and its surroundings have 129,000 people. To read more about the town’s history, check out the information on St. Albans’ website.
Getting to St. Albans
Trains to St. Albans City Station leave from either Blackfriars or St. Pancras International on the Thameslink train service every 5-10 minutes or so for £9-25 return depending on when you travel. If you take the train that terminates in St. Albans, your trip will be about 45 minutes. If you take the train that terminates in Bedford, your trip will be around 36 minutes. Both trains will get you to St. Albans for the same cost.
The St. Albans train station is an easy walking distance from the center of town. Just follow the pedestrian signs.
What to do in St. Albans in one day
The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower in St. Albans was built in 1412 and is the only surviving medieval town belfry in England. The townspeople used it to assert their freedom, power, and wealth in the face of the premier Benedictine Abbey of England (St. Albans Cathedral). You can climb to the top for views of the city.
St. Albans Cathedral
St. Albans Cathedral was built in 1077 atop an earlier Benedictine abbey founded by King Offa in 793. It’s probably most famous for its shrine of St. Alban, Britain’s first Christian saint. St. Albans Cathedral is the oldest place of continuous Christian worship and pilgrimage in Britain. It’s definitely a must-visit stop on your day trip to St. Albans!
The cathedral is truly a monstrosity, dominating the skyline of St. Albans. It also takes quite a bit of time to walk around! You know I love churches, so I wouldn’t recommend this one lightly.
Markets in St. Albans
Every Wednesday and Saturday, a market runs the length of St. Peters Street in St. Albans. Dating back to the 9th century and officially chartered in 1553, the market is great to peruse as you wander around the centre of town.
If you visit St. Albans during Christmas, you’ll find a fantastic 60+ stall Christmas market, without the crowds of the markets in London. It’s in the walled garden just next to the cathedral and is easily one of my favorite Christmas markets to visit.
About 3/4 miles from the St. Albans town center lie the ruins of Sopwell Nunnery. Sopwell Nunnery was a Tudor mansion built on top of a medieval nunnery dedicated to St. Mary that was established in 1141.
The nunnery prospered for 400 years and it was supposedly where Anne Boleyn stayed before she wed Henry VIII. Henry dissolved the nunnery in 1537 and gave the property to a military architect, who then demolished the nunnery to build a new house. He later decided to build a bigger house at the spot but died before it was completed, so what you see are actually those ruins from the incomplete house.
It might not look like much, but it’s great to visit if you fancy going on a walk in some nature. You’ll also get great views of St. Albans Cathedral from Sopwell Nunnery.
Parish Church of St. Peter
The Parish Church of St. Peter has been on its site since the 12th century. During the 13th century, it was constructed into the form it retained until the 19th century. The church appears today as it was in the 19th century.
The interior is relatively simple but the stained glass was really pretty. Not much of the original glass remains so the majority of the windows date from between 1863 and 1872.
The garden surrounding the church is also worth a visit on your day trip to St. Albans. It is a peaceful spot with several sculptures and lots of trees and plants.
The Verulamium Museum houses artifacts from the Roman city of Verulamium. It’s an everyday life museum, meaning you’ll find some recreated rooms depicting life from the Roman period.
Near the Verulamium Museum are the ruins of a Roman Theatre that could seat up to 2,000 people. It was built around 140AD and it’s the only example of its kind in Britain. Near to the theatre are the foundations of a Roman villa and some Roman shops.
Also near to the Verulamium Museum is the beautiful mosaic floor of a Roman townhouse.
Shopping in St. Albans
I’m not huge on shopping, but St. Albans has a ton of shops. Check out their cute arcade or one of the many shops around the center of town during your day trip to St. Albans from London.
Where to eat in St. Albans
I can truly attest to the quality of The Boot because I ate there both times I took a day trip to St. Albans. It’s delicious and has been around since the 1400s. In fact, the War of the Roses started just outside its doors. It’s located in the center of St. Albans, next to the clock tower.
Funnily enough, The Boot and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, another landmark pub in St. Albans, pretended to shut their doors for good on April Fools Day in 2015 to protest rising rents.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
Believed to be the oldest pub in Britain, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks dates back to the 8th century. The present building dates to the 11th century. There are even tunnels leading from the pub to St. Albans Cathedral that monks supposedly used to travel discretely between the two. With fresh, locally sourced meals available every day, this makes a great lunch stop on your day trip to St. Albans.
Abigail’s Tea Rooms
This is a tea room near the Cathedral. We almost ate lunch here but were really craving some pub food. It did look good, though, and it has great reviews online!
The White Hart
Dating to the 14th century, this pub is the place where England declared war on Spain. It’s also supposedly haunted by a lady who hit her head in their restaurant. If you’re keen on it, it also has 15 rooms you can stay in.
Looking to spend the night in St. Albans? View accommodations here.