Popular with commuters and well-heeled families seeking a quieter life within easy reach of London, is the Roman City of St Albans.
Historically significant as a Roman city and for its shrine to Alban, the first British saint, St Albans has grown into an affluent market town within the London commuter belt.
Its high-achieving schools, leafy streets and proximity to both the capital and the countryside saw it rank among the top 20 areas to live in the south east, in The Sunday Times' ‘Best Places to Live in Britain 2016’ guide.
Despite a whopping average house price of £584,000, property in St Albans is still more affordable than in London, where average property prices reach in excess of £650,000. You can compare the latest prices here.
How about Barnet? Take a look at our guide.
Living in St Albans: what to expect
History has left its mark on the City, from Roman relics and Tudor pubs, to a centre dominated by old coaching inns, medieval cottages and Georgian properties.
St Albans’ geographical position and excellent transport links attract many city professionals. Trains to London depart from St Albans City station around every 10 minutes, with a journey time of just 20 minutes into Kings Cross St Pancras.
Schools are a strong incentive for families to move to the area. Top-performing schools include the St Alban and Stephen Catholic Junior School, Maple Primary School, Loreto College St Albans and Beaumont School.
There’s also the fee-paying St Albans High School for Girls and the St Albans School for Boys.
Where to start your property search
In the City: Picture-postcard period cottages and impressive Georgian facades can be found lining the streets in the central conservation area. Those in Fishpool Street are among the most sought after and expensive.
Edwardian and Victorian terraces are particularly abundant in St Albans, and can prove the most affordable option for young professionals and buy-to-let investors.
You can find these homes along the many residential streets spanning from the city centre. Try Spencer Street, Pageant Road, Bernard Street, Portland Street and Oswald Road.
Further from the city centre, the terraced properties become larger, and the rows are interspersed with semi-detached homes. The residential streets between the Brampton and Hatfield Roads to the east of the city, such as Glenferrie Road, are prime examples.
Those who are already established on the property ladder in London or elsewhere may find St Albans’ 1920-30s semis and detached homes the most desirable option.
Spacious and architecturally attractive, and located on leafy streets with driveways and relatively large gardens, these homes are ideal for modernisation and extension. They also come with original features.
For inter-war property, try Clarence Road to the north east of the city, Carlisle Avenue to the north and Cunningham Hill Road to the south east.
Flats are also plentiful in the city centre area. Some are located above retail premises or in converted houses, but there are also many new apartment complexes. The newest, such as Ridgmont Plaza, Ziggurat House and De Novo Place, can be found close to the main St Albans City train station.
In the suburbs: Affluent St Stephens is the suburb closest to Verulam Park, where you’ll find the remains of the Roman settlement including a Roman wall and floor mosaic. It offers convenient access to the M1.
For cheaper post-war two-to-four-bedroom family homes try nearby Cottonmill.
Getting around St Albans
By rail: St Albans is served by two railway stations: the main St Albans City and St Albans Abbey, to the south of the town, at the bottom of Bell Hill.
St Albans City operates regular direct services to London, with stops at St Pancras International (20 minutes), Farringdon (25 minutes), London Blackfriars (30 minutes) and Gatwick Airport (70 minutes). Passengers can also travel direct to Bedford, Luton, Brighton and Sutton in Surrey.
From St Albans Abbey, residents can catch trains to Watford Junction in 15 minutes.
By car: St Albans is cradled by the M1 to the west, the A1(M) to the east and the M25 to the south.
It takes just an hour to drive direct into central London and 20 minutes to Luton. Immediate access to the motorway network also makes for easy journeys to other parts of the country in all directions.
By air: The closest airport is London Luton, which is just 12 miles away and less than half an hour’s journey by car or train from St Albans City station. Domestic and European flights are available from this airport, with airlines including Ryanair and easyJet.
Stansted and Heathrow Airports are also less than an hour away by road. The journey to Gatwick is longer, but there is a direct rail service from St Albans City station.
Things to do in St Albans
History: St Albans is steeped in history. Visitors can still see the remains of a Roman Theatre, the only visible example of its kind in the country, as well as a hypocaust and mosaic floor in Verulamium Park. Many more excavated objects from the town are now housed in the Verulamium Museum.
The impressive St Albans Cathedral, which dates back to 1077 on the site of an earlier Benedictine Abbey, houses a shrine to St Alban – a saint who is thought to have been executed in the city on account of his Christian faith during the third or fourth century.
Other attractions include the 15th-century clock tower on the High Street, which is the only medieval town belfry in England. Visitors can also see the ruins of 16th-century Lee Hall and the de Havilland Aircraft Museum – the first museum of its kind in Britain.
Cultural: St Albans is a centre for visual arts, with several venues across the city offering busy programmes of performances and events.
Abbey Theatre on Holywell Hill is home to the Company of Ten, one of the best amateur drama groups in the country, and OVO Theatre Company produces six productions each year at the Maltings Arts Theatre.
Also in the city is The Sandpit Theatre at Sandringham School, which is a multi-purpose arts venue, and the Trestle Arts Base. It's home to the mask and physical theatre company Trestle, which provides school workshops, teacher training, participation programmes and performances.
The one-screen, Art-Deco Odyssey Cinema also shows a variety of films, both old and new.
Outdoors: St Albans' parks include the 25-acre Clarence Park, the charity-run Highfield Park and the huge Verulamium Park. The latter is on the site of the old Roman city.
A little further afield are wildlife-rich commons, forests and heaths, with walking and cycling routes. Heartwood Forest is England’s largest new native forest, and Bricket Wood Common comprises ancient semi-natural woodland, hornbeam coppice woodland, grassland, ponds and seasonal streams.
Shopping: The historic streets in the centre of the city are home to a host of retail outlets, from speciality boutiques and independent shops to large chain stores. Two shopping centres can be found just off the main high street, and the twice weekly street markets and regular farmers’ markets are popular attractions.
Food and drink: St Albans has an eclectic range of eateries including The Pudding Stop, which specialises in homemade puddings. Choose from bread & butter pudding to Bramley apple and cinnamon pie, accompanied by craft beer and cider or dessert wine.
International restaurants such as Little Marrakech have more exotic food. It serves colourful couscous dishes, tagines and Moroccan meze platters for sharing.
For a lively night out and cocktails, Suckerpunch is a popular venue. It serves craft beers, wines and 'dainty' bites, as well as an extensive list of cocktails. Try concoctions such as Pink Lady, Skullpunchers or a bottle of House Grog.
Hidden St Albans
Find a permanent playing collection of rare mechanical musical instruments at the St Albans Organ Theatre. Live performances are held in its auditorium.
6 reasons to live in St Albans
Just 25 miles away from London
Excellent transport links, including immediate access to the motorway network
Leafy streets and lots of green spaces
A choice of top-performing schools
Thriving city centre
Plenty of spacious family homes, modern flats and large luxury properties
You might also be interested in...
- More UK buying guides
- The 5 things homeowners wish they’d checked before buying
- 8 ways to keep your house purchase on track
- How first-time buyers can step on to the property ladder
- Thinking about downsizing in retirement? Ask yourself these 7 questions
Has the property market in St Albans caught your eye? Let us know why in the comments below…