St Albans, London

Discover why St Albans was chosen as one of The Sunday Times Best Places to Live 2022 in their words.

Stroud, Gloucestershire

This gorgeous cathedral mini-city, just 19 miles north of London, prides itself on not only its ancient history and perfect proportions, but its broad cross-section appeal —  in fact, we voted it Best Place to Live in the Southeast in 2020, while last year, The Sunday Times Parent Power guide highlighted St Albans as one of its top five education hotspots outside the capital.

A new initiative, Blue Plaques St Albans, aims to hammer this point home, honouring people from all walks of life who were born, lived — or died gruesomely — in the city. The first plaque to go up, at the 19th-century town hall building, is for John Ball, priest and key leader of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, who was hung, drawn and quartered on this site. Other plaques in the pipeline are for the formidable Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. 

The city seems to be in a constant state of self-celebration. With the 100-acre Green Flag and Green Heritage Site of Verulamium Park at its heart — named for the Roman settlement on which it stands, with a museum full of ancient loot, and in use right now as a film set for the musical fantasy Wonka — St Albans has ridden out the pandemic with aplomb.

The shift in work/life balance is clear here, with the local Chamber of Commerce reporting that many have abandoned the (albeit short) toil of the daily commute to focus on staying local instead. Small-office space is in high demand, as people decide to go solo and set up their own businesses. 

Last year, and 2022 so far, have also been notable for an influx of big brands, alongside smaller independents — burger bar Five Guys has set up off St Peter’s Street, the Leafy salad bar on Christopher Place, and Love Brownies on Market Place, plus there’s a new Moroccan restaurant, Al-Farid, in the cathedral quarter. Add historic, fringe and international pop-up food markets to the mix, amid an intoxicating line-up of medieval and grand Georgian buildings, and throw in the world-famous beer plus the Gin and Jazz festival — and you get the picture.

Speaking of which, the recently reopened Odyssey Cinema is testament to the local community spirit: the art deco gem has been saved from the scrapheap and lovingly restored. Up next? Cyrano.

High Street

St Albans is a shoppers’ and snackers’ delight — contemporary style in an ancient setting — but you’ll need to be nifty to get a parking space on a Saturday morning. There’s more than a handful of main thoroughfares in the city, offering a huge range of retail therapy balanced out with edifying glimpses of the magnificent Norman cathedral (shrine to Britain’s first saint and the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain) and the Clock Tower, with its medieval belfry and viewing platform.

In and around the cathedral quarter, coffee addicts will love Hatch coffee, and ethical eatery Lussmanns Sustainable Kitchen. The High Street and Market Place serve up the inevitable Côte, Zizzi and Starbucks, but you’ll find upmarket chains such as Gail’s and The Ivy too, and quirky independent fashion boutiques such as Ruby Room amid the Anthropologies and Jigsaws. Just remember to look up to spot the decorative plasterwork. St Albans has also got a nice line in classy shopping centres and covered arcades — Christopher Place, the Maltings and the Village Arcade are all worth a browse.

Connections

Impeccable. The 25-minute train ride from St Albans City to London St Pancras has always been a key selling point for buyers here — although Thameslink reports that passenger numbers of late have hit 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Commuter numbers are, however, now higher midweek than on Mondays and Fridays, with Thursday the busiest day. The M25 and M1 are within a 20-minute drive, and London Luton airport within 30 minutes. You can also hit the south coast by train within two hours — direct train journeys to Brighton take 1 hour 45 minutes.

Broadband

Half of St Albans can get full-fibre with a build programme that has been going on for more than 12 months. Virgin Media is widely available too. Only 1.5 per cent of properties get speeds of under 24 Mbps.

Schools

Parents are spoilt for choice, though with state offerings so good, catchment is key. Primaries rated outstanding by Ofsted include Fleetville (inspected in 2011), Bernards Heath (2009) and Oakwood (2014). For outstanding-rated secondaries, choose from St Albans Girls’ School (2013), Beaumont (2014) and Sandringham (2008); boys’ school Verulam is rated good (2018). If you must go private, St Albans High School for Girls (fees £6,665 a term) and St Albans School for boys (fees £6,630) are high achievers. 

Best Address

There’s one to suit most checklists, from character-filled two-bedroom cottages in the shadow of the cathedral to sumptuous, detached homes on the leafy streets close to the city centre (and everything in between), but prices are, understandably, punchy. Between Sandpit Lane and Marshalswick Lane are Homewood Road, The Park, Faircross Way and Marshal’s Drive, where detached family homes cost about £1.5 million for a four-bedder.

For picturesque village life, Wheathampstead, just a few miles north of St Albans, offers a cluster of medieval and Tudor buildings on the River Lea — a Victorian two-bedroom cottage costs from about £360,000. Sandridge has got three pubs, a village store and tea rooms.   

Property prices

Average house price: £618,000 
Growth since 2020: 10% 
Source: Halifax using Land Registry data

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Prices are correct as of April 2022.

Halifax is a division of Bank of Scotland plc. Registered in Scotland No. SC327000. Registered Office: The Mound, Edinburgh EH1 1YZ. Bank of Scotland plc is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 169628.