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From specialist boutiques to high street chain stores, St Albans offers its shoppers a diverse and refreshingly different experience, as Louise McEvoy discovers...

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ST Albans is nestled between Hemel Hempstead and Hatfield, just over 20 miles north of central London.


Set against a backdrop of historic buildings and beautiful architecture, the cathedral city has a great range of restaurants, cafes and pubs, as well as a diverse shopping scene which draws visitors into its attractive streets and precincts, offering everything from the latest in high street fashion to the promise of finding a hidden gem in one of its antique shops.


St Peters Street is the city centres main street, with shops continuing into Chequer Street and on down into Holywell Hill, playing host to a vast array of retail stores, ranging from national companies such as M&S and HMV to independent jewellers, art shops and music stores.


Retail outlets and eateries also spill out onto the High Street, London Road and Market Place, with a narrow cobbled walkway off St Georges Street leading to the delights of a number of antique shops brimming with all sorts of goodies just waiting to be discovered.


With more than 50 shops and restaurants, the Maltings quarter is home to large clothing chains such as H&M, Topshop and River Island, as well as well-known beauty brands such as Benefit and The Body Shop. Why not head to Costa Coffee or Zest juice bar for a quick pick-me-up before stopping off at Hotel Chocolat for a tasty treat to take home?


Christopher Place is St Albans other shopping precinct, with brands such as LK Bennett, Whistles and Hobbs offering stylish looks for the season, and quality home furnishings just waiting to be chosen at the likes of The White Company and Feather and Black. For a bite to eat, head to Italian restaurants Carluccios or Zizzi, or Japanese favourite Wagamama.


St Albans boasts a vibrant market on Wednesdays and Saturdays and, with more than 160 stalls, offers everything from fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables to fancy bags, gifts and artwork.


The market, which had a special Royal Charter granted in 1553, runs the length of St Peters Street and into Market Place, with up to 60 per cent of the traders having been setting up their stalls in the city for 20 years or more.


On the second Sunday of each month, there is also a farmers market, and at various times throughout the year St Albans hosts a continental market.


Perhaps due to its unique, quaint and quirky approach to retail, the area has weathered the economic storm relatively well and the recession has not had a significant impact on St Albans. Graham Lane, president of the St Albans and District Chamber of Commerce, says, St Albans is economically resilient. Its quite an affluent area and its proximity to London helps. Its got a lot going for it and, with small boutique-style shops, its quaint. Its the atmosphere that people come for, as much as anything else. Its the overall experience.


Mr Lane says that the percentage of vacant retail units in the city centre is much lower than elsewhere in the country, averaging five to six per cent compared with 10 to 12 per cent in many city centres across the country. He also says that from February 2010 to February 2011 there was a 10.8 per cent increase in footfall. I think St Albans is holding its own at the moment, Graham concludes. Theres a positive perception out there.



Did you know?



The Waffle House, located at the lower end of Verulamium Park on St Michaels Street, is situated within a working 16th century watermill. It overlooks the River Ver and has been established for more than 25 years, specialising in sweet and savoury Belgian waffles.


Ye Olde Fighting Cocks on the edge of Verulamium Park lays claim to being the oldest pub in Britain, but its Guinness Book of Records title is being challenged by a number of other pubs. It is recorded as being an 11th century structure on an 8th century site.


Large employers in the city include technical and management support services provider AECOM, food producer Premier Foods, and accountancy firms Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG.


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