Hemel Hempstead is a town of two halves. The core of the New Town lies in the Marlowes area, where you’ll find a bustling shopping hub full of big brands. If you’re looking for a spot of lunch after shopping, Marlowes Café and Restaurant offers a warm welcome, a varied menu and generous portions. Or you could try authentic, traditional Japanese with a fine dining twist at Wakusei. And if you’re looking for something sweet, pop into The Italian Gelato and Dessert Company.
Just to the north is the pretty Old Town, dating all the way back to Henry VIII. Meander down the High Street – which has been described as “the prettiest street in Hertfordshire” – and you’ll find little passageways to explore, rows of timber-framed houses and a variety of cultural attractions.
Head to Old Town Coffee and Cake for specialty coffees, teas and delicious bakes made in-house. Fans of afternoon tea will love The Tea Tree, although you should definitely book ahead.
For good old pub grub on the High Street, check out the Olde Kings Arms, a sixteenth-century coaching inn – apparently Henry VIII was once a patron!
Just across the High Street is the Old Town Hall; run by a team of dedicated theatre lovers and boasting a wonderful programme of theatre, comedy, music, dance and film. Some famous faces that have trodden the boards include Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand, Alan Davies, Ardal O’Hanlon and Kate Beckinsale, as well as the popular Reduced Shakespeare Company. The Gallery at The Old Town Hall hosts work from local artists and is open weekdays from 11am to 5pm.
Stretch your legs with a walk around Gadebridge Park, following the banks of the River Gade to the north of the Old Town. There’s fun for all the family, with playgrounds, a walled garden, cycle and walking paths, and a skate park. And for history lovers, the very north of the park is the site of a Roman Villa.
Staying in town for longer? A 15-minute drive from Hemel Hempstead will get you to Harry Potter Studios, where you can walk down Diagon Alley and see the magic behind the movies! To the south of town you’ll find The Snow Centre, which offers indoor skiing and snowboarding – including the UK’s largest indoor lesson ski slope. Beginners need not worry, as teachers are on hand to help you carve out your first turns.
If you prefer a gentler sort of exercise, there are plenty of excellent walks in and around the town, taking in historical sites and beautiful countryside. You can follow the Grand Union Canal – which links London to Birmingham - to nearby Apsley, where you’ll find the world’s oldest mechanised paper mill. Or head east towards the Gorhambury Estate which includes a ruined Elizabethan mansion, a grade II* listed neo-Palladian house, and the remains of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium dating to AD 140 on site. And further afield, it’s only a short drive to get into the heart of the Chiltern Hills, a chalk escarpment and conservation area with a wealth of hiking and biking trails.
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