Article by Ruth Bloomfield

Lose yourself in ancient woodland, shop till you drop, learn to ride a horse, support your local Premiership club, or immerse yourself in culture.

Watford is a town which so perfectly embodies the phrase “best of both worlds” that it might as well have been invented for it.

Less than 20 miles from the centre of London – or 20 minutes on the train to Euston – this Hertfordshire town offers a dream of a commute plus a “15-minute city” lifestyle with everything you want on the doorstep.

Skip through a bluebell wood – and feel the Force

During the pandemic our desire to connect with nature has been heightened and this Hertfordshire town offers top-notch green space everywhere you look. Cassiobury Park is regularly voted among the best parks in the UK. Originally its 190 acres belonged to long-lost Cassiobury House, ancestral home of the Earl of Essex, and today it encompasses a nature reserve, walks along the Grand Union Canal and River Gade, and sports facilities including tennis courts and football pitches. Star Wars fans might recognise parts of the park used as locations for The Phantom Menace in 1997.

For a smaller, but equally lovely, outdoor space, Cheslyn House and Gardens is a romantic garden, open to the public and featuring exotic planting and an aviary, while the sculpture trail through Oxhey Woods is another great place to savour some tranquillity. The display of bluebells at ancient Whippendell Wood is an annual spring marvel.

Max out the cards, then chill with coffee or a cocktail

By contrast, the modern town centre and the Atria Watford shopping centre are filled with a comprehensive range of options, from Marks & Spencer to MAC, and plenty of places to refuel, from lunches at Cote brasserie, to floral-inspired cocktails at The Florist.

Café culture is also alive and kicking, with most of the major chains represented plus independents like the Cha Café close to Cassiobury Park and GoKula Vegetarian Café.

You can also graze on a great range of street food at Watford Market, open five days each week.

Let Watford entertain you

With your tummy fed, you can also find plenty to feed your mind in Watford. Catch a movie at the Cineworld Cinema, a play at the highly regarded Watford Palace Theatre, some live jazz at the Pump House Theatre, or (once its current renovation is completed) live music at the Watford Colosseum where everyone from Oasis to The Who have performed. There is also an annual fringe festival, every October.

The sporting scene

For sports fans the local soccer club is, of course, Watford FC, which has recently ascended to the Premiership. For a more hands-on approach there is a large leisure centre in the town, along with plenty of clubs to join, whether you want to play golf, get in touch with your inner Emma Raducanu on the tennis court, learn to ride a horse or a skateboard, or play football or cricket.

Top-notch schools

Schools are another reason families move to Watford. Almost every primary and secondary school has at least a “good” report from Ofsted, with those getting an “outstanding” report from the schools watchdog including Field Junior School, Chater Junior School, Nascot Wood Infant and Nursery School, and Parkgate Junior School. For older students, Saint Michael’s Catholic High School is one of the highest-performing state schools in the country. Watford Grammar School for Girls, and its boys’ equivalent, are both partially selective and they also get excellent results.