When I think of pretty UK cities, they don’t get much more picturesque and photogenic than Cambridge. This world famous university town is steeped in history and is home to some of the most striking architecture I’ve ever seen. So when an impromptu road trip beckoned last May, Cambridge seemed liked the as good a destination as any.
I first visited the university town back in 2014, and I’ve always wanted to go back and explore more of this gorgeous city. Funnily enough, it’s not actually that far away from where I live, about a 90 minute drive in fact. So I’m rather surprised it’s taken me this long to go back, because one day in Cambridge is nowhere near enough to fully appreciate all that this venerable university city has to offer.
So many colleges, so little time
The majority of people visiting Cambridge do so to explore the city’s ancient colleges. They are the number one attraction and the city’s biggest draw, enticing millions of tourists to visit year after year. Although with over 30 colleges to explore, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to see them all in just one visit.
Having already toured the prestigious King’s College on my previous visit, I skipped what is arguably the most famous of Cambridge’s colleges to explore some of the lesser known ones. We were off to a good start with our first stop, which was Downing College. The college, which was founded in 1800, is set in 20 acres of beautiful grounds.
The pleasant Spring weather provided a good opportunity for a leisurely stroll around the college. Located on Regent Street, the college is nestled between rows of restaurants and shops. So it’s quite easy to walk past and not even notice it’s there. Which is a shame. Fortunately we sort of stumbled upon it as we walked towards the city centre.
After Downing College we made our way further into the city, determined to explore a few more colleges, time permitting. With 31 colleges to choose between, I’d advise doing a bit of research before you visit Cambridge. But this being such a spontaneous trip, that wasn’t really an option.
In my opinion, Trinity College deserves a spot on anyone’s ‘must see’ college list. It is arguably the prettiest of all the colleges, many of which have an entrance fee if you want to enter their grounds and imagine what it would be like to be a Cambridge student. When we visited it was just £3 to explore Trinity. I thought this was really cheap and well worth the money, particularly as it also included entrance to the college’s beautiful chapel. A visit to Trinity means you’ll be walking in the footsteps of some very famous students, including A.A. Milne (who wrote the Winnie the Pooh books) and scientist Isaac Newton.
After Trinity College, we headed to Christ’s College, which is one of the city’s most central colleges. Notable alumni include Charles Darwin and John Milton. Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was also a student at Christ’s College.
I was most impressed with Corpus Christi College. Unfortunately we weren’t able to set foot into the grounds, but I was still able to take a little peek and sneak off a few photographs. Corpus Christi is the 6th oldest college in Cambridge and was founded in 1352. Notable alumni include the actor Hugh Bonneville, of Downton Abbey fame, and Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud.
The architecture of all of the aforementioned colleges is really stunning. World famous as a city of learning and academia, if you’re visiting Cambridge, it’s a missed opportunity if you can’t make the time to tour a few of its colleges. It is, after all, what brings millions of tourists from across the globe each year.
But you may also be wondering what else Cambridge has to offer? Well, a lot, actually. There’s more to Cambridge than its educational institutions, as impressive as they are.
6 fun things to do in Cambridge
Walk the pretty cobbled streets
The best way to get a true sense of Cambridge is to spend some time walking it. As cities go, it’s very accessible on foot. Although if you’re arriving by train, it’s worth noting that the train station is a fair distance from the city centre. But take a bus into the centre, they are pretty regular and in 10-15 minutes you’ll be in the heart of the city ready to explore more of it on foot. The only decision you’ll need to make is whether to do some DIY sightseeing or sign up for one of the many walking tours.
Hire a bike
Bikes are everywhere in Cambridge. And I do mean everywhere. I’d probably even go so far as to say that Cambridge is the UK capital of cycling. Viewing the historic city by bike is a great option, especially if you are visiting the city for a few days. The city has a wealth of cycle hire shops with daily hire and long-term hire options available. If you’re looking to explore this beautiful city in style, pedal power is without question the way to go.
Check out the city’s coffee scene
After all that exploring you deserve a well earned break. If you’re a lover of good coffee and baked goodies, Cambridge has oodles of great cafes, many of which are small and independent. We headed to Bold Brothers on Round Church Street, just across the road from St John’s College. It’s a small space but highly regarded by locals, especially for their speciality coffee. I’m a bit of a coffee snob, but it’s fair to say their latte was by far the best coffee I have had in the UK. Warm, creamy and not in the least bit bitter, it really hit the spot.
Cambridge has a growing speciality coffee scene, and Bould Brothers recently opened a second cafe on Regent Street. This one is situated closer to Cambridge Central Railway Station.
See Cambridge from the River Cam
Punting is very popular in Cambridge. Touring the city’s waterways on a punt has romantic connotations and offers a unique perspective of this picturesque city. It’s Cambridge’s answer to seeing Venice by gondola. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
When you think about it, punting on the River Cam is probably the most quintessentially Cambridge thing to do. Next to hiring a bike. But punting isn’t for the faint hearted. It requires a level of bravery and skill. So unless you’re feeling adventurous and up for the challenge, your best option is to take a chauffeur guided tour. Just sit back as your guide does all the hard work – and make it look dead easy!
Catch the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus
Cambridge’s hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tours takes you to all of the city’s top tourist attractions. The best views are of course from the top deck of the big red double decker bus. As you take in the eye-catching architecture, you’ll get a real feel for some of the city’s finest treasures. With audio guides available in 9 languages, enjoy the sights, listen to the commentary and discover more about the city’s history, culture and traditions.
Find tranquility in the botanic garden
Weather and time permitting, a tour of the heritage-listed botanical garden is a must do. Covering an area of 16 hectares, it’s an oasis in the city with over 8,000 species of plants and trees from around the world. The garden is just a 15 minute walk from the city centre, and a beautiful space to escape the hustle and bustle. Open practically every day of the year (shut 24 Dec – 1 Jan), entry for adults is just £6, and free to Cambridge University students and children up to the age of 16.
If you love exploring charming cities with impressive architecture steeped in history, Cambridge should be on your travel bucket list. Once you fall in love with the city you’ll want to visit again and again, because unless you’re there for a week, you won’t have enough time to appreciate all that Cambridge has to offer.