Cambridge is a world-renowned university city worth taking time over:
Cambridge, the city in Cambridgshire, is world famous as the home of the renowned University of Cambridge. Sure there are 31 colleges (yes, 31!) but really Cambridge has so much more to offer.
Abundant with stunning architecture, breathing history from every pore, with picturesque landscape and a tranquil atmosphere, this city can provide a breathtaking experience for anyone looking for a day out from London.
Walking all the Way
To see Cambridge, it is best to wear a sturdy pair of shoes and comfortable clothes as it involves a whole lot of walking. Be on the lookout for all the cyclists, mostly students on their way to classes, who will sometimes share the same pavement that you are walking on. It would be prudent to have some rain gear and definitely an umbrella.
The walk towards the main attractions will take you through winding lanes, passages, alleyways, sometimes over picture perfect little bridges and walkways, lush, green gardens, and parks that provide a backdrop to the historic colleges.
The Tranquility of the Backs, the Beauty of the Bridges
The Cambridge Backs or just the Backs is the area that covers the backs of the riverside colleges in Cambridge and provide some of the most magnificent views of landscape and architecture in this university town. The colleges have charmingly designed gardens and many are open to the public.
You will see landmarks like the Bridge of Sighs, a covered bridge in stone built in 1831 to connect the two wings of St. John’s College. The Mathematical Bridge, originally built in 1749 and then rebuilt in 1902 is a marvel of straight timber construction giving the bridge an arch shape. The Magdalene Bridge is named after Magdalene College and is built at the site of the first bridge in Cambridge built by the Romans.
Punting on the River Cam, Admiring the Sights
The best way to take in the sights of all nine bridges, the beautiful landscapes and the famed colleges, some of which are open only to their members is to do a guided punting tour on the River Cam, which snakes lazily through the Backs. Quayside, Granta Place and Trinity College grounds are some of the spots from where you can board a punt, which is another name for a flat-bottomed boat. The adventurous and the athletic can hire boats for self-punting that can make it a trip highlight.
Newton, Byron, Watson and Crick
Since the founding of the University in 1209 due to a tiff between some Oxford scholars and the townsfolk, the University of Cambridge has been redolent with the footfalls of scholars and thinkers whose contributions to the world are beyond compare. Alumni include such notables as the poets Lord Byron and John Milton, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Ernest Rutherford among others.
Visit the Eagle Pub, dating back to the 14th century, where in 1953, Francis Crick, a regular patron announced the pivotal discovery of the double helix structure of DNA with James Watson, his colleague at Cavendish Laboratory.
To Colleges We Go
The most impressive college in Cambridge visually is undoubtedly King’s College, to which tourists make a beeline from the moment they get to the city. When you get its first view, it stands up to all the hype with its magnificent, towering spires and overall spectacular architecture. The college, founded by Henry VI in 1441, is a great example of late Gothic English style of architecture.
The Chapel and the college grounds are open for tours albeit with admission tickets but are a must see for visitors inclined towards history. Although the founder of the college was Henry VI, Henry VII and Henry VIII are to be credited with finishing the remarkable work on the Chapel. Inside, admire the splendid fan vaulted stone ceiling, completed in a record three years between 1512 and 1515 and the stately stained glass windows depicting the story of Christ.
King’s is just one of thirty-one!
It is nearly impossible to visit all the colleges but do make it a point to see a few others. Go to Trinity College to see its well-manicured lawns, impeccably laid out Great Court with its palatial feel and the gatehouse or Great Gate, the main entrance into the college grounds with its imposing statue of Henry VIII, the founder of the college and certainly famous in history for his 8 wives.
If time is of no essence, visit the inside of the Wren Library as it is open to the public at certain times during the year. On the outside, the library designed in 1676 and built in 1695 by Christopher Wren is a harmony of proportion with its large, glass windows in a long, single room built over an open colonnade.
Pembroke College with its red brick buildings and the first chapel designed by Christopher Wren and pointed tower windows and steepled clock tower takes you straight back to the 14th century when it was built. Peterhouse is the oldest college, founded in 1284 and the smallest college in Cambridge.
It is quite easy to spend an entire day or more walking through the gorgeous grounds of the colleges that make up the University. Although it is good to remember that, the larger and more famous of them charge an entry fee to visit the grounds and interiors.
History at the Museums and Churches
However, Fitzwilliam Museum, a gem in Cambridge, does not charge an admission fee. The museum, founded in 1816, is a treasure trove of artefacts from 2500 BC to the present times. At the Polar Museum you can see materials related to polar explorations and learn about the many Arctic and Antarctic adventures of the polar explorers Scott and Shackleton.
On the way to Polar Museum you may pass by Our Lady and the English Martyr’s Church, a comparatively new structure built in 1890 but extremely eye catching because of its classic Gothic Revival style.
Great St. Mary’s The University Church, saturated in centuries of history since 1209 has a tower that you can climb (123 steps) to get a panoramic view of the city of Cambridge.The Round Church, built around 1130 is a Cambridge landmark being the second oldest building in the city and is said to be inspired by the design of the rotunda in the Church of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. It is also one of only four medieval round churches in England that is still in use.
Cambridge is the perfect base for further forays into the region of Cambridgeshire. Start by visiting Grantchester, a village barely 2.5 miles from Cambridge. You can punt or do a leisurely walk along the River Cam. Finish the visit at The Orchard, a famous tea room with a storied history.
“In taking tea at the Orchard, you are joining an impressive group of luminaries including Rupert Brooke (poet), Virginia Woolf (author), Maynard Keynes (economist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher), Alan Turing (inventor of the computer), Ernest Rutherford (split the atom), Crick and Watson (discovered DNA), Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author) and HRH Prince Charles (future King of England)”.
Travel to Ely Cathedral (30 min. by train), the famous 14th century cathedral with its octagonal tower. Take a tour of the Stained Glass Museum inside the cathedral, the only one of its kind in the UK that presents the history and craft of stained glass.
The Imperial War Museum at Duxford is about a 10-minute ride on bus from Cambridge. This is a branch of the IWM London and is the largest aviation museum of Britain.
If period dramas is more your style take the train (36 min.) to Audley End House and Garden a Jacobean mansion from the early 17th century with grounds designed by Capability Brown, the foremost English landscape architect.
Not Just A Day Trip
Altogether, Cambridge is the perfect destination for a day trip from London. Although, if you happen to go with a Cambridge guide book you may conclude that there is enough to attract for a long weekend trip also.
Useful Cambridge Information
How to Get to Cambridge:
The closest airport is London Stansted, located just 30 miles to the south of the city. London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Birmingham International Airport can also be used. All airports are well connected to the city by train, bus or car.
There is daily, frequent train service from London King’s Cross (ThamesLink Railway) and London Liverpool Street (Greater Anglia) stations. The journey time is about an hour.
Cambridge is on the M11 motorway and at a distance of about 65 miles from London.
Buses leave from London Victoria Coach Station and are operated by National Express
Where to Stay:
Although we did a day trip from London, there are plenty of accommodations available, ranging from affordable bed and breakfasts and guesthouses to inns as well as apartments and hotels to suit all budgets.
Right in the heart of the city centre are the upmarket Hilton Cambridge City Centre, Regent Hotel and the Hotel du Vin & Bistro Cambridge. For the budget-conscious, the Castle B&B is also right in the historical centre. During summer vacations at the colleges, there is a unique opportunity to stay in the historic college accommodations. You can check out the various types of accommodations available at Cambridge here.
Where to Eat:
Crunched for time we ate our lunch at the Café at Fitzwilliam Museum, a large, airy space that serves soups and pastas, sandwiches and light lunches. The café closes 30 minutes before the museum closing time.
However, Cambridge has restaurants to suit all budgets and whet all tastes and appetites. Charming tearooms and coffee shops, bustling pubs, formal restaurants, family friendly eateries and more can be found along Kings’ Parade, Market Square and the numerous cobblestoned streets and tucked-away passageways.
51 – 52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RG
Dating back to 1920, this place is famous for its fingerlickingly good Chelsea buns, extensive cake shop, tea services and brunch menu.
12 Market Street, Cambridge, CB2 3NJ
Family style Italian dining with a pizzeria, ice cream parlor and an elaborate a la carte menu.
St. Michael’s Church, Trinity Street, Cambridge, CB2 1SU
Located inside a church dating back to the 14th century, the café serves delicious food crafted from local produce and has a menu that is changed daily.