Cambridge is one of the most charming and quintessentially British places you can visit. Set on the banks of the River Cam, this picturesque historic city has it all. Cobbled labyrinthine streets, honey-coloured buildings and old bridges…Not to mention the quirky shops and boutiques and an infinite number of pubs and coffee houses. And of course, a total of 31 colleges that make up the world-renowned university and its very own gondola-like experience – punting!
Founded in 1209 by a group of scholars from the University of Oxford who settled in Cambridge after a dispute with Oxford’s townspeople, the University of Cambridge is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. It’s also the second oldest University in the UK after Oxford. After exploring Oxford on a day trip last year, we couldn’t resist checking the other half of the Oxford-Cambridge rivalry. This time, however, we had the help and recommendations of our friends acting as our own private local guides.
1. The University of Cambridge Colleges
Cambridge is a traditional, yet cosmopolitan small city that can can easily be visited on a day trip. Head over to the busy historic centre, constantly filled with students and tourists from all over the world. Taking a stroll around the cobblestone alleys and visiting at least one of the 31 world famous colleges is a must. You will usually be charged to enter; however, you can get in for free if you are with a student of any of the colleges!
With magnificent college gardens and bridges crossing over the River Cam, the elegant honey-coloured stone buildings look frozen in time with a somewhat Hogwarts vibe. Gothic chapels, wooden doors, candlelit halls and corridors paintings covering the walls…And the fact that students actually live here! Famous actors, Nobel Prize winners, politicians, PMs, scientists, philosophers, medics, literature intellectuals…they have all walked along these corridors. Imagine living door to door with the likes of Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough, Rowan Atkinson, Ian McKellen or Jimmy Carr?
2. King’s College and King’s College Chapel
Ok, now that I’ve got your attention, the big question is – which colleges do you visit?
From the oldest of the colleges, Peterhouse (1284), to the most modern, Robinson (1977), the 31 colleges of the University of Cambridge include Clare, Trinity, Magdalene, St Catharine’s, Christ’s, Darwin and of course King’s.
Founded by Henry VI in 1441, King’s College is perhaps the most famous and impressive of them all. And the King’s College Chapel is one of the clearest examples of English Gothic architecture. With spectacular medieval stained glass windows and what’s the largest fan vaulted ceiling in the world, it took over a century to complete. Daily religious celebrations and the service on Christmas Eve take place here. Fun tip: look out for the cows grazing in the college grounds!
3. Punting on the River Cam
No visit to Cambridge is complete without punting. The British variant of the Venetian gondola offers a completely different perspective of the city from the River Cam. You can hop on one of the many guided punt tours available throughout the day. An experienced punter (a traditional job done by many of the university students) will tell you everything you need to know about Cambridge’s history, colleges and streets as you pass by them through the slow-moving river. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can rent a punt for yourself and friends. Grab a pole and ride up and down the river like we did. I have to admit Sam and Alex behaved like professional punters and did a fantastic job here!
For the fearless, know that punting practice is much better near Darwin College as it’s less busy. The whole thing can get quite hectic near King’s, Clare and Trinity and you’re risking getting caught in a boat traffic jam or hitting your head on one of the many bridges!
4. Cambridge bridges and boathouses
Speaking of bridges, there are currently 25 bridges in Cambridge (one in the making)! The Mathematical Bridge, Bridge of Sighs, Garret Hostel Bridge (aka Orgasm Bridge, *wink wink*) and Clare Bridge are perhaps the most famous. Clare College Bridge is also the oldest of the current bridges and sports a missing piece on one of its globes. Legend says that the missing segment was removed by the builder of the bridge after he was offered less money than what was initially agreed. Others say it was a way of avoiding the tax that was applied to complete bridges. Which one do you think is correct? I like to think it’s the first one, but avoiding tax sounds like a thing that would probably happen more often.
Cambridge is well known for being home to the most successful and prestigious rowing clubs in the UK. The annual Boat Race on the River Thames between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club is a great example of it. Each college has a boathouse along the River Cam, with the better rowing colleges being closer to the city centre. The best rowers of each college would then be selected to be part of the Cambridge University Boat Club, whose boathouse is also located along the river banks.
5. Some other things to do in Cambridge
- Check out the Corpus Clock outside the Taylor Library at the Corpus Christi College – Inaugurated in September 2008 by physicist Stephen Hawking and named one of the best inventions by Time Magazine, it features a grasshopper-like creature on top of moving golden disc. It only marks the correct time every 5 minutes, reflecting the irregularity of life.
- Listen to the busker in a bin – between King’s College and St Catharine’s College, playing his guitar from this unusual place to the amusement of passer-byes.
- Try Fitzbillies’ Chelsea Buns – delicious!
- See the 21 metre long Fin Whale skeleton in the Museum of Zoology.
- Go for a swim at Jesus Green Lido – a narrow (14m) but very long (91m) open air swimming pool.
- Explore the Cambridge Market – a great place to get cheese, bread, fruit and pretty much everything you need for a picnic in a punt or at one of the many college gardens!
- Get lost in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden – created by Charles Darwin’s mentor, Professor John Stevens Henslow.
What do you think of our Cambridge Travel Guide? What’s your favourite thing about this iconic University city? If you really loved our post please leave us a comment and show us some love on social media using the buttons below 🙂
Do you like exploring the UK? Then check:
- Things to do in Oxford in a day | TRAVEL GUIDE
- A weekend in Brighton | TRAVEL GUIDE
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- My Ultimate London Bucket List