If you are planning a visit to Cambridge, you will want to know how to best spend your day. This travel guide will help you choose the best things to see and do in Cambridge and the top places to visit.
A visit to Cambridge will give you the chance to appreciate its history, tradition and architecture. Of course, you will want to see the famous University of Cambridge and go punting on the River Cam.
However, Cambridge has many more attractions and this post will help you plan your itinerary, so that you can enjoy the highlights of this magnificent city.
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Getting to Cambridge
Cambridge is a beautiful, historical city located in the South East of England.
By car: You can drive in a couple of hours from London. It is easily accessible from M11.
By train: You could also take a day trip from London on the train. Trains leave from King’s Cross, St Pancrass or Liverpool Street and take just over an hour (depending on the time of day).
Day trip: Alternatively, you could take an organised coach trip from London.
What can you do on a visit to Cambridge?
Take a tour of the Cambridge University colleges
You can’t plan a visit to Cambridge without thinking of the world-famous university. When you get there, the University presence dominates the city. Everywhere you look, you will be able to admire the stunning architecture of the different Cambridge colleges.
The University of Cambridge has 31 distinct colleges, which have been founded between the 13th and 20th Centuries. Over the years the colleges have competed to achieve the most impressive buildings, and consequently the architecture is magnificent.
Some of the most distinguished architects ever have worked on these buildings, including Sir Christopher Wren, Sir James Stirling and Foster and partners.
As you admire the magnificence of the facades, it is hard to believe that the undergraduates actually study and live here.
Have a punt on the River Cam
A visit to Cambridge wouldn’t be complete without a punt on the River Cam. The college gardens back on to the river, so you get the chance to see them from the other side. You can also see the college boathouses. It’s also a lot of fun.
There are a number of companies you can hire your punt from, but they generally offer much the same package. We chose Cambridge Chauffeur Punts which costs £18 for a 45-minute guided tour.
The advantage of a chauffeur driven tour is that you don’t have to risk falling in. Punting involves navigating your boat with an extremely large pole and is not as easy as it looks. Additionally, you get a commentary about what you are seeing and can ask questions about the colleges and bridges as you float by.
If you are visiting in the Autumn or winter, you will be provided with blankets. If you choose wisely, you will get a hot water bottle too. I can also recommend popping into the pub next door to the bridge to get takeaway hot chocolate or mulled wine for a warm up on the way.
Drift under the college bridges
As you make your way up the River Cam, you will pass under some of the 25 bridges which cross to the college gardens. Some of the most famous Cambridge bridges are the wooden Mathematical Bridge, at Queen’s College (1831) and the stylish Bridge of Sighs at St John’s College (1831). The latter was based on a similarly named bridge in Venice.
Stroll around the historic city
Once you have done your punt, it is great to wander around Cambridge city centre. As well as the colleges and churches, there are plenty of alleys and pedestrianised streets, with a selection of quaint shops as well as high street fashion.
There is also a wide choice of cafes, pubs and restaurants.
If you prefer something more structured, you could take advantage of one of the official guided walking tours around Cambridge.
Pop to market
Traders have been selling at the historic market square in Cambridge’s city centre since the middle ages.
Cambridge market is open every day, selling a variety of food and goods. We were there on a Sunday, so were able to visit the arts and crafts market.
This market sells traditional crafts, vintage clothes and a range of local, organic farm produce.
Hire a bike
Cambridge is awash with bikes. Everywhere you look there are bikes chained to railings. So, if you don’t fancy a stroll around the city, hiring a bike would be a great alternative.
Cambridge has a great network of cycle paths, both in the city centre and out to the countryside.
Alternatively, you could also opt to do a Cambridge city tour on bike. There are a choice of tours, which go along the river taking in the colleges and city.
Enjoy the parks and Cambridge's green spaces
Take a stroll along the Backs
One idea would be to take a walk up “the Backs”. The Backs is the stretch of reclaimed land running alongside the River Cam behind the Cambridge colleges.
This walk would give you the view of the backs of the colleges and their immaculate gardens.
Visit the Botanical Gardens
Or if you walk for 15 minutes from Cambridge’s city centre, to Trumpington Road, you’ll come to Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. Here you will find a vast collection of botanical wonders from around the world.
Cambridge Botanic Gardens covers over 16 hectares and is divided into different zones, each offering different features. These include the woodland garden, rock garden and bog garden. It also has a lake, a fountain and several glasshouses.
Admissions to the botanical gardens is £6 for adults and children are free
Head for the museums
As a city renowned for its learning, you would expect to find plenty of museums and galleries in Cambridge. You wouldn’t be wrong. There are far too many to visit it one day, but here are some of the more popular ones.
The Sedgick Museum of Earth Sciences
The Sedgick Museum of Earth Sciences is Cambridge’s oldest museum and houses the University’s expansive geology collection. It has a fantastic display of fossils and crystals. Children will love it, especially the dinosaur skeletons!
Admission is free.
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is a small museum, but holds an extensive collection of interesting artefacts from around the world.
Admission is free.
A visit to Cambridge makes a great day out for all the family, young or old. Cambridge is rich with history and culture, and has museums and open spaces to keep children entertained.
Pin for later: A vist to Cambridge in the Autumn