Cambridge Guide: discover everything to do, see and eat in the UK’s most beautiful historic city
Words Joy Montgomery
Winding cobbled streets, soaring spires and harried students speeding past on rickety bikes. Cambridge is the busy university town with a historic heart. Perfect for a weekend away or a day trip from the big smoke, it offers an array of activities and sights for any time of year. We’ve rounded up a few ideas for your next trip…
Dating back to 1209, the University of Cambridge has shaped the landscape of this Medieval city over the last 800 years. The University’s 31 colleges, which are dotted throughout the city, offer a stunning architectural backdrop. Simply strolling through the winding streets and exploring the college’s stone courtyards is one of the most joyous things you can do.
The larger colleges, such as Kings and St John’s, are great for awe-inspiring vistas, immaculate lawns and grand libraries. Music and architecture buffs will love the stunning acoustics and intricate fan vault of King’s College Chapel. Attend a traditional evensong to enjoy the full effect. Smaller colleges, on the other hand, provide a more intimate experience. Trinity Hall’s gardens offer a lovely view over the river, while Magdalene’s Pepys Library houses the famous diaries that Samuel Pepys bequeathed to the college in 1703.
When your weary feet need a rest from roaming then head over to one of Cambridge’s many cute cafes and pubs. Founded in 1921, Fitzbillies is a Cambridge institution. Their baked goods are made by hand in the onsite bakery and their Chelsea Buns have gained cult status locally. The Michaelhouse Cafe is another much-loved Cambridge establishment. Housed in the historic St Michael’s Church, the light-filled cafe houses an ever-changing art collection. Alternatively, for a prime people-watching spot, head to Copper Kettle, which sits on the famous King’s Parade. Their club sandwiches are to die for.
Alternatively, if you’re more interested in a pint, then head to The Eagle, one of the most famous pubs in Cambridge. It was here that James Watson and Francis Crick revealed their discovery of the DNA double helix shape.
Believe it or not, there’s more to Cambridge than just pretty buildings. It’s also the perfect city to enjoy the great outdoors. A short walk from the station you will find the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, where you can discover plants from all over the world in 40 acres of beautiful gardens and glasshouses. A perfectly peaceful escape for all seasons.
It would be impossible to talk about activities in Cambridge without mentioning punting. Whether you commander your own vessel or opt for a guided tour, it’s one of the best ways to view the city and its colleges. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more speedy, then make like a local and hire a bike. There’s nothing more glorious than peddling down the river to Grantchester and enjoying a cup of tea while reclining in a deck chair at The Orchard Tea Garden. Bliss.
It might not surprise you to discover that Cambridge is a haven for culture vultures. From art and theatre – there’ll be plenty to keep you occupied.
The Fitzwilliam is the city’s largest and most iconic museums, housing an array of art and antiquities in an impressive neoclassical building. For a more low-key experience, Kettle’s Yard is Cambridge’s hidden cultural gem. A few minutes from the main parade of shops, it is the University’s only modern and contemporary art gallery. Between 1958 and 1973 it was the home of Jim Ede who, in the 1920s and 30s, was a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. Over time Jim positioned his collected artworks – from artists including Joan Miro and Barbara Hepworth – alongside furniture, glass and natural objects, with the aim of creating a harmonic whole.
If you fancy discovering some new thespian talent then head to the ADC theatre. With famous names, such as Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne, treading the ADC stage, it has taken up a place in theatre history. Make the most of the super cheap ticket prices and check out whatever performance is on that weekend. Best to book ahead to avoid disappointment.
WHERE TO STAY
THE VARSITY HOTEL AND SPA
The Varsity Hotel & Spa is located on the edge of the picturesque River Cam in the heart of Cambridge. Ideally situated for everything from punting and shopping, to sight-seeing and nightlife, this stylish hotel offers London cool amongst the historic colleges.
THE UNIVERSITY ARMS
Set to open in winter 2017, The University Arms is landmark hotel development located in the historic centre of Cambridge overlooking Parker’s Piece. Led by architect John Simpson and interior designer, Martin Brudnizki, the new hotel will feature 192 rooms including suites, destination restaurant and bar, underground valet car parking and fitness facilities.
A short stroll the city centre and a minute’s walk to the Railway Station, The Tamburlaine is one of Cambridge’s latest hotel offerings. With seriously Instagram-friendly interiors, the hotel is set over two floors of stunning shared spaces. Each area offers its own distinctive setting. From the buzz of the Restaurant and Bar to the grandeur of the Garden Room.