Cambridge offers some of England’s best universities, parks, museums and theatrical productions. It’s one of the most beautiful college cities in England, if not the world. It is known for its friendly people, academia, and great student parties. Like Oxford, life here revolves around the university, as does much of its tourism. However, you can find a lot to do here that isn’t related to the university, like the wide-open green spaces that fill the Cambridge Backs as well as the serene River Cam with the incredible views of Kings Chapel in the background. All in all, Cambridge makes for a good place to spend a couple of days. The city is close to London so it makes for a good day trip from the capital.
Getting to Cambridge
There are several ways to get to Cambridge from London. The most popular options include taking the train or driving. If you’re only planning a Cambridge day trip, it’s better to take the train since parking can be challenging near the city center. The National Rail has frequent services from London King’s Cross and Liverpool Street stations to Cambridge with prices that start as little as $16.5 for off-peak return trains. Once you get off the station, you can easily connect with the local Citi 1, 3, or 7 bus lines that will take you to the city centre.
Which Colleges to Visit?
The purpose of many people’s visit to Cambridge is to admire the buildings and chapels that make up the university. It might very well take an entire week if you decide to visit all 31 of them, but since you’re pressed for time, pick just one or two. Some of the colleges are made up of several buildings and have a number of places worth visiting. Here are some of my suggestions.
It’s known primarily for its impressive English neo-gothic architecture. The Front Court’s panoramic view contains a remarkable collection of gothic buildings including King’s College Chapel. The interior is vast and contains 26 stained glass windows as well as Ruben’s Adoration of the Magi as the main altarpiece. It’s all-men chapel choir is one of the most famous in the world and is renowned for their Christmas Eve program, Nine Lessons and Carols. Admission fee to the King’s College grounds and chapel is $12-13.
St. John’s College
It’s one of the largest colleges in the university with over eleven courts and numerous notable buildings. St. John’s has a long-standing rivalry with Trinity College particularly in sports and is popular for its annual May Ball. Some of the college attraction highlights include The Great Gate, the First and Second Courts, and the famous Bridge of Sigh. There’s a fee of $10-11 to enter the grounds.
Other Things to See and Do in Cambridge
Botanical Garden of Cambridge University – If you want to spend a quiet afternoon out, head to the Botanical Gardens. They are beautiful and one of the highlights of a visit. They cost 5 GBP to enter.
Attend a lecture – While some of the lectures are closed for members only, if you research ahead of time, you can visit one that is open to the public.
Walk along the Backs – This is a great place to walk that gives you a scenic tour of the city. You can walk through Kings College and see a collection of stores and shops.
Punting – Punting is the classic Cambridge sport and involves pushing yourself in a wooden boat by propelling the pole against the river’s bottom. There are guided tours which will cost around 12 GBP. You can also rent your own boat and try to punt yourself. Take some food and drinks and spend the day on the river with some friends. Most guided tours are run by students at the famous university, and often they will also give you an insight into what it is like to study in Cambridge and a really personal view of their student home.
Do a walking tour of Cambridge – Cambridge is just a great place to walk around. If you can’t afford any of the activities, just walk around and enjoy the beauty of the parks, river, and colleges. You can spend 5 GBP on a MP3 audio tour guide from the tourist office.Traditional walking routes include Grantchester and Castle Hill. It would take you around 1 hour to the Grantchester Orchard, which is a place that Virginia Woolf usually paid a visit to and have afternoon tea there.
Visit Great St. Mary’s Church – This is a free church to visit, and worth it for seeing some of the best 15th century English architecture. If you want to go up to the bell tower, admission is 3.90 GBP.
The Fitzwilliam Museum – The Fitzwilliam Museum is the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge. Some highlights include masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Canaletto, Hogarth, Gainsborough, Constable, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and Picasso. Best of all? The museum is free.
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival – Every summer, six Shakespeare plays are performed in the gardens of the various colleges. Come early as the good spots fill up quick.
Visit Angsley Abbey – Less than 7 miles outside of Cambridge, Angsley Abbey is a beautiful manor with peaceful gardens. You can tour the lode mill, the house, and the grounds for 11.60 GBP. It’s a great escape to country life, and gives you a good idea of England’s social history.
Hostel prices – Youth hostels will cost 25 GBP for a dorm night. Private rooms begin around 45 GBP per night.
Budget hotel prices – You can stay in a hotel for about 70 GBP in Cambridge.
Average cost of food – You can eat at a noodle shop for 1 GBP, get a lunch special at an Italian restaurant for 6 GBP, and a deli style restaurant for 5 GBP. Buying your own food will cost you around 40-52 GBP a week at a grocery store. Dinners out will cost between 10-21 GBP. Since it is a student town, you can find a lot of good deals, so be on the lookout.
Transportation costs – Cambridge is pedestrian-friendly, and you shouldn’t have to travel any other way within city limits. If you take the city bus, expect to pay 1-3 GBP per ride and try to have exact change as the bus drivers here seem resistant to handing you correct change. Consider buying an all-day pass for 4.10 GBP.