The name Cambridge may be synonymous with the university but there is plenty more to this historic English academic rival to Oxford. Renowned as one of the prettiest cities in the world, Cambridge has a fascinating blend of the ancient and modern, providing a home for some superb museums and galleries, sweeping green spaces, historic pubs, top restaurants, shopping and places to stay.
Byron, Milton, Newton and Rutherford all studied here. More recently the film The Theory of Everything brought the Stephen Hawking story to the screen, much of it filmed around town.
The university’s eight museums and galleries attract tens of thousands of visitors to Cambridge each year. The most prominent is the Fitzwilliam on Trumpington Street, which houses the university art and antiquities collection, including some stunning masterpieces. The acclaimed Polar Museum nearby not only showcases exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic but also serves as national memorial to the ill-fated Scott expedition.
The architecture of Cambridge, its largely vehicle-free laneways and the green spaces behind the colleges, “The Backs”, are attractions in their own right. Take a walk or a punt (nothing to do with betting).
Eat and Drink
Artisan bakeries, budget eateries, cafes, bars, pubs, fine-dining restaurants – Cambridge has the lot. Inevitably in a city with a big student population there are plenty of places for food on the go, but you don’t have to go far for a more relaxed meal in a picturesque setting. Don’t forget, too, that you can often find a good meal in one of the dozens of pubs around town.
Fine-dining options include Michelin-starred Alimentum in Hills Road and Midsummer House by the River Cam on Midsummer Common. For a drink with more than a touch of scientific history, follow in the footsteps of James Watson and Francis Crick, discoverers of DNA, who drank at The Eagle in Benet Street.
Where to Stay
Out of term time, you can really get a sense of the university by taking a room in the colleges. Historic bed and breakfast rooms are available per person per night, with the tariff going towards upkeep of the historic buildings. In term time, there are plenty of other accommodation options in Cambridge.
Bed and breakfast is hugely popular, but you will also find city centre hotels, from budget to first-class, as well as self-catering apartments, all located close to the most historic colleges. Outside the city, the countryside is dotted with guesthouses and other retreats offering accommodation to suit a range of budgets.
For more luxurious brands or mainstream high street shopping, head to either the stylish Grand Arcade between Corn Exchange Street and St Andrews Street (which includes a John Lewis department store) or The Grafton Centre between East Road and Fitzroy Street, which hosts a Debenhams and an H&M.
If more individualistic shopping is on the agenda, look for books, arts and crafts in Trinity Street and Kings Parade, where you will also find souvenir stores for that Cambridge scarf or jersey.
Meanwhile, self-catering visitors might like to try locally grown produce from the market in Market Square. Food and other stalls are open Monday to Saturday with an arts and crafts emphasis on Sundays.
Cambridge Like a Local
Many of the best things around Cambridge are free. Apart from the marvellous university museums and galleries, the city’s parks and gardens are a superb place to take in the college architecture while enjoying a relaxing walk or a picnic. Some of the best green spaces include The Backs by the River Cam, the Botanic Gardens off Bateman Street, Jesus Green adjacent to Midsummer Common, Parker’s Piece in the centre of the city and the more formal Christ’s Pieces.
Other must-do free attractions include Cambridge’s wonderful churches including St Benet’s, with a history dating back to Saxon times, and Great St Mary’s, which dates back to the 15th century.