An esteemed university city with bags of history and a river running through its heart, Cambridge is one of England’s finest holiday spots if you’re looking for culture, academia and charm in one place. With striking university buildings packed with history, a pleasant climate and leisurely lawns for days, falling for Cambridge is as easy as falling off a punt. Easier, in fact. Read on for our pick of the 20 must-visit attractions in Cambridge, England.
Cambridge University Buildings
Of course, Cambridge is famed internationally for its world-class university. Attended by some of the country’s top writers, actors, comedians and politicians, the college is set in stunning grounds. Dating back to the 12th century and including examples of the earliest patterned brickwork in England, the various colleges of this iconic establishment are dotted around the city and should be high on your must-do list for beautiful Cambridge.
The River Cam
This gorgeous body of water flows through Cambridge into the Great Ouse, and is usually dotted with pretty punts and small boats bobbing along. With Byron’s Pool named after the poet Lord Byron, who is said to have swum there, and its waters the apparent subject of a speech from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Cam has clearly made an impression on England’s literary masters. Picnic on its riverbanks, cross King’s College Bridge, go angling or, of course, take a punt.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
Cambridge University’s art and antiquities museum makes for a fascinating day out. Once declared ‘one of the greatest art collections of the nation and a monument of the first importance’, the museum was founded when Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion donated his collection of art to the university. The brilliantly diverse collection includes arms, coins, Cypriot, Greek and Egyptian art by Degas, Reubens and Gainsborough among countless others. Many consider it the finest small museum in all of Europe.
The Bridge of Sighs
This covered bridge across the swirling River Cam was built in 1831 and connects the Third Court at St John’s College Cambridge with the New Court. Though it doesn’t have much in common with its Venetian namesake aside from the fact it’s covered, there’s still an undeniable romance about its ornate stonework.
This enormous embellished metal clock hangs at street-level outside Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College. One of the city’s most remarkable monuments, the clock was constructed by John C Taylor OBE and inaugurated in 2008. With a face made entirely of gold, a metal grasshopper called the Chronophage or ‘time-eater’ sitting above it and an undulating ripple design, which suggests the expansion of the universe after the Big Bang, the clock is a truly unique asset to Cambridge.
The American Cemetery and Memorial
This cemetery comprises just over thirty acres of neat green lawns, dedicated to the memory of those who were killed in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the strategic air bombardment of northwest Europe. With the remains of some 3,812 people buried at this peaceful spot, the cemetery is a sobering place to remember those who fought and died in past wars. The visitor centre has many compelling personal stories and photographs that paint a vivid picture of those who gave their lives.
Cambridgeshire Wine School
If fine wines are your thing, head along to Cambridgeshire Wine School for a lively evening of wine tasting. Not only will you sample delightful wines from Europe and even further afield, you’re bound to make some fabulous new friends, too. Choose evenings dedicated to Italian tipples, South American or Portuguese recipes. There’s even a cheese and wine event if you’re a fan of fancy fromage.
The Round Church
Officially known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Round Church is a Grade I listed building dating back to 1130. Its beautiful rotunda structure is formed of stone. The church’s upper storey, built above the nave, has a glorious conical spire on top, making this a pretty unique space to explore.
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
If this list has already got you thinking Cambridge rocks, let us dig a little deeper and recommend you a geology museum that’s pure gold. (Thanks. We know.) The oldest of Cambridge University’s museums, it was founded in 1728 and is now home to around two million minerals, fossil and rocks.
This pretty wooden footbridge is another gorgeous spot to breathe in a little of Cambridge’s chilled-out charm. This Grade II listed building, designed by William Etheridge and built by James Essex in 1749, takes its name from the arrangement of its timbers at certain tangents to create its arching shape. There is a myth that Sir Isaac Newton built the bridge without the help of any nuts or bolts, which, though untrue, makes a cheeky anecdote to share with your travel buddy as you stroll across.
Okay, bear with us. This one isn’t technically in Cambridge, but it makes for a brilliant day trip during your stay. Dating back to 1083, it is built in the monumental Romanesque style and its central octagonal tower attracts some 250,000 visitors every year. Take a moment to gaze up at the church’s captivating ceilings and dazzling stained glass.
Definitely the highest calorie thing to do in Cambridge is to drop into the gorgeous Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street and feast on one of their famous Chelsea Buns. These sticky-sweet snacks have been on sale here since 1921 and make for an ideal riverside energy boost when your punting enthusiasm begins to wane. There’s now a second branch of Fitzbillies on Bridge Street serving coffees, cakes and tasty bacon rolls.
Another beautifully kempt lawn space, the 25-acre common Parker’s Piece is known as the birthplace of association football as it was there where the Cambridge Rules were first put into use in 1848. It also played host to fancy cricket matches between 1917 and 1864. A pleasant place for a walk or your own mini cricket match (top tip: dogs make excellent fielders).
Cambridge University Botanic Garden
This dreamy 40-acre garden is alive with an incredible variety of plant species from all over the world. There are also several glasshouses which are home to all kinds of flowers and shrubs making this park a blooming lovely itinerary option for a sunny Cambridge afternoon.
This absolutely glorious country house and former priory was bought by the aristocratic Broughton siblings, Lord Fairhaven and his brother Henry in 1926. Located just outside Cambridge, in the idyllic village of Lode, the building is now home to the eccentric lord’s vast collection of clocks, ornaments and silverware. A fabulously nostalgic day out.
Billed as an intimate, family-run zoo, this place offers the chance to get up close and personal with a diverse and colourful collection of exotic animals. From tapirs to zebras, tigers to kangaroos, there’s something for every animal lover in this well-kept sanctuary.
For a beautiful walk incorporating the university buildings and their impeccably manicured lawns, the River Cam and its various bridges, take a stroll along The Backs. With grazing cattle to be spotted all along this picturesque stretch of reclaimed land, this is a cracking angle from which to admire those colleges that touch the water’s edge.
For a sprinkle of culture, head along to Kettle’s Yard, a gorgeous Cambridge house filled with a collection of 20th-century art, which also has its own contemporary gallery. There are exhibitions on display for much of the year and events including study days, art workshops and music recitals.
Imperial War Museum
As well as an enormous airfield, this museum also boasts a collection of 200 vintage aircraft (including Concorde and the Spitfire) which have been carefully restored to their hey-day glory and are displayed proudly from floor to ceiling at what is the largest aviation museum in Europe.
King’s College Chapel
Widely believed to be one of England’s finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture, along with the beautiful St George’s Chapel in Windsor, King’s College Cambridge is a breathtaking place to be. With the largest fan-vaulted ceiling in the world and some dazzling examples of medieval stained glass, you’ll find yourself gazing heaven-wards to drink in its daunting beauty.