Whether it’s the majestic river that attracts you or the proud spires of Cambridge’s elegant university buildings, there’s much more to this city than the town and the gown. Try world famous snacks, travel through time at fascinating museums and breathe in the delicious fresh air at a verdant park. Here’s our guide to the best things to see and do in Cambridge, England.
Go punting on 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 and do your best not to topple over board (though that would make a better anecdote, we suppose).
Breathe in the silence of 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 heavenwards to drink in its daunting beauty.
Take a stroll along The Backs
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.
Get lost in Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden
Whether you’re a botany expert or simply aware that flowers are nature’s jazziest mood-booster, this place is worth checking out. A dreamy 40-acre garden, the beds are 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.
Explore the Fitzwilliam Museum at twilight
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. Even more exciting is the annual family-friendly evening tour (still 100% fun if you don’t have kids) where you can see the place in a whole (slightly dimmer) new light.
Share a kiss on the Bridge of Sighs
This terribly romantic 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 magic to its ornate stonework. Steal a kiss with your loved one or, if you’re not feeling the amorous vibe, simply stand and stare at the rippling River Cam as it winds beneath you.
Visit the world-famous 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. Enter Trinity College through the Great Gate, where you’ll see a statue of the college’s founder King Henry VIII perched above you.
Rock out at 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 2 million minerals, fossil and rocks. Once known as the Woodwardian museum, this place will transport you some 4.5 billion years back in time with its friendly, passionate staff on hand to guide you.
Tuck into a Chelsea Bun from Fitzbillies
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.
See vintage aircraft at the Duxford 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. This place is not only a joy for history buffs or those with a need for speed, there’s a drama to the engineering and design of these magnificent machines to beguile even the push-bike-riding pacifists in the gang.