It’s funny how you never really pay attention to what is on your own doorstep. But lockdown has me excited about taking the bins out, so when the UK government said we could make short trips to exercise, it felt like the world was there to be discovered again.
Last Friday morning I had hit a total wall with work – long hours, stressful environment, very little sleep. I wasn’t really any good to anyone, and as I’m sure anyone with itchy feet knows, when you’re in a bad mood the best cure is always to go wandering.
So, I got in my car, drove the short drive to Cambridge and took some time to myself. And wow, where I live is beautiful. It’s so easy to get caught up in visiting other countries, travelling because you always feel you have to get somewhere else that isn’t home to have an interesting time. But thanks to lockdown, home feels like an adventure, and it’s made me appreciate the film set like area I live in.
And if you’re planning on visiting the UK one day, Cambridge is definitely worth a stop on your itinerary. It’s known for its history, university and rowing – but there’s also a lot more to see and do in the city. You can easily explore it in a day, or treat yourself to an overnight stay if you want to take things at a more leisurely pace and make the most of a weekend break.
So here is my (local’s) guide of not to be missed sites in Cambridge.
1. Cambridge University Buildings
You can’t come to this University city and not visit the University. The University was founded in 1209, and is about a century younger than its Oxford rival. There are University buildings and colleges all over Cambridge, and you can visit the majority of them either on a tour or independently. The buildings are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful in the UK.
Also not to be missed when visiting the Colleges is the Corpus Clock, whose face is a 24 carat fold plated disc at the front of the Corpus Christi college library. It has no hands or numerals but displays the time by backlit LED lights in 3 concentric rings (hours, minutes, seconds). The Clock was named one of the best modern day inventions, and was unveiled to the public in 2008 by Professor Stephen Hawking.
2. The River Cam
The River Cam runs through the city and can be explored in a number of ways. The best way is the Cambridge tradition of punting, which is basically a much less fancy Venetian Gondola ride. You can either hire a boat and punt yourself, or hire a boat and a punter and be punted about by a professional while you sip on Prosecco. No prizes for guessing which option I’d choose.
And at this point my strong, strong advice is to hire a boat and a professional. Punting is not as easy as it looks – as my Dad, Uncles, Grandpa – literally everyone I’ve ever seen try it, will attest to. As a child we more often than not ended up stuck on a bank somewhere, losing the oars or going round in circles, with a not so sturdy on their feet family member trying to get us out of the mess, fearful we’d all end up in the water (and sometimes the sacrificial nominated punter did).
If you’re not keen on the boat trip option, you can also just walk along the river bank which you can follow all the way through the city, and through a number of college grounds as well. Perfect.
3. The Backs
The Cambridge Backs are consistently voted one of the best walks in the country. The area is a picturesque park area which follows alongside the River Cam and a number of the Colleges. My favourite is this view across the backs.
4. King’s College Chapel
King’s College has its very own chapel, which is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gothic English architecture in England. The chapel is open to all and is beautiful inside so well worth a stop on your tour of Cambridge. It’s also magical to attend the chapel for Evensong, a thoroughly English tradition.
Kings college chapel
5. Grantchester Meadows
One of my favourite Cambridge spots is Grantchester Meadows. This is a park area which follows the River Cam out of the city centre and to the quaint little village of Grantchester, which is home to some pretty houses and lovely pubs. It makes for a really nice way to spend the afternoon and you can do the walk in about 45 minutes at a leisurely pace.
Cambridge is home to some really nice, quaint boutique shops and part of the fun is exploring the narrow lanes and seeing what can be discovered. Some of my favourites are Boudoir Femme, Lilac Rose, The Cambridge Satchel Company and Ark. There are also traditional sweet shops and Robemakers which make you feel a little bit like you’re on a Harry Potter set.
7. Eating out
There are some great places to eat in Cambridge for all budgets. Afternoon teas are offered at various places, and one of my favourite is The Varsity Hotel, with its views over the river. The newly opened Tamburlaine Hotel is also a good choice.
There is also a wide range of restaurants in the city, ranging from upmarket sushi at Sticks N Sushi, to AMAZING burritos at Nanna Mexico, to the 2 Michelin starred Midsummer House on the common. Having eaten at them all (obviously not whilst in lockdown), I can say they are all delicious and you can’t really go wrong whether you choose cheap eat or full on dinner blow out.
8. Beautiful architecture
Cambridge is full of beautiful architecture. One of my favourite buildings in the city is the Round Church, which was built in 1130! There is a little museum and film on the history of Cambridge inside, and this is also a starting point for a lot of the guided walking tours which run daily (under normal, non COVID, circumstances).
I also love Trinity Lane for its incredible houses and chimneys, which make for one of the most recognisable Instagram spots in the city.
9. The Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam Museum makes for a really interesting way to spend a couple of hours. The museum is host to a number of exhibitions, ranging from the arts of Asia, to historic clocks, to sculptures and jewellery from Nubia and Egypt. If you’re interested in art, history or other cultures, it’s definitely worth a visit.
10. The Gin Laboratory
Now. Anyone who reads this blog knows I am partial to a wine or five. Especially if it’s got bubbles in it. Gin is not really my thing. However, gin is taken very seriously in Cambridge. At the Cambridge Distillery Gin Laboratory (say that after a few gins!), there is a ‘classroom’ where you can learn about the history of gin, how it’s produced and be taught how to taste.
You can then move on to the tasting room where there are so many different options to try, from elderflower to truffle and Japanese gin. You can also choose to do a gin masterclass where you can mix your own gins, and you can even do a molecular course where you learn actual scientific methods with test tubes and beakers and everything. Like I said, they take it very seriously….
I hope you enjoyed my local’s guide to this wonderful city. I should really show it off more often as it is an amazing place to call home. And if anyone is planning to visit, let me know and I’ll meet you in the gin lab. Stay safe and happy travelling!