25 Best things to do in Cambridge, England

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.

So wow, I’ve learned to appreciate that 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. Whether you have just a day, or treat yourself to an overnight stay if you want to take things at a more leisurely pace. then here is my (local’s) guide of things to do if you’re visiting this wonderful city.

1. Take a Cambridge University Tour

If you do want to book on a tour, then you can use my discount with Cambridge Alumni Tours : HANNAH10. They are wonderful and I genuinely wouldn’t endorse them if I didn’t think they were.

I don’t think 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. You can read my full review of the University tour I went on HERE (post coming soon).

Inside Pembroke College grounds

2. Admire the Corpus Clock

The Corpus Clock’s 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.

The Corpus Clock

3. Go punting on 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.

Again, you can use my discount with Cambridge Alumni Tours : HANNAH10. They do some great punting and walking tour combination options.

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).

During the tour you can take in a lot of the Cambridge colleges, as well as the famous Wren Library, Bridge of Sighs and Mathematical Bridge.

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.

4. Walk the Cambridge 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.

A view across the Backs to Kings College

5. Explore Grantchester Meadows

Another 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 also has a great tea room serving afternoon tea and scones, so is a truly English adventure. 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.

6. Visit 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.

King’s College Chapel

7. Hit the shops

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.

8. Indulge in a delicious dinner

There is 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, to tasty steak at Maison du Steak. 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.

At Maison du Steak

9. Visit the Round Church

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).

The Round Church

10. Climb Great St Mary’s

Climb the 124 steps to the top of Great St Mary’s church to enjoy panoramic views out across Cambridge. It’s particularly lovely on market day where you can see all the colours of the market stalls from above. Entrance is £6 and the climb will take around 5-10 minutes.

Enjoying the views

11. See the chimneys on Trinity Lane and visit pretty Rose Crescent

Trinity Lane is another great spot for taking beautiful photos, with its picture perfect chimneys one of the most recognisable shots in the city. At the entrance to the lane from Trinity Street, Trinity College is on the north side of the lane, including Neville’s Gate, and on the south side you can see Gonville and Caius College. Just across the road is one of the prettiest streets in Cambridge – Rose Crescent, which looks like something out of Harry Potter.

12. Get cultured at 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.

The Fitzwilliam Museum

13. Enjoy the views from the Varsity roof top bar

The varsity rooftop bar is one of the nicest spots in Cambridge for a meal with a view. You could choose to have afternoon tea up there, go for a BBQ at the weekend, or just relax with a cocktail or a few.

14. Get tipsy at 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….

The Cambridge Gin Lab

15. Have brunch at The Ivy

For a cool brunch spot in the city, visit The Ivy restaurant. The decor is pretty cool (even the toilet ceiling is covered in flowers), and the food is delicious so it’s not style over substance. It’s good for all meals, but I personally love the breakfast and brunch menu as a great start to the day.

16. Take a day trip to Ely

Ely is an often underrated place in the UK. It’s home to a magnificent cathedral, and lots of history as the home to Oliver Cromwell. There’s lots to see and do here, which well warrants a relaxed day trip. You can get the train, or drive between Cambridge and Ely in less than 30 minutes. You can read my full post on Ely HERE.

Beautiful Ely and its Cathedral

17. Have a traditional afternoon tea at Fitzbillies

Fitzbillies was founded in 1920 by Ernest and Arthur Mason, using their ‘demob’ money from the First World War. Their initials are still visible in worn-out gold letters on the shop front. During the post war years, the Fitzbillie’s sponge cake became an institution of Cambridge, and their Chelsea Buns boomed. Despite going bankrupt in the 80s/90s due to competition from supermarkets, Fitzbillie’s was relaunched in 2011 – it bakes everything on site and its afternoon tea is, in my very humble opinion, the best in Cambridge.

18. Explore some beautiful local villages

Also within a stone’s throw of Cambridge are some quintessentially English villages, which if you’re looking to mix up a city break are the perfect option forexploring further afield. If you want to learn more detail on Cambridgeshire’s walks or pretty villages then check out my posts HERE (walks) and HERE (villages).

19. Visit Anglesey Abbey

There are some lovely National Trust properties just outside of Cambridge. A short 15 minute drive from the city centre and you could visit Anglesey Abbey which was originally a religious monastery, dissolved in 1536 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Later, a Jacobean House was built on the site of the former priory, and was privately owned until 1966, when it was donated to the National Trust.

20. Take a trip to Burghley House

Alternatively, you could head to the north of Cambridge and take a 45 minute drive to visit Burghley House. The house is a prime example of Elizabethan architecture and is still lived in by the Cecil family to this day. The house is open on a seasonal basis, and the grounds and park are open year round.

Burghley House in the autumn

21. Visit Europe’s first Eco Mosque

Cambridge is home to Europe’s first eco mosque, about a 30 minute walk outside of the city centre. This is a must visit to learn more about the local Muslim population and the Mosque’s links between Islam and Cambridge. It’s also totally stunning.

Inside the Mosque’s Prayer Hall

22. Get educated at The Polar Museum

Another great museum option, this time in the centre of Cambridge, is The Polar Museum. Learn about polar exploration, glaciology and the incredible Earnest Shackleton who led three expeditions to the Antarctic in the 1920s.

Outside the Polar Museum

23. Head to Wimpole Hall

Wimpole is an amazing Hall, dating back to the 1600s and is now the largest house in Cambridgeshire. It’s stunningly beautiful in the Spring and really easy to spend at least half a day exploring (or more if you want to do one of the hikes in the grounds too). It was donated to the National Trust by its last owner (the author Rudyard Kipling’s daughter) and is truly beautiful – well worth the 15 minute drive out of the city centre to visit.

You can read my full write up on Wimpole HERE.

24. Visit historic St Ives and walk in the Cambridgeshire countryside

Head to St Ives, an historic market town about 30 minutes out of Cambridge. From here you can explore the town and river, and then take my favourite walk through Cambridgeshire, weaving along the river through the picture perfect villages of Houghton and The Hemingfords and back to St Ives.

You can see the walk route in my post HERE.

25. Smell the flowers at the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

Another lovely thing to do close to Cambridge city centre is to visit the University’s Botanic Gardens for a morning stroll. I think they are particularly beautiful in spring and summer when the tulips are out and the ducks are enjoying the lakes. You can easily spend an hour or so here, and grab breakfast or lunch in the cafe.

Bluebells in full bloom

So what do you think? 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!

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