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. If you’re interested, you can also check out:
- The prettiest villages in Cambridgeshire
- The best walks in Cambridgeshire
- A day in Ely, Cambridgeshire
1. Take a Cambridge University Tour
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.
I particularly like the student guided tour options, which you can book here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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).
10. See the chimneys on Trinity Lane
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 Nevile’s Gate, and on the south side you can see Gonville and Caius College.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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….
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. Explore some beautiful local villages in Houghton and The Hemingfords
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 for a countryside walk. Start in the beautiful market town of St Ives, and walk to Houghton or The Hemingfords along the river for thatched cottages and picture perfect English villages. If you want to learn more detail on Cambridgeshire’s walks or pretty villages then check out my posts here (walks) and here (villages).
17. 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.
18. 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.
Burgley House in the autumn
19. Step in to history at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford
The Imperial War Museum Duxford is a branch of the Imperial War Museum just on the outskirts of Cambridge. It is England’s largest aviation museum, and houses nearly 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and minor naval vessels in seven main exhibition buildings. It’s great for anyone with an interest in the war, or aviation in general.
20. 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.
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!