Looking for a weekend trip less than an hour away from London? Interested in history, architecture, good food, a beautiful river, street performers, farmer’s market, gardens, and cows? Then, Cambridge is the perfect destination for you. Here’s our report on 8 things to do in Cambridge UK.
Cambridge is located 50 miles from London. Currently, there are 32 colleges interspersed throughout the town. Of the 125,000 people who live in Cambridge, 20% are students at the University.
While the University is one of the main centers of activity, there is much more to the town.
Things to Do in Cambridge UK
1. Visit the Colleges
Walking through Cambridge, it is impossible to miss that you are in the midst of one of the oldest and most impressive universities in the world. Founded in 1209, Cambridge University is the heart of the town. It is the fourth oldest university in the world. The oldest college is Peterhouse (1284) and the youngest is Robinson (1977). Charles Darwin went to Cambridge. So did Stephen Hawkings. And, Prince Charles, Arianna Huffington, Emma Thompson, and many others.
Make sure to see Kings College and the Chapel. This is one of the iconic views in Cambridge. The stained glass windows and the organ are impressive and the Chapel is beautiful. The building of the Chapel was begun by King Henry in 1445 and finished under Henry the VIII in 1515. Don’t miss Ruben’s masterpiece the Adoration of the Magi over the altar. The admission fee is (£10 or US$14.00)
St. John’s College (called the Wedding Cake by locals) has expansive grounds that you can also see while punting.
Trinity College and the clock tower are good to see.
Pembroke College has one of the prettiest gardens.
Many of the Colleges are viewable as you walk along Trinity and Trumpington Streets.
2. Holy Sepulchre Church (aka the round church)
The Round Church, as it is known, dates to 1130 and is one of the oldest buildings in Cambridge. The round structure was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (you’ll see a model of it inside the round nave of the church). The church has a study center called a scriptorium that is used by graduate students as a place to study and write.
3. Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam is the art & antiquities museum of Cambridge. It has an extensive collection of Turners. It also has a good collection of impressionists.
4. The Bridges
There are a lot of bridges over the Cambridge River.
Make sure to see the Mathematical Bridge at Queens College. It was built in 1749. There is a myth that this bridge was built by Sir Isaac Newton without any nails and that it was taken apart by students who couldn’t put it back together again without nails. This is a myth. The bridge was built after Newton died.
The Bridge of Sighs is a covered bridge at St John’s College. Many people say that the name comes from the students crossing the bridge to either meet with their tutors or get their grades.
5. Punting on River Cam
Punting on the Cam can be a nice relaxing way to see the colleges. The view is similar to the view from the Backs (you’ll be a little lower since you’re on the river).
What You Need to Know Cambridge Punting Tours will give you detailed information about punting tours.
6. The Backs
The Backs is a walk along the Cambridge River. You’ll have a similar view as from the punts. There are wonderful views of some of the colleges (St. John’s, Trinity, Clare, Kings, Queens) and the gardens from this side. This is also the best place to see the famous Cambridge cows.
Looking for more interesting destinations in Europe? Lisbon is a great city to visit.
Have you been to Lisbon? We’d love to hear what you think.
7. Street Performers and Farmers Market
If you are in Cambridge on a weekend, there is a great farmer’s market with street performers. You can purchase lunch or even your refreshments for your punting tour. You should also stop by the All Saints Garden Arts and Crafts Market. It is small bu has interesting pieces.
For the adventurous, Grantchester is a 2.5 mile walk from the backs along Grantchester Meadows. It was the setting for the BBC production Grantchester. If you’re not up for the walk, a short cab ride will also get you there.
After your walk, you will arrive at the Orchard Tea Garden. The Orchard serves tea, scones and other refreshments that you’ll enjoy after the long walk.
As a meeting spot, the Orchard dates to 1897 when Cambridge students began taking their tea in the garden. From 1909 until WWI, the poet Rupert Brooke began living at the house and it became the meeting place of the Grantchester Group: Brooke, novelists Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, economist John Maynard Keynes, the philosophers Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein and the artist Augustus John. Woolf called the group the Neo-Pagans in contrast to the Bloomsbury Group which had some of the same members. Wittgenstein would arrive by horseback or canoe.
Where to Eat
After a day of wandering around the colleges, it is time for a refreshment break. Bar Six in the Varsity Spa Hotel (24 Thompsons Lane) has a wonderful terrace for drinks overlooking Cambridge. There are several bars in the Hotel. The Roof Terrace Bar often has a line and the Bar Six has a wrap around terrace and you can have the same view with less lines.
Fitzbillies (52 Trumpington Street and 36 Bridge St) is a great stop while touring the colleges. It is a cake shop serving traditional English scones, Chelsea buns, other pastries, tea and coffee since 1920.
Cote Brasserie (21-24 Bridge Street) is a lovely, understated restaurant with great service. It serves regional French dishes and is great for lunch or dinner.
The Millworks (Newham Road) is a working mill right on the River Cam. We did lunch after our punting escapade. We ate inside and there is outside seating as well.
The Ivy (16 Trinity Street) has good food. I had a traditional sheppard’s pie that was very good.
Bridges (20 Bridges Street) is our friend’s go to for soups, salads, freshly made sandwiches. We had a lovely lunch there. The owner is very friendly and the food is excellent.
Getting to Cambridge from London
The Great Northern Train leaves from Kings Cross. The express train takes 47 minutes. The local takes about 90 minutes. On a Saturday in the summer, the train was packed. We recommend purchasing reserved seats or boarding the train early unless you don’t mind standing throughout the journey.
Our 1-way 2nd class with unreserved seats from London Kings Cross to Cambridge for 2 adults cost US$49.24. You can purchase your tickets at TheTrainline.com (has a UK app). It was very easy and quick. You can either pick up paper tickets from the train station or have it downloaded as digital ticket.
Overnight in London
Since we arrived in London late Friday night, we decided to stay near Kings Cross station. We booked a Standard room at Hub Hotel by Premier Inn for £90 (US$115.00). There is another Premier Inn Hotel located along the same stretch of road next to Kings Cross Station (we went to the wrong one first). Both are minutes from Kings Cross, though the Premier Inn Hotel is half a block closer.
Hub by Premier Inn is a modern no frills hotel that was formerly a parking garage. As a result, many of the rooms were below ground. There is an touchpad for checking in and out. We had a tiny double room. The room came with 2 bottles of water. The double bed against the wall was barely large enough for the 2 of us, but provided storage for luggage beneath the bed. There were also USB and plugs at the foot of the bed. The room didn’t have a closet, but a few hangers were provided. The only other furniture in the room was a single chair. Lighting is controlled through the headboard. The room is meant only for sleeping in which it served our purposes just fine.
The hotel had a decent breakfast buffet for £5 per person (US$7.00).