When you think of Cambridge, two things probably spring to mind: punting and colleges. Sure, The Backs is the waterway equivalent of the M1 on a busy summer’s day and every other attraction is either a college or owned by one, but there’s more than enough to keep you busy here for a day or two. Whilst Cambridge is an expensive place to live (there’s no two ways about that), it doesn’t have to be an expensive place to visit. Here’s my itinerary for anyone looking to visit Cambridge on the cheap.
09:30 | Chances are, you’ll have arrived by train; there’s not much in the way of parking in this city. Head up Station Road, and turn right onto Hills Road. Swing by Norfolk Street Bakery (7 Station Road), The Cambridge Oven (44 Hills Road) or Maison Clément (28 Hills Road) for a snack, if you’re feeling peckish. (I’d highly recommend the cruffins – that’s a croissant/muffin – from The Cambridge Oven.)
Turn left onto Lensfield Road. For a whistle-stop tour of polar explorations over the last century, drop into The Polar Museum; it’s a small ‘un but a good ‘un. When you’re ready, continue along Lensfield Road. Take a right onto Trumpington Street, where you’ll come face-to-face with The Fitzwilliam Museum. Brimming with over half a million works of art and historical artefacts, it’s a must-see for any visitor. Plus, entry is free.
Continue along Trumpington Street and you’ll reach Peterhouse. Founded in 1284 by Hugo de Balsham, this is the University of Cambridge’s oldest (and smallest) college. What it lacks in size it has more than made up for in ideas and innovations over the years: computing pioneer Charles Babbage, bright spark Lord Kelvin and turbojet inventor Frank Whittle were all Petreans.
Cross the street to Pembroke College, which is one of the prettiest colleges, in my humble opinion. While you’re there, step inside the chapel: it feels worlds away from the bustling streets, and is the first completed work of Sir Christopher Wren.
A little further on, you’ll come to Fitzbillies (51-52 Trumpington Street), a Cambridge institution known for its sticky Chelsea buns. If you’re visiting in the summer months, try a scoop of their Chelsea bun ice cream while you’re at it.
On the corner of Trumpington Street and Bene’t Street, pause (though not in the middle of the road, please) to admire the gold-plated Corpus Clock, created and gifted to Corpus Christi College by John Taylor, clock collector and alumnus of the college. The Chronophage (meaning ‘time-eater’) sits atop the clock, gobbling each passing minute.
13:00 | It’s lunch o’clock. If you fancy a light bite, grab a slice of sourdough pizza or a focaccia at Aromi (1 Bene’t Street), or venture over to Indigo (8 St. Edward’s Passage) for homemade soups and sarnies. For hearty grub, head to Bread & Meat (4 Bene’t Street), Pint Shop (10 Peas Hill) or Honest Burgers (1-6 Corn Exchange Street).
Related: An A-Z of Cambridge
14:00 | Retrace your steps to the Corpus Clock, and turn right onto King’s Parade. Take as many shots as you like of the iconic King’s College Chapel (if you fancy going inside, you’ll have to stump up a tenner; buy your tickets from King’s College Visitor Centre, just across the street) and neighbouring Senate House, where graduation ceremonies take place.
For an aerial view of Cambridge, climb the hundred-odd steps to the top of Great St. Mary’s (£5pp). On your way up (or down), take a moment to check out the bells and the bell-ringing room.
Continue onto Trinity Street to Gonville and Caius (pronounced keys) College, where Stephen Hawking obtained his PhD in applied mathematics and theoretical physics. If it’s open (which it rarely is, it must be said), venture inside and explore the courtyards.
Trinity Street is also (surprise, surprise) home to Trinity College. In 1546, Henry VIII merged Michaelhouse and King’s Hall to create Trinity College, and the college you see today is the richest of all Oxbridge colleges. Look to the right of the Great Gate and you’ll spot an apple tree, planted here to commemorate Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery.
If you’re a bibliophile, have a browse in Heffers, located just across the street. If you’re not, continue straight on to St. John’s College. When the Hospital of St. John the Evangelist fell into disrepair in the early sixteenth century, Bishop John Fisher convinced Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, to build what is now St. John’s College on the old hospital’s site. The Great Gate is adorned with Lady Margaret’s arms and ensigns, alongside mythical beasts and a figure of St. John holding a poisoned chalice.
When you reach the end of St. John’s Street, turn left to cross the river and visit Kettle’s Yard, a contemporary art gallery which reopened last year after extensive renovations. Alternatively, turn right to explore Cambridge’s second-oldest building, the Round Church (which is round by name and round by nature). Let’s be honest, Church of the Holy Sepulchre doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. If you’re not yet suffering from college-overload, check out the restored college gates and beautiful gardens of Christ’s College on St. Andrew’s Street.
19:00 | Cambridge has all the chains you’d expect to see in a city of its size – Bill’s, Côte, Las Iguanas; you name it, it’s probably got it – but the best eateries are the independent ones. Located a little way out of the centre on Tenison Road, The Salisbury Arms is my top pick: you simply can’t go wrong with their wood-fired pizzas (Shroom and Aloha are two of my favourites).
10:00 | Start with a (self-guided) tour of Cambridge University Botanic Garden (£6 adults/£5.50 concessions/children free). Its days as a small plant nursery for teaching medical students are long gone; today, CUBG is home to over 8,000 plant species from around the world. Don’t miss the Glasshouse Range, with its tropical rainforest, alpine flora and cacti collection, or Rising Path, a walkway offering a bird’s eye view of the beds below.
11:30 | Sundays are, in my books, made for walking, and in Cambridge, that means a riverside stroll to Grantchester. Leave CUBG via their Brookside exit, and turn left onto Trumpington Road. Cross the road at the traffic lights, then take a right through the field. Turn right, and when the path forks, stay left. From Lammas Land, follow the directions in this post to reach Grantchester. For good ‘ol pub grub, head to The Blue Ball. If you’ve taken a picnic, choose a (cowpat-free) spot by the river. If it’s warm, you may spot a few locals (not me) taking to the muddy waters of the Cam for a dip.
15:00 | Back at Lammas Land, take the scenic route into town via Sheep’s Green and Coe Fen. It’s time to put your arm muscles to the test, and take to the water. After all, if you haven’t had a go at punting, have you even been to Cambridge? Whichever operator you choose, make sure it’s a licensed one. For the hapless punters out there, myself included, it’s advisable to steer clear of peak punting hours and have a go first thing in the morning or mid-late afternoon.
16:30 | Reward your punting efforts with a gelato from Aromi or Jack’s Gelato (1 and 6 Bene’t Street, respectively). If you’ve got time to kill before your train home, grab a drink at the Old Ticket Office, located right next door to the station.