Being Cambridgeshire born and raised, I think it’s fair to say that I know one or two things about this historical University city in England. In light of this, I also appreciate that it is very easy to cover most of what the city has to offer in a single day – making Cambridge an ideal day trip from London (similar to its rival city, Oxford). Read on to discover the seven activities that MUST feature on your itinerary if you plan on spending a day in Cambridge.
1) Go Punting
While punting isn’t unique to Cambridge, travelling along the River Cam in a flat-bottomed boat is a wonderful experience that cannot be missed on visiting the city. The College Backs route (as opposed to the Grantchester route, which takes intrepid explorers through the city’s meadows) is the best option for tourists – taking you past the world famous King’s College Chapel and under the Bridge of Sighs.
Most tourists revel in the idea of propelling the boat along by a pole themselves, but I cannot stress how difficult it is to master the art of punting. Instead I’d recommend opting for a shared (or private) river punt tour through Scudamore’s, the main punting company in Cambridge.
Although a tour is more expensive than renting your own punt (and the experience only lasts for 45 minutes, while self-punters can hire the vessel for the whole day), the guides provide an incredibly informative and interesting tour, negating the usual need for a guidebook! Additionally, regardless of whether you decide to punt or be punted, make sure you remember to bring your own wine/beer/drink of choice and/or snacks onto the punt! This is not only permitted but, arguably, encouraged!
Punting is best enjoyed in good weather and so for this reason I recommend visiting Cambridge in May-September. Good weather is not guaranteed in the UK, but the chances of sun are certainly maximised during these months! It is also worth noting that it is cheaper (and far less busy on the river) if you choose to visit for punting purposes midweek.
2) Walk along ‘The Backs’
Behind a number of the University of Cambridge’s Colleges (including the iconic King’s College and its chapel as pictured below) you will find an area known as ‘The Backs’ running parallel to the River Cam. Strolling along the Backs serves as a lovely reminder that Cambridge is a rural city and very much entwined with the beautiful English countryside.
3) Check out the Mathematical Bridge
A popular myth about the Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College is that Sir Isaac Newton assembled the bridge without any nuts or bolts. Although visible from a punting trip, I also enjoy checking out this wooden footbridge from Silver Street bridge as pictured below.
4) See the Corpus Clock
The Corpus Clock is a reasonably new structure in Cambridge, being unveiled by the late Stephen Hawking in 2008. The Clock has no hands or digital numbers but, rather, three rings of LED lights from which you can ascertain the hour, minute and second. Atop the clock sits a metal grasshopper by the name of the Chronophage (‘time-eater’ in Ancient Greek) which hungrily devours each minute as it passes.
5) Climb Great St Mary’s Church
Ascending the narrow staircase to the top of Great St Mary’s is not for the faint-hearted but, for those who embark upon the climb, the views across the city and over King’s College Chapel are certainly more than rewarding.
6) Explore the Historic University
The University of Cambridge comprises of 31 separate colleges. In order to see some of these colleges and their grounds, you will need to pay an entrance fee. For a tourist with limited time constraints, I would suggest paying to enter King’s College only, to see its grounds and the stunning chapel – the second biggest in the world after the Vatican.
For those on a tighter budget, outside of the University exam period (May-June), you can explore the grounds of most of the colleges without having to pay any entrance fees. A very minimal fee of £1 GBP is payable to enter my personal favourite – the grounds of Trinity College, which straddle the River Cam. Regardless of which college you choose to visit, the architecture and grounds will likely be stunning.
7) Visit Fitzbillies – or The Varsity
After a long day of exploring the city, there is nothing nicer than sitting down to a coffee and a cinnamon bun at Fitzbillies. Alternatively, if the weather is nice, the Six Brasserie Rooftop Bar at the Varsity Hotel is the place to be for chilled cocktails and a tasty BBQ.