See our new up-dated
tourist information on Cambridge.
Cambridge is located about 60
miles (100 Km) from London. Its university was founded in the
twelfth century by disaffected academics from Oxford University.
The oldest building from that time is in St John's College but
the oldest surviving college is Peterhouse. Cambridge and Oxford
are similar distances from London: Oxford lies to the west and
Cambridge to the north. The distance was sufficiently great that
the ruling monarch could not travel from London to either town
in mediaeval times in one day. This was an advantage for academics
if the monarch acted on impulse and thought a few executions would
University - a brief history
The University has evolved slowly
over the centuries and for much of the time it has been more like
a collection of monasteries than the University that exists today.
For example women could not get degrees until 1948 although they
had been coming to Cambridge to study for over 100 years prior
to that. Indeed, only in 1998 did the University finally get around
to awarding degrees to some women students who should have graduated
before 1948. To gain entrance to the University students needed
to pass exams in Latin until about 30 years ago and until about
the 19th century academics were expected to remain celibate. Theology
was one of the main subjects for study until the industrial revolution
and Isaac Newton spent more time working on theology than he did
on mathematics. During the years of the black-death there was
a shortage of priests to bury the dead so a college was founded
at Cambridge just to boost the numbers of priests - it was called
the "body of Christ", Corpus Christi, and the college
still exists to this day.
King Henry VIII destroyed the
monastic system in England in the sixteenth century in order to
quell opposition to his rule and to accumulate greater power and
wealth. He did not destroy the similar institutions
in the universities, probably because he valued the technological
advantage that might derive from their knowledge - he was a great
promoter of technology in the British navy for example. As well
as establishing the Greenwich naval academy (the reason the 0
degree meridian passes through Greenwich) he also endowed Cambridge,
most notably Trinity College, Isaac Newton's college and the college
of many other famous mathematicians and scientists. It remains
the most magnificent of the colleges in Cambridge and the best
college for the aristocracy to attend (most recently Prince Charles,
the Prince of Wales). It is also one of the wealthiest institutions
in Great Britain and, reputedly, does not need the income it derives
from student fees; it now derives its wealth from the land it
owns, particularly Felixstowe docks (the major container port
in the UK) and from the science parks around Cambridge.
It has always been a sign of status
to found a new college in Cambridge and if you could get it named
after you then you had made it to the top. Some of the names of
the older colleges sound rather grand now: Gonville & Caius;
Pembroke; Sidney Sussex; Selwyn. However, some of the more recent
names do not yet have the same ring, for example, Robinson College.
Doubtless, in two hundred years it will sound better.
When to visit Cambridge
The best time to visit Cambridge
as a tourist is in the first half of June, particularly the week
known as May-week - a Cambridge chronological mystery. All exams
are over by then and the students want to relax with parties,
open-air drama, rowing races on the river, all-night balls in
the Colleges and general mayhem. Most of the events are open to
the public and ticket prices are usually low, the exceptions being
the College balls (May balls) where prices are high and tickets
are usually sold-out in April. Only go to a May-ball in a college
that sits along the Backs (the college backs onto the river Cam).
A visit to the bumping races on
the river is well worth while during May-week but means an excursion
outside Cambridge to the north east. Its possible to walk or take
a bicycle - a car is probably inadvisable unless you are familiar
with the area.
Cambridge is crowded with tourists
between April and September. Most arrive and depart by coach in
the same day and don't get much past Silver Street Bridge (to
look at the Mathematical Bridge in Queens' College) and King's
Parade (to see King's College Chapel). Many of the colleges now
charge tourists for admission and restrict the times of access
Walking map of Cambridge - free
The centre of Cambridge is now
virtually accessible only to pedestrians. A good walking map of
Cambridge is the most useful purchase you can make.
Our map is free! You are free
to make as many copies of our map as you want but you may not
There is a better
quality map available via this link.
- Gold star - you ought to see
this spot but it's popular.
- Green bus - where all the tourist
buses put-down and collect their passengers.
- Green trees - pleasant parkland
for walking and resting.
- Red pillar box - post box.
- Blue cup - place to stop for
a non-alcholic refreshment.
- Red tulip - good gardens but
you may not be allowed in.
- Brown knife and spoon - a place
to eat (see later).
- Yellow liquid in tall glass
- pub with some atmosphere.
- Pink thin line - good route
to walk in a day.
- Brown thin line - additional
route if time permits (join-up along the Fen Causeway).
- Blue thick line - river Cam.
Punt hire at Trinity College (Backs) - cheapest but few punts;
Quayside - overlooking Magdalene College; Mill Pond - overlooked
to the North by Silver Street Bridge. Use the Mill Pond also
for punting on the upper-reach of the Cam but you will not see
the Colleges if you punt here and its more difficult punting
along this muddy part of the river.
- Blue letter "i"
- information office of Cambridge City Council. They know everything
and they give good guided walking tours of Cambridge from here.
What to see in Cambridge
Cambridge is small and can only
be visited on-foot. Expect to walk for most of your visit. There
are no hills in the centre of town. Try to stroll along the Backs
between Garret Hostel Lane and King's Bridge. See our free walking
View the beautiful gardens along
the Backs by hiring a boat on the river. Don't miss Clare College
Fellows gardens and Clare Bridge. Try your skills punting! Watch
out for lunatics testing their own skills - particularly young
language students. The easiest option is to take one of the chauffeur-punts,
where in half an hour the chauffeur (usually a Cambridge student)
will whisk you from Silver Street Bridge to Magdalene Bridge and
back again. You should get a potted history and some amusing anecdotes
but a chauffeur trip is expensive, too fast and you miss the chance
to punt by yourself.
Most Cambridge students do not
favour punting on the Backs during daylight and prefer to punt
along the upper-reach of the river to Grantchester. This is much
more difficult due to mud and the greater distance (it takes a
whole day) but there are pubs of character in Grantchester and
the banks of the river offer good locations for an al-fresco party
or romantic encounter.
- Before Henry VIII the monarchs
of England focussed their patronage mainly upon King's College
and lying next to it Queen's College. Both contain some beautiful
buildings. King's College chapel would do as a cathedral
in most other towns. It is one of the most sublimely beautiful
buildings in Cambridge. Started in 1438 and completed 100 years
later it is the emblem of Cambridge. Forget the Reuben's painting
at the alter valued at £ 20,000,000 - look instead at the
wonderful fan-vaulted ceiling, the technological marvel of its
age. A guided tour is well worth while as is attendance at a
service when the choir sings.
- Queen's College Master's lodge
and the mathematical bridge. Try to visit the lodge for an open-air
performance of a Shakespeare play in May week, in June. The Mathematical
bridge was the first bridge in the World to be designed according
to mathematical analysis of the forces in it.
- Trinity College main gate and
main courtyard. Over the gate there is a statue of King Henry
VIII holding an orb and ...a wooden chair leg. Get the story
about the undignified chair leg by going on a guided tour of
Cambridge organised by the tourist office.
- Trinity chapel is worth a visit
but not particularly for the architecture nor for the atmosphere
nor for the choir but it's worth visiting to see statues and
plaques about some of its old-boys: Isaac Newton is probably
best known but Lord Byron went there too with his pet bear. Trinity
boasts more Nobel prize-winners than a certain major European
nation so the list of old boys is impressive. King Henry's influence
- Trinity gardens, overlooking
the river, next to the Wren library during May week in June when
a choir arrives to sing madrigals.
- The view from the top of St
John's College Chapel.
- The view from the top of Great
St Mary's Church - don't be on the stairs when the bells are
- The Erasmus building in St John's
College - this is the oldest surviving building in Cambridge
but access to it is restricted.
- The Fitzwilliam museum - one
of the best art museums outside or inside of London. Great porcelain,
Egyptian artefacts going back to about 4000 BC, kids will love
the armour but don't let them touch! Fantastic.
- The museum in the New Cavendish
Laboratory, JJ Thomson Avenue off Madingley Road. If you are
a physicist you will enjoy sitting down at Maxwell's old desk
or seeing the vacuum tube used by JJ Thomson when the electron
was discovered. The photographs of Cavendish people are worth
looking at too. No crowds for this delightful, small museum.
- Downing College. Spacious, quiet
buildings with a grand design.
- Magdalene College - beautiful
gardens and buildings. The Samuel Pepys library is here but jealously
guarded - don't expect to get to see it.
- Scott Polar Museum - worth a
visit to see old arctic and antarctic memorabilia.
- Sidgwick Museum on Pembroke
Street - see those old dinosaur bones close-up.
- Fitzbillie's confectionery shop
- get some of those famous sticky buns. You can even buy them
boxed and ready to be posted.
- Americans may want to visit
Emmanuel College (outside the area shown on the walking map -
east at the end Pembroke Street) because several famous Americans
(then not famous Brits) went to settle in America after studying
at Emma. For example William Penn (of Pennsylvania fame) and
- The ADC theatre (by Jesus Lane)
is where many famous actors and comedians have started their
careers. Try to see the Footlights review - preferably after
it comes back from the Edinburgh festival (October) when the
students have had a chance to hone their performances. Keep the
programme and maybe in a few years you will see some names re-appear
- The roof of one of the bars
in the Eagle pub has names and squadron names left by airmen
stationed around Cambridge during the second World war - many
American. The names were scorched-on using cigarette lighters.
There are some pictures to see. If this is of interest then you
should visit the American Cemetry outside Cambridge (Madingley
- west of Cambridge 2 miles) and or the Imperial War Museum at
Duxford (south of Cambridge about 15 miles by the M11).
- The American cemetery outside
Cambridge. Visit the cemetery and the unusual Chapel.
- The Botanical gardens - in summer.
A haven of peace and tranquillity - a good place to rest the
- The meadows between Silver Street
Bridge and Fen Causeway. There are some nice footbridges to explore,
water-fowl to admire, a good children's open-air play area and
a secluded swimming pool formerly for university dons (allegedley
for nude bathing). Also a good place to rest and eat - watch
out for cows. Unfortunately, the busy Fen Causeway cuts through
- The Technology Museum, Cheddar
Lane off Newmarket Road. A bit off the beaten track but you can
get there by following the river out north-east, but stay on
the south side of the river - look out for a tall, brick chimney.
Check on opening times because the museum is run by volunteers.
This is a museum for steam enthusiasts and environmentalists.
It is the disused surface water pumping station for Cambridge
built in Victorian times. It has an old steam pumping engine
and a couple of newer, town-gas pumping engines. An old boiler
used to be fired using waste from the city (hence the environmental
angle) otherwise the pollution from the chimney was presumably
What to avoid in Cambridge
- Some of the shops on King's
Parade pander to the worst susceptibilities of tourists.
- Falling in the river if you
go punting - don't drink the water!
- Eating in Cambridge - its improving
but I remember getting served a caterpillar in my salad once
in the Whim restaurant (now thankfully departed). Personal preferences
are for Brown's Restaurant (opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum),
Fitzbillies (buns to buy), the garden (next to the river) Garden
House Moat House Hotel.
There is a wide selection of postcards
on sale in Cambridge. A personal recommendation goes for the cards
produced by a Cambridge company called Cambridge Portfolio - the
photographs are all beautiful views of Cambridge and must have
been staged painstakingly. Cambridge Portfolio also makes calendars
that are good gifts for Christmas.
Places to stay in Cambridge
The Cambridge Tourist Information
Office can help you find accommodation in Cambridge - telephone
+44 (0)1223 322640.
- Garden House Moat House Hotel
- best location in Cambridge next to the river, central, quiet,
plenty of parking. Arguably the best hotel in Cambridge but also
one of the most expensive. Interesting history in the 1960's
when it was burnt to the ground in a student riot.
- Hotel du Vin - we like the bistro
but it's expensive.
- University Arms Hotel - Victorian
style with chandeliers, noisy location, overlooking a park. Also
- Crowne Plaza - modern, central.
- Hotel Felix - quiet location,
plenty of parking out of town but close to Girton College and
a pleasant walk into the centre in about 15 minutes.
- Youth Hostels - there is one
overlooking Parker's Piece that is reasonably central.
- You may be able to stay in one
of the Colleges. Its certainly worth trying and if you can get
into one of the older colleges then you can look forward to taking
your meals in a beautiful, old dinning hall, with wooden panelling,
portraits of the old masters (of the college), chandelliers and
grace said in Latin. This would be my choice.
Cambridge is now over-provided
- Heffer's on Trinity Street for
academic books, travel, book-signings.
- Waterstones on Sidney Street
- try the coffee shop on the top floor.
- Various antiquarian bookshops
in the backstreets off King's Parade.
Unusual or interesting
- Fitzwilliam Museum - one of
the best museums outside of London. Personal favourites are Egyptian
remains. New wing has a reasonalbe restaurant for lunch.
- Kettle's Yard art gallery. Castle
Hill, just north of Magdalene College.
- Round Church. Best admired from
outside but it is old.
- Folk Museum, Castle Hill. Recently
renovated and improved. Small, easily missed by the traffic lights
at the bottom of the hill.
- Dinosaur fossils in the museum
on Pembroke Street.
- Whipple museum next to the Old
Cavendish on Free School Lane - close to King's Parade.
- The ceiling in the Eagle pub
just off King's Parade.
- Many Nobel prizes were won in
Cambridge in the 20th century. There are plaques to a few around
the Eagle (where the structure of DNA may have been discovered)
and on Free School Lane.
Baby changing facilities
Woefully poor in Cambridge are
the facilities for mums and dads of small children.
- Boots the Chemist in Petty Curry
has a changing room near the escalator on the ground floor -
well done Boots. Handy in emergencies because of its easy access.
- Mothercare in Lion Yard has
changing rooms but these are downstairs.
- The new Parkside swimming pool
has family changing rooms with good baby changing facilities.
Amusements for children
- Punting on the river is fun
for well-behaved children but deadly for the hyper-active ones!
If you have a boisterous child go on the upper-reach of the river
because the excellent punt-hire company there has floatation
vests for children (and adults if you want). Punting there is
quieter and its possible to get off the boat into the meadows.
Also the river passes close to a good playground for children
(Lammas Land) and when you return the punt the punt-hire company
has a good place to sit and eat ice-cream.
- Playgrounds: Jesus Green and
Lammas land (south-west of the Fen Causeway).
- Open-air swimming pool next
to the river on Jesus Green and another shallower pool at Lammas
- The old Victorian pumping station
off Newmarket Road - only open infrequently.