City of Cambridge, UK.
 

See our new up-dated site with tourist information on Cambridge.

Location

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 boost morale!

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 for visitors.

Walking map of Cambridge - free here!

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 sell them.

There is a better quality map available via this link.

Key:

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 map above.

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.

What to avoid in Cambridge

Postcards

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.

Bookshops 

Cambridge is now over-provided for bookshops!

Unusual or interesting

Baby changing facilities

Woefully poor in Cambridge are the facilities for mums and dads of small children.

Amusements for children