Famous across the world for its university, Cambridge is more than just a hotbed of academic achievement. It's also a beautiful, fascinating tourist destination, with a romance all its own.
Tour the colleges of the university and walk in the footsteps of figures like Charles Darwin or Oliver Cromwell. Sit in the pews of King's College Chapel to hear the choir perform, before strolling along the Backs and stopping for a drink in the Granta. Or hire punts (long, narrow boats) and drift down to Grantchester to spend the evening in the beer gardens there.
With museums like the Fitzwilliam offering history and artistic masterpieces, and Michelin-starred restaurants like Midsummer House, Cambridge is a delight, and you'll be sure to fall for its charms.
Cambridge has been one of the world's great seats of learning since the 1200s and its colleges are an architectural marvel. Visitors can stroll around most of them, including King's, Clare, St John's, Peterhouse, Jesus, Magdalene, and Queens'. All have their own character, and all are worth visiting.
Once you've seen the city's colleges, head to the Fitzwilliam Museum, a treasure trove of Egyptian antiquities and artistic masterpieces from major names like Degas and Canaletto. You can also see artifacts from Darwin's voyage on the Beagle at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, a wonderful collection of scientific instruments at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, and a superb exhibition about exploration at the Polar Museum.
Cambridge is also a city of pubs (over 100 actually), with highlights including the Eagle (where Watson and Crick debated the nature of DNA), and the Granta, where diners and drinkers can watch the Cam flow lazily by on the wooden terrace.
The River Cam lies at the heart of Cambridge life. When the weather is warm, students and tourists alike flock to the punting companies near Queens' College to take their punting pole and test their balance as they glide down the river. You can punt as far as Grantchester if you like, where you'll discover a gorgeous English village.
Cambridge has been home to some of history's great figures, from Charles Darwin and Lord Byron to Stephen Hawking and Samuel Pepys, and Green Badge tour guides can tell you all about it during your stay. For an even more immersive experience, why not book accommodation in Cambridge colleges themselves? Outside the educational calendar, there should be plenty of rooms available.
King's College at the University of Cambridge is one of the most renowned institutions of higher learning in the world, and the crowning jewel of its campus is this gothic chapel. Events have been held here since the 16th century. Its symmetry is perfect, and the details on the spires stand out to make for a delicate whole. From inside, the great windows let in dazzling light. For more history, take a walk through the atmospheric grounds to Trinity Hall and the Church of St. Mary the Great.
The Fitzwilliam Museum welcomes nearly half a million visitors each year, about the same as the number of artworks housed in this regal building. A walk through these galleries seems to cover every time period and style in the the history of art, from antiquity to the present day. Of course the English collection is especially comprehensive, but the museum also boasts such pieces as bas-reliefs from Persepolis. Keep an eye out for events and special exhibitions too.
One of the most relaxing ways to discover Cambridge is from the water, with a tour along the Cam. This river flows right through Cambridge, and boating is a popular activity for locals and tourists alike. The classic punt-boat tour is particularly atmospheric, and will bring you past the famous Chapel and Wren Library, under the Bridge of Sighs and the Mathematical Bridge. The history of the city unfolds with every moseying inch forward on the gentle stream.
Since 1956 this memorial has stood just outside of Cambridge, in honor of the American men and women who died in service during World War II. The chapel on sight offers a beautiful space for reflection, and outside rows upon rows of perfectly aligned white crosses dot the landscape. Nearly half of the American citizens interred on the British Isles rest within this moving corner of England. To this day, visitors place flowers and commemorative items by the anonymous crosses to remember the legacy of these soldiers.
Forty acres of land owned by the University of Cambridge are dedicated to the cultivation and study of thousands of plant and trees. Gardens with unique themes abound, with favorites like the autumn's color garden or the genetics garden, where the process of biological engineering and breeding is shown at its finest. Glass houses also protect foreign plants, meaning alpine flowers and tropical climates are at your fingertips.
If you want to see rowing boats skimming the Cam and the town's arts scene at its liveliest, visiting Cambridge during semester time is a must (October is a good time to go, as are April and May). Summer sees the best weather for punting, but also bigger tourist crowds in the major colleges and museums.
Cambridge doesn't have its own airport, but it's only about 50 miles from London, so you can fly into any of the capital's main airports. Stansted (STN) is the closest and offers direct rail connections (costing £12.50), but you can easily get from Heathrow to Cambridge via King's Cross at a cost of around £20.
Cambridge Station has a direct connection to central London via King's Cross. Over 100 trains make the journey every day, so there are always convenient departure times. The fare is around £20 and the journey takes about an hour in total.
If you are driving to Cambridge from London, there are two major routes. Firstly, you can take the A1 (M) to St Neots and change onto the A426. Alternatively, you can take the M11 straight to Cambridge. The A14 links Cambridge to Norfolk, while the A1 (M) also connects the city to the North.
Cambridge bus station is very close to the center of town (much closer than the train station) and is served by National Express and Megabus. National Express link the city to London, while Megabus provides a handy link between Oxford and Cambridge if you want to see both university cities.
If you want a convenient city center hotel with luxury accommodation, the best option is definitely the Hilton DoubleTree, but the De Vere University Arms is also worth a look. Most of the other accommodation providers are slightly further out, including guesthouses like Chequer Cottage and Brooklands and the Hotel Felix. You can also book rooms in the colleges during semester breaks, which offer a unique vacation experience.
Cambridge City Center - the heart of Cambridge is clustered around Market Square and King's College. It's where you'll find stores like John Lewis and Heffers Booksellers (the largest book store), excellent restaurants like the Gardenia and Varsity, and many of the oldest colleges, including Peterhouse, St John's, and Magdalene.
The Backs - the Backs are found east of Queen's Road and run alongside the River Cam just to the west of the city center. This is the place to watch university rowers honing their skills, or it's a great place to obtain the best views of King's College Chapel.
Grantchester - made famous by the poet Rupert Brooke, Grantchester is a gorgeous village just south of Cambridge that can be reached by punt or beautiful footpaths along the Cam. You'll find some of the best pubs in the area like the Red Lion and even upmarket hotels like Anstey Hall Hotel. It's an idyllic place to base yourself as you explore Cambridge.
The center of Cambridge and almost all of the colleges can be seen on foot or by bicycle with ease. However, there's also a useful local bus network, which is particularly handy for getting to and from the station. You pay for tickets on the bus and prices vary up to a maximum of £2, while day passes cost £4.10.
If you want to see all of the colleges, churches, and museums in Cambridge, hopping between them by taxi is another option worth thinking about, but it's not cheap. For example, a trip from the gates of King's to Jesus College's entrance will cost around £4.50.
Visitors who base themselves in the outskirts of Cambridge or Grantchester will find a rental car is very handy. Companies operating in Cambridge include Thrifty, Avis, and Europcar and rates start at around £15 per day. However, the local government makes it tough to drive around the center of town, preferring that drivers use the numerous Park and Ride services instead. A good option is to park outside the center and walk in, or just save your vehicle for trips to nearby attractions like Ely.
If you want to shop for Cambridge University-branded souvenirs, there are plenty of stores in town selling hooded tops, caps, and other items. The best places in town for general shopping are probably John Lewis and Lion Yard in the town center, or the Grafton Centre, where you'll find chains like Next and Debenhams. There's also a lively market in Market Square that sells everything from leather goods to fruit and vegetables.
The center of Cambridge includes supermarkets like Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's, which are good places to stock up on groceries, as is the large branch of Waitrose in Trumpington. Prices won't be too high, at around £3.50 for a gallon of milk and £2.50 for a sandwich and a drink.
Cambridge has plenty to offer food lovers. If cheese is your passion, don't miss the Cambridge Cheese Company. For gourmet meals, Alimentum and Midsummer House are Michelin-starred local highlights, while pubs like the Cambridge Brew House and the Eagle offer gastropub food and great beers. Indian food is another highlight, with a clutch of great restaurants including Navadhanya and Vedanta. Expect to pay £40 or more per head at gourmet restaurants, around £15 for a curry, and between £8 and £15 for pub lunches.