The university town of Cambridge is less than 60 miles from London and easily reached for a day visit by train from King’s Cross Station (of Harry Potter fame) or by driving out on the M11 motorway.
To choose the top 9 things to do in this ancient town on the edge of East Anglia isn’t easy, as there are so many visitor attractions, not least its many old colleges. Most of these can be visited outside of term time, though a lot of them now charge an admission fee after many years – centuries even – of being free for visitors. If it’s the colleges which especially interest you, then avoid the examination period of April-June. Try to check in advance if the colleges are open (many have websites), as they are a major part of any visit to Cambridge.
9 of the best things to see and do in Cambridge are:
1 The Backs
If visiting in spring or summer, don’t miss the Backs, which are quite simply the backs of the colleges, beside the River Cam. These green and open areas are filled with colorful flowers, and shady trees.
2 Christ’s College
Founded in 1505, and with a beautiful courtyard, two of its most famous students were the poet Milton, author of Paradise Lost, and Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species.
3 Emmanuel College
American visitors will want to see the chapel window with its portrait of John Harvard, who studied here before going off to America in the 1630s, later to found Harvard Univesity. Emmanuel itself was founded in 1584 and parts were designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
4 Fitzwilliam Museum
Cambridge’s main art museum has a good collection of ancient artefacts from the Egyptian and Chinese civilisations, English porcelain, and an art collection which includes works by Titian, Matisse and Picasso. A recent renovation has also improved the displays and made it a delightful place to spend an hour or two.
5 Jesus College
Founded in 1496, Jesus College is slightly out of the centre and Jesus Green is a popular open spot. The college itself is well worth seeing, retaining some of the atmosphere of its early days.
6 King’s College And Chapel
King’s College Chapel is perhaps the number one thing to see in Cambridge, a glorious late 15th-century building which lifts the spirits. One of the classic views of Cambridge is of the back of King’s College across the Backs.
If the weather is fine then take a punt on the Cam, and you can ether do it yourself or pay someone to do the hard work (and it’s trickier than it looks) while you lie back and enjoy the views and a truly relaxing experience.
8 Queen’s College
Dates back to 1448, and one of its most photographed features is its Mathematical Bridge, so-called because it was allegedly constructed on mathematical grounds so that it would stand without needing bolts and nails. The one there today is a 1902 copy of the 18th-century original… which did not stand the test of time.
9 Trinity College
Dates to 1546 when it was founded by King Henry VIII, and the largest college in Cambridge – another much-photographed view. Its eclectic list of past students includes famous names like Sir Isaac Newton, Wittgenstein, Tennyson, Bertrand Russell, Nabokov and Prince Charles.