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Cambridge is famously the home of the University of Cambridge. The city has been intertwined with the University since its founding in 1209. Thanks to this relationship, Cambridge has an array of places of interest that appeal to lovers of history, science, architecture, and other academic pursuits. While there are plenty of historic things to see in Cambridge, it still has all of the great energy you’d expect from a university town. It’s close enough that you can easily take a Cambridge day trip from London. You can either do a day trip to Cambridge on your own or via a group tour. This Cambridge travel guide contains details on how to get to Cambridge, things to see & do in Cambridge, where to eat & drink in Cambridge, & more.
Getting to Cambridge from London
Public Transportation from London to Cambridge
There are a few different ways to get to Cambridge from London. There are frequent trains from London Kings Cross to Cambridge, with the shortest journeys taking less than an hour. Other trains to Cambridge also depart from London Liverpool Street & London St. Pancras. Book ahead for the cheapest fares. Buses are available, but with a journey time of almost 3 hours, they aren’t a good option for a Cambridge day trip.
Once you’re in Cambridge, there’s a little bit of a walk to the city center & colleges from the train station, but it’s easily broken up with sights along the way. Overall, Cambridge is easily covered on foot, by bike, or by hop-on, hop-off buses.
Cambridge Tours from London
Things to do in Cambridge (Tourist attractions, museums, tours, activities, & more)
Thanks to its academic nature, the best things to see & do in Cambridge often relate to the University, whether it’s the beautiful college grounds, museums, or historic sites. However, for those who enjoy the outdoors, there’s also plenty of green space plus boating on the River Cam. Here are the best Cambridge activities, including museums, tours, gardens, boating, & more.
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge dominates Cambridge. The school is comprised of 31 colleges of varying sizes. Trinity College, Christ’s College, King’s College, Corpus Christi College, & St. John’s College are some of the best known, serving as the iconic images of the University.
Some colleges are open for public visits, depending on the date & time. If there’s a particular area you want to visit, research ahead of time. Cambridge is of course an active university with students & staff trying to go about their days, so keep in mind that you are a guest and entry is limited. Given the vast history of the University of Cambridge, a guided tour is a good way to learn about the places you’re visiting & also ensure more access. Book guided Cambridge tours here.
Over the centuries, some of the most famous Brits have attended or conducted research at Cambridge, including everyone from notable scientists like Charles Darwin & Sir Isaac Newton to celebrities such as Sir Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson. Many of the other highlights of Cambridge relate to the University of Cambridge in some way but are worthy of noting separately.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam Museum is the main museum of the University of Cambridge. Entry is free. The museum’s art & historical artifact exhibits cover all eras, from the ancient world to the 20th century, specializing in religious art, domestic art, and portraits.
Great St. Mary’s Church
Great St. Mary’s is the University Church of Cambridge. The current building was constructed in the 15th & 16th centuries, though the foundations of the church may date back to 1010. Climb up the 123 steps of the University Church tower to get panoramic views of the Cambridge city center.
Cambridge University Botanic Garden
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden is a beautiful green space in Cambridge. The 40-acre botanic garden has over 8,000 different species of plants from around the world, including outdoor collections as well as indoor glasshouses. Gardens cover every season, so there is always something pretty to see no matter when in the year you take a day trip to Cambridge.
Punting on the River Cam
Parts of Cambridge, including the University of Cambridge grounds are best seen by boat. In several places along the River Cam, you can rent a punt or take a guided punt tour.
Given what I saw from the shore, you might want to leave it up to the professionals if you want to spend more of your time enjoying the architectural views of the College Backs and less time struggling with a boat. Book Cambridge punting & River Cam activities here.
Mathematical Bridge is one of the highlights of the River Cam. You can view the wooden footbridge from Silver Street. Further along the river, there are other notable bridges, including the Bridge of Sighs.
Parker’s Piece is one of the largest parks in Cambridge. It’s perhaps most famous as being the spot where the rules of association football (soccer) were first established. Today, it’s a popular place for picnics, sports, and concerts.
Christ’s Pieces is another favorite Cambridge park. Since it’s closer to the University & also serves as a cut-through to different areas of Cambridge, it’s a bit busier. The park has tennis courts & bowling greens, as well as a memorial to Princess Diana.
The Corpus Clock
The Corpus Clock, AKA the Grasshopper Clock, has mesmerized Cambridge since its unveiling by Stephen Hawking in 2008. The golden clock is hard to describe. You either have to read the long Wikipedia description or see it in action for yourself.
University Museum of Zoology
The University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology is one of the most popular places to visit in Cambridge. The free museum houses thousands of animal specimens ranging from tiny insects to elephants & whales. Some of the specimens were collected by Charles Darwin.
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is located on the same street as the Museum of Zoology (Downing Street). The museum, which is also free, has exhibits relating to the Earth, including fossils, minerals & rocks, and building stones.
Museum of Archeology & Anthropology
The Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology is also on Downing Street, making all three museums good rainy day activities in Cambridge. The free museum’s collection of over 1 million artifacts from around the world covers over 2 million years of history, from archaeological finds to art.
Scott Polar Research Institute (Polar Museum)
Run by the University of Cambridge’s Department of Geography, the Scott Polar Research Institute & the Polar Museum are dedicated to the Earth’s cold extremes. The museum’s entry is currently limited to just Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, but go here for the latest information.
The Centre For Computing History
Fans of computers & video games will love the Centre For Computing History. The museum has hundreds of devices in its collection. Many of them are hands-on. The centre is open on weekends year-round, with an expanded calendar during the summer months.
Kettle’s Yard is a free University of Cambridge art museum. First curated by resident H.S (Jim) Ede, the museum’s focus is on 20th-century art. Since Ede’s departure, the House remains almost unchanged, though there are also galleries that host temporary exhibitions.
Newton’s Apple Tree
Everyone knows the story of Sir Isaac Newton & the apple tree. While he first formulated his theory of gravity at his childhood home of Woolsthorpe Manor, the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College is home to an apple tree that has been grafted from the original. The tree can be found near the Trinity College entrance on Trinity Street.
Cambridge Market Square
Cambridge Market Square has been home to vendors for around 1,000 years. Every day from 10 am to 4 pm, you can find people selling food & drink, fresh produce, books, art, gifts, jewelry, clothing, and more in Market Square.
The Eagle has been a popular Cambridge pub for hundreds of years. If you want a classic pub experience on your Cambridge day trip, there’s no better place in town.
The Eagle oozes with history from every corner, from the RAF Bar where airmen drank during World War II to the room where Crick & Watson first announced their DNA findings.
The Cambridge Gin Laboratory
Gin fanatics will love the Cambridge Gin Laboratory. Operated by Cambridge Distillery, the Gin Laboratory offers tastings, cocktail classes, and even the ability to make your own gin.
Places to eat & drink in Cambridge
Cambridge has a few good food options. If you’re after British food, check out Bread & Meat, Pint Shop, or The Corner House. Restaurant 22 is known for its tasting menus. DoppelGanger Burger serves vegan burgers that even meat-eaters rave about. For Italian food, try Limoncello, Tradizioni, or Al Pomodoro. For Indian food, visit Taj Tandoori or Tawa Kitchen.
There are several great places for craft beer in Cambridge, including Thirsty Cambridge, The Cambridge Brew House, and the aforementioned Pint Shop.
If you decide to take an overnight trip to Cambridge, check out these Cambridge hotels.
Last updated on July 4, 2022