I should have written this one a long time ago since I lived just minutes away. But, for whatever reason, I never thought of it. Maybe because I was too busy Instagramming the city 😜
Since many of you will most likely be arriving via plane or car from the direction of London, let me start this post with how to get to Cambridge from London.
While you can walk and cycle to Cambridge, I am going to focus on taking the bus, train or car to this amazing city (which I still claim as my city 😏).
If you drove from, what I like to call, the mainland, just use your car SatNav or mobile phone SatNav (Google Maps, Waze or Map.me) and mosey your way on to Cambridge. If you are still in the planning stage and want to know what the cost of petrol will be, use ViaMichellin’s website to help you with this.
For parking, you have a few choices to choose from. Like many cities in the UK, Cambridge has a fabulous P&R service. Coming from London, you’d see the Babraham P&R first if on the A11 and Trumpington P&R if on the M11. If by any chance you came via the Amsterdam/Hook of Holland ferry to Harwich, your nearest P&R will be the Newmarket one. This was my usual spot to park the car.
The cost is very affordable, £3/pp, compared to parking in the city. The car itself is free for the first 18hrs. After that it’s £10/day. Do though visit the website for the latest info on pricing. You can pay in cash or card at the machine on-site or, pay cash or contactless card to the driver. You can have up to three children per paying adult. The stop for the P&R will be
If you rather park in the city, you can use their website to find which car park is available. Unless you are there early a weekend or on a really miserable day, the Grafton is often full. Which is quite interesting because this is the most expensive car park in Cambridge. Unless I plan on doing some serious shopping (then I’d queue and wait for a spot at the mall), my go-to car park is Queen Ann’s. There’s almost always a spot for me here.
You can also park at the train station and from there rent a bicycle. This is how the local travel within the city, besides walking, and you can cover a bit more ground.
You can catch the bus to Cambridge from either Bethnal Green or Victoria Coach Station. Ideally, you want to go from Victoria Station. There is a faster bus coming from this station vs from Bethnal Green. You can use the Omio website/app to purchase your tickets, at the station or directly on National Express’s website. Going direct on the website is the cheapest! You can get to Cambridge for only £4.70/pp one-way (Omio was £7 for the same time).
Tip: For the cheapest fare, try to buy the tickets a few days in advance. On the day, the cheapest maybe twice as much, if not way more. This is the same for train travels in the UK.
My favourite way of getting between London and Cambridge. There are two train schedules, the one I usually go on is the one that takes 45/50min from King’s Cross station. You can also hop on the train that has more stops along the way. Whichever one will get you to Cambridge. You can also catch the train leaving Liverpool Street station.
If you travel to Cambridge on a weekend, you can take advantage of the discounted off-peak round trip ticket that is around £13-18/pp.
Unfortunately, during the weekday, you will have to pay a steeper price of around £38/pp. To get a cheaper price, you will need to buy timed tickets like the example below, a £20 round trip cost.
You are now finally here! What to do?
Cambridge has many things to offer. You can wander around looking at all the colleges, you can punt, you can watch people punt, try some of the offerings at the market, on a good day, have a picnic lunch or have a lovely walk/bike ride to Grantchester and back.
Do note, if you plan on visiting the colleges, try to make sure that you’re not visiting during exam week and also before and a bit after graduation. Many if not all the colleges will be closed for visitors, or with limited time. If you are allowed to enter, please be respectful of those teaching and learning there. Another note, don’t step on the grass. You’ll be told off. I know from experience 🙈
In my humble opinion, Cambridge needs two days to really do it justice. But if you only have a day, you can. You may have to remove a few colleges for example. Maybe just visit King’s or skip King’s and do the other free colleges. Or, not sit down to eat/drink much. In the summer, this itinerary is more doable because the days are just so much longer. Without further ado, here’s my suggestion. But first, coffee!
Upon arrival, make your way to any of these cafes for coffee and possibly breakfast.
Espresso Library: One of my favourite for coffee and avocado on toast. If you arrive by bus or parked at Queen Ann’s car park, this will be your nearest coffee shop.
Hot Numbers on Trumpington St: Cambridge isn’t short of fantastic coffee shops I tell you and this place roasts and sells their own coffee. When arriving by train or you parked at Queen Ann’s, this cafe will be en-route to King’s College.
Fitzbillies: Another favourite, not far from Pembroke College is this wonderful cafe. Besides coffee and breakfast, Fitzbillies is well known for its buns. Give it a try and tell me what you think! Only in Cambridge!!
If you get on/off the P&R bus on Bridge Street and in need of coffee and/or a bite to eat, there is a Fitzbillies on that street also. Besides Fitzbillies, there is Bould Brothers Coffee. A fabulous coffee shop that is more often than not, busy. Seating is limited but if you’re lucky and be able to snag one, it’s a treat of a place!
Once you have a full stomach, in one, I suggest the following itinerary — assuming you came by train but you can adjust accordingly if you came from the other direction. Use Google Maps while going through the below itinerary.
- Swing by Peterhouse College. It is the oldest and smallest of the University of Cambridge colleges. The chapel is stunning!
- A visit to Pembroke College is a must. It’s one of my favourite colleges to visit and it’s free.
- Between Pembroke and King’s College is a funky bug clock, the Corpus Clock. I am not a fan myself but it is unique and while you are there, may as well give this clock a look.
- Around the corner from this clock is the Eagle’s Pub. Back during WW2, this was the hangout place of US service members. Now, if you look up, you can see many of their signatures. This pub was also where DNA was most likely talked about a lot. Watson and Crick hung out here quite a bit and supposedly, Watson walked in one day and announced that he and Watson found the secret of life.
- King’s College. It’s not free but the entrance fee isn’t bad either.
- Across from King’s College is Great St Mary’s Church. There is a small fee to enter and go up to the tower but it’d worth it. From up there you can get some fabulous view and of course, photos.
- From the church tower you’ll notive that the market is just behind the church. Visit it and try some of the street food that are there. I have my favourites but they are all good!
- If the weather is nice and you crave gelato, Aromi is just around the corner on Peas Hill. You’ll see Cath Kidston from the market and pass it is Aromi. They also sell delicious coffee, pizza and arancini. I ALWAYS stop by here for arancini. No shame!
- After the market, and if you didn’t get enough to eat yet, there are a few delicious options around that area. Use Google Maps/TripAdvisor to find what you want to eat near you, or, some of my favourites are Bread and Meat, SmokeWorks, Honest Burgers, Sticks’N’Sushi, Nanna Mexico. For quick and inexpensive options, Pret A Manger and McDonald’s isn’t far and a bit nicer, The Ivy Cambridge (the Ivy also does a nice full English until 11am).
- Next is Gonville and Caius. I love the main quad here and also the chapel. I have always hoped to bump into Stephen Hawking but alas, that hope never came true.
- Between Gonville and the Senate House is a passage. Walk through it. It’s a gorgeous passage and it’ll take you to Clare College. Clare is almost always open, even during exam days. Be respectful, walk through the gate to the back of the college. There is a bridge back there and it’s a pretty view.
- Keep walking and before you hit the road is a right turn. Turn right. On Google Map, you’ll see two green space. After South Paddock, turn right. This will take you to Trinity College. This area is also very picturesque. Spend some times snapping and admiring.
- When you hit Trinity college, turn right. From the main road, you need to turn left. But before you do, go right first and snap a few photos from this bridge. BE CAREFUL! Lots of bikes whizzing through. I mean really whizzing through sometimes.
- Trinity College requires a small fee to enter and view. But, as you walk back to Trinity Lane, you’ll see a decent size gate on your left. This gate is usually open and you can enter, at least until the do not enter sign, and snap a few quick photos of the quad.
- After this gate, you’ll hit Trinity Lane. Turn left and follow this road back to Trinity Street. The street you’ll be walking on is another stunning street. Look forward and backwards for some more amazing architecture and photo opportunities.
- Turn left on Trinity Street and you will then pass the main gate of Trinity College. This would be where you pay and enter if you wish. After this gate is the Isaac Newton apple tree. FYI: This isn’t really THE apple tree. If such a tree exists, it’ll most likely be at his home in Woolsthorpe Manor — a highly recommended place to visit if you are in the area longer and have a car.
- If you are visiting on a Saturday, across from the apple tree would be the Saturday arts and crafts market. If you’re looking for a local souvenir made by local artists, this may be the place to find such a thing.
- After Trinity College, and with college on your left, keep walking and you will hit the Round Church. This church is not unique, it is also the second oldest building in Cambridge. Loads of history and if you wish, you can also book a walking tour while you’re here. The tour starts at 2pm.
- Tired after this walk? Visit the 1815 bar just around the corner! It has coffee, refreshing beer and wine, and also food. All profits go to charity. Two of my favourite coffee spots are here also, Bould Brothers and Fitzbillies.
- After the church and may after a sit-down, go punting! As you walk a long the city, you’ll notice many young folks offering punting service. You can either purchase then or you can also pre-book online. I don’t know if it’s any cheaper pre-booking or not. Often you can negotiate in person. But if you want to pre-book and guarantee cheapest price, you can try these companies: Scudamore, Cambridge Punting, Let’s Go Punting. Punting is awesome because you can get a different view of the colleges and along the way get a good view of Mathematical Bridge and Bridge of Sighs.
- After the punting, you can either go back towards the Round Church and make your way back to the city centre and the bus to either take you back to car park, P&R or train station. Or, pop into Magdalene College right next to where punt ended.
- Heading back, you can peek into Sidney Sussex College and Christ College.
I know it’s a full day but on a long summer day, it’s a do-able loop. During the shorter winter months, you’ll just have to be a bit more choosy. If you’re struggling to choose, things not to miss in Cambridge is: punting. This will give you not only a fabulous view via the river but also a bit of history. Most of the punters are students and they know their Cambridge! After punting, it depends on your interest. I’d pick one of the colleges to visit, go up to St Mary’s tower for a fab view, and Eagle’s Pub.
If you rather do a tour, Cambridge has a fantastic free walking tour which will take you to all of the colleges I mentioned above. While it is free, if you are happy with your tour (which I am sure you will be), leave your student guide a nice tip. There are usually two tours a day, one at 11am and the other at 2pm. Booking can be done online and if you rather a private tour, you can book this also.
In my day trip itinerary above I didn’t include wandering about the pretty neighbourhood of Cambridge. There just isn’t enough time to do that on a day trip to Cambridge. But, in case your Cambridge goal is to wander about these pretty areas, you can find those areas in Google Maps provided below.
For a longer visit, and if the weather is decent, a walk to Grantchester and back. Grantchester is a lovely village and if you’re familiar with the TV show with the same name, well, this was where the series was shot.