The city of Cambridge plays host to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. However, there is so much more to it than that. When visiting East Anglia, you simply can’t pass up on the chance to explore this charming town’s rich history and bustling modern culture.
The very best way to travel around Cambridge is, of course, by bike. The image of cycling through the winding cobbled streets of such an historic university city is, for many, the epitome of the Cambridge experience. This is a town where the cyclist reigns supreme, and you best be prepared to join them or get out of their way. Alternatively, if you’re not partial to a bit of pedal pushing, there is a fantastic public bus service that connects the surrounding area to the town centre. Though Cambridge officially has city status due to the university, it is more like a good-sized town so is fairly easy to navigate on foot, by bike, taxi or bus. Driving in Cambridge is not recommended due to the traffic restrictions and necessary navigation of narrow streets.
The River Cam
The river that runs through the centre of the town is what lends it the name Cambridge. It is, in fact, the major river in this part of England and, as such, has always held some importance. These days, you can stroll along its banks past the impressive King’s College chapel and Clare College (otherwise known as The Backs), or, if you want the best view, hop in a punt and see the city from the water. The city is famous for its bridges and, although not all are accessible by foot, you can see a good number of them from the river. Personally, I’m a keen mathematician and always like to keep my mind busy with the weekly sudoku, a few hands of blackjack or even an NRICH puzzle on my phone. Therefore my bridge of choice is the Mathematical Bridge, built from straight wooden timbers yet creating a beautiful arched shape.
Another must-visit, though, is the romantically named Bridge of Sighs. There are several bridges in the world that bear this name, but the example in Cambridge is no less spectacular for it.
As one of the most famous student cities in the world, Cambridge abounds with little cafes and eateries just begging to be visited. Many are located opposite impressive views, such as those lined up alongside the frankly breathtaking King’s College. It’s quite a treat to enjoy your cappuccino or afternoon tea looking out at that vista. There are also plenty of cosy places squirreled away down the charming little backstreets that make up the town centre. Whatever the weather, these are the perfect places to take a rest from exploring and drink in the academic culture surrounding you. I love to visit The Anchor, a riverside pub with a handy terrace where you can watch all the activity happening out on the Cam.
Churches and Historical Architecture
It comes as no surprise that a town with such a long history has some of the most incredible examples of architecture in England. The university colleges themselves are fantastic, but there is so much more to be seen too.The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Round Church, is a fascinating little find that is very interesting to wander around. The original structure was built way back in 1130 so it’s had a rich and varied life; you can read about all the different times it has survived through in the exhibit within its walls. It also hosts a study centre for the lucky few, known officially as the scriptorium. If you prefer something slightly more modern, then make sure you check out the Sainsbury Laboratory in the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens themselves provide an excellent opportunity to meander through lush vegetation and expertly grown flowers (as well as hosting an apple tree grown from the very one Newton sat under), but the Lab is a fine example of modern architecture.
Bookshops and Literary History
Many of those remembered as the world’s literary greats have spent time in Cambridge. Charles Darwin, C. S. Lewis, Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson and Sylvia Plath all studied in the city whereas Virginia Woolf certainly visited. Therefore, it makes sense that there are plenty of top rate bookshops to be found within its boundaries.
If you’re a certified bookworm then you must head to Heffers; a bookshop with the size of a Borders or large Waterstones, but with a twist. It has a fantastic range of stock, everything from classics to modern novels, and also sells beautiful locally produced notebooks. Alternatively, you could check out the mysterious sounding Haunted Book Shop, which specialises in children’s books and illustrated works.