My home town
I've done a number of other top 10 things to do in various other cities such as my trips to Barcelona or New York but this one is a little closer to home with the Top 10 things to do in Cambridge. For those who don't know Cambridge is my home town. I was born in the city and apart from a few years living in Colchester I've been in and around the city for most of my life. Cambridge is a wonderful city. Yes it's full of students and yes they are annoying when the ride 10 abreast down the road.... However don't let this distract you from the Top 10 things to do in Cambridge.
1. Go Punting
So what's number one of the top 10 things to do in Cambridge? Punting!! So there are 2 ways to go punting. Either be chauffeured or hire a punt yourself. The first option you are likely to end up a lot dryer than if you go with the second...
Punting is a bit of a Cambridge tradition. It's a long wooden boat and the propulsion is basically using a long pole and pushing this off the base of the river bed and by you standing still on the "punt" and sliding your hands through the pole you move the boat along. Now of course that doesn't sound too bad... but anyone who's tried to stand up on a surf board or similar you know balancing on a boat on a river isn't easier. Combine that trying to navigate your way through the maze of other helpless souls trying to do the same thing the challenge becomes harder. Then throw in debris in the river, bridges that you can't put the pole in whilst under and mild heckling from locals, frankly unless you have a change of clothes it's just not worth the risk!
The punts mostly run along the "backs" (which we'll come to later). There are plenty of people who'll try to sell you a tour in the city but my advice is to head down to the river and watch what goes on. If you feel brave then have a go, but if not find a chauffeur and do it in style....
2. Climb Great St Marys Tower
Cambridge doesn't have a Cathedral so Great St Mary's Church which sit's on the market square is the biggest church in town. Some might think that it's actually Kings College Chapel purely because of the fame of it from the Xmas Carol Services. However Kings is only a college chapel and whilst members of the public can go to services it's not a parish church in the same way as Great St Mary's
The Views from the top of Great St Mary's are probably the best in the city. You can see the roof tops of the whole city and have a close up view of Kings College and the Senate House. You'll be able to see the University Library in the distance (the tallest building in Cambridge) and you'll be able to see many of the spires and towers of College buildings.
It's a steep twisty climb and not many passing points so if you are not one for narrow stairs you might want to think again... You'll also walk past the bell chamber as you get towards the top of the towner. The tune of the chimes are known as the ‘Cambridge Quarters’ and have become very famous because they were copied for the ‘Westminster Chimes’ of Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament. Not everyone knows that our Cambridge chimes were the first bongs!
3. American Cemetry
Just outside the city up in the village of Madingley is the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. This is a World War II American military war grave cemetery. The cemetery, dedicated in 1956, contains 3,811 American war dead and covers 30.5 acres. Cambridge American Cemetery is one of 26 overseas military cemeteries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Whilst this isn't of course the most touristy of locations to visit - it's a beautiful, tranquil and sad reminder of thousands of young men who came to the UK to join in the war effort and never made it home. The site has a simple chapel and then rows and rows of well maintained head stones.
If you don't have a car the site is accessible by one of the hop on and off city sightseeing buses.
4. Drinks at the Varsity Roof Top Bar
If you don't fancy the climb to the top of Great St Mary's tower how about this place? The Varsity Roof Top Bar for me provides the next best set of views of the city and is next on our Top 10 things do in Cambridge. Not only though do you have a great view of the city you'll also have the opportunity to have the views whilst drinking and eating in a great restaurant.
The Varsity is also one of the nicer more boutique hotels in the city so you can top your time off in the city with a nice stay as well.
5. Kings College Chapel
You can see the outside of Kings College Chapel from all parts of the city. From the top of Great St Mary's tower, Kings Parade, the backs... you name it. However the chapel which is probably the most famous building in Cambridge is well worth the visit in side. Construction of the chapel started in the mid 1440's and it took nearly 100 years till the construction was finished.
Most people will have heard of the famous "Nine lessons and Carols" which is broadcasted from the chapel world wide on Xmas Eve. However well the TV camera's show the space, nothing will do the experience of being in the building itself justice.
Entrance to the chapel cost's £10 and it's recommended to buy tickets in advance as those lines get very busy in peak times!
6. Walk down the backs
The "backs" as it's known is the path around the back of the colleges. These are the paths that give you some of the iconic views of various Cambridge college buildings and for me is what makes Cambridge so special. When I moved away from the city it was then I realised how lucky I was to get these views on my daily trip to school or work.
The backs are in line with "Queens Road" and start at Queen's College and work the way down to Trinity College. Of course you can divert onto one of the paths that lead over the river Cam and take you back into the city - but for now make sure you walk from one end to the other to take in the whole views.
7. Fitzwilliam Museum
There is a whole host of different museums in Cambridge but none can be as impressive as the Fitzwilliam Museum. The building is an imposing structure that dominates Trumpington Street which it sit's on. The museum is the Art and Antiques of the University of Cambridge. It houses one of the best collections of antiquities and modern art in western Europe. With over half a million objects and artworks in its collections, the displays in the Museum explore world history and art from antiquity to the present. The treasures of the museum include artworks by Monet, Picasso, Rubens, Vincent van Gogh, and Rembrandt to name a few. Admission to the public is always free.
Even if you aren't an art or antique lover it's still worth heading down to have a look at the impressive building.
8. Botanical Gardens
If you've gone to the Fitzwilliam Museum you can carry walking a little further out of town towards Trumpington and the Botanical Gardens. It is a botanical garden associated with the university Department of Plant Sciences.
The garden covers an area of 16 hectares. The site is almost entirely on level ground and in addition to its scientific value, the garden is highly rated by gardening enthusiasts. It holds a plant collection of over 8,000 plant species from all over the world to facilitate teaching and research. The garden was created for the University of Cambridge in 1831 and was opened to the public in 1846.
It's a great location for a stroll around to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. If it's a nice summers day - why not take a picnic and sit and enjoy the rays!
Aside from the Fitzwilliam museum there are some other great museums around the Cambridge area that will cater for all.
Inside the city centre area you have the Scott Polar museum which is all about the research into the North and South pole. Although this work is all part and parcel of the wider university research it's got a public front which is named after Captain Scott who was trying to be the first person to the South Pole - but sadly died on the expedition. The museum carries a whole lot of historical and scientific artefacts.
Kettles Yard is a gallery of more modern art that's been put together to allow the students of the city to see art not in a traditional art gallery. Original conceived in 4 cottages that were knocked together the gallery has a whole host of different exhibitions and went through a major refurbishment in 2018.
Imperial War Museum Duxford. Although not quite in the city if you are coming up from London via car you'll pass Duxford on the way. Hosted at one of the battle of Britains most important airfields the IWM Duxford, it's now a museum for multiple generations of planes from all different walks of life. From Spitfires to Concord there really is something here for every aviation geek!
10. Other Colleges and buildings
Cambridge is almost like on big university campus. With colleges almost on every street corner it's hard at times to identify what's a college building, what's a university building and what's a domestic and non learning building! Aside from Kings College chapel there are some other buildings and places that you should look at.
The Senate house is opposite to Great St Mary's and next door to Kings College chapel. It's the location where all of the University Graduates will formally get their degree presented to them. If you come to the city at the right time in the year you'll see them all lining up with the gowns!
Trinity College is the home of a number iconic buildings. "Great Court" was the setting for the famous scene from the film Chariots of Fire. Also you'll find the tree that is believed that Sir Issac Newton understood gravity from with the falling apple.
Bridge of Sighs, St Johns College. Take a walk over this St John’s College bridge - or perhaps get a better view from a chauffeured punt tour.The bridge is well known for being named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. No matter which way you decide is best to look at it, you will always be able to see its remarkable 19th-century structure.
Mathmatical Bridge by Queens College is a wooden bridge that originally was held together with basically physics and no screws or pegs. Now held together with them it's amazing to look at thinking how it was held together!
The Round Church also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this is one of the four medieval round churches still in use in England.
Ok - so properly it's the Top 10 things to do in Cambridge. This is number 11. But if you are making your way to Cambridge for a few days and have never ventured to Ely before you should certainly make the trip.
Once the Isle of Ely, Ely was once an Island surrounded by the Fenland Swamps. Once the Swamps were drained the Island disappeared and Ely became a beautiful city on its own right. The city is dwarfed by Ely Cathedral which majestically towers over the buildings around it. The Cathedral can be seen from miles and miles away and is a must visit. It's known locally as the "ship of the fens" which you will see why!
Ely's most famous historical resident of Ely was Oliver Cromwell. The Cromwell family lived in Ely for some 10 years and today you can visit their former house which has been recreated to demonstrate what 17th Century domestic life would have been like along with an exhibition on the civil war. It also doubles as the Tourist Information Centre.
Ely has a beautiful waterside area, which is an attraction within itself, where you can explore the many cafes and restaurants or visit the art galleries. Alternatively, simply take time out to relax and watch the river boats pass by. Another great place to visit in Ely.
Top 10 things to do in Cambridge
So there it is! The Top 10 (well possibly 11) things to do in and around Cambridge. It's certainly worth a few days in the city. If you want to really explore I would say that you're going to need 2-3 days to really do the city justice. Of course there is more to do than just listed here, but these I think are the "main one's to do". What ever you do make sure that you enjoy the city and all what it has to offer!
Have you been to Cambridge? Do you live here? Where else would you head to?