This is a list of my recommendations of some of the best things to try in Cambridge.
Cambridge is my home-sweet-home, and I honestly have been thoroughly spoilt by the fact that I have grown up in this extraordinarily beautiful and picturesque city. I took it for granted until I went to University and then realised what a gem I had been living in. I highly recommend you visit, even if just for the day; it is so worth it to take the trip up from London. There is actually so much to see and do here, and you will find yourself enamoured with it.
Friends and family have also given me their best bits and I have taken all of this information and compiled a list. Think of it as a reference page, that will grow over time (as I find more and more to do…and eat), to give you an idea of where to start if you want to take a trip to one of the most beautiful cities in Great Britain.
Everyone should have a day doing these things in Cambridge (or the surrounding area); tourist or not.
Cambridge is a city to be explored by foot or by bike as there is so much to see and enjoy along the way, wherever that may be. Some locations I recommend are slightly further afield and will require a little more than just pedal power to reach, but if you have the option, you should definitely make the trip.
VISIT A COLLEGE
Some of the colleges you can pay a small fee to enter and it’s so worth it. The buildings and architecture are just so beautiful, and the grounds are pristine. In Trinity College you can even visit one of the libraries which have some old and rare manuscripts on display.
The Fitzwilliam is the city’s largest museum, housing artefacts and paintings that span centuries. My favourite section is devoted to the Egyptians and has mummies and sarcophagi and even writing from that era. It’s incredible. As is the display of ornate and delicate fans, and even the vast array of artwork including some of the Impressionists.
KINGS COLLEGE CHAPEL
A magnificent and iconic building in the centre of Cambridge. You can pay to enter to the college grounds and to visit the chapel, and perhaps you might find yourself there when the choir is practicing and be treated to some beautiful music.
Grantchester is a village just outside of Cambridge and the meadows are absolutely gorgeous to walk through (or you can walk to them from Cambridge) and stop for a picnic if the weather allows. You could in fact punt (see below) to Grantchester with your picnic, which would be a different way to discover the area and make for a fun day out!
Punting in the summer is an absolutely beautiful way to see the city and parts of it that you can’t see any other way. If you have no idea what punting is, then think of the gondolas in Venice and you’re on the right track. Hire a boat and either punt it yourself (not as easy as it looks), or hire a nice person to punt it for you, perhaps giving you a bit of Cambridge history on the way. Feel free to barter between companies to get the best rate; competition is healthy after all!
This beautiful house and grounds, run by the National Trust, is slightly outside of the city in a village called Lode, but it is still within Cambridgeshire, so I have included it. I have spent many a day here as a child and I still enjoy a walk around the grounds as an adult too. The gardens are vast and they even contain a working mill which grinds flour (you can purchase it onsite), and it’s open to visitors on certain days too. In winter they have a winter walk, where they light up the trees in many different colours, and have music and food to enjoy too. To be honest, as a child it was the just the best fun to roll down the little dips in the grass in summer, or to kick through the piles of leaves in autumn.
Right in the centre of the city sits the market square, and it is well worth the visit, especially the Farmer’s Market on a Sunday where you can buy mountains of fresh veggies or locally produced goodies. During the week, there is still plenty of food to tickle your tastebuds, but also arts and crafts, photography and paintings, clothing, second hand books and music, and freshly cut flowers. To top it off, their is often a group of buskers performing in the corner to keep the shoppers entertained!
A delightful place to walk around on a sunny day any time of the year. The gardens are in the centre of the city, not far from the station and are owned by the University. They house a huge variety of plants and trees over their 40 acres, including glasshouses which are home to the more tropical varieties. In summer, they even hold outdoor musical events, and throughout the year they run workshops and talks too.
Another National Trust location outside of the city (technically in Ely and not Cambridge….), but this is a really great place to visit if you have the time, and transportation, to do it. It’s a hugely important wetland within Europe and is home to a vast array of wildlife, from beautiful dragonflies and birds to majestic Highland cattle. This means that you have a mixture of things to look out for as you follow the boardwalk around the watery fen. In the warmer months it’s a delight to wander around enjoying the nature and sunshine, but the picture above was taken in December, and as you can see it’s just as beautiful. If not a little colder!
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
Since the vast improvement and expansion to the shopping areas within the city, Cambridge has become a bit of a shopping destination! From large branches of chain stores (Topshop, John Lewis and H&M) in the main shopping areas, like The Grand Arcade, to little boutiques & gift stores (Ark), specialised stores (The Cambridge Cheese Company & The Cambridge Wine Merchants) and art galleries in the smaller streets amongst the colleges. There is plenty to explore, and therefore you will need plenty of food and drink stops along the way……
Cambridge really is a foodie hub, with so many places to explore, both new favourites and the good old traditional spots. These are some of the best places in the ‘Bridge to find fantastic food and delicious drinks, whatever your mood and whatever the weather!
I’ve tried to avoid using chain restaurants and focusing on Cambridge’s own, but a few of my favourite ones have sneaked their way in!
These are all personal recommendations…..so I’m not entirely sure what that says about me…
HOT CHOCOLATE FROM AROMI
This is a proper hot chocolate. Aromi makes thick, melty chocolate goodness, like the style that appears throughout Europe, and feels more like a pudding than a drink (this is not a problem). Perfect for a winters day or for when the skies are looking a little grey and you just need a pick me up.
They do fantastic food as well, including giant arancini balls, freshly filled rolls, handmade pizza breads, fruit filled tarts and cream filled cannolis!
Tip: If the queues are just too long, then Carluccio’s by the Grand Arcade does a great one too
A PINT FROM THE CAMBRIDGE BLUE OR CAMBRIDGE BREW HOUSE
The Cambridge Blue on Gwydir Street has an abundance of beer (both on tap and in bottles, and both local and from Europe) to be tried and the Cambridge Brew House brews their own onsite. So many choices, so little time!
THE GARDENIA (GARDI’S)
Gardi’s is a Greek take-away and a Cambridge institution, and when they were threatened with closure in 2004 (and more recently this year), students (including famous former students like Stephen Fry) and townsfolk alike protested together to keep it open.
And it’s still standing, serving up great traditional Greek food, plus popular post drinking take-away food such as kebabs, chip butties (their chips were always some of the best), and huge burgers.
BURGERS FROM STEAK & HONOUR
The best burgers in Cambridge served by Michelin trained chefs out of two old, but lovingly restored Citroen H vans (‘RED’ is shown above).
These are proper burgers; juicy and messy and full of some great local ingredients, like Cambridge raised beef, and brioche buns made by the Dovecote bakery.
EAT INTERNATIONAL CUISINE ON MILL ROAD
Mill Road is the international hub of Cambridge and is lined with restaurants and stores from all over the globe. You can find anything here from Chinese supermarkets to Moroccan cuisine, and Indian curries to British butchers. It’s such a great destination to go to, and during early December they have a Winter Fair (see ‘Winter’ section below) with showcases everything that Mill Road, and Cambridge itself, has to offer.
CHINESE FOOD FROM HAKKA OR BEIJING
I love a great Chinese meal, especially if it involves duck pancakes! Hakka is an old family favourite at the end of Milton Road, and The Peking is a newly discovered favourite just opposite the Cambridge Leisure Park, off Hills Road. Both serve great Chinese food and the staff are charming in both locations. The young gentleman in The Peking is so helpful and explanatory with all of the dishes, it makes it so easy to order a fantastic meal.
FOOD PARK INC. GUERRILLA KITCHEN
Food Park is a collective of Cambridge’s food trucks, and is found producing mini food markets in a number of locations around the city during the week. From Guerrilla Kitchen‘s bao (steamed buns filled with delicious meats/veggies – see above) to Steak and Honour (mentioned above), and from Fired Up‘s pizza to Warm Your Cockle‘s coffee truck. Last winter they had a permanent gathering at The North Pole on Parker’s Piece, and occasionally they even have ticketed nighttime events with craft beers too.
DRINK AT THE HISTORIC EAGLE PUB
The Eagle pub is where Crick & Watson announced their famous DNA discovery, and in the back bar you can find graffiti scribbled on the walls and ceiling by World War 2 airmen. It’s full of history and is actually located in a beautifully historic area. Pop in for a drink or some food, if you can find any space; it’s a really popular pub!
SUNDAY FARMER’S MARKET
As mentioned before, the Market Square in Cambridge is situated in the centre of the city and on Sundays it is transformed into a bustling and popular farmer’s market. You can purchase fresh veggies, local meats, Borough olives (stallholders at Borough Market in London) and chorizo, cheese, bread and cakes to name but a few! You can also buy freshly cooked food too, and what do you want most on an early Sunday morning? Bacon. So I would head to Shelly & Sarah’s red van on the north side of the market and find yourselves a Bacon & Egg or Sausage & Egg roll. Sunday morning heaven! Then pop over to the Caffe Mobile for a cup of their ever popular fair trade coffee, and you have your morning sorted.
SUNDAY LUNCH AT THE PINT SHOP
I love the Pint Shop. And the Sunday Lunch is a great option, with the choice of 1, 2 or 3 courses and a maximum price of £24. The pork belly is to die for, and I had ham hock butter on toast, which was one of the best things ever. They also serve Jack’s Gelato (mentioned below), which is also excellent.
They have also distilled their own gin, as a celebration of their opening, with peas as the main botanical used to flavour it. It’s delicious!
Go to the little store on Kings Parade and, if you’re lucky, you might be able to watch them making their fudge on the huge marble table at the front of the shop. It’s fascinating to watch, and afterwards you can go and buy as much fudge as you could possibly ever need! It doesn’t matter which flavour you choose, it’s all amazing.
This pub is tucked away next to Park Street Car Park and right by Jesus Green (a huge green space in the centre of Cambridge). It has an outdoor beer terrace with many tables, but not enough to satisfy the huge number of customers it attracts year round, but especially in the summer. A great spot to meet friends, and it’s one of only a few free houses (not owned by a brewery) in the centre of Cambridge, which means it houses a much larger selection of beers than other pubs.
BREAKFAST OR TEA & CAKE FROM AFTERNOON TEASE
Afternoon Tease is a small, independent cafe on Kings Street and it is such a delight to visit. If you visit at breakfast then try their crumpets topped with scrumptious homemade plum jam. Or, another delicious choice is their bacon served in a Dovecote bakery white roll, which makes for such a good start to the day. Jo Kruczynska, the owner, bakes all her own cakes, and I love to see them pop up on my Instagram feed, tempting me to come back to Cambridge!
TIRAMISU FROM JAMIE’S ITALIAN
Jamie’s is located in a Grade 2 listed building, which is an absolutely stunning location in which to indulge. It has a vibrant atmosphere, the food is fabulous and in my experience you can’t order badly. Anything with pumpkin and/or squash is always wonderful, the bread is delicious, and the pasta always perfectly cooked. But one of my favourites, the tiramisu, is divine. Thick, creamy and full of flavour, and it comes in a very generous sized portion. Even if you can’t stay for dinner, at least order the dessert!
Tip: Jamie’s Italian has just opened a Pizzeria upstairs from their main restaurant, but it doesn’t take bookings.
ICE CREAM FROM JACK’S GELATO OR BENET’S
We are seriously lucky in Cambridge to have fantastic ice cream and gelato.
Benet’s, on Kings Parade, serves up a wide range of ice cream to either enjoy in store, or opposite on the walls of Kings College. I used to come here a lot before I started my evening job and get my ice cream fix during the summer. They have some great flavours that are forever changing (green apple sticks out in my mind, and I think I remember a great blood orange too), but always delicious.
Jack’s Gelato serves the people of Cambridge exceptional gelato made by an ex chef. In the summer, he can be found selling from his tricycle in different locations around Cambridge, but this delicious gelato can also be found year round in The Pint Shop, Nord, The Gog Magogs, and Hot Numbers amongst others. This is a list of all possible flavours (there are mountains!), but the one pictured above was from the The Pint Shop, and if I remember correctly it was ‘Sherry and Raisin’ and it was ridiculously delectable and creamy!
Hands down my favourite place for curry in the whole of Cambridge. A family favourite, and something I have to have when I go home to visit! The chicken korma is perfect, the naan is soft and fluffy (the peshwari is amazing, filled with coconut and raisins) and their sag aloo is so scrumptious. I cannot recommend them enough. I have never eaten in the restaurant (but only because take-away was always more convenient), so I can’t tell you anything about the place itself (I have heard from others that it’s great), but the take-away always arrives on time and piping hot!
CHELSEA BUNS FROM FITZBILLIES
Another Cambridge institution and are reportedly some of the best Chelsea buns ever. I can attest to the fact that they are amazing, and jam packed full of currants and covered in a delightfully sticky sweet sauce.
BREAKFAST AT BROWNS
Browns has a lovely old fashioned, 1920’s feel to it, and is a great place to take a leisurely breakfast. I actually haven’t visited for a while, but last time I went, they made a gorgeous Eggs Benedict and their hot chocolate comes served as a jug of molten chocolate to pour into a glass mug of hot milk. Mmmmm
When I worked on Huntingdon Road I used to have lunch dates with my Dad in this lovely little pub by Castle Hill. They serve a good range of ale on tap, and have a great little food selection too. But mostly, I love the atmosphere of the pub. It’s open, light and airy, even in winter, and in the summer they have a beer garden, which is the perfect little sun trap for an hour to eat hot chips and drink cold tonic water and lime! Afterwards you can always climb up Castle Hill for fantastic views over Cambridge, or just to soak up the sun a little more.
BECOME A CARNIVORE IN CAU
CAU (Carne Argentina Unica) is a super modern Argentinian steak restaurant. The food is delicious, and you will just want to eat everything on the menu. I’m not even sure where to begin! The steaks melt in the mouth, the pork belly (both starter and main) is divine, and you can wash it all down with a glass of Argentinian Malbec.
THE ANCHOR PUB
The Anchor has a perfect spot by the river for those summer months, and a roaring fire for the winter months. It has a very large space with lots of different areas and levels, so you should be able to find a seat in this ever busy location. To top it all off they serve a dessert platter, and we all know that a dish with more than one kind of dessert on it is the best, right?
THE LARDER AT BURWASH MANOR
A little way out of the city sits Burwash Manor Farm, and on their grounds they have a lovely selection of little shops, one of which is The Larder; a deli full of delicious treats. From well known English brands to their house-made goodies. My mum loves their pork pies (made from their own pigs), so maybe try one of those to get you started!
BURRITOS FROM NANNA MEXICO
These guys make some great burritos, from their little park-side store on Regent Street (and also now in Petty Cury too!), that are just jam packed full of delicious ingredients. Nanna Mexico was started by a man whose Mexican Grandma used to do the same thing for the workers in their neighbourhood; make fresh Mexican food for the townsfolk. They have great meal deals for students, for Twitter followers and actually for anyone that comes after 5pm, plus they have a truck too (follow Twitter for its locations)!
THE GOG MAGOG FARM SHOP
A fantastic farm shop in the south of Cambridge, with a butcher, a farm shop & deli, and a cafe. I love visiting here and browsing the food selection. It’s heavenly! Their sausage rolls are fantastic and they stock a multitude of different foodie items from chocolate to beer, and from British cheeses to fruit and veg. What more could you ask for? Oh, well, actually…there are homemade cakes in the cafe and then also mini foodie events and festivals during the year….yey!
Have you done all the regular trips around Cambridge, and are looking for something different to do on your next visit? Then look no further than this little selection of things that you may not have thought to do before.
(A couple of these I have yet to experience myself and I’m just waiting for the chance!)
Duxford used to be a working airfield during the World Wars but is now a branch of the Imperial War Museum. They have 8 exhibition spaces, including hangers full of different kinds of planes, exhibitions on flight and the Battle of Britain, and a 1940s war operations room. You can spend such a long time exploring this vast space, so come early!
MAKE YOUR OWN GIN
I have to say that this is not something I have done myself as it is pretty pricey (£400 at the moment), however I would absolutely love to and to be honest is probably worth the price. The Cambridge Distillery offers one to one private sessions to have a gin specifically tailor made for you. Obviously the botanicals vary from gin to gin, so this session will help to determine which ones are more pleasing to your palate. Your final recipe will be kept on file in case you wish to order any bottles in the future.
SLEEP IN A UNIVERSITY COLLEGE ROOM
(I don’t think you can actually sleep in this particular building, but some of the buildings will look similar!)
At various times throughout the year you can actually pay to stay in the student rooms inside the colleges themselves, allowing you to enter parts of Cambridge that the public aren’t normally allowed to go. Breakfast is also served to you within the grounds as well, and if you stay at King’s College it will make you feel like you’re eating somewhere like the Great Hall in Hogwarts!
WATCH THE BUMPS
The Bumps is a rowing competition between various rowing teams in Cambridge, and the city turns out along the riverbank to watch as each boat tries to ‘bump’ the one behind it to make its way into first place. A great spot to watch the Bumps is The Plough pub in Fen Ditton, which has a huge beer garden which runs alongside the river to give you a great view of the races.
WATCH THE STREET PERFORMERS
Market Square has a great selection of street performers from traditional African music and lively costumes and dances to Latin music with a Peruvian box for percussion. The summer months are the best time to discover these performers, but people pop up throughout the year.
CAMRA BEER FESTIVAL (MAY)
One week a year only I’m afraid folks, but what a fantastic week it is. Every year Jesus Green plays host to a very large marquee full of beers from throughout the UK, including local breweries. They also serve up some fantastic cider and mead, amongst others, and showcase some bottles and draft beers from other parts of the world too.
Cambridge is stunningly beautiful when the sun shines and summer is one of my favourite times to experience Cambridge. There are some things that only come about at this time of year, or that are at their best to experience when the sun shines….
Both The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival and The Globe Theatre‘s outdoor performances run by The Cambridge Arts Theatre, are fantastic outings to have during the summer (I should know, I’ve worked enough of them!). Pick your favourite Shakespeare play, pack a picnic, and head to one of the University College gardens for a superbly fun afternoon or evening of the Bard’s works.
PICNICS & BBQs ON JESUS GREEN
A top spot for picnics is Jesus Green, a large park right in the middle of Cambridge and bordering the River Cam. During summer, residents flock here to catch the sun and enjoy the fleeting days of sunshine that we seem to have. If you are lucky to have the time you can grab a picnic and camp out for the day, or even bring a small BBQ and cook up some sausages in the outdoors (just be super careful to not burn the grass below). Even if you’re stuck inside at work during the day, the sun is out until 10pm at the latest in the summer months. This means there’s still plenty of time to gather in the evening and BBQ and toast to a long summer….fingers crossed.
ORCHARD TEA GARDEN
This place in Grantchester is amazing. An orchard filled with deckchairs and tables so that you might enjoy your tea and cake underneath the beautiful apple trees. The only downside is the wasps…
I love coming for a drink up on the rooftop of the Varsity Hotel in the centre of Cambridge. Fantastic views of the city and the perfect spot to enjoy the sunshine and a glass of Pimms. The small tables around the edge are great for watching the world go by, and the comfy sofas are great for larger groups. One of my top summer picks!
CYCLE ALONG THE RIVER
A nice way to transport yourself around in the summer is to cycle. Traffic is not fun in the heat so jump on your bike and avoid the cars and buses. Even if it’s just for fun, take your bike and cycle along the river…you never know what you might find!
My other favourite time of year; crisp, cold winter days and streets filled with seasonal goodies and festive cheer!
GINGERBREAD PEOPLE FROM CAMBRIDGE STREET BAKES
Gingerbread people are just perfect at Christmas, and these ones from Cambridge Street Bakes are delicious. Just the right balance between soft and crisp and with a delightful spiced Christmassy flavour.
MILL ROAD WINTER FAIR
This is actually where I first discovered Cambridge Street Bakes, amongst other foodie treats that Mill Road and Cambridge has to offer. For one day at the beginning of December, Mill Road closes to traffic and the shops and restaurants lining the street open their doors to showcase their goods. There is also a food market with market stalls and food trucks, and an art and craft/ gift market offering up an opportunity for a locally made Christmas gift.
This pub off of Mill Road (on Thoday St) is exceptional at Christmas. They full on decorate. I mean Christmas wrapping paper plastered on all the walls (and ceiling too!), Christmas lights, decorations, trees. It’s amazing, if not ridiculously tacky, and well worth a visit. They also have a Christmas pub quiz not long before Christmas. Notoriously difficult and such good fun, but you need to get there early to grab a seat.
IF IT SNOWS, TAKE A WALK…
One of the best things to do in winter if it snows, is to take a walk somewhere through that slightly crunchy, powdery snow. One of the nest places to do this is in the various parks and meadows that Cambridge is filled with. A great spot is the vast green areas along the river as these fill with deep snow, perfect for making snowmen!
NOV 5TH FIREWORKS ON MIDSUMMER COMMON
Remember, remember, the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot.
Every 5th of November we in England celebrate bonfire night; the night when we defeated an attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament. To do this we make big communal bonfires (and traditionally we burn effigies of Guy Fawkes on them, although this is less common now) and light fantastic firework displays. Cambridge is lucky to have one of the best firework displays right in the centre of town on Midsummer Common. There’s usually a fun fair, but I don’t much care about that. I just love to watch those fireworks. It’s one of the things I miss a lot living in Peru.
TURKEY FROM THE GOG MAGOG FARM SHOP
Collecting the turkey for Christmas is a big deal, because you know that Christmas Day is getting close. If you’re going to be in the Cambridge vicinity for Christmas then I recommend ordering your turkey from here around two months before. Then a couple of days before the ‘Big Day’, head to the Gog Magog Farm Shop and pick it up. Whilst you’re there you can browse the food selection and pick up some other bits and pieces too. Things you never knew you needed…..like chocolate covered marzipan or Camden Town Brewery beer.
Pantomimes are very traditional at Christmas time. They are funny plays based on traditional tales (Aladdin, Dick Whittington etc) with very silly jokes, where men dress up as women (the pantomime dame) and women dress up as men (usually the main character – Aladdin, Jack from Jack & the Beanstalk etc). It’s very ridiculous but great fun. The Cambridge Arts Theatre has one every year.
Not my area of expertise I must admit, however some of these are things my brother and I did as children, and some are new arrivals that have either been recommended to me or just look fun!
(It’s a pretty small list, but I’m working on building it up through friends and their new little ones!)
Wimpole Estate is a working farm and a mansion with gardens all rolled into one about 25 minutes outside of the city centre. Children (both young and young at heart) love visiting the animals on the farm, sometimes feeding them, and investigating the different areas. There is also a vast amount of land to be explored including a large parkland and beautiful manicured gardens too.
Cambridge gets a good share of children’s theatre, from on stage versions of Horrible Histories (a fun way to learn history – they provide 3D glasses and the books are super popular) to versions of some of their other favourite books, TV shows and films (Charlie & Lola, George’s Marvellous Medicine etc). The Junction also shows a lot of original children’s theatre. Check out The Cambridge Arts Theatre, The Junction and The Corn Exchange for any of their upcoming events.
MILTON COUNTRY PARK
Milton Country Park is comprised of 95 acres of woodland and wetland areas, and is situated right on the outskirts of the city. This place is a fantastic way to spend a sunny day, and they often hold events for children like Easter hunts, explorer trails (like treasure hunts!), wildlife workshops, and arts and craft days. They also hold sporting events, from running and cycling to full blown Triathlons!
SEDGWICK MUSEUM OF EARTH SCIENCES
If your child loves things like dinosaur bones, fossils, or sparkly minerals, then the Sedgwick Museum is for you! This museum was founded in 1728 and now houses over 2 million fossils, minerals and rocks. There are items there that are from 544 million years ago. What a collection! There are also activities like puzzles to do and trails to follow whilst you explore the museum.
Before you collect your turkey from the Gog Magog Farm Shop, why not head up the road a little and take a walk at Wandlebury Country Park. You can explore woodland, meadows, grassland, and even a hill fort!
JESUS GREEN POOL (SUMMER ONLY)
This outdoor swimming pool on Jesus Green in the centre of Cambridge is a hugely popular spot on those hot summer days. It’s pretty chilly in the water but perfect for the kids to splash around in and cool down.
MILTON MAIZE MAZE (SUMMER ONLY)
7 acres of maze made from maize! There are actually two mazes to find your way into and out of, and there’s even a quiz sheet to work through as you go. Once you discover the exit, there is plenty more to do including a visit to see the animals and the ‘Field of Fun’ with bouncy castles and go-karts. I’ve never been, but I know people who have and say it’s such a blast!
These are things that I am still dying to do, even though I had lived in Cambridge almost all my life before I moved. Some, however, are new arrivals to Cambridge that I haven’t had a chance to savour yet, but surprise, surprise, this is mainly food….