Cambridge is one of the most famous cities in England thanks to its historic university and colleges that date back to 1208. There are lots of wonderful things to do in Cambridge from punting along the River Cam to exploring the famous “Backs” of the colleges and visiting the many museums.
Table of Contents
- Best Things To Do in Cambridge
- 1. Take a Guided Walking Tour of Cambridge
- 2. Visit the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
- 3. Go on a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour
- 4. See the Famous Backs of the Colleges
- 5. Go Punting Along the Cam
- 6. Take a Tour of the Colleges with an Alumni
- 7. Have a go at Rowing
- 8. Visit the Scott Polar Research Institute
- 9. Visit the Botanic Garden
- 10. Shop at the Cambridge Outdoor Markets
- 11. Go on a Creepy Cambridge Ghost Tour
- 12. Go on a Cambridge Treasure Hunt
- 13. See Great St Mary’s Church
- 14. Visit Duxford Imperial War Museum
- 15. Take a Cambridge and Oxford Tour from London
- Quick Travel Itineraries For Cambridge
- Where to Stay in Cambridge
- Best Restaurants in Cambridge
- Getting To Cambridge
- Things To Do in Cambridge: FAQs
- In Closing
I first visited Cambridge on a school trip many years ago and instantly fell in love with the place. From the incredible architecture on display across the city to the huge array of interesting museums, parks, gardens, and excellent pubs and restaurants, it’s a place I go back to again and again.
Some of Cambridge’s top places to visit include the historic King’s College, the Polar Research Institute, and the Botanic Gardens. The city is also a great place for foodies due to the many excellent cafes, bistros, bars, and restaurants to try out. It’s somewhere I usually go for special occasions and it’s great for couples.
Best Things To Do in Cambridge
Below, you’ll discover a wide and varied list of Cambridge attractions to suit all tastes, including all the top sights in the city. There are things to do in Cambridge for families, couples, solo travelers, and everyone in between.
1. Take a Guided Walking Tour of Cambridge
Cambridge is definitely a city for walking, and I’ve spent many happy days wandering through the historic city streets, colleges, and parks. One of the best things to do in Cambridge, and the best way to get an introduction to the city, is to take a walking tour with a local guide.
You’ll get to learn all about the long history of the place and visit five of the colleges and other famous landmarks, such as the 11th Century St Benet’s Church, the Cavendish Laboratory, and the historic Eagle Pub, where biologists Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA.
The tour lasts for one and a half hours and sets off from the Cambridge Gift Shop on Rose Crescent in the city center. The historic walking tour costs just £20 per person.
2. Visit the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
The fascinating Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is my favorite museum and one of the best free things to do in Cambridge. Discover the history of humanity through a series of interesting displays, including everything from totem poles to Egyptian relics, Roman pottery, and much more.
The collection includes many unique objects from cultures around the world, from prehistory to modern times. There are photographs on display as well as visiting exhibitions, workshops, and a selection of contemporary art to see. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm (closed Mondays).
Along with the nearby Fitzwilliam, this is definitely one of the top places to visit in Cambridge and I urge anyone visiting the city to spend at least an hour discovering the fascinating collections found here.
3. Go on a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour
Another excellent way to get oriented is to take the 24-hour city sightseeing hop-on, hop-off bus. Enjoy panoramic views of the city, River Cam, and colleges while listening to a pre-recorded commentary that provides you with a history of the places you pass by.
The ticket is valid for unlimited journeys within a 24-hour period and is the perfect way to get around if you want to give your legs a rest. The route includes 16 stops around the city and passes the famous Jesus Lane, Fitzwilliam Museum, Market Street, and Botanic Gardens, among others.
The bus tour tickets cost just £16.50.
4. See the Famous Backs of the Colleges
The Backs literally refers to some of the most famous colleges at Cambridge University that ‘back’ onto the river. Here Trinity College, Clare College, King’s College, and Magdalene College, among others, back onto the River Cam and a large area of parkland.
This is one of my favorite places in the city and walking along the Backs is one of the great things to do in Cambridge for couples given the romantic surroundings. This is also the place to come if you’re looking to capture some Insta photos to remind you of your trip.
If it’s a nice day, I recommend picking up some supplies from one of the bakeries in town and having a picnic beside the best views in Cambridge. As this is a public area it’s open 24/7 and you don’t need to pay to walk along the route. It’s also nice to crisscross some of the historic bridges over the river such as King’s College Bridge.
5. Go Punting Along the Cam
Punting along the backs of the colleges on the River Cam is one of the best things to do around Cambridge. Sit back and enjoy the views at a leisurely pace as you’re transported along the river with a commentary from your chauffeur.
You’ll get to pass seven of the most prestigious colleges and travel back in time over 800 years as you learn about the famous alumni from Isaac Newton to King Charles, hear tales of student life, and see the city from a unique perspective.
This 45-minute punting experience covers the length of the Cam and departs from the landing point at Scholars Punting Cambridge. Punting tour tickets cost just £25 for this activity.
6. Take a Tour of the Colleges with an Alumni
If you want to learn about some of Cambridge University’s most famous alumni from a tour guide studying at one of the esteemed colleges, this is the tour for you. You’ll get to learn all about student life from a graduate guide and see where luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking started out their illustrious careers.
Wander around the hallowed halls of Trinity, King’s Corpus Christi, and Pembroke colleges. See the King’s Chapel, Great St Mary’s Church, and the Cavendish Laboratory where 20 Nobel Prize winners studied.
This 90-minute tour includes entry into three of the colleges (King’s, Pembroke, and Trinity), kicks off from King’s Parade, and finishes at the Eagle Pub. You can book online for the college tour tickets here.
7. Have a go at Rowing
There has always been a friendly rivalry between the two university towns of Oxford and Cambridge, and one of the prime examples of this is the annual Boat Race. Teams from each university have been battling it out for supremacy since 1929.
You can see exactly what these men and women are made of by having a go at rowing a coxed eight boat, just like the ones used in the race each year. This unique rowing experience is open to beginners, as there’s an indoor training session on a rowing machine before you hit the water.
The session lasts for just over three hours and is a great way to work off all of the delicious food on offer at the city’s restaurants. Tickets cost £66 per person, and groups are made up of teams of eight.
8. Visit the Scott Polar Research Institute
My lifelong dream is to visit Antarctica, but while waiting to make that a reality, the next best thing is the Scott Polar Research Institute and Museum in the heart of Cambridge. Learn all about my heroes, such as Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and their ill-fated trips to the ice.
There are interactive displays that teach about life at one of the most extreme places on earth. Learn about both the Arctic and the Antarctic through a series of displays, visiting exhibitions, photographs, and drawings spanning over 100 years.
The museum is open to visitors from Wednesday to Saturday between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. Audio guides are available, and there’s an onsite shop selling souvenirs and clothing related to the Arctic that helps fund the work of the institute. Entrance is free, but a small charge is requested for the audio guides.
9. Visit the Botanic Garden
Cambridge is a city with a lot of green spaces, public parks, and its very own botanical gardens just a fifteen-minute walk from the center of town. This is one of the best things to do in Cambridge for families, as there are plenty of activities to keep little ones engaged.
You can walk around at your own pleasure, take a guided tour of the gardens, or engage in some of the fun things to do at the School’s Garden on the first Saturday of each month. Hunt for selected plants in the Glasshouse and discover an array of flora from tropical to alpine and everything in between.
Tickets cost £8 for adults, and children under 16 go free. The gardens are open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Be sure to check the website to see what events are taking place during your visit.
10. Shop at the Cambridge Outdoor Markets
One of the most fun things to do in Cambridge is to explore the open-air markets. I love browsing the stalls of arts and crafts, local produce, gourmet foods, and other knick-knacks. There’s been a market in the city since medieval times at the historic market square in the heart of Cambridge.
The town market is open every day of the week (except Christmas and New Year) from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. If you’re stuck for stuff to do in Cambridge, (which you really shouldn’t be after reading this), it’s easy to while away a couple of hours simply browsing the stalls.
Just a short walk from the main market square is the Trinity Street market in the garden of All Saint’s church. This is a market specifically for art and crafts and other handmade goods supplied by local artists. Here, you’ll find everything from handmade jewelry to pottery, sculptures, and paintings. Note that the Trinity Street market is only open on Saturdays, however.
11. Go on a Creepy Cambridge Ghost Tour
One of the best things to do in Cambridge at night is go on a spooky ghost tour of the city and learn about its ghoulish past. You’ll take in Market Square, Magdalene Bridge, and Trinity College, among other top landmarks.
Rather than learning all about the prestigious alumni, you’ll instead hear dark tales about the hangman’s house, Oliver Cromwell, and other bloodthirsty figures from the city’s history.
The tour lasts for 90 blood-drenched minutes and costs £18 per person. It begins at Magdalene Bridge in the city center, and you can book the ghost tour tickets here.
If you’re looking for more spooky things to do check out these Jack the Ripper tours in London.
12. Go on a Cambridge Treasure Hunt
This interactive treasure hunt is a great way to explore Cambridge and is especially fun for kids and young adults. Solve a series of clues via your smartphone and take in some of the top sights across the city from the famous colleges to ancient buildings, landmarks, and some hidden gems.
The beauty of this self-guided tour is that you can do it at your own pleasure and pace, and can start and finish whenever you like. The experience costs £9.99 and you’ll receive a link to your phone that can be shared with everyone in your group. You can book the Cambridge treasure hunt tour here.
13. See Great St Mary’s Church
Great St Mary’s Church is one of the top attractions in Cambridge along with the colleges. It is the largest church in the city and dates back to 1205 with foundations dating as far back as 1010. However, as the original was destroyed by fire in 1290 the current church dates back just 500 years to 1519.
Great St Mary’s, (GSM as it is colloquially known to distinguish it from Little St Mary’s – LSM), is located in the heart of the city on King’s Parade. It’s a Grade II listed building and serves the Church of England diocese for Cambridge.
One of the best reasons to visit the church is to climb the tower for stunning views across the city skyline and colleges. There’s also an onsite shop and cafe, and services are open to the public. The tower is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday to Saturday.
14. Visit Duxford Imperial War Museum
As a child, one of my favorite things to do near Cambridge was to visit the Duxford Aircraft Museum. It’s part of the London Imperial War Museum and hosts the annual Duxford Air Show each year. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve been to Duxford, but it’s a lot.
This is the largest air museum in Europe and is absolutely packed with everything from Spitfires to a Concorde. Displays include the American Air Museum, the Battle of Britain, and Air, Sea, and Land Warfare. It’s even possible to book your own flight experience and take to the skies.
Tickets cost £26.35 for adults and £13.15 for children and the museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm every day. From Cambridge, it’s a nine-mile drive to the air museum along the M11, or you can take the Myalls Coaches bus no 132 from Cambridge railway station.
15. Take a Cambridge and Oxford Tour from London
One of the best places to visit near Cambridge is the rival university town of Oxford (and you’ll be able to see for yourself why I’m biased and believe Cambridge is the best). A great way to see Cambridge, as well as Oxford, is to take a day trip from London.
This 10-hour tour departs from London’s Victoria Coach Station and includes walking tours of both cities. You’ll get to experience all the major landmarks in both places and see the famous universities.
The tour includes all transport between London, Cambridge, and Oxford, and you’ll have your own host with a commentary on the history of the places you visit. Tickets cost £69 per person, and the university tour can be booked online.
Quick Travel Itineraries For Cambridge
Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start with so many things to see in Cambridge, so I’ve put together some useful itineraries to help you get the most out of your trip. Whether you plan on spending a day, or much longer in the city, these guides include all the top tourist attractions in Cambridge.
1 Day in Cambridge Itinerary
Start at the Scott Polar Research Institute and discover the fascinating artifacts on display relating to polar exploration. Walk to King’s College Bridge and cross over the Cam, heading north along the Backs. Take in the magnificent views of the colleges and embark on a tour with former students.
Continue along the River to the Galleria Restaurant for lunch overlooking the Cam, or have a picnic along the Backs (if the weather permits). Head to the All Saint’s Craft Market to browse and shop for handmade goods and local produce.
Make your way down to Market Square before visiting the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (be sure to visit the Roman and Egyptian sections). Finish up at the Tiffin Truck for an evening of authentic Indian food and cocktails.
2-3 Days in Cambridge Itinerary
Follow the itinerary for day one above, and for day two, add in a punting trip on the Cam. If you’re feeling more energetic, have a go at rowing. Make use of the Hop On, Hop Off sightseeing in Cambridge bus to get around and explore one of the other museums, like the Fitzwilliam.
To really get to grips with the city, take a walking tour or treasure hunt where you’ll get to see Cambridge off the beaten path in addition to the usual landmarks.
1 Week in Cambridge Itinerary
With an entire week in Cambridge, you’ll really get to know the city well. Follow the above itineraries for days one to three and ensure you include some of the top restaurants such as Trinity (named after the college), the Tipsy Vegan, and, the Oak Bistro.
Include trips to the Botanical Gardens, climb the tower at Great St Mary’s church, and spend some time browsing Cambridge’s historic market for some treats to take home.
You can plan a day trip to the nearby Imperial War Museum at Duxford and consider this tour of both Oxford and Cambridge from London. With London so close, you can experience some of the top sights in Britain’s capital too.
Where to Stay in Cambridge
As it’s a small city, staying in the center, close to all the major places to see in Cambridge makes sense. These are a few of the best places to stay in Cambridge for tourists.
Graduate Cambridge – Best for Couples
The Graduate Cambridge is a stylish yet cozy hotel right by the River Cam. It is just a short walk from St Catherine’s College, the Museum of Archaeology, and many of the top restaurants in the city. The rooms come with a balcony, and there’s an onsite restaurant, bar, lounge, and garden.
West Court – Jesus College – Best for First-Time Visitors
Did you know you can actually stay at one of Cambridge’s historic colleges? The comfortable and spacious rooms at West Court include floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony overlooking Cambridge University.
There are options for private or shared bathrooms and breakfast.
Gonville Hotel – Best for Nightlife
The Gonville Hotel, a four-star hotel, is a five-minute walk from the center of town and all the top things to do in Cambridge. It’s close to many bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, and each bedroom has its own iPad installed with a valet system offering room service at the touch of a button.
Best Restaurants in Cambridge
I love eating out in Cambridge and it’s somewhere I go just to have a meal (though I’ll usually pop into one of the free museums first). Cambridge is one of the only places in England where you’ll also see a lot of street food on offer, especially at the markets.
Picnicking in the parks along the river is also a great option for sunny, summer days. However, the restaurant scene in the city is excellent, so here are a few of my favorite places to eat in Cambridge:
Galleria is a family-run restaurant that overlooks the river and offers fantastic views out across the colleges. The chefs pride themselves on blending classic dishes with a contemporary twist (go for the pan-fried sea bass). Prices are very reasonable for the location with most mains under £20.
Named after the famous college, Trinity Restaurant is located in the heart of the city center and offers a fine dining experience with unbeatable service and an innovative menu and wine list. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny (starters around £16 and mains around £30). The pork belly is to die for – trust me.
The Tipsy Vegan
I once took my girlfriend to the Tipsy Vegan for her birthday (I’m not vegan, but she is) and both of us were blown away by the food and service. Think Mediterranean with a vegan twist (plus some incredible cocktails). The restaurant is right on the river and offers both indoor and outdoor dining.
The Tiffin Truck
The Tiffin Truck is a hip restaurant in the center of town that serves up traditional Indian street food/market dishes and drinks (the Indian cocktails are a must-try). This is one of the coolest places in Cambridge and is definitely worth a stop if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
The Oak Bistro
The Oak is a charming bistro in the center of town with a great lunch option. From Tuesday to Friday, there’s a 3-course set lunch menu with a choice of starter, main, and dessert for just £22. It’s also a great place for dinner with mains ranging from £16 to £30. The menu is continental European cuisine.
Getting To Cambridge
Cambridge is conveniently located close to London Stansted Airport with domestic and international flights to many cities around Europe and beyond. Getting to Cambridge from the airport is easy with two Stansted Express services to the city every hour (journey time: 25 minutes).
Cambridge is also easily reachable from London by road and rail. Trains depart Liverpool Street station and take between one hour and 90 minutes. At just 60 miles, it should take around the same time to drive. One of the best ways to experience Cambridge from London is to take a tour.
The center of Cambridge and all the major attractions, colleges, restaurants, and museums are within easy walking distance of each other, so there’s no need for a car once in the city.
Things To Do in Cambridge: FAQs
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about visiting Cambridge.
Cambridge is known for its famous university and colleges which have seen alumni from Isaac Newton to Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, British Prime Ministers, sports personalities, and some of the greatest thinking of our time. The city is also famous for its annual boat race against Oxford.
Cambridge is a fantastic destination at any time of year as there’s so much to see and do inside and out. To get the best out of your trip, spring through to fall is a good time to go as you can enjoy the city parks, dine al-fresco next to the river, and walk around the ancient collages.
Cambridge is definitely worth visiting and is one of the most pleasant cities in the UK. With so many excellent attractions like the Scott Polar Research Institute, Fitzgerald and archaeology museums, and botanic gardens, there’s something for everyone.
Three to four days (i.e a long weekend) is the perfect amount of time to spend in Cambridge to get the most out of your trip. If planning on staying for longer then there are some excellent day trips nearby like Duxford Air Museum, Oxford, and London.
Cambridge is considered one of the safest cities in Europe and there are no areas that are off-limits. Take usual precautions by avoiding dimly lit streets at night and keeping valuables out of view.
Punting on the River Cam is one of the most popular things to do in Cambridge, as is visiting famous colleges like Trinity, Corpus Christi, and Magdalene.
Cambridge is an inland city so there aren’t any beaches, however, beaches in the southeast such as Walton and Frinton are reachable by train.
There are some fantastic dining options in Cambridge from vegan options to fine dining and country pubs. Cambridge is also famous for its sausages flavored with ginger and nutmeg and Cambridge pudding.
Now you know what to do in Cambridge, which of these fantastic attractions or historical sites will you visit first? From exploring the ancient colleges where some of the world’s greatest thinkers started out to punting along the river or enjoying fine dining at one of the top restaurants there are plenty of things to see and do in Cambridge.
Cambridge is probably my favorite city in the UK, and it’s somewhere I love going back to time and again. I’m never stuck for things to do in Cambridge, as the town is bursting with so much history, food, and entertainment that I can’t stay away for very long.