Whether you have a few extra days in London, or maybe it’s not your first visit, it’s nice to get out of The Big Smoke and see other areas of England. A day trip to Cambridge is a popular choice. This historic university city is quintessentially English, with its medieval architecture and perfectly manicured canals.
Despite at one time living pretty close to Cambridge, Jeremy and I realized we had never actually been. Luckily, we were able to fit in our own day trip, on our most recent visit back to England.
Getting To Cambridge From London
The easiest way to get into Cambridge from London is by train. Both the Thameslink and Great Northern lines run to Cambridge from Kings Cross Station. Trains take roughly one hour.
It’s about a 30 minute walk from the Cambridge train station to the Quayside punting area, where we started our day. With plenty of lovely shops along the relatively straight route, it makes for a nice walk. However, if walking isn’t an option, there are several buses, plus ride sharing services, like Uber.
Punting On A Day Trip To Cambridge
One of the most popular, and touristy, things to do in Cambridge is punting on the River Cam. Originally used to ferry goods around the city, punts are long flat boats that glide along the surface. Similar to a Venice gondola, a punter stands on the back of the boat with a long stick used for pushing and steering.
In the 20th century, punting for leisure became the thing to do in Cambridge. As a visitor, join one of the guided tours from the Quayside area. Boats typically seat 10 to 12 people.
The route winds through historical areas of Cambridge University campus, typically off limits to non-students. Many of the punting guides attend the university and provide interesting tidbits of history and a few wild tales.
The Quayside, or lower river, gets very busy on nice days, especially in summer. We got there for opening, so the river was quiet on the ride out, but already getting very busy on our return trip.
Alternatively, lots of tourists give punting a go. They are the ones crashing into the banks, and annoyingly, other boats. Sometimes landing themselves in the water.
If you want to give it a try, consider renting a punt on the upper river. Though it doesn’t go through the university, it is very beautiful and much less crowded.
Along The River Cam
As you glide along the River Cam you may notice all the elaborate bridges. The most popular include the Bridge of Sighs and the Mathematical Bridge.
You’ll also see lovely views of the Cambridge University campus. One of our favorite views was of St. John’s College, just after you pass Kitchen Bridge.
The Round Church
Our punting tour took just under an hour. Afterwards, we stopped in one of the most popular bakeries in town, grabbing a quick drink and one of their famous Chelsea Buns.
Chelsea Buns are very similar to a cinnamon roll, except Chelsea Buns may not have cinnamon, but they will always have dried fruit, like currants or raisins. The glaze is also not as thick.
On the way into town from the Quayside, it’s impossible not to notice the uniquely round church. Built by crusaders circa 1130, The Round Church is 75 years older than the university. The church is a popular place to visit, but they also offer tours of the university.
Cambridge is full of little shops and boutiques scattered throughout the city center. There’s also three popular markets.
- General Market (Mon -Sat 10-4) – Market Square
- Arts and Crafts Market (Sun 10 – 4) – Market Square
- All Saint’s Garden Art and Craft Market (Sat 10 – 4) – Trinity Street
We had so much to do on our day trip to Cambridge, we didn’t have time for too much shopping. However, we did pop into the Original Hardys Sweetshop. With candy jars stacked to the ceiling, it reminded me of the sweet shop in Harry Potter. They have just about anything you’d ever want.
Walking the City
Like all great historic cities in England, one of the best ways to spend a little time is actually free. The architecture around the city gives an outdoor museum experience. Take a minute to just walk around and don’t forget to look up.
Our favorite street was St. Johns, which turns into Trinity. As you walk around the city you may notice the streets in Cambridge change names frequently. This can be quite disorienting.
Visiting Cambridge University On A Day trip
I’m sure it’s no surprise, but the main attraction of a visit to Cambridge is Cambridge University. The school is made up of 31 colleges, each with their own separate buildings and grounds.
As the university is such a big attraction, the colleges charge visitors to enter the campus. To see inside those large wooden gates, you can take a tour of the highlights. Or, pick a college or two and pay admission for a self-guided tour.
King's College And Chapel At Cambridge University
The most popular colleges to visit in Cambridge are Trinity College, St. John’s College and King’s College.
We had read about the phenomenal chapel with the world’s largest fan vaulted ceiling at King’s College. So this was our choice, and it was breathtaking. Well worth the entrance fee.
It is worth nothing, the entrance fee gives access to the chapel and the grounds of the college, but not the other buildings.
Not far from the King’s College entrance is the Corpus Clock. You will find it encased in the outside corner wall of the Corpus Christi College library building. This unusual clock with no hands uses blue lights to display time. Designed by Dr. John C Taylor, he refers to the grasshopper that runs the clock as a Chronophage, or time-eater.
For a full appreciation of this masterpiece, it’s worth watching the designers video explanation.
Afternoon Tea At The Ivy
To finish our day trip to Cambridge in style, we headed to The Ivy for afternoon tea. London has many fine dining establishments to enjoy afternoon tea. However, prices are more budget friendly outside the capital, without sacrificing the class.
Never tried afternoon tea in England? Learn everything you need to know about this cultural tradition in our article, Afternoon Tea, An Absolutely English Experience.
Did we miss any of your favorite areas of Cambridge? Leave a message in the comments to help other readers.