Cambridge, famous across the globe for its university, has one of the largest concentrations of intact historic buildings in England. The majority of this architectural grandeur is concentrated on Cambridge University’s 31 colleges, each of which is steeped in tradition.
Immigrant academics from Paris formed the first of these “schools” in the 12th century, and Peterhouse, the first college, was founded in 1284.
Cambridge was an important Norman fortress long before the institution was created. Although its castle was short-lived (Castle Mound can still be seen near Shire Hall and provides excellent views of the city), the city remains an important market town to this day.
Market Hill, formerly the heart of Cambridge’s old wool trade, is currently home to the city’s bustling marketplace.
Despite its charming, mediaeval appearance, Cambridge is a totally contemporary city that presents a wide range of top-tier cultural events throughout the year.
The Midsummer Fair (800 years old and still held on Midsummer Common), the legendary Cambridge Folk Festival (one of the oldest and longest running in Europe), and a world-class film festival are among them.
It’s also noted for its many green areas, such as the 25-acre Parker’s Piece, which is famed for being the birthplace of modern football, and the Victorian-era Christ’s Pieces, which is known for its gorgeous decorative trees and flowerbeds.
Punting along the River Cam, which passes through the centre of the city and provides great vistas, is one of the most popular activities to do in Cambridge.
For additional sightseeing ideas in one of England’s most popular tourist destinations, check out our complete list of the top tourist attractions in Cambridge.
King’s College, founded in 1441 by Henry VI and the first of the royal institutions, is worth a visit for the vast stretch of grass that extends down to the river and King’s Bridge. You’ll get great views of the Backs, the numerous college campuses along the riverfront, from here. Among the notable graduates are writer Horace Walpole, poet Rupert Brooke, and economist Lord Keynes.
The King’s College Chapel is a must-see attraction in this area. It’s a must-see in Cambridge because of its 12-bay perpendicular-style interior and stunning fan vaulting by John Wastell (1515).
The beautiful tracery on the windows and walls; the outstanding 16th-century stained-glass windows; the richly carved 16th-century oak organ screen and choir stalls; and the altarpiece, Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi are all worth seeing (1634).
Hot Tip: If you come during the academic year, be sure to attend Evensong to witness the world-renowned King’s College Choir in action.
Cambridge’s King’s Parade is the address.
Queens’ College was created in 1448 by Andrew Dockett under the patronage of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV.
It boasts the most intact mediaeval structures of any Cambridge college, especially the spectacular doorway leading to the red brick First Court, which dates from the foundation era.
The wooden Mathematical Bridge is another item worth seeing at Queens’ College. This 1902 restoration crosses over the Cam to the picturesque college gardens and was so named because bridge was built without nails, relying on rigorous calculation for strength.
Cloister Court (1460) with the President’s Lodge — a magnificent half-timbered edifice — and Pump Court with the Erasmus Tower above the apartments, used by Erasmus when he taught Greek here, are well worth visiting (1511-1514).
Walnut Tree Court (1618) and Friars Court, which includes the Erasmus Building (1961) and the Victorian chapel (1891), are well worth a visit.
Cambridge’s address is Silver Street.
www.queens.cam.ac.uk is the official website.
A visit to Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which spans 40 acres, is a must-do for gardening fans. The garden, which was founded in 1831, houses an extraordinary collection of over 8,000 plant varieties from throughout the world.
Make time to walk among the garden’s various glasshouses and pathways, which may be done as part of a guided tour (free on Sundays). After that, pay a visit to the Garden Café and Botanic Garden Shop.
Check out their website for information on future events and festivals.
Cambridge’s address is 1 Brookside.
Great St. Mary’s Church serves as both a parish church and a university church. It was built in the 15th century and has a beautiful interior, with galleries erected in 1739 during a time when university sermons given by eminent thinkers drew large crowds. The views from the tower, which was built in 1608, are legendary.
Little St. Mary’s is also worth a visit. This Anglican parish church, known as St. Mary the Less, is well-known for its beautiful stained-glass windows.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, often known as the Round Church, is one of just four Norman round churches remaining in England. Its rectangular chancel was erected in the 15th century after it was built in 1131.
The Gothic Revival Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, one of the largest Roman Catholic churches in the United Kingdom, was completed in 1885 and features an unique statue of the Virgin Mary.
Senate House Hill in Cambridge.
Trinity College was founded in 1546 by Henry VIII by the merging of several ancient colleges, notably Michaelhouse and King’s Hall. Parts of the original King’s Hall structures may still be seen outside King Edward’s Gate (1418).
Trinity Great Court, Cambridge’s largest court, was built in 1600. A tunnel leads into Nevile’s Court (1614), which has a chapel and sculptures of notable intellectuals.
Wren’s Library, created and subsequently expanded by legendary architect Sir Christopher Wren, is notable for its antique oak bookcases and excellent lime woodcarvings.
Trinity has the most notable alumni of any college. Statesmen such as Austen Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin, and Nehru are among them, as are poets and authors such as George Herbert and Edward Fitzgerald, philosopher Bertrand Russell, and physicist Isaac Newton. Trinity was also attended by Edward VII and George VI.
Take the bridge over the Cam from New Court or King’s Court for a wonderful view of the Backs. The College Grounds are reached through a lovely avenue of limes.
Trinity College, Cambridge is the location.
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’s most famous museum, should be on everyone’s must-see list of tourist sites. This architectural marvel houses an impressive collection of English ceramics and china, as well as Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities and illuminated manuscripts.
The gallery features works by Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Turner, as well as Impressionists and Dutch Masters of the Baroque period such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Rubens. There’s also a nice café and a gift shop on-site.
Cambridge’s address is Trumpington Street.
Anglesey Abbey, established in the 12th century, was restored in 1926 and became regarded as a residence of great art and furnishings. This magnificent mansion, now a National Trust property, features multiple tapestries by Gobelin, Soho, and Anglesey. There is also an art collection, which includes Constable’s The Opening of Waterloo Bridge.
Spend some time admiring the surrounding gardens and 114 acres of parks. The Wildlife Discovery Area, where younger visitors may see birds and bugs in their natural habitats, and the Lime Tree Lookout are among the grounds’ many highlights.
After that, pay a visit to the ancient Lode Mill to see the grindstones in action. Check the website of this attraction for information on upcoming special events.
Quy Road, Lode, Cambridge, UK
The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, founded by Cambridge University in 1884, houses a notable collection of ancient material and artefacts associated with social anthropology. Collections have been acquired from all around the world, with a concentration on the visual and classical arts, and include artefacts from Africa and the Orient.
The Pacific collection, drawn mostly from Cook’s travels, and other study efforts undertaken by renowned British anthropologists, is particularly noteworthy. Throughout the year, regular educational events for children and adults are offered (check their website for details).
Make time to explore the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences as well. This enthralling museum displays the university’s geology collection, which includes over two million minerals, rocks, and fossils.
Numerous meteorite specimens, as well as the Beagle Collection of fossils and rocks collected by Charles Darwin between 1831 and 1836, are highlights. The museum also provides a range of family activities and children’s programmes.
The recently renovated University Museum of Zoology is well worth a visit. A significant collection of scientifically relevant zoological material is one of the highlights of this freshly restored Cambridge attraction.
Downing Street, Cambridge, UK
Peterhouse, the oldest (and also one of the smallest) of Cambridge’s colleges, was founded in 1284. Its mediaeval hall and storehouse on the south side of Old Court are the oldest of the 13th-century structures. Cardinal Beaufort, scientist Henry Cavendish, and poet Thomas Gray were among those who studied here.
Check out the Peterhouse Chapel, which has been a focal centre of the institution for almost 700 years. The stained-glass windows (imported from Munich in the 1850s) and the 17th-century altar window are also worth seeing. Inquire about Peterhouse’s summer lodging rentals for a really unforgettable vacation.
Cambridge’s address is Trumpington Street.
Pembroke College was founded in 1347 by the Countess of Pembroke, but it has undergone significant changes since then. The chapel (1665) is well-known as Christopher Wren’s first construction, and it was later expanded in 1881.
Pembroke has produced several bishops and poets, the best famous of whom being Edmund Spenser (1552-99). Both reformist bishop Nicholas Ridley, who was burnt at the stake at Oxford, and politician William Pitt earned their degrees here. The gardens and the church are frequently included in a visit.
Cambridge’s address is Trumpington Street.