Essential Things to Do in Cambridge
Looking for a laidback, culturally stimulating city break with plenty of green space to explore? Look no further than this city.
Ah, Cambridge: steeped in history and academic prowess. Its university has been around since 1209 and can claim 118 Nobel Prizes and counting (to Oxford’s mere 69). The city boasts many a lofty university building with storied halls to wander. Now, we’ll be honest, a lot of the things on this list are university related. But Cambridge isn’t all about the academic life. With river walks and plenty of green space, Cambridge has a more bucolic feel than most cities – its urban residents include a herd of city-based cows. (And apparently, even the cows here are clever enough to be using Twitter). And then there are the cultural offerings: from world-class art at the Fitzwilliam Museum to an impressive theatre scene and excellent restaurants. These all make it a prime candidate for a laidback, culturally stimulating city break with plenty of green space to escape to.
Whether it's a day trip from London or you're looking to make a whole weekend of it, be sure to book a Plum Guide home for the duration of your stay. Our home critics have professionally vetted each and every one – from the design to the practical details like water pressure – to make sure our listings contain only the top 3% of holiday rental homes. Either way – and without further ado – here are our travel experts’ essential things to do in Cambridge.
See the university colleges
As well as having far more Nobel Prizes for just the one shelf, Cambridge University has attracted a few characters in its time. One being Lord Byron, who defied the rule about students not having dogs as pets, by keeping a bear in his room at Trinity College. More than 200 years later, you can visit Cambridge’s colleges as a tourist, and walk in the footsteps of famous alumni – who also include Sir Isaac Newton and Prince Charles – with far less fear of a bear mauling. Many colleges will let you in free of charge or for a small fee. Don’t miss the gothic King’s College Chapel, which contains the Rubens painting, Adoration of the Magi. And for a peek behind the scenes, time your visit for the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, held in the university’s private gardens.
Eat fine French-inspired, modern British Michelin fare (it’s got two stars, if you were wondering) at Midsummer House. It’s all riverside views and fancy flourishes with homely decadence: think champagne foams and caviar creams on your scallops and tarted up Yorkshire rhubarb for pud. You'll feel suitably full once you're back in Godwin, your lovely Plum home.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
One of the most significant collections of internationally important art and artefacts outside London's galleries, The Fitzwilliam Museum is very much worthy of your time. From medieval manuscripts to Asian art, pottery and porcelain, as well as Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, and fine art works – this place will keep you inspired for weeks (or at the very least for a rainy afternoon).
Cambridge University Botanic Garden
For sunnier days, Cambridge University Botanic Garden is not to be overlooked. It’s association with the institution’s Department of Plant Sciences confirms the quality of these horticultural collections, which includes trees ranging from redwood to Mongolian mulberry and a spectrum of brilliant blooms from the Plant Heritage-registered National Plant Collections.
From Stephen Fry to Emma Thompson and Ian McKellen, Cambridge University has produced some fantastic actors. Catch some of tomorrow’s greats at the ADC Theatre, Britain’s oldest university playhouse (established in 1855). Today, there’s still everything from comedy to musical theatre, with plays ranging from Grease to Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.
Punting on the River Cam
One of the most clichéd but also fun things to do in Cambridge is punting on the River Cam. Head out from your Plum home like Retrouer and rent your own punt (or be chauffeured) with a reputable company like Scudamore’s, and wend your peaceful way down the river for a peek into the 'College Backs' (the gardens and grounds that back onto the river). And there’s not really much else to be said about that – except that it’s best not to fall in.
Scott Polar Research Institute Museum
An intriguingly niche museum that provides a vicarious peek into the lives of polar explorers, and all the polar research carried out at Cambridge University. The Scott Polar Research Institute Museum includes a collection devoted to explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton (who went to the Antarctic not once but four times) and plenty about penguins.
Have a drink at the historical, Grade II-listed pub The Eagle. The famous watering hole, which has been a pub since the 17th century, contains a ceiling’s worth of graffiti by Allied pilots who fought in World War Two. It was also where Francis Crick and James Watson announced their discovery of DNA, or as Crick put it 'the secret of life'. An iconic moment yes, but we can’t help thinking that anyone else who says that in a pub has probably had a few too many.
The Round Church
Explore the 900-year-old church, built by crusaders, for a look at 12th-century Norman architecture and an exhibition that tells the story of Cambridge, from Roman times to the present day. The Dalai Lama, Bill Gates and Queen Victoria have all visited, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us…