Out and About in the Cambridgeshire Area
Located in the lush region of Cambridgeshire, the county town of Cambridge is a famed university city––owing to the illustrious Cambridge University that sits in the heart of town––that is steeped in historical significance. Education aside, Cambridge is also known for its hospitality and scenic views (it’s often referred to as one of the prettiest locations in all of England) and has plenty to offer holidaymakers, adventure-seekers, and families alike.
Whether you’re looking to spend a few hours or a few days here, there are plenty of activities and events held year-round to satisfy every member of your party.
Getting here: travel in and around Cambridge
With a population of just over 600,000, the scenic Cambridgeshire region attracts millions annually. It borders Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk and Suffolk to the east, Essex and Hertfordshire to the south and Northamptonshire to the west.
One of the many elements that make Cambridge an attractive destination for visitors throughout the country is its connectivity to many of England’s most travelled roadways. In fact, several major roads intersect near Cambridge. The M11 motorway stretches the length of southern England from London before terminating to the north west of the city, where it meets with the A14. Cambridge is also situated on the A10, a stretch that carries up to King’s Lynn; the A428 connects the city to nearby Bedford, while the A1303 connects to Newmarket.
For those interested in travelling from London, the main railway station is a mere 55-minute commute from King’s Cross, with trains leaving departing every hour most days.
Once you’ve made it to the bustling city centre, it’s even easier to get around by public transit. However, being a mostly university-town, cycling is extremely popular, and many upgrades have been made to local infrastructure to accommodate cyclists––perfect for those who like to stay active while exploring new areas.
What to do and see in Cambridge city centre?
In north-central Cambridge, Jesus Green is a popular park and open space for visitors looking to connect with nature and partake in various outdoor activities. Due to its location to River Cam to the north, waterside events frequently take place during the spring and summer months, not to mention the popular Cambridge Beer Festival that has been held on the grounds since 2001.
Next to Jesus Green, along the south bank of the Cam, sits Midsummer Common, another popular open-air venue for gatherings and festivals popular with tourists, including the Strawberry Fair and Midsummer Funfair.
An average day in Cambridge
A communal place of trading since the Middle Ages, the Market Square (at Market Hill) is always a great venue for finding unique gifts, fresh food, and everything in between. The famed Sunday market features dozens of booths hosted by local artisans and vendors selling one-of-a-kind goods and vintage finds, not to mention seasonal produce and fresh meats. Centrally located nearby local restaurants and cafés (pick up a coffee and a gooey, fresh-baked Chelsea bun at the iconic Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street before heading to the market), it’s the perfect place to start a day in Cambridge.
Next, head throughout the charming side streets and tour the exquisite historical sites on offer. Cambridge’s rich legacy means that countless architectural wonders are still on display, with many open to the public, including self-guided tours of the 15th-century Great St. Mary’s Church on Senate House Hill and the positively iconic King’s College Chapel––one of the most famous buildings in the city––famed for its fan-vaulted ceiling and world-renowned choir.
A popular attraction for visitors to Cambridge are the University Botanic Gardens, a place, as the name suggests, is a welcome alternative to the busy activity of down town life. Located away from the centre, and conveniently close to the train station, this serene stop features a jaw-dropping variety of lush plant life and flora––expertly manicured gardens and pathways provide ample opportunity for quiet reflection and an abundance of plant species (over 8,000 varieties to be exact) from all over the world, to discover and gaze upon. Offsite, there are seasonal walking trails and winding paths to explore as the bucolic Cambridgeshire countryside beams from behind; meanwhile, the historical indoor greenhouses provide a range of tropical and desert specimens to view.
If you’re looking for places to shop until you drop, you should check out the three-storey Grand Arcade in the heart of St. Andrew’s Street. This luxury high-street shopping arcade features shops from some of the top fashion designers, with a heavy emphasis on mostly British designer labels.
Once you’ve toured the city’s markets and historical sites, tuck into one of Cambridge’s fine restaurants or watering holes, like the famous Eagle Pub, where, in 1953, researchers Francis Crick and James Watson announced that they had discovered the DNA structure. Pick up a pint of Eagle DNA and a helping of fish and chips before calling it a night.
Punting on the Cam
Given the layout of the area surrounding many of Cambridge University’s colleges, the River Cam snakes through the historic structures in a perfectly picturesque manner. The scenes are so painterly and beautiful that you might find yourself inspired to get onto the water yourself. And you definitely can.
Taking a punt—for those who don’t know: punting is a very charming, English mode of river transport not unlike the gondoliers in Venice, Italy—is a great way to discover and experience the waterside views, especially alongside many of the beautiful buildings of King’s College and Trinity College. Securing your own craft and traversing down the river offers punters access to the same views that many of history’s greatest scholars would have experienced.
And, if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic or romantic, punting along the River Cam can be just as fun in the winter as it is during the summer months. Take in the best winter scenery from your craft during the periods between November and
March through to Spring while the bracing activity on the water is less busy. Temperatures may be colder, but once you’ve bundled up, you’ll barely notice the chill. In fact, many punt hire companies are happy to provide extra blankets and hot water bottles for your comfort.
Punting along the River Cam is a positively iconic pastime for many of the local residents and visitors. Punting trips are readily available for guided or solo tours down the famed waterway and can typically be found available for rent at Quayside by Magdalene Bridge, among other sites. Punts are typically easier to book in advance during the summer, so if you plan on a winter tour, reach out to local companies ahead of time.
Cambridge in the Winter
You might not think that the lush landscapes of the Cambridgeshire countryside would be as inviting during the winter months, but you would be mistaken. There are plenty of activities and events to experience year-round, but none so famous as the North Pole at Parker’s Piece—an annual tradition in Cambridge, featuring a massive outdoor skating rink, festival rides, market stalls, ice slides and other attractions, plus great food, craft beers and hot cocoa. Entry to the festival is free but rides typically start at £2 each, and roughly £12.50 for skating.
Another fantastic attraction during the colder months is the Mill Road Winter Fair that takes place annually on Mill Road. Traditionally kicked off in early December by the mayor, this fair features live music, great food, shopping, storytelling and street performances––perfect for families. And speaking of families…
A day in Cambridgeshire with children
For days out with the family in Cambridgeshire––particularly young children––activities and events in and around the centre are easily accessible and always entertaining. Sacrewell Farm and Country Centre in neighbouring Peterborough features a charming array of barnyard animals and farm-style games, including pedal tractor races and a soft play area. There’s even a dedicated camping and caravan site for long-term stays. Suitable for toddlers and teenagers alike, the site is a great outdoor space to allow young ones to let off steam in an open, tranquil rural atmosphere.
If the kids haven’t had enough of animals, there is always an educational tour through Hamerton Zoo Park in nearby Hamerton. Get close up with dozens of wild animals, including tigers, cheetahs, bears and reptiles, while two outdoor play areas are perfect for running around.
Adventure is always around the corner at Big Sky Adventure Play, an absolute gem for kids of all ages. Drop slides, rock walls, trampolines, go-karts and so much more on offer.
All in all, the Cambridgeshire area, and Cambridge proper, have so much to offer visitors. Historical tours of one of the world’s most famous (and oldest) institutions of learning, medieval architecture and gardens, nature trails, serene parklands and riverways, contemporary shopping and fine dining, arts and entertainment, year-round market fairs and festivals, kid-friendly sites and playgrounds…the list goes on. For a trip, an afternoon or a fortnight, there is something for everyone. See for yourself!