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The 19 best things to do in Cambridge right now

You’ve heard of King’s College Chapel. So what else? Our pick of the best things to do in Cambridge will keep you busy

Written by
Paula Akpan
&
Bethan Kapur
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A compact and quite gorgeous place, Cambridge is known the world over. The university dominates that reputation, but there is more to this magical place than high society education and the like. Well, for a start, you don’t need to be a boff to get an education here, you can just saunter around the many excellent museums found in town. The best things to do in Cambridge cover lots of ground.

The best restaurants in Cambridge are very much a part of the experience, and they happen to be plenty romantic too. Add some real curiosities, gorgeous architecture and more, and you’ve got yourself a city to savour.

Best things to do in Cambridge

Punt down the river

What is it? The national pastime of Cambridge and one of the best ways to see the city. And the good news is you don’t even need to work your own arm muscles.

Why go? To get within sniffing distance of Cambridge and not go punting is like going to Pisa and not seeing the leaning tower. The brave and the skilled do the stick-bit themselves, but if you’re a first-timer, book a gondolier-like guide to navigate the River Cam for you.

Immerse yourself in greenery at the Botanic Gardens

What is it? Some 40 acres of gorgeously green (and pink and yellow and red…) botanic gardens owned by Cambridge University, where you can earnestly study horticulture or snooze on the lawn.

Why go? Cambridge’s botanic gardens are an Arcadian paradise hidden behind a fairly nondescript entrance at the station end of town. What sets them apart from other city gardens is the woodland vibe. Lose yourself in a maze of lush foliage and leave all your troubles behind.

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What is it? A niche museum that’s all about Cambridge University’s world-class polar research. 

Why go? Fancy yourself a bit of an explorer but only ever manage to take day trips around the UK? Well, the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute will introduce you to genuinely intrepid (and cold) historic explorations of far-flung corners of the globe, all from the comfort of Cambridge. Free entry.

Tour the city on two wheels

What is it? Cambridge is well known for its sheer barrage of bikes. Because of this, the city is well set up for riders and locals on foot are used to dodging wayward wheels.

Why go? Given its modest size, Cambridge is best navigated by bike. There are loads of places to hire them from, and you can lock them just about anywhere. While there are plenty of cycle lanes, you’ll notice that many locals go rogue and ride on the pavements. Cambridge really is a cyclist’s paradise.

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Unearth vintage treasures along Mill Road
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5. Unearth vintage treasures along Mill Road

What is it? A long, street art-splashed road to the west of the city that encompasses quaint terraces and cool independent shops.

Why go? You’ll find vintage shops galore along Mill Road, so if you’re looking for some ’70s-style homeware or an offbeat addition to your wardrobe, spend an afternoon browsing to your heart’s content. Vinyl nerds should head to Relevant Records for secondhand LPs and new releases (and some great coffee). If it’s food you’re after, Italian deli Limoncello may well have the best Mediterranean snacks in East Anglia.

What is it? The most homely art gallery you’ll ever come across (because it used to be someone’s home).

Why go? Kettle’s Yard was once the residence of Jim and Helen Ede. Thanks to Jim’s job as a curator at the Tate Gallery, the couple filled their home with artworks by famous names like Barbara Hepworth and Joan Mirò. Then, in an act of extreme generosity, the Edes gave it all to Cambridge University. You can now visit it and see the art lovingly arranged around the house, which still feels like a home.

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What is it? Sure, it’s a bookshop, but what a bookshop! It’s a palace of literature.

Why go? If there’s a city in the UK where a person shouldn’t have to apologise for being a bit of a geek, it’s Cambridge. Feed your inner bookworm until it bloats and blossoms into a beautiful butterfly at Heffers, the oddly named bookshop where browsing and buying are both a pleasure.

What is it? This student-run theatre isn’t your typical am-dram set up: it’s where Sue Perkins, Emma Corrin and Tom Hiddleston first tread the boards, so you might witness a star in the making.

Why go? With multiple shows on a week in term time, catch dramatic monologues and award-winning comedy at a budget price. There are often classics like Grease on the programme, but try to get a ticket for one of the Footlights’ original sketch shows for a proper Cambridge night out.

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Go behind-the-scenes on a university tour

What is it? A student’s eye view of the world-famous university, giving visitors an insider’s introduction to its most beautiful nooks and crannies.

Why go? As a city, Cambridge is pleasingly compact and easy to navigate on foot. The same is true of the university, which dominates the centre. Take a stroll through and around the institution with those who know it best as a guide: real-life Cambridge students.

What is it? The stunning gothic chapel that dominates the centre of Cambridge. It’s a must-visit, even if church-spotting isn’t your sport.

Why go? Every December, the Christmas Eve carol service is broadcast from King’s College Chapel, giving sherry-filled adults the chance to embarrassingly cry over the first crystalline bars of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. Relive this tradition with a visit inside the breathtaking chapel itself – then head round the corner for drinks at the Eagle

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What is it? An ice-cream shop like no other. Since popping up on Bene’t Street a few years ago, the tiny dessert shop has become a big draw for locals and tourists alike.

Why go? Jack’s Gelato has all your fave regular flavours, but that’s not why you should visit. Highlights have included marmalade, panettone and rooibos gelato, and white peach sorbet. If you can’t get enough – and we wouldn’t blame you – pint tubs are available via their website to enjoy at home. 

What is it? A very large and bizarre clock designed to make you fear the incessant ticking away of each moment on earth. Just don’t head here if you actually need to know the time.

Why go? The Corpus Clock is on the front of the Taylor Library at Corpus Christi College. It’s less a clock (although it is accurate every once in a while) and more of an art piece. The marvellously creepy insect straddling it appears to ‘eat’ time – a reminder that we don’t have as much of it left as we think.

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Browse the ever-changing market stalls
Photograph: Nicole Kwiatkowski / Shutterstock.com

13. Browse the ever-changing market stalls

What is it? Grab lunch with the locals at the tightly packed street-food stalls in the centre of town.

Why go? There are some great restaurants in the city, but if you want to try something cooked right in front of you, this is your best bet. Think ostrich burgers, posh Scotch eggs, fresh pad thai, and freshly squeezed juices. 

What is it? Cambridge’s first-rate art and antiquities museum where you can marvel at objects from around the world.

Why go? The Fitzwilliam is owned by Cambridge University and, like Oxford’s Ashmolean, is a treasure chest of a museum. Unlike the supersized British Museum in London, the Fitzwilliam is home to enough diverse trinkets, ornaments and paintings to make you marvel, but not enough to give you brain-overload. Plus, it’s free entry.

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Climb to the top of St Mary’s church
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

15. Climb to the top of St Mary’s church

What is it? A panoramic view of the city, 123 steps up.

Why go? St Mary’s is next to the marketplace, meaning it’s easy to get to, and you’ll have plenty of energy left for the steep but manageable climb to the top. And boy, is the view worth it. The church is even older than the university – it was built in 1205 (fun fact: King Henry donated 100 oak trees to construct its roof). Want to learn more history? Then have a go on the building’s interactive touch screens.

Visit the Centre for Computing History
Photograph: The Centre for Computing History

16. Visit the Centre for Computing History

What is it? A museum full of vintage electronics, including everything from the world’s largest microprocessor to Pac-Man. 

Why go? If you came to Cambridge to geek the hell out, you might as well do it properly. Get in a metaphorical time machine and remind yourself of the days before iPhones and Alexas. We bet you’ll love it, because who isn’t obsessed with the ‘90s? Gen Z, prepare to have your mind blown.

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17. Order cocktails at Six

What is it? The best place in Cambridge to sip lychee or passion fruit martinis and watch the sunset.

Why go? Cambridgeshire may be the flattest county in the UK but rest assured, this rooftop bar is a far better place than any hill to admire the views of all the colleges from above. There are sofas, for a start.

Watch a gig at Cambridge Junction

What is it? An independent arts venue where you can see comedy, music, theatre, spoken word, movies and more. 

Why go? The Cambridge Junction must be one of the best UK music venues. It makes some canny programming choices, is run by a friendly team and offers everything from alternative rock and folk to one-off Edinburgh Fringe previews from top stand-ups. 

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Cross the mathematical bridge
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

19. Cross the mathematical bridge

What is it? A bridge in Queens’ College that looks curved but is made entirely of straight timbers. It’s so clever that Oxford copied it, but you should see the original.

Why go? Perhaps you never realised you wanted to see a great feat in mid-18th-century architecture, but you should. The legend is that this bridge was originally designed by Sir Isaac Newton to illustrate how gravity works. Apparently, nothing but the wooden beams held it up (it has nails in it now, though, because the wood rotted and no one could remember what exactly Newton had done). That’s the story anyway – maybe it’s a lie, maybe it’s science, or maybe Newton was actually a wizard, who knows.

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