Mathematical Bridge
Photograph: Miriam Balanescu for Time Out

The 22 best things to do in Cambridge right now

From punting to theatre, here’s how to smash a weekend break in this picture-perfect city

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When you think of Cambridge, you probably think of the university (where a bunch of very famous and very clever people started out). But you’ll find when you visit that that culture and creativity exists all over the city, from its museums and galleries to its epic food scene.

Apt for exploration by punt, bike or foot, Cambridge boasts a hell of a lot; comedy, theatre, live music and art galleries sit against architectural marvels and lush greenery, making this not just a fascinating place but a darn romantic one, too. Looking for a quiet weekend break? This is the spot. Here are the best things to do in Cambridge right now. 

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Words and original photos by Miriam Balanescu, a writer based in Cambridge. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines.

What to do in Cambridge

  • Attractions
  • Rivers, lakes and ponds

What is it? Cambridge’s most famous pastime (apart from reading loads of books) and one of the best ways to see the city. 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.

  • Art
  • Galleries

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? This student-run theatre isn’t your typical am-dram set up: it’s where Sue Perkins, Emma Corrin and Tom Hiddleston first trod 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 cutting-edge 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.

4. Try unusual ice-cream flavours at Jack’s Gelato

What is it? An ice-cream shop like no other. Since popping up on Bene’t Street in 2010, 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. To dodge the queue, a second much-less-busy branch opened in 2023, five minutes away on All Saints Passage. If you can’t get enough – and we wouldn’t blame you – pint tubs are available via their website to enjoy at home. 

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5. 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 Chinese pancake wraps, posh Scotch eggs, veggie Brazilian fare and unbeatable mac and cheese. 

6. See art and antiquities at The Fitzwilliam Museum

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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7. Eat a Chelsea bun at Fitzbillies

What is it? A cinnamon-spiced treat somewhere between a cake and a pastry, made by a century-old bakery – which happens to be a Cambridge institution almost as hallowed as the university itself.

Why go? Ignore the London-hailing name – you haven’t really been to Cambridge until you’ve tasted this bakery’s revered, irresistibly sticky raisin-studded bun. (They’ve been making them since 1920 and churn out over 200,000 of them every year.) Even though the buns are all anyone seems to talk about, Fitzbillies’ offerings don’t stop there – they do a pretty darn good brunch and lunch too. 

8. 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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9. Explore King’s College Chapel

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 festive season, the BBC’s Christmas Eve carol service is recorded in 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, which boasts housing the world’s largest fan vaulted ceiling – then head round the corner for drinks at The Eagle

10. 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 UK’s best 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. Don’t miss its incredible monthly queer night Club Urania, which always has a stunning line-up of performers but most of all is just a really nice place to be.

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11. Grab a drink at The Maypole

What is it? Only the best pub in the whole of Cambridge, where you can choose from an unrivalled array of beverages, with separate menus dedicated to Belgian beers, gins and whiskeys.

Why go? The Maypole is a few paces away from the ADC and it’s where most actors, crew and audiences head post-show. It’s also one of a handful of freehouses in the city, meaning it has a seemingly endless selection of real ales on tap and local brews. Take your pick from its impressive range of tipples – from chocolate stouts to cherry blossom gins – and listen in on some thespian gossip.

12. Take a stroll through Grantchester

What is it? A tiny village on the outskirts of Cambridge, most famous for its sprawling, riverside meadows – and being the filming location for the BBC detective series of the same name.

Why go? Despite its small size, this quaint village packs a lot in. The Orchard Tea Garden was once a favoured haunt of the city’s literati. (Rupert Brooke, Xu Zhimo, E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf were apparently all regulars for cream tea.) The local parish church keeps a shrine to the fictional crime-solving priest in Grantchester’s TV namesake. And, murder aside, its meadows are the perfect picnic spot. 

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13. 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.

14. Get nerdy at the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum

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.

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15. 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. There are plenty of cycle lanes – sometimes so well-hidden that a pack of bikes seem to come out of nowhere, so keep an eye out. Cambridge really is a cyclist’s paradise.

16. Feed your inner bookworm at Heffers

What is it? Sure, it’s a bookshop, but what a bookshop. It's perhaps better described as 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.

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17. Order cocktails at Bar 196

What is it? The go-to spot to sip a roasted coconut daquiri al fresco while watching the world go by. 

Why go? From Bar 196’s handwritten menus to the unusual (and slightly unsettling) picture collages on the loo walls, this cocktail bar has gained cult status among Cambridge locals. Its extensive drinks list is a mix of familiar favourites and twists on old classics – with the bar staff happy to whip up pretty much any drink on request. In summer, you might have to fight for a prime seat on the pavements of Mill Road, where you can feel Parisian as the sun sets over Mill Road bridge. And, in winter, this bar’s dimly lit interior is a great place to cosy up.

18. 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-eighteenth-century architecture, but you should. The design for this bridge was dreamed up by engineer James King – though tour guides love to spread the rumour that this bridge was originally designed by Sir Isaac Newton. Legend has it that nothing but the wooden beams held it up, but after the wood rotted and no one could remember what exactly Newton had done, they had to rebuild it with nails. While sadly not true, for definite Newton-related landmarks head down the road to Trinity College to see the fabled tree responsible for the scientist’s theory of gravity. 

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19. Catch a glimpse of The Corpus Clock

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.

20. Climb to the top of Great St Mary’s

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 – with the foundations built as early as 1010 (fun fact: King Henry VII donated 100 oak trees to construct its roof). Want to learn more history? Then have a go on the building’s interactive touch screens.

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21. Visit the Centre for Computing History

What is it? A museum full of vintage electronics, including everything from a mammoth 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 minds blown.

22. 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.

More great things to do in Cambridge

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