Is a visit to Cambridge, United Kingdom, on your boomer bucket list? Today Nicole Jewell (who last wrote for us about dining like a local in Madrid) offers advice on where to go and what to do in this historic university town.
British history is as vast and profound as the oceans that surround the United Kingdom itself. In order to really understand the history of the UK, and its impact on the world as we know it today, curious history buffs would be wise to start at one of the two scholarly Meccas in the UK—Cambridge University. After Oxford, Cambridge is the oldest university in the English speaking world, dating back to 1209 when a group of Oxford scholars had a slight tift with local townsfolk and decided to start their own prestigious university.
And while some may tenaciously suggest that Oxford would be the only logical place to start a proper British history lesson, Cambridge has an alumni roster second to none. The university has produced more than 80 Nobel Prize winners and some of the world’s greatest thinkers like Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin and Issac Newton have passed through its historical halls.
As one can imagine, this historical town has a lot to see, so here are a few suggestions designed to make the most out of a day trip to Cambridge.
Getting to Cambridge
Cambridge is barely an hour outside of London by train. The cost of the ride from Kings Cross station is about 45 pounds (about $70 US), which is a bit steep, but the chance to walk among the hallowed halls of some of the world’s greatest thinkers is priceless, right? Local Train Times
Once at the Cambridge station, take a bus into town or walk about 20 to 30 minutes straight out of the station’s only exit. The walk is pleasant, depending on the crowds and the weather.
If it’s raining out, take the bus into town as the sidewalks are a bit narrow and dodging hurried college students and tourists is never fun. Buses can be found about 100 yards in front of the train station. Look for Drummer Street. Buses leave this stop every ten minutes and will take you to the heart of the city.
Planning for rainy weather
While good advice for anyone traveling to the UK, make sure that when visiting Cambridge you bring a rain coat and an umbrella. Also, you’ll regret it if you don’t wear comfortable and preferably water-proof walking shoes. Trust me—as someone who just spent almost eight hours plodding around the University during a day-long downpour—bring the rain gear.
Taking the guided tour
If former alumni of Cambridge, Sir Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon, could talk to us today, I’m sure they would urge visitors to take a walking tour of the university. Even if organized tours aren’t your thing, someone explaining the immense history of Cambridge’s 31 colleges is worth your time. Of course, you won’t visit all of the Colleges, but you’ll get an in-depth look at most of the principle buildings like King’s College and Trinity Hall. Two-hour guided tours leave the tourist office at multiple times during the day and it’s best to sign up in advance as the times can differ throughout the year.
Of course, if you prefer the more independent method of travel, I recommend stopping at one of the local tourist shops and picking up a guide book. It’s really not enough to just walk around Cambridge and see the sights. The University’s history is simply staggering and it’s really worth the time it takes to read up on its past. We missed the organized tour by about 20 minutes and bought, Welcome to Cambridge – Your Guide to the Very Best of the City, which was very helpful.
Cruising the river Cam
Should you fork over the twelve Pounds to take a boat ride on the river Cam? Of course you should! Walking in and out of the colleges takes its toll on the most seasoned traveler and a relaxing boat ride punted by a cute Cambridge guide is a great way to take a break.
The river Cam runs through the city and has incredible views of the colleges. Green, lush and romantic, the river banks are incredibly beautiful and punting slowly down the river is a very good way to leisurely see the city’s beautiful landscape.
Listen to me very closely: if there is even an inkling of a dark cloud in sight, a punt down the River Cam is not recommended. Trust me! And don’t let those fair skinned college blokes talk you into it (even if they are incredibly cute and their accents dreamy). If you get in the boat and it starts to rain, there’s no pulling over to the side. Sure, they’ll give you umbrellas, but be prepared to be miserable for the remainder of the trip.
And just when you think you can’t take anymore inspiring tales of history, a local Cambridge hangout manages to mix both frothy ales and scientific tales. Although the historic city has a lot to offer in terms of cafes and restaurants, go for a pint and order fish and chips at The Eagle.
The Eagle is one of the town’s oldest inns , dating back to the 14th century. Just a few blocks from Kings College and the Cavendish Laboratory, this pub has always been a local hangout for scholars and scientists studying at the University. According to legend, James D. Watson and Francis Crick announced to fellow patrons of the Eagle that they had discovered “the secret of life” or DNA as we know it today. In addition, the famous pub is covered with signatures of WWII RAF pilots, adding to the pub’s incredible historical relevance.
Need a place to stay? Start with this search of hotels in Cambridge.
All in all, Cambridge makes for a great (and convenient) day trip from London. The sheer volume of its cultural and scientific contributions to the world is incredibly inspiring. After just a few hours surrounded by so much genius, don’t be surprised if you start getting the urge to start inventing or investigating or writing a scholarly tome. As generations of scientific minds and great thinkers can attest, genius simply abounds in Cambridge.
Do you have Cambridge travel tips to share or have a question about an upcoming trip to this lovely spot in the UK? Come join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook. Or send us an email with your thoughts.
Presently living in Madrid, Nicole enjoys the guilty pleasure of forcing her cute Spanish husband to take her to various European cities in order to explore beautiful cities, profound history, and distinct cultures that can be found throughout Europe. Her travel articles and photos have been published in various publications as well as her own blog, Pass the Ham. And of course, she's currently enjoying her new post as assistant editor at My Itchy Travel Feet.