Cambridge makes for a wonderful day trip from London. Cambridge University is far from all Cambridge has to offer but is the focal point of the town center and a good place to start.
The University is organised into a number of colleges to which every student belongs. Students tend to have greater attachment to their college where they live and socialise than to the university itself. Kings college, Queen’s college, Trinity college and St Johns College are among the most famous but they all have a unique character. Many of the most well known colleges charge an admission fee which can rack up. My preferred option is to punt (or walk) down the ‘backs’ (these colleges are set with their backs to the river Cam). That way you get a splendid view at the grandeur of all these magnificent colleges at once. The famous landmarks, Kings college chapel, the Mathematical bridge and the bridge of Sighs are all visible from the river Cam. After that go wandering around some of the smaller, lesser known colleges, which are no less stunning. Clare, Pembroke and Peterhouse (Cambridge’s oldest college founded in 1284) as well as my alma mater Newnham are among my favourites.
An absolute must for any trip to Cambridge is punting. Think of a gondola in Venice but with less theatrics. Scuadmores rules the punting roost and they offer a wide variety of tours. I recommend the self punting option – not only is it a lot cheaper but it is also a lot more fun and a lot less cramped. You will need a good sense of humour. Remember to get up some speed and duck under the bridges, lest you get stuck!
After all that exertion its time for a pint. A great option next to Scuadores is the Mill, especially on a sunny day where you can spill over onto the green. Other favourites are the Eagle – of note for the Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA – and the Pickerel.
In the afternoon, take one of these two gentle walks to see a bit of hidden Cambridge. The first is for literary lovers. Stroll to the Grantchester tea rooms which is about half an hour along the river Cam to the picturesque village of Grantchester. Afternoon tea here is about as British and steeped in literary history as you can get. Go for the scones and clotted cream and jam and enter the age long debate of which goes on the top! If it rains the Green Man pub is a worthy substitute.
For the sports lover walk through along the river from Magdalene college, and across Jesus Green to the boathouses. This stretch of the Cam is where the rowing happens. The colleges and city boat clubs are lined up along the banks and in term time the river will be awash with crews. If you can plan your trip to coincide with summer or spring bumps (Mays and Lents). It is a rowing race involving the university’s entire rowing community and a sight to behold!
Many of the colleges rent out their rooms in the summer which can be economical as well as allowing visitors to stay in some grand historical buildings. Cambridge Rooms lets you see which colleges have availability for any given dates. Make sure you check up on the area of the college the rooms are located in – many of the colleges have accommodations off their main sites or in 70s concrete monstrosities which should be avoided at all costs.