“Where are you from?” “Cambridge” I lie, when anyone from outside of East Anglia asks me. Technically, I grew up in a tiny village north of the city, but Cambridge is still ‘home’. Cambridge is a little urban hotspot for creativity, science, culture and history in the East Anglian countryside and is certainly a place to keep in mind if you’re ever in need of a short getaway.
I suppose it makes sense to talk firstly about one of the things that has put Cambridge on the map – the University. As the third longest-surviving university in the world, having opened in 1209, its reputation has grown richer with age. Comprised of 12 colleges, the university colleges and associated chapels are a highly prominent part of the urban architecture. The University of Cambridge has quite the list of alumni and associates. Darwin produced his theory of evolution here, Sir David Attenborough studied here and Steven Hawking lectured in the very position that Sir Isaac Newton himself also once did. Due to the prestige of the university, it is Cambridge’s epicentre and a gorgeous host of campuses to spend the day looking at, along with its gorgeous historic architecture. However, I firmly believe that it is the herds of tourists (5+ million per year) and the friendly locals that keep the city warm and thriving.
The narrow, cobbled roads and high student population (about 1/5) mean it is no surprise that the city is full of cyclists, which makes the place lovely for a weekend of bike riding. Additionally, you could join the streams of tourists who are drawn by the novelty of punting on the River Cam. Punts are an old English version of a gondola, driven (or punted) in the same fashion. Punting through the old city is by far the best way to relax and absorb Cambridge’s beauty and magic (just watch out for the cheeky students who may pinch your punt stick when you go under a bridge).
“A top-notch Chelsea bun made according to the traditional 1922 recipe”
For those preferring to stay on dry land, the Cambridge University Botanical gardens are a stunning and peaceful place to visit. If the weather isn’t on your side, there are many museums also worth checking out: For art-enthusiasts, the Fitzwilliam Museum or the Kettle Yard are your best bet. For other interests there are museums dedicated to Archaeology and Anthropology, Zoology, and Earth Sciences. For those less interested in museums, there are two major shopping centres divided by beautifully well-kept public greens, where many buskers try to tempt you for spare change. For slightly quirkier viewing, needn’t look far to find an edgy-veggie café, a vintage store, a modern art exhibition or a good nightclub. There are also plenty of great chain restaurants and lovely pubs run by friendly locals. If you’re a secret or proud biology geek, you could even take a walk down Benet Street and stop off for a pint in The Eagle, where Watson and Crick announced their ground-breaking discovery of the DNA double helix.
If you are a bit of a foodie you’ll enjoy a food tour of Cambridge, the range of cuisines reflect how multi-cultural (oooh buzzword of the 21st century) and eclectic the city has become. To find the local students in their favourite food spot, pop into Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street, where you can treat yourself to a top-notch Chelsea bun made according to the traditional 1922 recipe. For good morning grub hit up Stickybeaks or The Copper Kettle and once you’ve worked up an appetite from all this exploring, the Cambridge Chophouse is the place to go. For a wider range of veggie options, head over to the Rainbow Vegetarian Café (open till late) or for an all-round-dietary-needs-pleaser, my favourite has to be The Olive Grove on Hills Road.
“Whether you spend a few hours or a few days here, Cambridge and its centuries of history are charming, quirky and guaranteed to steal a little piece of your heart.”
Event-wise, the Cambridge Folk Festival and the Strawberry Fair both attract thousands each summer, while the various theatres put on great entertainment all year round, including gigs, theatrical productions and dance displays. The university colleges also tend to celebrate theatre with outdoor shows in the college grounds, which you can enjoy huddled up in a blanket while the sun sets and the stars come out.
The city has one main railway station and a smaller one to the north, with links to most parts of the south. A simple change at Peterborough can take you anywhere north and London is less an hour away on a direct train. The city actually has a small airport too, from which short-haul flights run (to an ever-expanding range of destinations in Europe and the UK). Once here, I would advise against driving around the city. Due to its age, most of the streets are narrow and one-way (and there are so many cyclists that driving isn’t the most fun). Not to worry though, the city has excellent park-and-ride services that run all day and tickets are very reasonable priced. I think the best way to visit is to pop on your comfiest shoes and walk at your own leisure, or use good old pedal power. If you decide to make a weekend of it, you could opt to stay in one of the many hotels, or you could push the boat out (or punt maybe) and stay in a college dorm.
Whether you spend a few hours or a few days here, Cambridge and its centuries of history are charming, quirky and guaranteed to steal a little piece of your heart. There’s always been a warm, humble feel about the city and despite not being too big, it is impossible to know where every alleyway leads.
Feature Image courtesy of Daniel Enchev via Flickr, license here.
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