Within the exquisite architecture of Cambridge, centuries of history and achievement have shaped the world in countless ways. Explore the best this river-side university city has to offer on this Cambridge day trip.
Few of the great destinations in the UK charm the camera more than a day out in Cambridge.
Exquisite late-Gothic architecture with medieval stained-glass windows, tower over cobbled streets and immaculate greens. Beautiful gardens line the river crisscrossed with punters regaling customers with anecdotes spanning 800 years of history. Students negotiate wonky lanes on bikes, balancing a pile of books in one hand and a latte in the other.
Founded in 1209 after students fled Oxford to escape rioting townspeople, Cambridge hasn’t looked back. The town that gave the world evolutionary biology, IVF, Artificial Intelligence, computer games, the thermos and football, wears history and achievement with a subdued confidence.
Walk in the halls of tradition, where quirky rituals, weird discoveries and fragments of pop culture were born. Follow in the footsteps of the leading minds where Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking and Ali G all nurtured their craft.
We’ve put our favourite things to do in Cambridge together as a day trip allowing you to see all the top sights. It covers the key attractions, a few cultural experiences, great food and suggestions for your next trip.
It also includes recommendations on where to spend the night just in case you want to turn your Cambridge day trip into a historic weekend break.
Booking your trip via the links on this page (or on our book page) will earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support – Paul & Mark.
IN THIS GUIDE
CAMBRIDGE DAY TRIP
CAMBRIDGE DAY TRIP / MORNING
Cambridge is slow to wake up. So if you arrive early, grab breakfast at Hot Numbers in Trumpington Street, conveniently located between the train station and the town centre. They have a great brunch menu, but it’s their coffee that really steals the show.
01 – CORPUS CLOCK & MARKET SQUARE
After breakfast, stroll past Corpus Clock, one of the more interesting things to see in Cambridge. This unusual timepiece was invented by John C Taylor who gave the world the thermostat controlled electric kettle. It has a gold design that ripples to resemble the big bang and a monster that eats time.
King’s College Chapel is nearby and opens from 9:30am Monday to Saturday. However, you may to leave this until Evenson later in the day, which is a wonderful thing to do in Cambridge.
If you decide to skip King’s College for now, head to Market Square. A market has been operating on this site since the middle ages. Pick up anything from street food to vinyl, CD’s to garden plans, or a tacky souvenir to remember your Cambridge day trip.
02 – GREAT ST MARY’S CHURCH TOWER
Now climb the Tower at Great St Mary’s Church. The 123 steps up the 800-year-old church are well worth it for the unparallel views over the city, King’s College and the market. The tower is £4 but it’s free to enter the church which is also worth a quick look inside and a great addition to a day out in Cambridge.
03 – ST JOHN’S COLLEGE
After the tower, head over to St John’s College, one of the most photogenic in Cambridge. The vaulted chapel was inspired by Saint Chappelle in Paris and the library with large bay windows overlooking the River Cam offers one of the finest views in the city.
The college is beautifully set straddling the river Cam. Spend time strolling the grounds making sure you visit the Bridge of Sighs, an elegant bridge which has become one of the most photographed sites in Cambridge.
CAMBRIDGE DAY TRIP / AFTERNOON
In the afternoon visit one of the wealthiest colleges in the country and take part in an essential Cambridge day trip activity: punting on the River Cam.
04 – TRINITY COLLEGE
Founded by Henry VIII, Trinity College is the largest and wealthiest college in Cambridge. Enter the Great Court to be transported into a world of ritual and history. Try running around the court in the time it takes for the clock to strike 12, the tradition immortalised in Chariots of Fire (although the actual scene was filmed at Eton College).
The Chapel at Trinity College is a beautiful building dating back to the 16th century. But the highlight is the Wren Library. It contains 12th and 13th-century manuscripts as well as Isaac Newton’s notebook. The library is open to the public Monday to Friday between 12pm and 2pm and on Saturday mornings from 10:30am to 12:30pm.
Access to the Wren Library is from the backs via Garrett Hostel Lane or Queen’s Road and the Avenue. There is no public access to the Wren from the Great Court.
Another good way to see Trinity College (if it is open) is to join this alumini-led college tour which also visits Clare and Kings College.
LUNCH / THE SENATE OR BREAD & MEAT
Time for lunch. Dine in a prime position overlooking King’s Parade at The Senate. Their Mediterranean inspired menu is locally sourced and features a great selection of sharing boards accompanied by a healthy wine list.
Alternatively, grab a quick bite at Bread and Meat. As the name suggests, they specialise in meat delivered in various forms of bread. Think, Sunday roast in a sandwich. However, they also do a great Sunday roast.
05 – PUNT ALONG THE BACKS
Punting along the backs is something of a tourist rite of passage at Cambridge and one of our favourite outdoor activities in the UK. You can hire a punt, grab a quant pole and do it yourself, or you sit back, relax and take a guided punting tour.
On the guided route, prepare to float effortlessly past the backs of the colleges, under the Bridge of Sighs and past the geometrically pleasing, Mathematical Bridge. On the DIY punt experience, expect to be stuck under a bridge or (even worse) falling in, unless you’re a natural, in which case it will be a day out in Cambridge to remember.
06 – FITZWILLIAM MUSEUM
If the weather isn’t suited to punting, head instead to the Fitzwilliam Museum. It’s owned by the university and houses a diverse array of ornaments, paintings and historical artefacts. The ancient world collection spans the cultures from Greece to North Sudan. The library, opened in 1848, contains many original fittings.
CAMBRIDGE DAY TRIP / EVENING
Round out your day trip to Cambridge listening to the rousing music at Evensong in King’s College Chapel followed by some of our favourite haunts.
07 – EVENSONG AT KING’S COLLEGE CHAPEL
Evensong at King’s College is a 470-year-old tradition and the best (and free) way to visit the chapel. The service lasts for 45 minutes and includes sublime music from the choir and the world-famous gilded pipework organ. The chapel, an initiative of Henry VI, has the largest fan vaulted ceiling in the world.
If evensong is not your thing, then make sure to visit King’s College chapel during the day or on this walking tour which focuses on Cambridge’s crucial role in world history.
DINNER / THE PUNTER OR STEM & GLORY
For dinner try The Punter, a classic English pub with low beams, quirky interiors and a small courtyard. Their innovative menu has a variety of gourmet-ed up, dishes but they’re at their best delivering classic pub favourites.
For a plant-based option, Stem & Glory has a small well-executed menu that spans Korean, Italian, and Japanese. The food is zesty and the service is warm.
If you want to self-cater, there are several great farm shops in Cambridge where you can put together a little nosh with artisanal products.
ROOFTOP COCKTAIL OR A RELAXED PINT
After dinner, enjoy a cocktail with a view on the roof terrace of the Varsity Hotel. They have a long cocktail list with all the old favourites and enough champagnes to mark any occasion. There’s a small BBQ menu if you fancy a bite.
The other great rooftop terrace option is NOVI. They have a more unique parade of cocktails with an extensive craft beer list. A selection of trendy bar snacks are available to help wash down the liquor.
Alternatively, for something more relaxed, try the Old Bicycle Shop. They have a friendly relaxed vibe inside and a great little courtyard for when the weather is playing nice. Located on the way to the train station, you can duck in for a quick pint on your way home.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN CAMBRIDGE
All our favourite things to do in one day in Cambridge are included above. But of course, there’s plenty more to see in Cambridge, so here’s a few ideas for another day.
We selected the best two colleges for visiting Cambridge in one way, but here is our pick of the rest. Jesus College is a palatial college with expansive grounds; Gonville & Caius College where Stephen Hawkins was a fellow is famous for its 3 fascinating gates. Peterhouse is the oldest and smallest college, and Pembroke College is one of the largest. Christ’s College is where Charles Darwin and studied and Corpus Christi College is a treasure trove of architectural styles. All are worth popping in to.
The Round Church is an interesting monument, modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was built in the 12th century, pre-dating the university. The Cambridge exhibition inside gives an insight into the formation of the city.
SEDGWICK MUSEUM OF EARTH SCIENCES
The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences was established in 1728 to house the universities stash of fossils, minerals and rocks. It includes around 2000 items collected by Charles Darwin on his voyage around the world between 1831 and 1836.
CAMBRIDGE BOTANIC GARDENS
Set across 40 acres, the Cambridge Botanical garden is a beautiful place to explore. But the education focus of Cambridge extends to the gardens as well. Pick up a leaflet and take one of several self-guided strolls to learn more about the plants.
Kettle’s Yard is a contemporary art gallery established in a historic house. The permanent collection has paintings, sculptures and knickknacks from the founder, Jim Ede who was once the curator at Tate Modern. There’s a regularly changing temporary exhibition as well.
JOIN A TOUR
There are a host of excellent tours helping to explore the city.
Take a guided punting tour along the backs of the universities.
Join a walking tour visiting some of Cambridge’s best colleges including the amazing King’s College chapel.
Or combine the two and see the best of the city on a joint walking and punting tour.
SHORT DAY TRIPS FROM CAMBRIDGE
GRANTCHESTER BY PUNT
Take a lovely punt through charming meadows to the idyllic village of Grantchester. Explore the Grantchester Meadows, take a swim in the river and have lunch at the Tea Orchard Garden, before heading back to Cambridge. One-way punt from Cambridge to Grantchester takes around 1 hour, 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can walk which will take around 3 hours return. All the details are in our guide to the best walks near London.
ELY CATHEDRAL & TOWN
Just 20 minutes on the train, Ely is an ideal day trip from Cambridge. It’s compact enough to explore on foot but the charming laneways could keep you occupied for at least a day. The focus of the town is the towering cathedral.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAMBRIDGE
If you’re tempted to stay more than one day in Cambridge because there’s more you want to do, or if those rooftop cocktails got the better of you, live the true university experience and stay in a dorm room.
If you’d prefer a more traditional hotel, here are some suggestions for our pick of where to stay.
A great budget option in Cambridge is the Waterman. Smack in the centre of town, the small rooms above the pub are nicely fitted out and comfy. The homecooked food in the pub is spot on.
The Gonville has recently undergone a refurbishment that delivered sumptuously decorated rooms and an iPad valet system to order your room service. The staff are well trained and attentive.
This grand old hotel, recently refurbished, is a luxury stay in Cambridge. It’s quintessentially English decor and service to match. Breakfast is great, but the complimentary sherry is what wins many hearts.
HOW TO GET TO CAMBRIDGE
Cambridge is blessed with good transport links from many parts of the country, making it very easy to explore on a day trip. Here’s how to get to Cambridge.
By Car // If you drive park at either Queen Terrace Car Park or Grafton East Car Park, both of which around 15 minutes’ walk into the centre of town. However, if you don’t like the idea of driving in Cambridge, the Park & Ride is a great option. There are 5 facilities on the outskirts of town with regular shuttle buses into the centre.
By Train // The Cambridge Train station is a 25-minute walk into the centre of town. There are direct trains from London, Norwich, Ipswich, Kings Lynn and Ely. Search train timetables and prices to book and plan your journey.
HOW TO VISIT CAMBRIDGE FROM LONDON
From London it’s quick and easy to see Cambridge on a day trip either by train, bus or on a tour.
LONDON TO CAMBRIDGE BY TRAIN
The fastest way to get from London to Cambridge is by train. There are regular services from King’s Cross Station, St Pancras Station and Liverpool Street Station. Ticket prices vary based on time of day and day of the week, so check and book online before you leave.
LONDON TO CAMBRIDGE TRAINS
KING’S CROSS TO CAMBRIDGE
47 minutes | 157 services per day
ST PANCRAS TO CAMBRIDGE
1 hour, 8 minutes | 34 services per day
LIVERPOOL STREET TO CAMBRIDGE
1 hour, 4 minutes | 56 services per day
LONDON TO CAMBRIDGE BY BUS
The bus is slower but cheaper. National Express Coaches run from London Victoria Coach Station taking 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Cambridge. You can also catch the bus from London Stratford which takes 1 hour and 35 minutes.
There are 2 stops in Cambridge. One is at the Trumpington Park & Ride; the other is at Parkside which is a 12-minute walk into the city centre.
The bus stops from London to Cambridge are: London Embankment, Mile End, Stratford, Cambridge Trumpington Park & Ride, Cambridge Parkside.
LONDON TO CAMBRIDGE BY TOUR
To take the hassle away from using public transport and get the benefit of a guide showing you the city, join an all day tour. Most tours last 10 to 12 hours and if you’re in a rush you can visit Oxford and Cambridge in a single day.
MAP / CAMBRIDGE DAY TRIP ITINERARY
All the wonderful things to do in Cambridge that we covered in this guide are on the below map including the major attractions, train stations, bars and restaurants.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CAMBRIDGE
Cambridge is a good destination to visit all year round, however, the weather is best from June to September with average temperatures around 16 to 20 degrees. October to November is cooler with average highs of 13 degrees. December to February is cold with more rain.
Punting is nice in late spring and early autumn when the garden colleges are looking their best.
It’s a good idea to avoid the Christmas Holidays (24 December to 1 January) when most of the colleges are shut. Colleges also close for specific events throughout the year, especially over the exam period from May to June. So check on the college websites if you plan on visiting over this time.
The benefit of being in Cambridge over the exam period, however, is the carnival atmosphere when the students finish and hit the streets to celebrate. This could be a good time to visit, however, the bars and restaurants will be much busier.
There is no Evensong at Trinity College on Sunday evening.
CAMBRIDGE FOLK FESTIVAL
The Cambridge Folk Festival takes place during June-July and attracts around 14,000 people. It’s renowned for fostering new talent so you can expect to see big-name singer-songwriters as well as emerging artists.
There’s camping and glamping set up for the festival, but obviously, hotels will book up very quickly over this time. So book well in advance.
MORE READING FOR YOUR UK TRIP
The UK is blessed with a host of diverse and interesting days out. Here are some more suggestions for us for getting out and about on a classic day trip.
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