Great Days Out: Cambridge

Less than an hour from London by train, Cambridge is a fantastic year-round destination. One of the world’s most famous university towns, its blend of history, academia, contemporary culture, a vibrant art scene, and excellent shops, restaurants and cafés – as well as punting tours on the Cam – means there’s something for everyone. Here are our recommendations for a day trip or short stay…

Where To Shop

As one of the oldest university cities in the country, Cambridge has plenty of excellent book shops to browse. Heffers has been selling books to university students and visitors since 1867. There are three storeys of books and magazines, including classics, non-fiction and gifts by the Cambridge Paper Company. From here, you can walk to the quiet St Edward’s Passage to Sarah Key, a charming independent bookstore which specialises in children’s fiction and Penguin Classics. If you want to stop for coffee and cake while you read a new book, the nearby Fitzbillies Cambridge (one of the city’s tastiest exports) serves delicious Chelsea buns and other sweet treats. 

For clothes and accessories, Bowns on Magdalene Street has an excellent range of designer brands. Curated by the store’s owner Rosalind, you can shop clothing, shoes and accessories by the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Margaret Howell, Max Mara and Paul Smith; Sahara Boutique on St Mary’s Passage has a small collection of cashmere, knitwear and outerwear; while Noa Noa, just a short walk away, stocks pretty quilted jackets and denim for women and children. 

Grand Arcade is where you’ll find a range of high-street and high-end shops, but we recommend making a beeline for Market Square for independent shops and boutiques – visitors can find a range of second-hand books, handmade jewellery and fruit and veg at the market every day until 4pm. Head to St Mary’s Passage to visit the original Cambridge Satchel Company store, then continue along the street to the Cambridge Cheese Company which has an impressive selection of deli cheeses. Don’t miss Cambridge Wine Merchants on King’s Parade for a selection of European and world wines – the friendly staff will happily help you select a few bottles.

Fitzbillies Cambridge
Cambridge Cheese Company

Where To Eat & Drink

There is no shortage of excellent restaurants and cafés dotted around the city, many of which are family-run and have been favourites for several decades. For a special meal, book a table at the Michelin-starred Midsummer House set in a beautiful Victorian villa with views of the River Cam. Headed up by chef Daniel Clifford, diners can expect a range of delicate plates that showcase British produce, like roasted quail with creamed shallots and turbot with Cambridgeshire asparagus. Restaurant Twenty-Two is another fine dining hotspot in the city. Housed in a converted Victorian townhouse and run by a young couple who have brought the building back to life, the restaurant serves modern European dishes made with local ingredients. We recommend the set lunch menu which currently features dishes like monkfish with galangal and kaffir lime, and saddleback pork with pumpkin, black garlic and quince.

Vanderlyle

For interesting vegetarian dishes, book a table in the chic dining room at Vanderlyle where you sit around the open kitchen and tuck into a ten-course tasting menu. Casual lunches are best spent at Fancett's which serves crowd-pleasing French dishes like duck liver pate brioche, whole grilled plaice with butter scraps, and blackberry crumble soufflé. Old Bicycle Shop is a lovely casual spot for a plant-based brunch or lunch, as is The Clarendon Arms for hearty pub classics. 

Stop for carafes of wine and charcuterie boards at Cambridge Wine Merchants which has three stores in the city – the site on King’s Parade has a buzzy atmosphere and feels particularly cosy during the winter months when locals flock to the bar for red wine around candlelit tables. For fantastic city views, The Varsity Hotel & Spa has a rooftop bar (open year-round) as well as a restaurant on the sixth floor for drinks and afternoon tea.

Midsummer House
Midsummer House

Where To Walk

If you haven’t been to the Cambridge in recent years, we recommend a guided walking tour to refamiliarise yourself with the city and its history. Footprints offers free two-hour tours every day at 11am and 2pm, passing the most famous landmarks. Cambridge Tour Guide also offers guided walks, while Cambridge Alumni Tours are led by university students – ideal if you want to look around the colleges and ask questions.

A scenic afternoon is best spent exploring the historic buildings and walking along the River Cam. For a longer route, you can follow the river for three miles until you reach the nearby village of Grantchester. Here, visitors can stop for refreshments at Orchard Tea Garden, before retracing your steps along the river. Punting is popular for good reason, but it’s best to pay for a guided tour rather than try it on your own which can be strenuous and tiring – you also run the risk of falling in. Book a private tour or share a punt with others to sail along the river and learn about its history. If you’re visiting during the colder months, most boats provide blankets, and you can bring your own flask or hot drink or bottle of wine for the journey. 

The Graduate

Where To Visit

When in Cambridge, walking around the historic buildings and university colleges is a must – King’s College and Trinity College are two of the most famous, but Jesus College and Sidney Sussex are perhaps the most beautiful. For a culture fix, head to The Fitzwilliam Museum – one of the best in the country where you can see works by da Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso – then visit Kettle’s Yard which has an impressive display of 20th-century British art.

Head to St John’s College for the best view of the Backs, a cluster of gardens and parks that sit beside the river, surrounded by famous examples of Cambridge architecture. The land is privately owned by each college so you can’t walk along the immaculate grass, but you can walk along Queens’ Road to take a picture. Round Church, one of only four round structures in England, is also worth a visit, as is Cambridge University Botanic Garden, home to 800 plant species and a beautiful winter garden. 

If you have time, book a play or show at the theatre. The ADC Theatre is part of the university and is the oldest playhouse in the country where you can see regular college performances. Cambridge Arts Theatre is where you’ll find touring productions and West End plays, while Cambridge Corn Exchange hosts arts and culture fixings, including operas and ballets.

University Arms
University Arms

Where To Stay

Luxe: University Arms

University Arms has been a Cambridge favourite since 1834. The property underwent a huge renovation four years ago in collaboration with interior designer Martin Brudnizki and architect John Simpson who transformed the property’s original Edwardian design. There are 192 bedrooms and suites across four floors, with views over Parker’s Piece, Regent Street and the hotel’s inner courtyard. The style is simple yet elegant – think leather-padded writing desks, low ottomans and chandeliers throughout. The hotel’s brasserie, Parker’s Tavern, serves seasonal British dishes like Norfolk seafood, suckling pig with wild mushrooms and head chef Tristan Welch’s special spaghetti bolognese. For a special treat, ask the hotel to arrange afternoon tea or a picnic hamper to enjoy on the nearby common. 

Rooms from £200 per night.

Visit UniversityArms.com

Luxe For Less: The Graduate 

This is a beautiful boutique hotel situated on the banks of the River Cam. There are several rooms to choose from, all of which have beautiful headboards and plush furniture – the Junior Suite looks ideal for a romantic weekend for two. Bathrooms are stocked with Malin + Goetz toiletries and there are subtle nods to the university in each room. The Garden House restaurant serves a selection of grilled meats and seafood, alongside salads and seasonal sides. 

From £130 per night.

Visit GraduateHotels.com

University Arms

How To Get There

Cambridge is easily reached from London via a 90-minute drive or 45-minute train journey. The city centre is a 15-minute walk from the station.

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