Why Cambridge is the perfect day trip from London

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Cambridge is perhaps the perfect day trip from London.

A Cambridge day trip is a treasure trove of historical locations, quaint streets and beautiful buildings made famous over the centuries.

And with excellent transport links from central London, you can be punting along the River Cam past the world famous Cambridge University colleges in around an hour.

Cambridge, England

trinity bridge cambridge

Though Cambridge was an important trading centre from Roman times,  the town rose to prominence in the middle ages when the famous university was founded.

One of the most celebrated seats of learning in the world, Cambridge University was established in 1209 when some scholars from Oxford University fled after a dispute with the townspeople.

The university, its students its many beautiful college buildings are now the heart of the city.

This is a place where scholars weave through cobbled streets on bicycles, lounge by the river and make some of the world’s most profound discoveries.

Former alumni include Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Sylvia Plath.

Cambridge day trip – what to see and do

kings college cambridge exterior

Cambridge is a small city and easy to walk around. If you arrive by train it’s a half hour walk into town and the main tourist attractions down Station and Regent Streets.

You could also take the Citi 1 or Citi 3 bus from outside the station.

Tower at Great St Mary’s

Start your tour of Cambridge by climbing the 123 steps of the tower at 800 year old Great St Mary’s church opposite King’s College.

The view over King’s College Chapel is the best in Cambridge. The tower is open from 10am Monday to Saturday and from 12.15 on Sundays. Cost – £4 for adults – more information

King’s College Chapel Cambridge

kings college cambridge ceiling

Many people visit Cambridge just to see this extraordinary building – the King’s College Chapel. As you walk inside the huge space, you can’t help but be impressed by the largest fan vaulted ceiling in the world.

The light refracted from the medieval stained glass windows creates incredibly beautiful light inside the chapel.

The chapel is a Tudor masterpiece. Henry VIII ensured the work his father, Henry VII, commissioned at the chapel was completed.

kings college chapel cambridge

If you look closely you will notice the Tudor roses that adorn the chapel walls and evidence of Henry’s marriage to the ill-fated Anne Boleyn – initials entwined in emblems that were not removed.

The chapel is open to the public at varying times throughout the year. Adult tickets cost £9 – check opening times and more information

Cambridge punting tours

Cambridge punting tours

Of course when you’re in Cambridge you must go punting. You can try to navigate the River Cam on your own but I strongly recommend doing a punting tour.

Sit back and relax in the punt while your guide does all the hard work with the boat and tells you stories about the city and its famous residents.

A highlight of your punting experience is gliding under the city’s famous bridges including the Bridge of Sighs and Mathematical bridge.

Cambridge Bridge of Sighs

Head to the Quayside Punting Station near Magdalene Bridge and you will find tours leaving regularly from 09:00am to dusk. In winter blankets are provided so you stay cosy on your tour.

The punting boat tour of Cambridge lasts 45 minutes.  The cost for a shared boat tour (around 8-10 people in total) is £19 per person but you can get a decent discount if you book your tour online – click here for prices and more information

punts awaiting passengers cambridge

Cambridge University colleges

The Cambridge boat tours take you past many of the city’s famous colleges. The 31 colleges at the University of Cambridge were founded over its 800 year history and each have unique histories, architecture and stories.

It is possible to visit and tour many of the colleges year round although restrictions often apply in May when students are sitting their final exams.

Here are some of my favourite Cambridge colleges:

St John’s College

st Johns college cambridge from the Cam River

One of the oldest and largest colleges in Cambridge, St John’s was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, in 1509. Her crest appears over the main entrance to the college.

Claiming William Wordsworth (and my grandfather!) among its alumni, the college flanks both sides of the River Cam.

The buildings are linked by the impossibly beautiful Bridge of Sighs, named after the bridge of the same name in Venice.

st johns college cambridge

St John’s College Chapel was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott who it is thought took inspiration from Sainte Chappelle in Paris.

You can visit and take tours of the college throughout the year – more information

Trinity College

Cmglee Cambridge Trinity College Great Court

Trinity College also has residences on both sides of the Cam and is famous for its Great Court (pictured above), Wren Library and illustrious alumni.

No fewer than 32 Nobel Prize winners attended Trinity as undergraduates. The poet Lord Byron and Jawaharlal Nehru  Prime Minister of India were also students at Trinity.

The Wren Library is one of the country’s great library collections and is home to two of Shakespeare’s first folios.

The grounds at Trinity and Wren Library are open to the public with some restrictions throughout year – more information

King’s College

kings college university of cambridge

Apart from its Gothic chapel, King’s College is also worth visiting to wander the beautiful grounds. These are the same stones and grass where the first Prime Minister of Great Britain Robert Walpole walked.

Literary greats E. M. Forster and Salman Rushdie, and brilliant mathematician Alan Turing were students at King’s.

Queens’ College

mathematical bridge cambridge

The Mathematical Bridge at the end of most punting tours is part of the Queens’ College buildings. Wrongly attributed as the work of Isaac Newton, the bridge was built after his death but remains one of the iconic landmarks of the city.

Queens’ College is one of the oldest colleges of the university and claims the Dutch Renaissance scholar Erasmus among its alumni.

You can visit the college – do check their website for visitor information.

Cambridge guided tours

bikes in cambridge

Cambridge is a city with so much history and stories lurking behind every wall. It is a place that really should be explored with expert knowledge so you can fully appreciate its beauty and impact on history.

This walking tour of Cambridge offers visitors highly qualified and experienced guides (often former students at one of the colleges) who can take you behind the scenes of the 800 year old university and the city.

A traditional pub lunch

the punter pub in cambridge

Stop for lunch in one of the many Cambridge pubs. There are several that lie on the riverbank including local favourite The Anchor.

On our last visit to Cambridge we ate at The Punter as it was recommended by our punting guide and close to the end of our tour. The seasonal menu of British pub classics and a few surprises were enjoyed by all so I double down on that recommendation.

The Punter – 3 Pound Hill, Cambridge, CB3 0AE

Stroll along “the Backs”

wren library trinity college cambridge

After your lunch there is lots more to see. Your tour of Cambridge would not be complete without a stroll along the River Cam in the area known as “the Backs”.

This beautiful spot is where the city’s most picturesque colleges back on to the river stretches from Magdalene Bridge to Silver Street bridge.

On sunny days it is great for people and duck watching. And you can stroll along the path in any weather.

The Round Church

round church cambridge

One of only four remaining medieval round churches left in England, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (known as The Round Church) is an important landmark in Cambridge not associated with the university.

It is worth stopping by just to admire the symmetry of the building made of the same chalky limestone used throughout the city.

Fitzwilliam Museum

Fitzwilliam Museum interior
If you have a little more time or the weather is bad, a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum is a must. This free museum is a full to the brim with treasures from antiquity and the art world. There are drawings by Da Vinci,  paintings by Rembrandt and a fascinating collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts.

The museum building is fabulous and worth a visit in its own right.

Address: Trumpington St, Cambridge CB2 1RB | Open Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00 Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays: 12:00 – 17:00 | More information

How to get to Cambridge

no mooring cambridge

The London to Cambridge train journey is about hour and even quicker if you take the express train. Trains depart from Kings Cross or Liverpool Street stations with around 4 departures per hour.

Note – most trains leave from Kings Cross. If you book in advance an open return ticket will cost you less than £20 – find train tickets to Cambridge

Driving from London is easy too via the M11 motorway. I recommend parking in the very central Park Street car park on the corner of Round Church Street.

If you prefer, this guided tour of Cambridge with commentary leaves from London Bridge – check prices and information

Exploring the area beyond Cambridge

bury st edmunds view

If you have added Cambridge to your UK road trip itinerary, there is so much to do in the surrounding area I recommend stopping for a few days.

We enjoyed visiting the Imperial War Museum at nearby Duxford – more for its collections of planes including a Concorde which you can walk inside, than for the tanks.

History buffs will enjoy a trip to Sutton Hoo where you can visit one of England’s most important archaeological sites.

For a picture perfect English market town you can’t beat Bury St Edmunds an hour east of Cambridge. You will also find one of the best preserved half timbered towns in England close by at Lavenham.

The perfect day trip from London

punts lined up on the river cam

I think Cambridge is a perfect day trip from London. After a short train ride you are transported to another place where, over the course of 800 years, some of the world’s greatest minds have experimented and created the most amazing things.

Combined with riverside strolling and a leisurely lunch in a proper English pub, a cultural adventure in Cambridge is bound to be a highlight of any trip in England.

To be honest, I think you could linger much longer than a day in Cambridge and still have stories to uncover.

Have you visited this beautiful English city? And do you have a favourite college in Cambridge?

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As seen in:

Suitcases and Sandcastles

47 thoughts on “Why Cambridge is the perfect day trip from London

    • Katy says:

      Did you really?! I spent a few days in Bury lately. What a lovely place. I stayed at the Angel Hotel where Dickens once stayed.

  1. Wendy says:

    I am probably going to London during the Christmas break, but I was looking for some other things to do. Visiting Cambridge is a great idea. I didn’t know it was this close to London. Thanks for the tip! #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      Dare I say it, Cambridge knocks the socks of Oxford. Mostly because the city centre is largely intact and unspoilt by modern buildings. Hope you make it there soon

  2. Theresa says:

    We visited Cambridge as well this summer! We absolutely LOVED King’s college, also because of the imitation of the Venetian Bridge of Sighs 😀 But we also loved the Chapel there.
    Did you also come across the oldest church in Cambrisge? I think it is one of the oldest in all of England. I thnik it was built in 1018 or so, because we laughed and said to ourselves we were one year early for its 1000th birthday! 😀
    Anyway, I loved Cambridge as well!

    • Katy says:

      Amazing to think some of these buildings are that old. The craftsmanship and work that went into them is incredible. Glad you had a great time

  3. JOSIE PEDEN says:

    What a wonderful day trip with so much to see and so many different types of things from punting along the river to the history of the colleges. We’ve been to Oxford many times but never Cambridge. It’s a great idea to do it as a day trip from London, makes it very accessible. Strolling along The Backs would make the perfect summer afternoon, stopping at a pub for lunch, the quintessential English day out. #Farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      Funny isnt it how people have a preference for one or the other. I have spent some time in Oxford but prefer Cambridge – probably due to family connections

  4. Linda Bibb says:

    Your photos are stupendous! You certainly captured the essence of the beautiful architecture; I hadn’t realized it was so closely linked to the royal family. And speaking of links, I got a kick out of the rundown of some of the famous people who attended the colleges. It made your story that much more enjoyable.

    Should I assume St. John’s is one of your favourite spots in the city?

    • Katy says:

      Thanks so much Linda.I loved St John’s but my mum loved it more. Her dad passed away when she was very young so she is always looking for connections to her past.

  5. TraveLynn Family - Jenny says:

    I have a confession. I lived in Cambridge for 3 years and never went punting! How awful is that? It really is a beautiful city to visit. Living there in my early twenties though, I felt it lacked energy. I would probably feel very different about it if I lived there now 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  6. Alex - My LIfe Long Holiday says:

    I’ve only ever been to Cambridge for the punting and a little look around so it was nice to read a bit more – it must feel quite special for you too if your grandfather went to college there.
    I knew it was old, but 1209!? Wow. You now have me planning a day trip for the half term! #farawayflies

  7. Allison says:

    Cambridge is on my wish list. I love visiting university campuses so I would love to visit the colleges at Cambridge. That punting tour sounds interesting. #FarawayFiles

  8. Clare Thomson says:

    Aah, lovely Cambridge! It’s so much prettier and easier to walk around than Oxford – but then I’m biased! We booked a guided punt for a few hours on my hen weekend but I do recommend having a go yourself. It’s so much fun punting in Cambridge, preferably with a couple of punnets of strawberries and a sneaky bottle of wine. Cambridge really is so lovely it’s well worth spending a few days there so you can soak in the atmosphere.

  9. Lolo says:

    I wouldn’t mind doing a tour by locals when visiting Cambridge one day! Would love a behind the scenes look at the history and architecture of the town!! Pinned #FarawayFiles

  10. Amanda says:

    Cambridge is such a beautiful place to visit! We have friends that live in Bury St Edmunds and spent a day there while visiting them. It’s a beautiful part of the country. #FarawayFiles

  11. Janet T says:

    I don’t know why but punting is just the most brilliant fun. I feel bad I haven’t been to Cambridge to visit my nephew while he’s been at uni. This makes me want to go even more! #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      I dont know how far you have to travel Janet but it’s well worth the trip. Cambridge is one of my favourite places in England

  12. Ruth | Tanama Tales says:

    I really need to visit this place. First of all, I am a proud geek and this university town looks like an excellent time to visit. I would like to visit the different colleges. In addition, I enjoy when town are located next to river. I will definitely will like to experience punting. All these places located close to London sound so exciting. #FarawayFiles

  13. Corey with fifi + hop says:

    Cambridge looks so lovely I can see why you would think it’s the perfect day trip from London. There’s something about university towns – I used to say when I was younger that I would eventually live in a university town, to keep me young, and keep me thinking. Maybe it will still happen some day! #farawayfiles

  14. Annabel says:

    I took my kids to Cambridge in the summer hols, they loved the punting trip. We visited the Museum of Anthropology and Archeology which is quite small and manageable with little kids. Will save the Fitzwilliam for our next visit! #farawayfiles

  15. Urska says:

    Oh gosh, looks like a great place to visit. I wanted to go to Cambridge when I used to live in London, but somehow I never managed to get to there. I’m definitely regretting this. #FarawayFiles

  16. tracy collins says:

    Wow I had forgotten how lovely Cambridge is! Wishing we had visited before we left the UK but will definitely remember when we get back to head there! We had a long list of places to see and I am wondering why we left Cambridge off the list! #farawayfiles

  17. Shelley Jarvis says:

    I really loved that part of England. The canals, green grass, the sheep and the trees. I saw a man walking along a canal with labrador retriever, a tweed jacket and hat and Wellies. I think i squealed with delight. It was a living postcard.

  18. Bryna | Dotted Line Travels says:

    Cambridge looks so beautiful! My friend did her MBA there, and I wish I had visited to get a local’s insight! The punting tour looks like a great experience. I can only imagine how beautiful everything would look, as you glide along the river!

  19. brosisman says:

    one day I’m going to take a vacation to cambridge and enjoy the beauty of the city and the progress it has.

  20. Helena says:

    Reading this post makes me recall driving through the area. I’m sure we didn’t see all these things so a return to the area is called for. Lovely to meet you recently. #FarawayFiles

  21. Phoebe | Lou Messugo says:

    Isn’t it funny how we judge a place. I think Oxford is so much prettier and more impressive than Cambridge but that’s probably because I went to Oxford University whereas I’ve only spent a few very rushed hours in Cambridge. We went there this summer as a quick stop off an route to Kent from York and firstly couldn’t find anywhere to park, all car parks were full. So the quick stop off was mainly spent circling round and round in hope of finding somewhere to park. Then the crowds were just so enormous and the queues so long that we didn’t go into a single college other than one which was free. It was hard to explain to my kids just why it was considered a beautiful place as we didn’t see that side at all. I know it is lovely, I’ve seen enough photos over the years but a crowded rushed couple of hours in August wasn’t the time to see it. Hopefully we’ll go back one day with more time, and more planning and NO car!

  22. Sol Solntze says:

    Lived down the road from Cambridge (sort of) growing up, so it’s never quite had the same exotic power that Oxford has, and yet the college buildings really are lovely. And I still haven’t been punting!

  23. Danielle says:

    Whoa. Why oh why have I never been to Cambridge?? So so cool!! A punting tour sounds awesome! And I had no idea there was that the college was formed after a disputed at Oxford. So cool!!

  24. Chiera says:

    Cambridge is somewhere I have always wanted to go! It looks like the perfect English town! And a punting tour is a lot cheaper than what I expected! Beautiful pictures 🙂 #farawayfiles

  25. Juliette | Snorkels To Snow says:

    Camrbdige looks delightful! Great to know it’s easy to get around. I love that you can go punting down the river – in my hometown of Christchurch in New Zealand, you can go punting down the Avon River, which runs through the middle of the city. Such a charming concept! Christchurch was built and based very much on its English history, so maybe the punting idea came from Cambridge…#farawayfiles

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