Ready to discover the best things to do in Cambridge? Delve into the historic city with this guide.
Between its Gothic buildings, world-renowned museums and of course, that university, Cambridge is a charming city that is waiting to be explored.
I’m not going to lie, Oxford has my heart (former alum here) but I’ve always admitted that *whisper it* Cambridge may just be the prettier city.
There’s a lot more to it though – whether you’re keen on nosing around the 31 colleges that make up the university, want to settle in a cosy spot in the city’s excellent pubs, or hop aboard a punt on a waterborne adventure – Cambridge has you covered.
Ready to dive into this iconic city? Let’s go!
Stay at the stylish Clayton Hotel Cambridge – the definition of boutique charm in a stellar location.
Top 5 Things to Do in Cambridge
Explore the University of Cambridge
Say Cambridge and you have to say University in the same breath. Arguably the centuries-old hub around which the city has evolved, seeing at least a few of the nearly three-dozen colleges during your time in the city is a must.
World-renowned colleges such as Trinity College, Pembroke, St. John’s, and King’s College (more on the chapel later) together make up the University of Cambridge – so it’s little surprise that seeing them is one of the top things to do in the city.
First up – the bad news… quite a few areas are closed to the public. Trinity College, for example, is only open to see from The Backs (an area which many of the colleges back onto), from a punt on the River Cam, or if you know a resident.
Time for the good news. Many of the most popular tourist stops remain open to the public. The chapel at King’s College, the chapel and common grounds at Pembroke College, and St John’s College (among many others) are open for you to visit.
You can also reserve a guided tour with alumni or stop by on your own during restricted hours at many of the top locations.
Top Tip: Head to Cambridge Market Square and find the Cambridge Tourist Information Centre. From there, you can arrange guided tours of the various colleges, chauffeured punt tours of the river and receive important information for your visit.
Punting on the River Cam
Looking for what to do in Cambridge? Nothing says Cambridge charm like hopping aboard a flat-bottomed boat (known as a punt) and navigating yourself down the broad reaches of the River Cam.
It’s easy to understand why punting has long been a popular activity in Cambridge when you’re drifting down the river behind the University buildings on the former fishing boats turned leisurely cruisers, admiring the gardens and bridges as you go.
Show up early and don’t be surprised if you get wet if you self-hire a punt. If it’s your first time, I strongly suggest going with a guide, as you’ll see a lot more of the river and learn some fun facts along the way in one of the best things to do in Cambridge.
Top Tip: Go early in the morning before waterways along The Backs of Cambridge University get busy. Seeing the Bridge of Sighs, Trinity College and Clare College from this vantage point is particularly charming without the crowds.
Visit King’s College Chapel
King’s College Chapel is open to the public, with self-guided tours you can book through the University’s website. You’ll want to schedule a visit, no longer how long you’re at Cambridge — it’s truly the crown jewel of things to do in Cambridge.
The 15th and 16th-century Perpendicular Gothic architecture is one of the most iconic buildings in the UK, and the only chapel larger anywhere in the world is the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. If you ask me, that’s enough reason to visit.
It’s impressive from the outside, but it’s truly remarkable inside and one of the top attractions in Cambridge. The Adoration of the Magi painting, the largest fan vault in the world, and priceless mediaeval stained glass all offer jaw-dropping detail and historical significance.
Top Tip: If you can schedule your visit around the Concerts at King’s series, it’s a unique way of experiencing the chapel and the incredible acoustics.
Stroll Through The Cambridge University Botanic Garden
Budding horticulturalists, curious tourists, and locals wanting a break from dreary UK winter weather head to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden to observe over 8,000 plant species on the property grounds and in the greenhouse.
It’s one of the best places to visit in Cambridge 7 days a week from 10 am to 6 pm, and tickets are £7.20 for adults.
Some of the most popular attractions include the corpse flowers (which smell as you’d expect – eugh), a collection of exotic trees from across the world, and Cory Library, which, while only accessible by appointment, offers a smaller selection of books at the Garden Cafe.
Enjoy a Visit to Cambridge Market Square
When you enter Cambridge Market Square, you might not know it right off the bat, but it’s been the centre of Cambridge for centuries. In fact, there’s not even an exact record of just when the marketplace actually started.
Stop by from 10 am to 4 pm any day of the week (barring a few holidays) and experience countless vendors selling anything from books to flowers to food from the many outdoor stands.
You can simply walk around and people-watch for one of the best free things to do in Cambridge.
Top Tip: On Sundays, shop for some of the best photographs, paintings, and sculptures from local artists.
Brilliant Things to See & Do in Cambridge
See The Mathematical Bridge
Looking for the top Cambridge attractions? The Mathematical Bridge at Queen’s College is a famous wooden footbridge that crosses the River Cam.
Let’s clear a couple of things up. No, Sir Isaac Newton did not design the bridge. And yes, the (twice rebuilt) slabs of timber are held by screws and bolts. James Essex and William Etheridge are responsible for the design.
Nonetheless, the use of a Voussoir Arch gives this bridge a nearly flawless design, and floating underneath it on a punt for hire is one of my favourite unusual things to do in Cambridge.
People Watch at Parker’s Piece
Though the game is far older (there are records of football being played in China dating back more than 2,000 years), the small park called Parker’s Piece is famous for being the place where Cambridge University students officially posted the rules of The Beautiful Game.
Now, the open space is a popular place for students, local residents, and visitors to play a game of football, socialise, and enjoy a couple of hours outdoors near campus. It’s a perfect place to people-watch and take in the local culture on a crisp autumn evening.
Visit The Round Church (The Church of the Holy Sepulchre)
The name is a dead giveaway – yes, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre really is round.
Built in the 12th century, this iconic structure is actually one of the oldest buildings in Cambridge. If that hasn’t piqued your interest, it’s also one of only four medieval round churches that are still in existence in England.
The unique design was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Head inside to visit the interactive visitor centre which walks you through “The Cambridge Story” an exhibition that whizzes you through 2,000 years of the city’s history during the course of your visit.
Have Lunch at The Old Bicycle Shop
Once the oldest bicycle shop in town, The Old Bicycle Shop is now a popular pub with locals and tourists alike.
It’s a casual haunt where you can grab classic pub fare or even vegan offerings and celebrate the history of a locale where Charles Darwin may or may not have purchased a bicycle 2 centuries past. I’ll let you figure it out over a couple of cocktails.
Have a Nose Around The Fitzwilliam Museum
Looking for fun things to do in Cambridge with adults and children alike? The Fitzwilliam Museum is a 19th-century building on the university campus that’s home to a collection of art from around the world.
Many of the pieces are antiques, with some dating back thousands of years. The gold coin featuring Alexander the Great (from around 242 CE), the Book of the Dead, and Madonna and Child are among the most famous pieces here.
Top Tip: The Fitzwilliam Museum is one of the best free things to do in Cambridge, as they no longer charge for admission.
Tour St Benet’s Church
One must-see in Cambridge for history lovers is St Bene’t’s Church. The exact origins are unknown, but scholars believe the original tower went up as early as 1,000 AD.
The Bell Tower is the most famous aspect of this church, and documents show the university actually had to pay a small fee up until the 17th century to use the bells. Stop by for 20 minutes or so to take in the history inside or outside.
Unique Things to See & Do in Cambridge: Hidden Gems That Are Off the Beaten Track
Have a Pint at Eagle’s Pub
If you’re looking for the best places in Cambridge to have a pint and nosh on some traditional pub fare, Eagle’s Pub is a popular choice.
It’s also where Frances Crick told a room full of (presumably mildly confused) barflies that he and his colleague (Watson) “discovered the secret of life” – aka DNA.
Whether you’re here to soak in the history (it is quite cool) or enjoy a meal in the cosy setting, it’s worth a stop to enjoy some pub classics like fish and chips, steak and ale pie, and a cheese toastie.
Top Tip: No complaints at all about the food, but you’re here for the ambiance. Look around and see the engravings from WWII soldiers on the wall and talk to locals as much as you can; the stories are endless.
Photograph Sir Isaac Newton’s Tree
Ok, full disclaimer – Newton never sat under this tree. Sorry for any disappointment, but the apple tree is a direct descendant of the original at Newton’s family home.
Nonetheless, there is a clone of the original tree at Trinity College, which helps propel the legend of Newton lunching under a tree before discovering gravity, even if it’s a bit far fetched.
Top Tip: You need a King’s College resident’s card to visit the Trinity College courtyard, but Botanic Garden scientists are raising a clone to display to the public.
Go on a Ghost Tour
Looking for fun things to do in Cambridge at night? Learn about the darker history around campus.
Black Shuck Cambridge Ghost Tours is a fun (if a bit spooky) ghost tour that uncovers some of the more supernatural places to visit Cambridge around town.
Top Tip: They offer several options, but the favourite during spooky season is the Haunted Cambridge Tour.
Catch a Glimpse of the Corpus Clock
If you join a walking tour of the university (or check in at the Porter’s Lodge), you can walk past the iconic “Grasshopper Clock” designed by Dr John C Taylor, Corpus Christi alum.
The famous gold timepiece is an unusual, if a bit unsettling, work of art that is meant to make visitors contemplate how quickly time passes by and is one of the favourite quirky things to do in Cambridge..
Pass by the Bridge of Sighs
You can’t walk across the bridge (unless you’re a university staff member or student) but hire a punt and drift under this iconic bridge named after the famous landmark in Venice.
Floating down the River Cam, you’ll have a unique vantage point of this iconic bridge that Queen Victoria reportedly adored.
Things to do in Cambridge: Practical Tips for Your Trip
Where Should I Stay in Cambridge?
Gonville Hotel (Mid-Range)
If you’re looking for accommodations near one of the most popular places to go in Cambridge, Gonville Hotel, located right on the corner of Parker’s Piece, is a great choice.
Dine at the terrace restaurant, rent bikes to explore the nearby campus and unique things to do in Cambridge, or rest up in the comfortable rooms with AC and WiFi before exploring the market city for another afternoon.
Clayton Hotel Cambridge (Luxury)
Clayton Hotel Cambridge is an elegant four-star hotel conveniently located near many of the popular places to see in Cambridge. Rooms and suites are tastefully decorated, with luxurious king-sized beds and marble walk-in showers.
You can stroll to many of the best shopping, dining, and activities in Cambridge, but there’s a restaurant on-site you can conveniently visit for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Recommended Tours in Cambridge
- Cambridge: Alumni-led Colleges Tour & King’s College Option
- Cambridge: Guided Punting Tour
- Cambridge: Walking & Punting Tour with King’s College Option
- Cambridge: 2-Hour Private University Walking Tour
- Cambridge: Guided Historic Walking Tour
- Black Shuck Cambridge Ghost Tours
Things to do in Cambridge: Map
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