A seat of learning since Cambridge University was founded in 1209, the old part of Cambridge fits snugly into the C-shape loop of the Cam River, crammed with university colleges set in gracious gardens behind impressive gateways. Built with the help of notable people, such as King Henry VIII, the medieval buildings have been exceptionally well preserved and history speaks at every turn. Possibly the flattest town in England, the narrow streets make driving difficult and parking is scarce so bikes and pedestrians rule.
1. Make sure you arrive in time for brunch or lunch at Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street – a Cambridge institution famous for Chelsea Buns they also serve a good cream tea.
2. Turn right out of Fitzbillies and Trumpington Street becomes King’s Parade, taking you past some of the largest and oldest colleges: King’s, Gonville & Caius, Trinity and St John’s. They all charge a fee for entry so pick one to tour.
3. Past St John’s College, turn left into Bridge Street and go to Magdalene Bridge where you can join a punting tour. It’s possible to hire your own punt at the other end of the city, which is entertaining simply because they’re so hard to manoeuvre, but on a guided tour you can relax and listen to the history and fun anecdotes.
4. If it’s open, go into Magdalene College (next to the bridge) and visit the library – bequeathed by diarist Samuel Pepys who famously described the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666.
5. Start heading back to where you started via the Market Square for some shopping or to drop into a cafe, making sure you eventually find your way to the 400 year-old Eagle Pub on Bene’t Street. This is where Crick and Watson announced their discovery of DNA in 1953. It also houses the RAF Bar where the ceiling is covered in graffiti from airmen fighting in World War II.
6. Walk about 30 steps from the Eagle Pub to 3, Free School Lane. The small, white house was the childhood home of Alice Bell who married Charles Todd and migrated to Australia in 1855. Charles was employed to build the first telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin and one of the repeater stations was built on what is now known as Alice Springs near the Todd River – named after Alice and Charles.
7. Walk another 10 steps along Free School Lane and you’ll come to the Museum of the History of Science, once the site of the Cavendish Laboratories where Crick and Watson discovered DNA, and also where the electron was discovered in 1897, and the neutron in 1932.
8. After all that history, pop into Jack’s Gelato on Bene’t Street for an icecream then head to the corner of Bene’t and Kings Parade to ponder the passing of time at the Corpus Clock – a mesmerising combination of art and clock famous for its time eating grasshopper or chronophage.
9. Hire a bike and ride along the river path towards Grantchester, or in the other direction towards Fen Ditton. Both trips take about 30 minutes and both reward you with a choice of good English pubs, friendly cows in the paddocks you pass through and bucolic river views.
10. If it’s hot, take a dip in the open air swimming pool at Jesus Green Lido or just have a picnic nearby.
11. Visit as many of the colleges as you can to see the gardens, courtyards, chapels and beautiful buildings. My personal favourites are Pembroke College for its gardens, St John’s to see the Bridge of Sighs and Christ’s College for its statue of Charles Darwin. There are also several museums in Cambridge with free entry.
12. End your day with a special meal at Varsity Restaurant.
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