If you ask a visitor to name two universities in England, they will probably all say the same ones: Oxford and Cambridge. While there are certainly far more universities than these two in Great Britain, they are the most well-known, and have towns named after them as well. Best of all, those towns have a lot to offer, and make for a perfect day trip destination from London!
I’ve been to Oxford and Cambridge just once each; I spent a day in Cambridge during my Masters’ course in London, seeing many of the sights I recommend in this post. If you’re planning to escape jolly old London for a day during your London itinerary, I can say from experience that Cambridge is a great candidate.
In this post, you’ll learn all about planning a Cambridge day trip from London. You’ll soon know how to get to Cambridge, how to spend the day, and my personal recommendation to make the most of your short time in Cambridge.
How to Get from London to Cambridge
If you’re staying in London and are already planning a Cambridge day trip, you should know two convenient transport options that can take you to this University City.
- Train – Taking the train is the fastest way to travel from London to Cambridge. Most trains depart from London’s Kings Cross or Liverpool Street train stations and arrive at Cambridge train station. The journey can last from 50 to 80 minutes. Trainline is a good online platform to book your tickets. A one-way trip costs around $38 (€30), and there are up to 12 trains traveling from London to Cambridge throughout the day.
- Bus – You can get to Cambridge by bus as well, but this is not the most convenient option. Bus trips usually take at least a couple of hours and can have several stops in-between cities. They depart from London Victoria Coach Station and arrive at Cambridge Coach Station. Ticket prices for one-way trips start at £9.50. A good platform to book your bus tickets is Megabus. The company runs three services a day going from London to Cambridge, with the first bus usually leaving at 11:45 am.
Whether you decide to travel by train or bus, we advise you to book your tickets in advance to get the best deal.
The Best Things to Do for One Day in Cambridge
You might only spend one day in Cambridge, but the good news is that thanks to Cambridge being so compact, you can fit many activities into your itinerary. Ready to start?
1. The University of Cambridge
Founded in 1209, Cambridge University is among the most prestigious universities in the world. If on your Cambridge day trip you want to visit the university colleges (which you should), you can either take a stroll down the institution buildings on your own or book a walking tour. If you choose the first option, make sure you visit King’s College, Trinity College, Pembroke College, and Corpus Christi College. Although keep in mind some might be closed to the public due to private events or during exam season.
Booking a tour is probably the best way to visit Cambridge University as the tour guides know the institution better than anyone: they are real-life Cambridge students. Besides exploring the majestic buildings, students will share with you all about student life, the history of the university as well as quirky anecdotes from highly-esteemed alumni, such as Stephen Hawking.
2. Punt the River Cam
When visiting Cambridge, you simply have to go punting. If you’re not English, you might not be familiar with this activity, but punting is basically boating in a punt (a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow.) To move along the water, the punter (you) stands on the deck and shoves the boat along with a pole by pushing directly on the bed of the river or lake.
While punting is a great way to relax, it also is the best way to sightsee Cambridge from a different perspective. As you meander along River Cam, you get past some of the most beautiful college buildings and parks. If you book a guide, they’ll tell you all about the city’s history and anecdotes.
3. King’s College Chapel
Your Cambridge day trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kings College chapel. Built between 1446 and 1515 by order of King Henry VIII, the chapel is simply awe-inspiring. The whole chapel boasts impressive English Gothic architecture that will make you just go “wow” at every step you take. Highlights of this unbelievable place are the fan-vault ceiling, which is the largest in the world, and Rood Screen, the Italian wooden carvings that Henry VIII gifted Anne Boleyn.
4. Bridge of Sighs
The stunning Bridge of Sighs is a quintessential sight and activity in Cambridge. It was built in the earlier parts of the 19th Century and crosses the River Cam between the college’s Third Court and New Court. Its beautiful structure and design are said to have captivated Queen Victoria so much that this was her favorite spot in Cambridge.
There are two ways to see the bridge: one -and the best- is while you’re punting. As you meander down River Cam, you’ll go right underneath it. The second way to access the bridge is through St John’s College, which requires paying a £10 entrance fee.
5. Botanic Gardens
Photo credit (L): Derek Harper via Wikimedia Commons
Visiting the Botanic Gardens is an excellent way to escape the crowded streets. Owned by Cambridge University, the 40 acres of lush green botanic gardens were originally conceived by Charles Darwin’s mentor and teacher, Professor John Henslow. This oasis in the city houses up to 8,000+ species from all over the world. Besides showcasing the most exotic plants, the Botanic Gardens also host many cultural and educational events for all ages. So, before you go, check if there’s any activity you’d like to participate in!
6. Fitzwilliam Museum
If you love museums (or if it’s raining outside) Fitzwilliam Museum is a great option. The most famous museum in Cambridge, Fitzwilliam houses vast collections of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, including exhibits of English and European pottery and glass, furniture, clocks, Chinese jades, and ceramics from Japan and Korea. Its exceptionally fine gallery also has works by Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Turner, as well as Impressionists and Dutch Masters of the Baroque including Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Rubens.
If you’re not a museum fan but love appreciating fine historic buildings, The Fitzwilliam should be on your list, too. Designed by George Basevi, the museum boasts magnificent Neo-classical architecture, both inside and outside, making it a true masterpiece.
7. Kettle’s Yard
Photo credits: fotologic via Flickr
Another option for enthusiastic museumgoers is Kettle’s Yard. What makes Kettle’s Yard so special is that it is a house that’s also a museum.
Way before it became a museum, Kettle’s Yard was the Cambridge home of Jim Ede, a former curator at The Gallery, and his wife, Helen. Thanks to his job, Jim used to bring home all kinds of artworks by famous 20th-century artists, like Barbara Hepworth and Joan Mirò. Then, in 1966, Jim gifted the house and collection to Cambridge University. Today, the museum still has its doors open for guests and welcomes them with the same cozy atmosphere Jim did.
8. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
For those who enjoy learning about the human experience and evolution, Cambridge has the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Established by Cambridge University in 1884, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology exhibits an important collection of prehistoric material and artifacts dealing with social anthropology. Visitors can see eclectic collections of art and artifacts gathered from around the world. The collections include pieces from Africa and the Orient and great contemporary works reflecting the resilience of Indigenous cultures confronted by globalization.
Such a variety – you cannot fail to be interested in something.
9. Scott Polar Research Institute Museum
If you fancy leaving behind grand city buildings and traveling to a remote place, the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute might be a good option.
This niche museum established by the University of Cambridge in 1920 tells you all about the intrepid and historic explorations to the Arctic and Antarctic. While the events and exhibitions illustrating polar exploration, history, and science are great, the personal memorabilia from the sailors is a highlight that truly brings guests closer to one of the Earth’s coldest and deadliest places.
Currently, the museum is open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for visitors with a free pre-booked ticket.
10. Centre for Computing History
If you’re traveling with kids and they have any interest in computers, you just can’t miss this place. The Centre for Computing History is a hands-on interactive display of computers and game consoles dating back to the early ’60s! Throughout the museum exhibitions, you can see the developments carried out during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s in the computer and game industry. Also, the display includes the huge computers of the 60s and the home computers of the ’80s!
For adults, this visit will be a trip to Nostalgia city. For kids, visiting the museum will be a jaw-dropping realization of the complex process the electronics we use today underwent.
11. Cambridge Gin Laboratory
Fancy a nice gin cocktail? If so, Cambridge Gin Laboratory is your go-to place. Located in the heart of the city, Cambridge Gin Laboratory is an interactive space dedicated to the appreciation of gin. Owned and operated by the world-famous Cambridge Distillery, the Gin Lab offers The Classroom, a class for visitors to discover the history (and mysteries) of gin production. The Classroom also teaches visitors how to taste like a professional or even blend their bottle of gin, guided by the gin lab experts.
We’re sure you’ll really enjoy learning about the history of gin and love tasting it even more!
12. The Corpus Clock
You’ll find The Corpus Clock on the corner of Bene’t Street and Trumpington Street. To be more precise, you’ll find it on the front of the Taylor Library at Corpus Christi College. Built by inventor and Cambridge alumni, John Taylor, The Corpus Clock hasn’t been part of Cambridge’s landscape for very long. In fact, the golden sculptural clock was unveiled to the public in 2008 by another Cambridge alumni, Stephen Hawking.
While we don’t recommend visiting it to actually check the time (it seems most of the time it isn’t accurate), its very large and strange design is well-worth seeing.
13. Market Square
Photo credit (R): bryan via Flickr
From its beginnings, Cambridge has been a market city, with the stalls of the historic Market Square trading since the middle ages. Today, visitors can still pop into Market Square and immerse themselves in the ancient atmosphere of the market.
From Monday-Sunday, 10 am-4 pm, you’ll find independent traders and craft stalls selling everything from CDs, old bikes, clothing, and jewelry, plus lots more! On Sundays (10 am-4 pm), there are market stalls selling organic produce from local farmers and work from some of the region’s most talented artists, craftsmen, potters, sculptors, and photographers. It’s also a great place to grab a tasty pastry or cake. All made locally, of course.
The Perfect Cambridge Day Trip Itinerary
Now that you know all the wonderful activities Cambridge offers, you have an idea of the activities you can include on your day trip to Cambridge. In case you need some help, here is our suggestion.
- Start early: catch the earliest bus service from London’s Kings Cross or Liverpool Street train stations and arrive at Cambridge train station, where you’ll hop off. (Or take a train if you prefer!)
- Take a self-guided or guided walking tour. From Cambridge city center, walk to Cambridge University and explore nearby colleges. Since you’ll be close to King’s College, also visit King’s Chapel.
- To relax after a long walking tour, go punting on River Cam and enjoy seeing the city from a different side.
- Enjoy lunch at Market Square to kill two birds with one stone!
- If the weather is good, book a punting ride on the RIver Cam.
- If it’s rainy and gross, visit the Fitzwilliam Museum. If you still feel like exploring the art scene, head to Kettle’s Yard Museum.
- Afterward, head to Cambridge train station and catch the returning train to London (or your bus, depending on the time).
Do you have any questions about planning a Cambridge day trip? Let me know in the comments!