Beyond London

How to Plan the Perfect Cambridge Day Trip from London

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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 Master’s 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.

Cambridge Day Trip Hero

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.

This post was originally published in August 2021 and was updated in February 2024.

Why Plan a Day Trip to Cambridge?

There are tons of day trips you can make from London, but Cambridge is by far one of the best. Without sharing too many spoilers for things to do while there, I thought it would help to start with an overview of why to plan a Cambridge day trip.

The tiny town offers a rich blend of history, culture, and fun. On the historic and intellectual side, Cambridge is home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Cambridge – which is a treasure trove of architectural delights.

Cambridge also shares the picturesque charm of many English towns. You can wander through the winding streets and enjoy the atmosphere created by shops, pubs, and cafes. And if it’s a sunny day, you can experience the tradition of punting on the River Cam.

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. Visit the University of Cambridge

Cambridge Day Trip - Cambridge University

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. However, 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. See 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 the Rood Screen, the Italian wooden carvings that Henry VIII gifted Anne Boleyn.

4. Cross the Bridge of Sighs 

Cambridge Day Trip - 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. Visit the 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. Explore the Fitzwilliam Museum 

Cambridge Day Trip - Fitzwilliam Museum
Photo credit: John Lord via Flickr

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. Visit 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. Explore the 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. Visit the 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. Visit the Centre for Computing History 

Cambridge Day Trip - Centre for Computing History
Photo credit: Robin Parker via Flickr

If you’re visiting London (and thus Cambridge) 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. Cheers at the 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. See the Corpus Clock

Cambridge Day Trip - Corpus Clock
Photo credit: Jim Linwood via Flickr

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. Explore 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. 

Best Guided Day Trips to London

Planning a day trip on your own isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. So, here are a few guided Cambridge day tours that explore the best sights of the city.

  • Day Trip to Cambridge: if flexibility is something you appreciate, this guided tour is fantastic. You can choose between exploring the many colleges, walking along the River Cam, hiring a punt, and exploring the river yourself, or you can visit the Trinity College Library.
  •  Walking & Punting Tour: as the name suggests, this is a walking and punting tour on the River Cam. It’s alumni-led, so it may be a great opportunity to get a more local view of the town! You also have the option to include King’s College entry.
  • Cambridge Ghost Tour: if you’re interested in knowing the less academic side of Cambridge University, join this tour where you’ll find out about the ghosts that call the building home and the dark tales that happened here.

How to Get from London to Cambridge

Cambridge Day Trip - King's Cross

For those who want to plan their own Cambridge day trip, and are staying in London, I’ve left 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 $44 (€34), 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 £14.61. 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. 

How to Get Around Cambridge

Once you get there, Cambridge is a small city so you can easily explore it on foot. However, there are also other ways to get around if it’s raining or you’re just too tired to keep walking:

  • Cycling: Cambridge is a very bike-friendly city, and you’ll see lots of students getting around on their bikes. There are many bike rental shops, and the roads are well-equipped with bike lanes and cycle paths so you can ride safely.
  • Bus: Cambridge has an extensive bus network, with regular services that cover the entire city. The buses are operated by Stagecoach, and you can pay for your ticket using cash or contactless payments.
  • Taxi: Honestly, cabs aren’t the most convenient way to get around Cambridge, but it never hurts to have extra options. You can hail a cab on the street, or book one in advance.

As I said though – you can easily just walk around during your Cambridge day trip from London! That’s what I did, and it works based on what I suggest to do in Cambridge during

Do you have any other questions about planning your Cambridge day trip? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie fell in love with London on her first trip to the city way back in 2011. Since then, she spent a year living in London and visits as often as she can (you can find her recent trip recaps here!). She launched LOMM in 2021 to help other travelers fall in love with her favorite city on earth.

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