Cambridge Online City

Cambridge for the Tourist

Kings College Chapel
Kings College Chapel

Many tourists visit Cambridge each year to see the historic university, its buildings and the beautiful Backs. King's College Chapel (see left) is the most famous building in Cambridge. Outside, the best views of the chapel are from Kings Parade and Queen's Road, and from its entrance via Senate House Passage or Trinity Lane. You need to pay to enter, but the fan vaulted ceiling, stone carving and stained glass are worth it. You can also attend a chapel service. See the King's Chapel website for details.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, otherwise known as the Round Church, is an attractive small Norman church at the junction of St. John's Street and Sidney Street (see right). It is one of only four round churches in Britain. They were built by the Knights Templar. The Round Church is still used for the occasional service, but has various other exhibitions etc. You should be able to look inside, but may have to pay.

Round Church
Round Church
Great St Mary's and market
Great St Mary's and market

This is Cambridge Market, open 6 days a week. It sells food, clothes, and other goods, with souvenirs in summer. On Sunday, there are craft stalls and a Farmers' Market. The church is Great St. Mary's, the university church. You can climb the tower for a small fee for a good view of Cambridge. Great St Mary's is so called because there is also a Little St. Mary's in Cambridge.

There is also a Craft Fair in All Saints Garden, opposite Trinity College. This is open for only part of the week, so see the markets website for details.

If you're interested in shopping, then click here for a description of where the main shopping areas are. A tip for tourists - there are many beautiful photos of Kings Chapel and other Cambridge landmarks, and some of these have been made into postcards. While they may be slightly more expensive than the standard postcards, they make lovely souvenirs. Postcards are sold widely throughout the town, in souvenir shops on Kings Parade and elsewhere.

Cambridge University is made up of different colleges, some of which have old and beautiful buildings. The colleges' buildings are usually arranged around courts. It is possible to walk round some of these and visit chapels and halls. Some colleges charge an entrance fee. You enter a college by the porters lodge. The porter will tell you if you can enter the college or not, and if you have to pay.

Popular sites:
  • King's - famous chapel
  • Trinity - Great Court and the Wren Library
  • St John's - Bridge of Sighs
  • Queens' - Old Court and the Mathematical Bridge
  • Contacts and websites for all colleges of Cambridge University
  • Remember that the main purpose of these colleges is to provide education and accommodation for their students. They charge admission to tourists to discourage them rather than to make money. The students' exams are in May, and during this time colleges may restrict or forbid admission. At all time, please respect those who live and work in the colleges. They are not just tourist attractions!

    Read this short history of Cambridge for some more information about the university, or read the colleges own websites (see above).

    Trinity Gatehouse
    Trinity Gatehouse
    Fitzwilliam Museum
    Fitzwilliam Museum

    There is no museum giving the complete history of Cambridge and university.

    The Fitzwilliam Museum (see left) has a large collection of art and antiquities.
    Museum of Cambridge (formerly Folk Museum) (see right) displays the everyday life of Cambridge people since 1700.
    The Botanic Gardens has 40 acres of landscaped gardens and glasshouses.

    University museums are used by the students but open to the public as well. Their opening hours can be erratic, so check their websites for details.

    See museums and attractions in Cambridge and further afield.

    Folk Museum
    Folk Museum (now called Museum of Cambridge)

    Behind the main line of colleges, along the River Cam, are the Backs (so-called from being the backs of the colleges). These are some of the grounds of the river colleges, including lawns, gardens and countryside, possibly even the occasional cow. Each college owns its own part of the river banks, so it is not possible to walk along the river by the Backs, but you can walk through the colleges (possibly paying an entrance fee!) and cross the river by their bridges. The public (and so free) bridges are Magdalene Bridge (pronounced 'maudlin'), Garret Hostel Bridge (pedestrian and bike only) and Silver Street Bridge. You can walk along Queen's Road, catching glimpses of the colleges through the trees. Click here for map, photos and information.

    The best way to see the Backs is from a punt, a flat bottomed boat which is poled along. You can hire punts from Silver Street or Quayside by Magdalene Bridge. There are also chauffeur punts, for those too timid to punt themselves. (Sometimes punters fall in the river!)

    Since Cambridge is flat and the historic centre small, you can walk everywhere.

    You can take a trip in an open topped bus with commentary. They take on people from any stop.

    Cambridge is a very flat place. Possibly partly due to this, or the problems with traffic and parking, bicycles are a serious form of transport. You can hire bicycles in Cambridge, but do make sure that you know the rules of the road before using them!

    Gonville and Caius
    Gonville and Caius gate

    If you wish to see Cambridge on a budget, then there are many things you can see for free.

    It costs money to enter some colleges, but not all. At an entrance to a college there is a porter's lodge. The porter will tell you if you are allowed to visit the college, what restrictions there are, and if it costs money. If you avoid the most famous colleges, and do some research via websites or guide books, you can see interesting and historic buildings for free, and free from crowds. Even the colleges that charge can't make you pay for seeing them from the outside. The gatehouses of several colleges are magnificent, such as Trinity, St. John's, Christ's and Jesus, and all are visible from public roads. Click here for a map and photos of the gates.

    Click here for maps and ideas for walks around Cambridge, both round the university and elsewhere.

    Most museums in Cambridge are free. Check their websites. You can walk along the river from Quayside downstream, or from Newnham, upstream. You can also walk up Castle Hill to Shire Hall, and then up Castle Mound, which is the highest point of Cambridge (which isn't saying much!). This gives you a good view over the city.

    For cheap food, try along Mill Road.

    St John's gatehouse
    St John's gatehouse
    Christs Pieces

    Cambridge has many attractive parks and open spaces. Christ's Pieces is a formal park near the centre, by the bus station. In fact, that's why the bus station is so small and badly laid out, because the people of Cambridge have consistently refused to allow any part of Christ's Pieces to disappear!

    Parker's Piece is an open sports ground, used by local schools and sports clubs, and the location of some local events.

    There are green spaces most of the way along the river, from Grantchester up-river of Cambridge, through Coe Fen and Launders Green, along the Backs, and then Jesus Green, Midsummer Common and Storbridge Common. This covers countryside, fen, landscaped areas, formal gardens, and commons where you might see cows grazing. Larger events take place at Jesus Green or Midsummer Common. Midsummer Common is so-called because there is a large fair there at midsummer, called (surprising enough) Midsummer Fair. This is a very old fair with a royal charter. Click here for details of river walks.

    See Cambridge outdoors.

    Midsummer Common
    Midsummer Common

    You can walk along the river from Magdalene Bridge by Quayside, along Jesus Green, Midummer Common and Stourbridge Common and out into the countryside. Stourbridge Common often has animals grazing on it. There are no punts on this part of the river, as it is where the university and town rowing clubs are based. The rowing boats are not for hire. You can see some of the boat houses along the river, in Midsummer Common and elsewhere. House boats are moored along the river, although the closest public marina is in Ely.


    River walk
    Henry VIII
    Henry VIII

    Cambridge does not make most of its money from tourism, so you may find that life is not necessarily designed just for the tourist. It is not a good idea to ask where the university is while standing outside King's Chapel, in case a mischievious individual sends you to Girton college (several miles out of town!) While the people of Cambridge know they live in a beautiful, historic and famous city, they can also have an irreverent attitude. Trinity College gatehouse is splendid, and in the central position there is an impressive and ancient statue of Henry VIII. However, if you look at his sceptre carefully (see left), you can see that it's just an ordinary table leg, which was placed there some time ago, presumably by a student. I'm sure that if the table leg ever wore out, it would be replaced by another!

    Click here for other oddities in Cambridge.

    Some websites for further information:
  • Cambridge history
  • Museums and attractions in Cambridge and further afield, including parks and outdoors
  • Tourist and visitor information
  • Maps of Cambridge
  • Colleges of the University of Cambridge
  • What's On in Cambridge
  • Music in Cambridge
  • Cambridge theatre and drama
  • Art in Cambridge
  • Cambridge Sport
  • Walks round Cambridge
  • Jesus Green
    Jesus Green

    Return to index