If I say Cambridge, chances are you’ll think ‘university’ – right? And it isn’t surprising given how the University of Cambridge is the second oldest university in the English-speaking world and is consistently ranked as one of the best. So most people naturally always automatically think of it when Cambridge is mentioned – myself included.
The city also conjures images of Englishness – exquisite architecture, punting on the river, historic pubs, cyclists navigating the tiny cobblestone alleys. I regularly say that there’s so much of the UK that I’ve never touched on, and that I plan to visit more towns and cities every time I’m back in the country. Cambridge is one city that I had never been to before, so a couple of weeks ago when the opportunity to visit came my way, I grabbed it.
I knew beforehand that there was little other to do than meander through the streets, marvel at the colleges, eat some cake, and watch people punting down the river. But that was more than enough – I was meeting Nora, a very dear friend of mine, and I mostly wanted to catch up with her while also soaking up the atmosphere.
Cambridge is a two-hour train ride away from Lincoln. From the station, we walked straight into town, which took us about 20 minutes. It was a characteristically British day; i.e. it was grey and looked like it was about to chuck it down at any given moment. Thankfully, the weather had mercy on us, so we were free to spend most of the day walking around.
Here’s what we did:
Without a plan in place, we first headed to the River Cam. This is where you’ll find loads of people punting. In fact, I found out a couple of days after our visit that David Beckham and his family had been punting in Cambridge the same day that we were there – can’t believe we didn’t see them!
A punt is a flat-bottomed boat, which you steer with a square-cut bow. This type of boat is designed for use in small rivers, hence why they were first introduced in Cambridge in the early 20th century. Today, the Cam is full of punts, their popularity owed to the attractive old college buildings that line the river.
While we didn’t choose to punt (I usually shy away from physical activity unless there’s food promised at the end of it), we did walk down by the river, which was beautiful. You can, of course, choose a chauffeur driven punt – some companies even offer punting with cocktail making. Shame I didn’t know about this sooner.
If you’re looking to steer one yourself, you’ll find many, many punting companies trying to sell you a cruise around town. It’s hard to miss them.
While I was doing research for this blog post, I came across a travel article that says that when you visit Cambridge you find yourself wondering what it must be like to study in such splendid surroundings. Sure enough, that’s exactly what I did while I was there. It’s pretty impossible not to; the college buildings are simply astounding.
You’ll come across them as you wander the streets. There are 31 colleges in total, many of which you can pay a small fee in order to go inside. We didn’t do this, but this website is a good resource of information on which colleges you can see.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
In between eating cake and catching up, we did manage to make it to The Fitzwilliam Museum, which again is in the city centre and very easy to find with the help of Google Maps. The building itself features Hellenic style columns, so it looks rather grand. And we were impressed with the collection.
There’s an expansive Greek and Roman collection, which spans the period from around 3000 BC to the 4th century, and you can see everything from colossal marble figures to fired clay vessels and small bronze animals.
I was particularly interested in the Cyprus section (surprise, surprise!) and couldn’t help but wish that all of these items were displayed back home. There were some impressively maintained glass works, as well as stone sculptures, pottery, and clay figurines. The Cypriot collection ranges in date from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman period.
Away from the ancient world collections (there were also some amazing items from Egypt), I particularly enjoyed the collection of paintings that they had, which included works from the likes of Cézanne and Monet. I vividly remember studying their work at GCSE level, so it was nice to see these paintings ‘in real life’ so to speak.
All in all, for a free museum that I had never even heard of before I thought it was fantastic, and it’s definitely worth a look should you find yourself in town. You can find details of all the Cambridge museums here.
While we wandered the streets, we also came across a lovely little market in the Market Hill part of town. There were some stalls selling great-looking homewares, as well as some that had some delicious-looking cakes on display. We didn’t buy anything there, but it was nice to walk around it nevertheless (did I ever mentioned I LOVE markets? Especially food-oriented ones).
So, did we like Cambridge?
In short: yes, absolutely! Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting of places – there’s little to do, and it’s very small. However, if you’re looking for a lovely and relaxed place to visit during the weekend, I’d definitely recommend it. The scenery is beautiful, after all, and we had a wonderful time there. Plus, I came across a store called Nomad, which had a Buddha in the window – is it ridiculous that that’s one of the things that excited me the most? Yes, I still miss Asia…
While we were there the place was swarming with tourists (maybe because it was a Bank Holiday Monday?). In particular, there were loads and loads of families with small kids. I couldn’t help but wonder whether they were all secretly wishing that their kiddie winks will study at the university some day.
I don’t even have kids yet and the thought did cross my mind.