When it comes to discovering a treasure trove of hidden gems, it doesn’t come better than Cambridge. A mere 50-minute train journey from the hustle and bustle of the British capital of London, Cambridge is a perfect fusion of elegance, nobility and oldie-worldie charm and an ideal tourist destination.
Cambridge’s bucolic charm
The city of Cambridge has a reputation for world class education and unparalleled architectural craftsmanship. However, at the same time, this delightful city manages to effortlessly convey a bucolic feel as it transports visitors to the countryside. It is no surprise that Cambridge is a popular getaway spot and a must-see destination for many.
There are countless reasons why we love this captivating city, but here are our top 10 favourites.
1. A slower pace of life
Visitors to Cambridge will be forgiven for thinking that they have stepped into a fairy-tale-like film set. A powerhouse of academic excellence for hundreds of years, this city gives the impression of being a place of constant commotion and perpetual activity. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Despite its reputation for distinction and fame, Cambridge exudes an air of tranquillity and rustic charm. At every turn, visitors are greeted by charming cobbled streets lined with majestic historical buildings, many of which have housed some of the world’s greatest minds.
2. Nature in the heart of the city
A short walk through the city centre brings visitors to the genteel greens of Cambridge on the banks of the River Cam and Grantchester Meadows. This sprawling green space with a stunning backdrop of university colleges is the ideal location for picnicking and people watching.
What’s more, if anything showcases that Cambridge is still rural at its heart, is the friendly herd of cows peacefully grazing on the commons.
3. World-famous university
We can’t talk about Cambridge without at least a brief mention of its world-renowned University.
Founded in 1209, The University of Cambridge has been ranked as one of the most sought after universities in the world for hundreds of years. Friendly rivalry has always existed between Cambridge and Oxford University, and these two titans of academic excellence regularly pip each other to the post as the best in the UK.
Famous alumni of Cambridge University include actress Dame Emma Thompson, Sir Isaac Newton, the father of gravity, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and the legendary Sir David Attenborough.
Cambridge University has many claims to fame but perhaps one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs is credited to Cambridge alumni Francis Crick and James Watson who discovered the structure of DNA, the secret of life.
4. There’s magic in the air
Although the Harry Potter movies were never filmed in Cambridge, many see a glimpse of this magical wizarding world in the city’s incredible architecture, and thousands of Harry Potter fans flock here each year.
The narrow, winding cobblestone streets of Rose Crescent and All Saints Passage could have easily featured in the blockbuster movie, and Trinity Street and King’s Parade with their beautiful views of the colleges could be mistaken for the backdrop to Hogwarts. Furthermore, the birthplace of Harry Potter himself, ‘Potter Cottage’ in Godric’s Hollow is less than an hour’s drive away from Cambridge.
5. All the free things to do
Cambridge is full of interesting places, and visitors can easily spend a day in this delightful city without breaking the bank. One of the many reasons we love this city so much is because of its accessibility to everyone. Many of the famous Cambridge landmarks are completely free to visit.
The University of Cambridge is made up of many colleges and these are spread across the city. However, you may be surprised to hear that many of the colleges and their gardens are open to visitors and some are free to enter.
The Fitzwilliam Museum is one of the city’s most cherished buildings filled with world-renowned works of art, masterpiece paintings and breathtaking historical artefacts, and it is open to everyone.
Kettle’s Yard is another of Cambridge's treasures housing stunning modern art by artists from around the world. There are changing exhibitions to visit throughout the year and there is always something for everyone.
Another Cambridge favourite is the newly revamped Museum of Zoology with its astounding diversity of animal life, and the Scott Polar Research Institute filled with amazing letters and artefacts from the Scott exhibition. All of this free of charge to visitors.
6. Shoppers’ paradise
Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Cambridge was crowned the best place for a spot of shopping in the UK for two years running. It beat off fierce competition from affluent London districts such as the West End, Chelsea, Richmond and Canary Wharf.
Cambridge’s popularity is due to its illustrious academic heritage, as well as its close proximity to London, which draws swarms of day trippers and tourists each year.
If it’s a spot of shopping you are after, Cambridge has it all. From highstreet giants to the finest independent boutiques, to a seven-day-a-week market with unusual, vintage fashions on offer. This city is bursting at the seams with lovely shops, stylish boutiques and even some trendy second-hand stores to suit every budget.
7. A foodie’s dream
Cambridge is filled with an impressive array of outstanding restaurants, cafes and tearooms to cater to all tastes. It wasn’t that long ago that the city made the bold move away from big chain restaurants in favour of smaller, more independent eateries with exceptional food.
No trip to Cambridge is complete without a brief stop at the Market Square. Open seven days a week, the market is filled with tantalising stalls selling mouthwatering food from local producers, ideal if you are on-the-go.
If street food is more what you are after, then keep an eye on the foodPark website to see where the exciting street food vendors will be located each day, and treat your tastebuds to the best street foods in the city.
8. An active city
Those who like to stay active love Cambridge! The city is big enough to offer variety to visitors, but it is also compact enough to be able to walk everywhere.
Better still, if you are a fan of cycling, Cambridge will be at your fingertips. Bikes are easy and affordable to hire and everyone can have a go.
In fact, Cambridge is considered a model cycling city and bicycles are the most popular means of transport. Cambridge’s infrastructure has a bike-friendly layout, which promotes cycling, and as a result, the city is not overwhelmed by traffic and fumes. Well done Cambridge for striving to stay environmentally friendly!
9. A touch of class
If you are yearning for a quintessentially English slice of life, don’t pass on the opportunity to visit The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester.
Nestled in the quiet countryside just outside Cambridge, Grantchester is just a short walk, bike ride or punt trip away from the city centre. This famous garden has been an essential part of Cambridge history for over 120 years, and it has welcomed many students and influential people over the years, from Virginia Wolf, to Stephen Hawking and Prince Charles, to name a few.
The Tea Garden is open to visitors and it welcomes guests to sample their irresistible cream teas, and to enjoy a serene nature walk along the river.
10. Outdoor events
Cambridge plays host to a number of outdoor events throughout the summer months to keep the city’s residents and visitors moving and entertained.
Movies on the Meadows is one such annual event. It takes place in the tranquil surroundings of Grantchester Meadows, and it is an ideal backdrop for young and old alike to come together on a lovely summer’s evening and watch some all-time favourite movies on the big screens.
The Big Weekend is another much-loved event in the Cambridge calendar. It takes place every summer on Parker’s Piece, and it is an event for everyone. A celebration of music, food and culture, the Big Weekend features a range of exciting activities, famous faces and stellar performances. From comedy festivals to glittering fireworks, the Big Weekend draws thousands of people to the city each year.
Experience Cambridge with Us
At St Mary’s School, we are delighted to offer international students the opportunity to experience British culture in the beautiful city of Cambridge. Our popular illuminate Cambridge summer study abroad program is specifically designed for girls aged 15-17 to immerse them in British culture, push their limits, develop new skills and interests, and expand their academic and social potential.
During their two-week stay in Cambridge, students will get the opportunity to explore a series of lively academic themes devised by our Oxbridge-educated course leaders.
Beyond the classroom, exciting educational and cultural visits, such as behind the scenes tours of Cambridge, will bring their learning to life.
Don’t wait! Make your summer memorable and book your place with us today.