Cambridge is a small town about 75 kilometers (50 miles) north from London. Cambridge is home to one of the best universities in the world – the University of Cambridge.
The city is home to 130,000 people whereas two third of them are students and university staff. That’s the true meaning of the university town. In addition to being named one of the best universities in the world (by the way, such brilliant minds as Isaak Newton, Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, Steven Hoking graduated from here), the University of Cambridge is also one of the oldest universities. That’s the second oldest university in England (the oldest one is Oxford University) and the fourth oldest in the world. It is over 800 years old – not every city can boast such a reputable age!
Some travelers might ask if Cambridge is at all worth visiting, in other words, if there is anything worth attention of an experienced (or not so much) tourist.
I believe it is definitely worth visiting, especially if you have a couple of free days and you would like to enjoy a charming atmosphere of a medieval university town. It is a quiet and peaceful town during university holidays and a buzzing place during semesters.
The most interesting sights are the building of the university’s colleges. Tourists usually don’t have access to those (but you can buy a ticket to see some of colleges from inside) but even from outside they look magnificent. By the way, you can get inside the buildings without paying anything. For example, you can say that you consider studying here and would like to see what the college looks like from inside. But this option is not available to everyone. You should at least look like a student-to-be.
The most popular attractions for tourists are the King’s College and its Chapel that is a prime example of gothic architecture. Other colleges that are of interest to tourists are the Queen’s College, the Trinity College and St. Johns College.
You also have an opportunity to take a look at colleges from the river Cam (this is the river that gave the name to the town). To do this, go punting – that’s a famous traditional pastime in Cambridge. Punting tours are offered all over the place: punts are steered by Cambridge students and graduates who share historical facts about their alma mater and funny pranks from their student times. Punting tours are not exactly cheap but students get discounts. If the sales person likes you then you will get a discount even if you aren’t a student anymore.
In addition to colleges, the city boasts a lot of beautiful old buildings including churches dating back to the Middle Ages. For example, the Round Church (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), built in 1130. Many buildings were renovated and are protected by the government.
If you are a museums buff, Cambridge will be like a paradise for you – the city has a lot of museums, including Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University Museum of Zoology, Museum of Natural History, etc.)
Despite having that many places to visit Cambridge is a very close-packed town: all sights are located in downtown and can be explored within a day or two on foot. It means that Cambridge can be considered a weekend getaway or a stop on your way to other places in UK that you plan to visit. You can, of course, come for just one day without staying overnight but if you want to fully enjoy the charm of this small university town, I recommend staying a night here.
Cambridge can be reached from London by train following into the direction of Birmingham from King’s Cross or Liverpool Street stations. This will take just a little over an hour.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Cambridge?
Now, let’s talk about accommodation. The city is small, so you won’t get a huge variety of accommodation options here. There are hotels in the area of the railway station, and in the historical downtown. You should keep in mind that the station is a little too far away from the city center, so I don’t see much sense in choosing a hotel in this area. You won’t even save that much (or at all) because hotel rates are more or less the same everywhere. You can reach the city center from the railway station by taxi or bus. The bus stop is located to the left from the railway station exit. If you travel by car, keep in mind that cars are restricted from entering most of the downtown area. The main travel mode here if by a bike. You will have to park your car somewhere and that’s extra expenses.
Hotels in Historical Downtown of Cambridge
I have already mentioned that there are not that many hotels in Cambridge and they are all relatively expensive. For example, Hilton Cambridge City Centre, The Varsity Hotel&Spa and The Gonville Hotel.
Most of hotels in Cambridge are small B&Bs (bed and breakfast accommodations) with not more than ten rooms – that creates a certain atmosphere of comfort and privacy. You should, however, keep in mind that rooms in such hotels will be very small. Often, there is enough place for just a bed, a small wardrobe, and there is hardly any space left for moving around. You should not see that as a disadvantage. It is rather a national; “thing” – just accept it and enjoy your holiday. After all, you are not going to spend all your time in a hotel room.
I believe that The Waterman is the best option. First, it is not so expensive. Second, there is a bus stop nearby and you can easily reach the railway station. Third, the Cam river is just two minutes away, and the historical downtown is located at a distance of not more than one kilometer.
Regency Guest House – an elegant Victorian building – is located not far from Parker’s Piece one of the best open spaces in Cambridge. You can take a 10-15-minute walk to the Cam river and the colleges.
Finally, Arundel House Hotel can also boast a convenient location and has rooms with views over the river. The area is very picturesque and the hotel is the epitome of traditional English style. You can reach the downtown in 10 minutes on foot. This hotel is a great option for those who travel by car – there is parking available to guests.
Staying in College Rooms
In Cambridge, you have a unique opportunity to see what it’s like to live in one of college hostels. Some colleges offer tourists rooms in their colleges for accommodation. These are comfortable rooms with a separate or shares bathroom (different rates apply). The service also includes breakfast in the student canteen and a complimentary WiFi.
As a rule, this accommodation option is only available during limited periods of time. Mostly, it is during summer holidays (sometimes, Christmas and Easter holidays) when students leave their room and take their private belongings with them. You should book these rooms two or three months in advance because there are many other people who would like to feel the atmosphere of the University of Cambridge from within the colleges’ walls. Make note that staying in many colleges’ hostels is only available for adult tourists. You should ask about that in advance. Christ’s College and Churchill College are two colleges that provide this unique opportunity more often compared to other colleges but if you are lucky you can stay in the famous King’s College.
Staying Outside the Historical Downtown
As you see the accommodation options in Cambridge are pretty limited, and it can happen that every single room in the city center will be booked or the rates will be very expensive (prices can go up to 200 pounds per night). Then you will have no other choice but to stay outside the city center. In this case, it makes sense to take a closer look to hotels near the railway station because then you will have a very convenient transport connection to the downtown, plus, it will save you time when you leave the town.
In this district I recommend to take a look at such accommodation options as Centennial Hotel, The Earl Of Derby and Bridge Guest House. All three hotels offer their guests complimentary WiFi and parking. Actually, the distance from the city center is not that huge. If you decide to go for a walk, you will reach the historical downtown in 20–30 minutes.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Hotel in Cambridge
When choosing accommodation in Cambridge you should remember that it is important to book in advance. There are not that many hotels here and affordable ones sell like hotcakes because lots of tourists and future students and their parents visit Cambridge at all times. If you book accommodation with breakfast included, you should understand that it means you are going to get the continental buffet breakfast. If you want the traditional full English breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausages and beans, you will have to pay extra (not always, but often).
The traffic in the central Cambridge is limited, so if you travel by car, choose a hotel with a parking lot outside the downtown and then enjoy your walks in the city.
As a rule, hotels are small (2 floors, 10-12 rooms), and the rooms are not very spacious. Just accept this, don’t ruin your holiday with complaints but just enjoy the charming atmosphere of this university town. There are not that many places like this in the world. The spirit of today is here seamlessly entwined with two thousand years of history of the city that faithfully safeguards age-old traditions of the University of Cambridge.