After a scholarly cheap weekend in Oxford, we thought it was only fair to pay a trip to Cambridge, England’s other great academic city. They may be bitter rivals in the boat race, but they share the work hard, play hard mentality, and there’s plenty of extra-curricular activities to be found amongst Cambridge’s cobbled streets…
Fuel Up: Cambridge is a very compact city, but the train station is a little out of the way. If you’ve arrived by train, walk to the centre of town towards the coach and bus station. If you came by bus, simply hop off and head straight to Sevinos, an Italian cafe just down the road from Emmanuel College.
One of the most studious colleges, ‘Emma’ students have been known to queue around the block for the freshly baked, warm chocolate croissants during exam term. Get an espresso and croissant to go, and wander around the college if it’s open to visitors. Founded in 1584, the college chapel was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the grounds are extensive, with a huge parkland and a duck pond.
A Morning in College: Whilst Oxford’s colleges are quite spread out and similar in style, Cambridge’s most famous colleges are a jumble of diverse architecture, and form a line through the city centre, which makes a tour quick and relatively painless!
Start off at Queens, Stephen Fry’s alma mater. The college straddles the river Cam and is divided by a bridge, with unsightly modern blocks on one side, and the charming tudor Old Court on the other, erected in 1448. Head onto Trumpington Street and King’s Parade, for the main drag of colleges. Kings College dominates King’s Parade with its vast chapel and neo-gothic gatehouse. Founded in 1441 by King Henry VI, the BBC film a carol service at Kings every year, with the chapel lit up by an eerie blue light display. King’s students have a reputation for being the most politically minded and ‘edgy’ in the city, and you might spot a few posing by the college common room.
The neighboring Senate House is the grand setting for each college’s graduation ceremonies , and student’s exam results are posted outside the main door. Clare College (1326) is next door to Kings, and is renowned for its glorious gardens, which spread out onto the grassy ‘Backs’. Next up is Gonville and Cauis, (1348), which boasts 12 Nobel Prize Winners to its name, including the inventor of Penicillin and the discoverer of DNA. Cauis may have brains, but its also has beauty – with dark Gothic buildings to the ‘Gate of Honour’, which leads to Senate House and is only used for special occasions.
Save some energy for two of the most well-known colleges – Trinity and St Johns. Both colleges host legendary summer balls – described as two of the ‘best parties in the world’ by Time magazine, and each try to outdo one another in throwing the wildest bash. Trinity was founded by King Henry VIII, and is the largest and wealthiest richest college in the University. The grounds are extensive – top sights include the Great Court with its fountains, and the Wren Library, which contains some of Shakespeare’s Folios. The Library cloisters look out onto the river and the Backs. St Johns (1511) is equally grand, and probably the most impressive to a first time visitor. The college has several pretty Tudor courts, countless gothic towers, and the Neo-Gothic ‘Bridge of Sighs’, one of the most photographed buildings in Cambridge. Walk out to St John’s Backs, and join the students lolling about on the lawns.
Lunch in a Quirky Cafe: By now you’ll be starving, but Cambridge is full of quirky independent cafes, perfect for a cheap lunch. Hidden down a passageway opposite King’s, Indigo is a funky but tiny cafe, with about 3 tables and some old sofas crammed up rickety wooden stairs. If you can find a seat, nestle down next to hungry students and tuck into the delicious bagels for lunch. If you need more leg-room, check out Auntie’s Tea Shop in Market Square, a kitsch old-fashioned tea room complete with doily tablecloths and waitresses in frilly aprons. The homemade quiches, ploughman’s lunch or fruit scones are always good.
Cake with a Cat: Head Back to Mill Road, where you can take your pick of international cuisine, from Turkish Cafes with Shisha Pipes to Korean Noodle Bars. Walk over the bridge to the ‘wrong’ end of Mill Road, a formerly run down area that is slowly being revamped. Lunch at the Black Cat Cafe (2, The Broadway, CB1)an excellent independent cafe with its own blend of coffee ground freshly on the premises. Everything, from the smoothies to the ketchup is made from scratch, and paninis are made from huge hunks of bread. The cakes change daily and are the best in Cambridge – the squished croissant cake and dark peppermint fudge cake will leave you speechless!
An Educational Afternoon: If you can stomach any more learning, walk down Trumpington Street to the Fiztwilliam Museum, a vast world-class selection of art and antiquities that’s completely free. The grand neo-classical building itself is worth a look. Just down the road is Peterhouse (1284), the smallest and oldest college in the university.
An Evening of Evensong: If you get the chance, catch Evensong at King’s Chapel, which takes place at 5:30pm every day (3:30pm on Sundays). It’s a chance to see the world-famous College Choir perform in a most atmopsheric and setting – queues can form early as it’s a free and truly haunting experience.
Clown Around for a Cheap Dinner: Not a good plan if you’re Coulrophobic (afraid of clowns), this Italian Deli has been a student staple for years. The cosy cafe is covered from wall to wall with pictures of Clowns, many drawn by children from a local school. It sounds odd, but Clowns (54 King Street, CB1 1LN) has bags of character and the food is superb value. Run by a friendly family of Italians who will call you ‘darling’ and sit with punters when tucking into their own dinner, the food is all home-cooked classic Italian Fare in huge portions- from Spinach Lasagne to to-die-for Tiramisu. Main meals start at about £2.50. The Amaretto Hot Chocolate and Vegetarian Pasta come highly recommended!
Let your Hair Down: Apart from student nights, Cambridge is a small city with only a handful couple of clubs, and weekend nights out in local haunts Ballare and Vodka Revolution should be avoided. But there are still a few cool places to let your hair down.
The city has heaps of small venues that put on some good nights – there’s dive club Kambar for live music, but Fez and the glossier Soul Tree are your best bets for dance music. Fez is small and gets a little sweaty, but draws the coolest DJs. Start off your evening in one of the lively bars in the city center.
Ta Bouche does great value cocktails and lots of 2 for 1 deals, and is right next door to Fez so you can keep your eye on the club queue. For post-club munchies, head to local institution ‘Gardies’, a greek chip shop down Rose Crescent for chips in pitta or top-class kebabs . Avoid the two vans in Market Square – called the ‘Van of Life’ and ‘Van of Death’ by students, it’s not worth trying to guess which is which!
Bed Down: Most of Cambridge’s hostels and hotels are out by the station, but the YHA Cambridge is just off Mill Road, one of the coolest and most interesting streets in Cambridge and only a short walk from town. This old Victorian house is fully modern inside, with a huge lounge, comfortable beds and its own bar, perfect for a cheap pint before you head out on the town.
Rise and Shop: After an educational first day, it’s time for a more leisurely introduction to Cambridge. The YHA has a free breakfast, which will leave you with more money for a shopping spree! There are plenty of shops in the city center, and Market Square has lots of stalls selling the usual tourist tat. For truly original shopping, spend a morning exploring the Second-Hand shops and ethnic food stores along Mill Road, an artistic and multi-cultural area that feels a world away from the quaint city center. Walk along to Burleigh Street for an endless road of Charity Shops, and ignore the souless Grafton Shopping Center.
Punt to Grantchester: Punting is just as popular in Cambridge as in Oxford, but the River Cam’s route is arguably prettier, as the river runs past the backs of the most famous colleges. Whilst it’s great fun to punt past Kings and sail under the Bridge of sighs, rent a punt from Scudamores on Mill Lane, and you can punt through the Cambridge countryside to Grantchester. This pretty village has long been an escape for stressed out students, and is filled with cosy pubs and huge houses.
On the way, grab a picnic – a bottle of Cava from Sainsbury’s and a couple of Chelsea Buns from Fitzbillies, Cambridge’s most famous patisserie- the buns and cakes are famous for fuelling the boat team to victory. When you reach Grantchester, take afternoon tea in the Orchard Tea Garden, with deckchairs set in a fruit orchard, or head to The Rupert Brooke pub (named after the famous poet) for a pint before punting home.
An Evening by the River: The ‘Quayside Area’ by Magdelene College is full of lovely restaurants for dinner by the river – try Teri Aki for fresh Japenese food. If you fancy something cheaper, head up the hill to The Castle Pub, where a meaty homemade ‘Castle Burger’ topped with blue cheese and pineapple with set you back about £4. Spend the rest of your night in a historic pubs, the watering holes for professors and pupils alike for centuries. Top pubs include The Pickeral (dark and cosy) The Eagle (where Crick and Watson toasted the discovery of DNA) and The Maypole (which stays open late).
Our very own LS has penned this week’s weekend city break guide – she was a student at Cambridge for three years, and spent most of her time ‘researching’ fun things to do and avoiding the library…