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Snapshot: Cambridge

September 16, 2020

Punt through Cambridge and explore the colleges that date back nearly a thousand years

 

The heart of British academia, Cambridge is home to one of the most famous universities on earth. Along with its sister (and rival) institution of Oxford, it is known as the most prestigious university in the English-speaking world, with notable alumni ranging from Charles Darwin to Steven Hawking and Prince Charles.

 

An aerial view of the Kings College Chapel at sunset.
An aerial view of the Kings College Chapel at sunset.

 

Cambridge sits on the River Cam, just an hour north of London, and its small-town charm has attracted students since the university opened in 1209. The city centre is best navigated on foot or bike as most of it is fully pedestrianised. Bikes can be hired from guesthouses, hotels or road-side shops and provide an excellent way to explore the ancient area.

However, the best way to really explore the city is by punt – a narrow, flat-bottomed boat. Punting on the River Cam has been a tradition for centuries. Today, you can take your chances by renting a punt on your own but we suggest getting one of the experienced students to take hold of the punt, steer you to all the hidden gems, and regale you with tales of student life at Cambridge. You never know, they may turn out to be a future Prime Minister!

 

Punting in the River Cam near the Kings College Cathedral.
Punting in the River Cam near the Kings College Cathedral.

 

Like all old British towns, there are some fabulous pubs to stop and rest at, as well as many fantastic spots along the river such as the Anchor or the Granta. In summer, students combine revision with sunbathing on the grassy banks outside the college buildings that flank the river.

A tour of the Cambridge University colleges is an excellent way to understand their history and the role the colleges play today, as well as to get up close to many of the architectural wonders that make up the town. Recognised as a centre of scientific study, academics and students here lead the world on scientific, medicinal and technological breakthroughs. Almost 20% of the town’s population is made up of students, giving it a vibrant and youthful feel.

 

Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge.
Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge.

 

This abundance of students has created a wonderful cultural identity with great coffee shops, trendy pubs and busy book shops all vying for the student dollar. Heffers Book shop, in Trinity College, has been supplying textbooks to students for centuries and the collegiate feel is added to by the excellent series of book talks, comedy nights and live music performances that it hosts. It's also a central point to the annual Cambridge Literary Festival, held every April.


The town also has a great selection of live music venues and dining establishments fit for everyone from a poor undergrad (the Punter Pub), to a future king (Midsummer House).

 

Old Trinity Street with Heffers Book Shop and restaurant.
Old Trinity Street with Heffers Book Shop and restaurant.

 

As well as the plentiful college buildings, the Fitzwilliam Museum is a must-see. Free to enter, the museum houses one of the best collections of modern art in the world, with artworks by Monet, Cézanne, van Gough and Rembrandt to name but a few.

 

Interior of the FitzWilliam Museum.
Interior of the FitzWilliam Museum.

 

Above all, the most iconic of Cambridge landmarks is the 15th century Kings College Chapel. It is home to the Kings College Choir, who sing the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols each Christmas Eve – broadcast live by the BBC since 1928. Today, it's still a tradition for many British families to watch the choir on TV or listen on the radio as people would have nearly a century ago.

 

The historical King College and Chapel, build in 1446 by King Henry VI.
The historical King College and Chapel, build in 1446 by King Henry VI.

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