They say you’re never a good tourist in your own town and we think that’s totally true. How many of us have actually been into King’s College Chapel? Punted? Seen a show at the Arts Theatre? We’ve put together a Cambridge Bucket List – for tourists and locals alike – and challenge you to make 2015 the year you finally tick them all off. Go!
Cambridge’s classically beautiful museum contains a vast collection of treasures, from Egyptian mummies to famous paintings. Built in 1816, it has been described as “one of the greatest art collections of the nation and a monument of the first importance” by the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries.
A more recent but no less beautiful addition to the tourist trail, the Corpus Clock was unveiled in 2008 by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking. The dragon-like insect on top is a locust or grasshopper, said to eat time. It is entirely mechanical, and the clock is actually only accurate once every five minutes. It is expected to run for at least 200 years.
With a global reputation for top-notch comedy, the Cambridge University amateur dramatics club is a cut above your average student theatre group. Combining sketches, skits, songs and stand-up, Footlights regularly host late night ‘Smokers’ at the ADC Theatre, as well as their annual tour show at the Arts Theatre, which they take to the Edinburgh Fringe and across to America each year. Known as a finishing school for the cream of Britain’s comic entertainers, Footlights counts John Cleese, Eric Idle, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and more recently, David Mitchell and Robert Webb, amongst its illustrious alumni.
This striking building within Trinity College was designed by Christopher Wren, 25 years after he designed St Paul’s Cathedral. It contains the original Winnie the Pooh manuscript by A A Milne, who read mathematics at Cambridge at the turn of last century, plus early Shakespeare editions and books by Sir Isaac Newton.
Thought to be Cambridge’s oldest surviving building, the Leper Chapel off Newmarket Road is a must for anyone interested in the past. This atmospheric 12th century chapel often holds events, from carols and ghost stories to the medieval Stourbridge Fair.
One of the city’s most popular events, the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival offers period costumes and top-quality performances in the beautiful university college gardens. Running throughout July and August each year, the festival presents a combination of the Bard’s best- loved and lesser-known plays, with guests invited to bring along picnics.
Attempting to run round the Great Court at Trinity College in under 43 seconds is one of Cambridge’s greatest traditions, and was recreated in the 1988 film Chariots of Fire. The 43 seconds relates to the time it takes the college clock to strike 12 o’clock and the course is approximately 370 metres long. Cue theme music!
You don’t have to go all the way to the capital to catch a West End show. Cambridge Arts Theatre is on the touring circuit of many prominent productions – sometimes we even get to see them before they start their London run. Highlights for 2015 include The King’s Speech, Daphne du Maurier’s haunting Rebecca, The Woman in Black, Constellations and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Grab a beer and watch your favourite band or artist at the Corn Exchange, which hosts great acts all year round. Already confirmed for next year are Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, Belle and Sebastian and comedian Alan Carr – stay tuned to Cambridge Edition over the coming months to find out who else will be stopping by in 2015...
Drinking & dining
This quintessentially English pub not only serves great ales and food from its cosy, wood-panelled interiors, but has a fascinating history. The RAF bar features graffiti made by Second World War pilots who burned their names into the ceiling, and ask about the upstairs window which must be kept open at all times... Famously, in 1953, Francis Crick burst in to announce that he and James Watson had ‘discovered the secret of life’ after identifying the structure of DNA.
Cambridge’s most famous bakery has been supplying treats for the city’s townsfolk and students (Stephen Fry was a big fan during his time at Cambridge) for nearly 100 years. It’s most sought-after delicacy are its sticky Chelsea buns: warm with slightly crispy edges, they’ve been featured in books, in the news and are delicious.
Spend a cosy Sunday afternoon devouring a plate of hot roast beef and gravy at this favourite riverside pub – as visited by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Despite its royal connection the prices are more than reasonable and in the summer months you can sit outside and watch the world going by on Midsummer Common. The perfect country pub, and just minutes from the city centre.
We reckon the roof terrace at the Varsity Hotel has to be one of the best spots in the city for a drink. Admiring the spectacular panoramic views of the Cambridge skyline, sink down into the luxurious sofas and enjoy a glass of champagne, or get stuck into the cocktail list – there’s a tasty BBQ menu in the summer months too. The hotel runs special events on the roof, from live theatre to film screenings, so keep an eye on the website to see what’s on.
Just a few miles from Cambridge (and a picturesque 15-minute cycle ride) lies the pretty village of Grantchester, once home to the war poet Rupert Brooke. Its Orchard Tearooms serve excellent scones, which you can eat in deckchairs in the dappled shade of its pretty garden. Finish your trip there with a riverside walk along Grantchester Meadows.
Cambridge’s most cosmopolitan, bohemian street, Mill Road is home to lots of unique shops, Asian supermarkets and independent restaurants. It’s THE place to go if you’re cooking a curry and you’re guaranteed to discover wild and wonderful ingredients you’d never even thought of.
Recently named the second best restaurant in the world and the best in the UK at the TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards – Midsummer House is Cambridgeshire’s most celebrated fine dining spot, boasting not one but two Michelin stars. Diners choose from a five- (£47.50pp), seven- (£82.50pp) or ten-course menu (£105pp), including beetroot baked on open coals, quinoa, goat’s cheese and mizuna; roast quail, shallot puree, grapes, celery and sourdough; and compressed strawberries, elderflower sponge, crème fraiche and sorrel.
A trip to this philosophically named fast food van after a night on the razz is a rite of passage in Cambridge. Want to tick this one off the list? For the full experience: eat something greasy while waiting for your taxi to appear and have slurred conversations with strangers.
On a warm summer’s day, the population of Cambridge migrates to the Mill Pond to laze around in the sun. The picturesque riverside location is the perfect spot to watch punters milling by on the Cam – some more skilled than others (you might even catch a tipsy tourist going overboard). There are a couple of pubs close by which will furnish you with takeaway drinks in plastic cups when you need to do a booze run, and The Mill also does loads of great takeaway dishes.
Tip: watch out for the cow pats!
Out and about
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which opened to the public in 1846, displays over 8000 different plant species in 40 acres of beautiful landscapes. It’s a gorgeous place to wander around, especially during the summer, when they host regular al fresco concerts, which guests are invited to bring picnics along to. Be sure to pay a visit to the fantastic Garden Café too, for a wedge of cake or a bowl of home-made soup.
Unfortunately Cambridge Castle itself is long gone, but if you visit the site on Castle Hill you’ll be able to climb up Castle Mound for a panoramic view of the city. This is particularly popular on bonfire night, or for watching the May Ball fireworks, as you’ll be able to see several college displays going off around you.
The Cambridge experience isn’t complete without hopping on a classic bike and whizzing through town with the wind in your face. Our best cycling spot would be The Backs, which offer beautiful views of many of the prettiest colleges (including King’s) and in early spring are carpeted with purple and white crocuses. Just pop some books in your basket and a scarf in your hair to complete the picture!
Cambridge is famous for its punting, which started as a way of transporting goods up and down the river. You can hop aboard one of these flat-bottomed boats at any time of the year, either along The Backs, up towards Jesus Green or out of the city to Grantchester. Take a chauffeured tour or have a go yourself – just remember we punt from the back here in Cambridge!
Bang in the middle of Parker’s Piece stands a seemingly nondescript lamp post. On closer inspection, you’ll see it is covered in graffiti (each time it’s painted it reappears). It’s known as the Reality Checkpoint, supposedly where people go to reflect on life...
When summer arrives, the bold make a beeline for the Jesus Green Lido for a dip. The outdoor pool is one of the longest in Europe so there’s plenty of room, and it’s open from May to September. And if you don’t fancy a dip, you can just sunbathe on the grassy lawns nearby instead.
Cambridge might be best known for its rowing, but our local football team Cambridge United, aka The Amber Army or ‘The Us’, had a great year in 2014. Cheer them on at Abbey Stadium, where they’ve been playing since 1932, for a great family day out. Football fans should also visit Parker’s Piece, where the rules for The Beautiful Game were first laid down.
Cambridge’s food scene has been flourishing in the past few years, and nowhere is this better showcased than at the annual EAT Cambridge festival. 2015 will be the third outing for this already hugely popular event, which hosts a day-long food and drink fair, packed with food from great local producers, as well as a programme of fringe events that includes supper clubs, cocktail parties and a night-time street food market.
One of the largest events of its kind, the annual Beer Festival is a bonafide Cambridge institution. Taking place each May on Jesus Green, the event has been running since way back in 1974, and always supplies a brilliant selection of beers from local and national breweries, as well as cider, perry, mead and wines to try. If you need a bit of sustenance while you’re sipping your way around the festival, it also has plenty of grub on offer including freshly baked bread, cheeses, pork pies and other tasty savoury snacks. Ideal for soaking up some of that booze...
Every summer Cambridge hosts one of the country’s biggest, most celebrated folk festivals, showcasing music from a varied array of top artists. It always sells out, and last year celebrated its 50th year with appearances from Sinead O’Connor and Van Morrison among others. Takes place at Cherry Hinton Hall, 30 July-2 August 2015: tickets on sale now!
The Bumps, a true local tradition, sees rowing crews take to the water at Fen Ditton. Because the Cam isn’t wide enough to race side by side, the University developed the ‘Bumps’ technique which sees crews gain points by ‘bumping’ the boat in front. If you’re bumped, you’re out! Watch the Lent Bumps from the banks in February/March, the May Bumps (confusingly) in June, and Town Bumps in July.
Serving up a varied programme of cinematic treats every summer, Cambridge Film Festival offers screenings of Hollywood blockbusters, treasured classics, quirky indie flicks and cutting-edge documentaries. The Arts Picturehouse is the main hub of the event, but you can also watch films in a variety of more unusual locations like the Jesus Green Lido and Grantchester Meadows.
A colourful community celebration of one of the most vibrant streets in Cambridge, the Mill Road Winter Fair attracts thousands each year. Taking place at the start of December, the event features a huge array of food and drink stalls, a carnival style parade, loads of live music and entertainment and a good dose of Mill Road’s bohemian spirit.
If you can face the queue (which you’ll need to join before 9am in the morning), the Christmas Eve carol service at King’s College Chapel is one of the highlights of the festive season in Cambridge. Broadcast live on BBC Radio 4, the concert is performed by some of the finest choristers in the country, beginning each year with Once in Royal David’s City, always including one new, specially commissioned carol.
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