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UK A to Z - Cambridge England

Quick Facts About Cambridge England


Kings College Chapel

Fan vaulted ceiling at King's College Chapel from a suitably dizzying angle.

eviltomthai via Flickr

About Cambridge England:

Cambridge, 50 miles northeast of London in East Anglia, has been settled since the Bronze Age. It was already a thriving market town and seat of religious institutions 400 years before students, fleeing a dispute with Oxford townspeople, settled there in 1209, ultimately founding the UK's second oldest university.

More than a quarter of the population of this small city of about 110,000, is now made up of students at either Cambridge University or the newer Anglian Ruskin University.

Known for its achievements in science and technology, Cambridge England is sometimes considered the UK's Silicon Valley. The roll call of the university's noted scientists and Nobel laureates includes Charles Darwin, who was a student at Christ's College, and the discoverers of the DNA double helix, James Watson and Francis Crick.

The city center is largely medieval, with several pedestrian districts, surrounded and dominated by the ancient university colleges. The grounds of most of the 31 colleges can be visited and some have exhibitions that are open to the public.

Three Things to Do in Cambridge:

  1. Visit a Medieval church King's College Chapel, built in the 15th and 16th centuries is one of the world's most famous examples of late Gothic architecture. It has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world. Hold on to something when you look up because its intricate thistle vaulting is mesmerizing. I remember feeling as though I was about to fly up into it, the first time I visited.

    On a smaller scale, two of Cambridge's earliest buildings are worth visiting. Anglo Saxon St. Bene't's Church, has a tower and nave dating from 1040 A.D. A long time ago I made a rubbing of one of the monumental brasses there, but this is no longer possible. It's the oldest building in Cambridgeshire and still in active use.

    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as The Round Church is one of only four round churches in England. Built in 1130, possibly by the Templars, it is similar to the Temple Church in London that featured in Dan Brown's book, the DaVinci Code. A film in the visitor center, Saints and Scholars, is a good introduction to Cambridge and several guided walks begin at the church.

  2. Enjoy the scenery The Backs is a stretch of the River Cam that meanders through Cambridge passing between some of the most beautiful college buildings. It's called the Backs simply because several colleges back onto the river and the landscaped gardens. Walking the Backs between Magdalene Street and Silver Street, crisscrossing the river on one of the many small footbridges and watching the punters on the river is one of the highlights of visiting Cambridge. But it's not the only way to enjoy the city outdoors. The Cambridge Tourist Office organizes tours ranging from daily group and private tours to bus tours, self-guided tours, even ghost tours.

    You could take tour on a punt with a knowledgeable student guide. It may seem corny - a bit like a gondola in Venice - but it's still a lovely way to see the city. Or hire a punt yourself and have a go at propelling one of these flat bottomed boats along the Cam with a long pole - not as easy as it looks. Read about punting options.

  3. Visit a Museum The Fitzwilliam Museum, is the Cambridge University art museum with paintings from the 14th century onward as well as ancient art and artifacts from Asia, the ancient Near East and the Classical world. The Fitzwilliam may be the biggie, but Cambridge also has a good range of small, often quirky museums. My favorites include:
    • Kettle's Yard An important collection of 20th century painting and sculpture collected by a one-time curator of London's Tate Gallery and displayed in the domestic surroundings of the house he once lived in. Wonderful things in a really intimate setting.
    • New Hall Art Collection A permanent collection of contemporary artwork by women - the largest and most significant collection of its kind in Europe.
    • The Whipple Museum of the History of Science Early scientific instruments going back to the 14th century.

Near Cambridge

Within easy reach of Cambridge:

  • Newmarket, 13 miles away, is home of the National Stud, Britain's showcase of Thoroughbred breeding, and a major center for horse racing and training.
  • Ely (pronounced eely), 16 miles northeast on the A10, is a small cathedral city on the River Ouse. Ely Cathedral was once known as the Ship of the Fens because of the way England's tallest cathedral, on a rise that was once an island surrounded by marshland, dominated the landscape for miles. The tourist office is in Oliver Cromwell's house.

How to Get to Cambridge

Head north of London on the M11 Motorway or take a train or bus. Transportation links from London to Cambridge are good. Read London to Cambridge by Train, Bus and Car.

Find out More About Cambridge.

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