|Cambridge owes its continued popularity as a tourist destination primarily to the presence of the university
which bears the city's name. The wonderful medieval architecture of the early colleges that make up the university provide a
delightful glimpse of life long ago, and the history that is bound up in those colleges makes for fascinating exploring.
The oldest colleges face away from the River Cam, but share an expanse of lawn running down to the river known as The Backs. The Backs provide an excellent space for strolling and relaxing, and walkers along the river can view the often comical efforts of neophytes attempting to pole a punt along the water. [Editor's note: it is much harder than it looks, and quite embarrassing when your pole gets stuck in the river mud and your punt drifts away]. No one should visit Cambridge without trying their hand at punting - the boats can be rented for quite a reasonable price.
Cambridge boasts superb museums and art galleries, and the University Botanical Gardens are world-renown. Near the city are a whole range of attractions, from Duxford War Museum to the stately home of Wimpole Hall. Further afield the cathedral cities of Peterborough and Ely offer more architectural delights.
You are never far from the fenland in Cambridgeshire; in bygone centuries much of the fens was underwater, and only small tufts of solid ground rose above the surface to provide space for settlement. Since the fens were drained in the 17th century the rich soil of the area has provided excellent agricultural opportunities, and even the outskirts of Cambridge back onto farmer's fields. The unique flora and fauna of the fens can be explored at the Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, the oldest such reserve in England.
Cambridge UniversityThe university at Cambridge evolved from informal teaching arrangements of scholars and students who arrived here as early as the 13th century. From these humble beginnings a system of individual colleges evolved, funded by private donors. The university, then, is not a central institution, but separate teaching colleges gathered together under the administrative umbrella of the University.
Most of the older colleges are arranged along the banks of the River Cam in central Cambridge. The grounds of several colleges lead down to the river, creating a large expanse of parklike lawn called The Backs. Most of the colleges can be visited by tourists, but there may be restrictions on which parts of the college buildings can be accessed at different times of the year. Remember that the colleges are active residential teaching institutions, not museums, and please respect the needs of students and masters for privacy and quiet.
The older colleges all have private chapels, and these chapels are often among the most intriguing college buildings from an architectural standpoint. Notable among these is the justifiably famous King's College Chapel, one of the most remarkable examples of late medieval architecture in England.
AttractionsCambridge University Botanic Gardens Bateman Street
The gardens were opened in 1846 and provide habitat for a wide variety of plant species. There are a number of different habitat zones, including a Rock Garden, featuring alpine plants from every continent, Water Garden, Tropical rainforest, and glasshouses with seasonal displays. The Systematic Beds feature over 80 varieties of flowering plants.
Open: daily from 10 am. Tel. 01223 336265
Punting in Cambridge
A punt is a narrow flat-bottomed boat that somewhat resembles a Venetian gondola with the curve removed. Punts generally seat up to four adults while a fifth person stands at the rear and propels the boat with a long pole. The design was developed in the medieval period to allow for easy navigation in areas with shallow water. Until recently punts were used by commercial fishermen working the fens of East Anglia, but today they are almost exclusively used for recreation. Poling along the river looks effortless and easy; a relaxing way to enjoy a quiet summer afternoon. Looks can be deceiving however, as steering a punt is neither as easy or effortless as it looks.
Punts can be hired at Silver Street Bridge, Mill Lane, Magdalene Bridge, Jesus Green, Trinity College, or Grantchester. The cost is in the £8/hour range, with a damage deposit generally required. If you are feeling flush in the pocket you can hire a chauffered punt and relax while your paid punter takes you along the Backs, past the historic colleges of Cambridge University. Often the chauffeus are students at the University, and you'll be regaled with tales of Cambridge past and present. Most boatyards are open Easter to early October.
Duxford Aircraft Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire
During WWII Duxford was one of the most important air bases in Britain, and planes flying from here played a mwajor role in the Battle of Britain. Today Duxford houses the largest collection of historic aircraft in Europe, ranging from WWI vintage biplanes to Spitfires, Concordes and Gulf War jets. Duxford frequently hosts airshows and special events throughout the year. It lies nine miles south of Cambridge, and regular free buses to the museum leave from Crowne Plaza and from Cambridge Railway Station in the city.
Open: Daily, Summer (17 Mar - 27 Oct) 10.00am - 6.00pm (last admission 5.15pm) Winter 10.00am - 4.00pm. Tel, 01223 835 000
Cambridge Museums and GalleriesCambridge Darkroom and Gallery
The Darkroom Gallery is part photographic facility and part art gallery. There are public darkrooms for photographic work, and an ongoing program of instruction in photography and digital imaging using the Gallery's in-house facilities. As well, the Gallery hosts regular exhibitions of photographic art in its gallery space, including regional and international artists.
Fitzwilliam Museum Trumpington Street
One of Europe's great art museums. The imposing neoclassical Fitzwilliam Museum building was built in 1848 to house the art collections of Viscount Fitzwilliam, which he had bequeathed to Cambridge University. The permanent collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum are divided into the categories of Antiquities, Applied Arts, Coins, Paintings, and Manuscripts.
Entry: free. Open: Tuesday - Saturday: 10.00 am - 5.00 pm Sunday: 2.15 pm - 5.00 pm. Guided tours in English take place on Sundays at 2.30 pm. No booking required. Fee charged.
Folk Museum 2/3 Castle Street
The Folk Museum is housed in a delightful half-timbered building that once served as an inn. The collections show in detail the everyday life of Cambridge people over the past 400 years.
Open: April to September, Monday to Saturday: 10.30am - 5pm; Sunday: 2 - 5pm; October to March, Tuesday to Saturday: 10.30am - 5pm Sunday: 2 - 5pm. Open on Mondays during school holidays. Tel. +44 (0)1223 355159
Kettles Yard Gallery
Kettles Yard House and Gallery is a unique art experience located at the corner of Castle Street and Northampton Street. The collection is composed of paintings, glass, furniture, ceramics and ordinary objects in an intimate "homelike" atmosphere. Most of the art comes from the first half of the 20th century, and includes sculpture by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and paintings by Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, and Christopher Wood.
House open: Summer, Tuesday-Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays 13.30-16.30; Winter, Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 14.00-16.00. Gallery open: Tuesday-Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays 11.30-17.00. Tel. +44 (0)1223 352124
Museum of Zoology Downing Street
A combination research facility and zoological collection, the museum is a part of the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University.
Open: Mon - Fri 10.00am-4.45pm during University holidays. 2.00pm-4.45pm during University term time. Phone for details. Tel, 01223 336650
Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences Downing Street
The museum holds over 1 million samples of rocks, fossils, minerals, soft sediments, building and decorative stones. The collection is available to both students and visitors to the museum, and a special research room is available to aid visiting researchers.
Open: Monday to Friday 09:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00, Saturday 10:00-13:00. Tel. (01223) 333456
Scott Polar Research Institute Lensfield Road
Located just around the corner from the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Scott Institute houses the most important and highly respected library and archive of polar studies in the world. The museum was founded in 1920 as a memorial to Robert Falcon Scott, who died while leading an expedition to the South Pole. The museum showcases artifacts from polar exploration, including diaries, sleds, and displays on life in arctic regions. There is a very large photographic library relating to polar exploration, and extensive geographic and historical information in the archives.
Open: Mon-Fri afternoons, except Bank Holidays and certain other days.
University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Downing Street
The museum is a part of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University. It is housed in a 3 story house in the centre of Cambridge, and contains collections from around the world. The museum collections total over 750,000 artifacts of historic and anthropological interest, including over 70,000 photographs.
Open: Tue-Sat, 2.00pm-4.30pm. June - Early Sept, extended opening hours: 10.00am-4.30pm. Tel, 01223 333516
Whipple Museum Free School Lane
Founded in 1944, the Whipple Museum covers all branches of scientific endeavour - a tall order indeed! The museum displays scientific instruments, models, photographs, and artifacts relating to scientific exploration and discovery, including instruments used at the University as far back as the 16th century.
Open: Monday to Friday 1.30 to 4.30pm Closed Bank holidays. The museum may sometimes be closed during university vacations.
Cambridge Tourist Information CentreThe Tourist Information Centre and Shop
The Old Library
Tel: 01223 322640
Fax: 01223 457588
Destination guides by kind permission of Britain Express