23 Apr 19 / Cambridge
48 Hours in Cambridge
48 Hours in Cambridge
While Cambridge is famous for its University you don't need to be entering academia to enjoy the city. Everyone can stroll along cobbled streets admiring stunning architecture. There's a lot to do and see so you'll be grateful to have at least two nights here.
Hotel du Vin Cambridge is housed in a former University-owned historic building. The central location is excellent making it a perfect base for enjoying the city.
The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 making it the third oldest surviving university in the world. It is made up of 31 colleges and most are open to visitors at least part of the time. The three 'big-hitters' are King's, Trinity and St John’s but don’t discount the smaller colleges which each have their own character and stories.
Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, King's College is one of the oldest colleges and King's College Chapel is one of the most iconic buildings in Cambridge. The Gothic Chapel has the largest fan-vaulted ceiling in the world as well as the largest collection of original stained glass windows. It was Henry VIII that funded the stained glass and you can see the initials of the king and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, carved into the dark oak screen that divides the ante-chapel and choir areas. There are excellent acoustics here so do consider a return visit to hear evensong.
Trinity College is the home of the Wren Library. Designed by Christopher Wren in 1676, the Library houses historic books such as Isaac Newton's notebook and the manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh. You can expect to queue to enter the Library but it is free of charge.
St John’s College has beautiful grounds and is where you'll find the Bridge of Sighs. You may recognise St John's if you saw the film 'The Theory of Everything' about Stephen Hawking's life (although he actually studied at Trinity Hall).
The River Cam bends around the city centre so make the most of it and go punting!
In 1903, Cambridge native Maurice 'Jack' Scudamore started renting out punts (square-ended, flat-bottomed boats propelled by a person (a punter) pushing a long pole against the riverbed). By 1920, punting had become the most popular boating activity in Cambridge and you can still do it today. Scudamore’s is the largest punting company in Cambridge and you can choose between group and private chauffeured tours or hire a punt and do it yourself. Punting is one of the best ways to see the city and 'The Backs' (college gardens). You pass under plenty of bridges including the famous Bridge of Sighs, named after the bridge in Venice, and the Mathematical Bridge which looks like an arch despite being made of only straight pieces of wood.
There’s been a market trading on the Market Square since the Middle Ages. Cambridge Market is a general market from Monday to Saturday selling books, music, clothes, jewellery, fresh food and plants, and there's an arts and crafts market here on Sundays. There are also lovely independent boutiques lining the streets near Market Square.
Or head to Trinity Street for the Saturday All Saints Garden Art and Craft Market which has been selling unique handmade craftwork for over 40 years. It's a great place for gift buying from books and ceramics to jewellery and clothes.
The close proximity of a prestigious university may encourage you to visit the flagship Cambridge Satchel Company store on St Mary's Passage. The beautiful bags are inspired by traditional British, leather schoolbags from years gone by.
Dinner: Bistro du Vin
After such a full-on day it's great to know the hotel restaurant comes recommended. Bistro du Vin is relaxed and informal yet still with a high level of service. The à la carte menu features some popular sharing platters, and the Sommelier is available to help you pair the perfect wine with your meal.
Morning: Bike Tour or Cambridge Botanic Garden
After breakfast at Hotel du Vin, it's time to see the city like a local. Cambridge is relatively flat making it great for those who want to cycle but haven't been on a bike for a while. You could choose to be independent and rent a bike at City Cycle Hire and then go exploring. There are some nice waterside cycle paths and the council website has some cycle route maps to download. Or book with Cambridge Bike Tours for a half day tour of the city.
If cycling doesn't appeal, amble down to the Cambridge Botanic Garden to discover plants from all over the world. This 40-acre heritage-listed garden opened in 1846 and its living plant collection has over 8,000 species. There are several glasshouses so you can easily spend half a day here.
Lunch: Bistro du Vin
The Lunch Menu at Bistro du Vin is fantastic, but if you really want to indulge choose the afternoon tea as it's served from 12pm to 5pm daily. Drink your tea with dainty sandwiches, warm scones served with strawberry preserve and rich clotted cream plus sumptuous cakes and sweet treats too.
Afternoon: Fitzwilliam Museum
Just a minute away on Trumpington Street, the Fitzwilliam Museum is the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge. The Grade I listed building is stunning enough before you even see the galleries. You can take your pick from medieval manuscripts, Egyptian carvings, Turner's watercolours and Michelangelo's sculptures as there are over half a million objects in the collection.
Afternoon: Great St Mary's Church Tower
There are 123 steps to climb via a medieval turret staircase but it's very much worth it for the wonderful view. Great St Mary’s Church Tower offers a panoramic view over the college rooftops. As an interesting note, St Mary the Great is the University church and where all locations are measured from the city centre.
Drink: Bistro du Vin
Before you have to leave Cambridge, do stop for a drink at the bar (there's bar food available too). A glass of wine or cocktail is a wonderful way to take stock of all you've seen over the weekend – and a reminder to come back soon.
Laura Porter - Travel Writer for Malmaison and Hotel du Vin