Cambridge: a City Guide
Cambridge will always hold a sense of nostalgia to me, having been my home for three years whilst I was studying at university there. The cobbled streets and historic colleges have been graced by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Olivia Coleman, and Stephen Fry amongst many others, adding to the overall atmosphere of scholarly mysticism. Besides being an academic bubble, you’ll find multiple restaurants, sights, and fun things happening around the city - see below for my favourite things to see and eat.
Where formerly Cambridge was home to a number of slightly outdated hotels, two slick new openings in recent years have brought some much-needed style to the city. The University Arms is conveniently located right in the centre of town, and features bedrooms inspired by the colours of the 'Cambridge Blue.’ Although a tad corporate, the property runs a tight ship, and service is smooth and professional. Otherwise, The Tamburlaine provides a slightly more chic experience interiors-wise, but is a fifteen minute walk from the city centre.
With two branches in Cambridge (one on Gwydir Street, and another on Trumpington Street), Hot Numbers has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Offering home-roasted specialty coffee and an inventive brunch menu, the coffee shop is a firm favourite amongst students and locals alike. Cornbread with mushrooms and halloumi, or kimchi baked eggs are some of my favourite options on the menu; otherwise, their homemade ciabatta sandwiches are also delicious and available for take-away.
A Cambridge institution since 1920, Fitzbillies is a staple of the city, and most renowned for its famous (and devilishly sticky) Chelsea buns. Their original branch on Trumpington Street encompasses a casual cafe, and a larger restaurant with table service: the menu offers delicious all-day brunch and lunch options, as well as a huge range of homemade cakes and baked goods. Meanwhile, their newer branch on Bridge Street serves a more curated menu, and offers picnic baskets to take away. If it’s your first time visiting, you must have one of their Chelsea buns; otherwise, I’m a big fan of their coffee cake or date and granola slice. (I lived above Fitzbillies in my final year, and trust me, it didn’t bode very well for either my wallet or my diet)…
This casual eatery on Bene’t Street serves just what it says on the tin: expect delicious meat sandwiches in freshly baked ciabattas…their signature is the porchetta with salsa verde, but there are also tasty roast chicken, beef, or roast vegetable options. Oh, and don’t miss their amazing poutine: thick cut chips drenched in gravy and cheese curds…absolutely moreish. And if you still have room for dessert, there are always some indulgent brownies sitting on the counter.
By far the most spacious coffee shop in Cambridge, Espresso Library is a minimalist space, flooded with natural light, and complete with lots of different nooks and crannies to curl up for the day. The veggie/vegan-friendly menu has multiple differentiations of avocado toast, vegan pancakes, and delicious homemade porridge on offer.
The Old Bicycle Shop is a cosy and stylish spot serving up a delicious and inventive brunch menu every day. Besides shakshuka and their chilli avocado toast with boiled eggs, try their delicious sweet potato pancakes, served with yoghurts, figs, and almonds.
This coffee shop is a little bit further out of the city centre, but a firm favourite with the locals, and for good reason too. Their extensive brunch menu serves every taste (think breakfast buns with halloumi, avocado, and fried egg), as well as offering a wide range of homebaked goods. Next door, there’s also a bakery if you want to take away some homemade sourdough with you.
This tiny coffee shop arguably serves the smoothest pour in Cambridge: if you’re a hardcore coffee lover, you’ll definitely need to visit here. While there isn’t much on offer in terms of food, Bould Brothers probably serves the best coffee in the city.
Taking it a notch above your average pub, Pint Shop is a British bar and restaurant that serves English classics with a twist, as well as the most extensive beer menu you’ll ever set eyes on. Aside from their homemade Scotch eggs and sausage rolls (the best in town), bar snacks also include tasty burgers and grilled cheese toasties. Meanwhile, their restaurant serves absolutely delicious plates for veggie and meat lovers alike, whilst on Sundays they offer a tasty roast.
And more: Steak and Honour for proper dirty burgers, Jack’s Gelato for delicious homemade ice cream in a range of daily-changing flavours, and Aromi for authentic Sicilian pizza slices (as well as other Italian delicacies and gelato).
Explore the colleges
A visit to Cambridge wouldn’t be complete without a wander around the university’s individual colleges. The oldest and most beautiful colleges are all located in the centre of town, but each have varying opening times to the public (this can change seasonally) and may charge a small fee for entry, so be sure to research this in advance. Porters (the college security) can vary from being extremely friendly to extremely unfriendly, and this really depends on which college you’re visiting. I’m biased, but my old college, Pembroke, is not only gorgeous, but also allows free entry almost every day of the year. Meanwhile, King’s College Chapel is well worth the entry fee.
Go for a walk along the Backs
Many of the larger colleges in town span both sides of the River Cam, and thus the back end of the colleges are known as the ‘Backs.’ If you manage to get into either Clare, King’s, or St John’s, each of these colleges have bridges that afford beautiful views over the river. Otherwise, Garret Hostel Bridge is a public bridge that winds between Trinity College and Trinity Hall; its nickname, Orgasm Bridge, stems from the faces cyclists pull when attempting to ride over the steep bridge, and also the incredible views offered when one gets to the top.
Go for a punt
If the weather’s good, the best way to explore Cambridge and get a good overview of the colleges, is of course, by boat. More specifically, by punt. There are lots of punt companies in town (if you walk down the King’s Parade, you’ll no doubt encounter multiple different touters heckling you), but the best in town is Scudamore’s. You can fit up to six people in a punt, and can opt for a guided tour, or punt yourselves down the river (it’s not as easy as it looks!)
Cambridge University Botanic Garden
The gorgeous Botanic Gardens are well worth a visit if you’re a horticulture fan. Featuring several impressive greenhouses, a beautiful Japanese garden, as well as a cafe that has quite a tasty cake selection, you could easily while away a couple of hours in here.
This eclectic museum is the former home of art collector Jim Eade, and features his fascinating and extensive collection. Spanning three separate houses that have been joined together, the architecture of the house, as well as the collection housed inside, is extremely unique. Entry is free.