I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published October 10th 2012
Lofty colleges, a tranquil river, quintessentially English
Cambridge is one of the best university towns in the world. Situated in a rural setting next to the River Cam, the university is especially beautiful in the changing colours of autumn and spring. With its long history, natural beauty, and short distance from London (about an hour by train), Cambridge is the perfect place for a day trip out of the city.
A university library may seem like an unlikely tourist destination for non-academics, but the world-class exhibitions and collections at Cambridge Library are not to be missed. The library holds a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the correspondence of Charles Darwin, and the archives and papers of several more of the world's greatest scholars. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the library's Isaac Newton Collection. On display are several of his papers and letters, a portion of his journal describing gravity, and a lock of his hair. The exhibition area is open to the public, but entrance to the main library is reserved for students and academics or members of the public with a letter of permission. See the library's website for further details.
King's College Chapel
The Chapel dates to the reign of Henry VI during the mid-fifteenth century. It is known for its beautiful stained glass, as well as the largest vaulted ceiling in the world.
The Chapel is famous for its choral events, including the Christmas Eve service, A Festival of Nine Lessons, which is broadcast all over the world. Evensong is still celebrated during term time and is a serene way to close out a busy day of walking and touring. Details are available at the official website.
Punting on the Cam
When the weather cooperates, the university is best enjoyed via punting on the river. You can hire student punters or try it yourself. Punting looks like a fairly easy task, simply propel the boat with a wooden stick, but navigating can be tricky for the uninitiated and I saw more than one stick (and person!) end up in the river during my visit.
Being a university town, Cambridge has a large selection of pubs to visit. The following are local favourites, but you really can't go wrong with any of the several dozen traditional-style pubs on offer.
The Baron of Beef
This traditional pub first opened in 1752 and has retained a great deal of its historical atmosphere. True to its name, the pub is known more for its large menu of traditional English foods than for its beverages.
This pub offers traditional home-cooked food and a selection of drinks, but the beautiful setting is the key attraction for many visitors. The pub overlooks Newnham Mill Pond and has a heated waterside patio, so that visitors can enjoy the scene even in rough weather.
Complimenting the famous Eagle and Child pub of Oxford (favourite hangout of the Inklings), is the Eagle pub of Cambridge, which has its own prestigious connections. In 1953, Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA at the pub. Also, the 'Air Force Bar' is covered with the graffiti of WWII airmen. Apart from the historical links, the pub offers a delicious choice of meals and beverages and is one of the most popular places in Cambridge.
In addition to scholarly pursuits, Cambridge offers a delightful range of activities suitable for the Londoner looking to enjoy a day outside the city.