15 Top Things to Do in Cambridge this Summer
You’re planning your next trip to the UK and you want to explore everything that makes Britain unique. Much like visiting Oxford, Cambridge holds a rich academic history, home to some of the greatest minds that have made huge contributions across many different subject areas.
Without thinking, you may find yourself gravitating toward wanting to visit its university grounds - which no one could blame you for. Who wouldn’t want to visit the largest and wealthiest areas of the city? However, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Cambridge aside from pure academics.
To help you get started on your tour of the city, we have compiled a list of 15 things to do in Cambridge this summer. Discover what makes this beautiful gothic city stand out, and get ready for a blast from the past.
Top 15 Things to Do in Cambridge This Summer
1. Explore the Fitzwilliam Museum
Cambridge is home to many museums, but if you are short on time and aren’t able to visit all of them, a must-see museum loved by both students and locals is the Fitzwilliam Museum. Founded in 1816 by Richard, the Seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, the museum was established in order for him to bequeath his lifelong works of art and library to the University of Cambridge.
Richard felt strongly that the University should have a museum displaying his work of art and books to form a new library. He wanted somewhere where students could have an unforgettable monument for a place of learning.
The museum now houses over half a million objects, meaning you will not be short of viewing an amazing variety of artefacts and art from around the world. Their collection ranges from “Egyptian coffins to Impressionist masterpieces; illuminated manuscripts to Renaissance sculpture; rare coins to Asian arts” (University of Cambridge Museum, 2022).
2. Kettle’s Yard
As mentioned previously, Cambridge is filled with an array of museums, all of which contain amazing artefacts from different time periods. Another popular museum amongst tourists and students is Kettle’s Yard, which houses a unique collection composed of 1500+ objects and pieces of art.
It was founded in 1957 by British art collector Harold Stanley ‘Jim’ Ede and was originally established as a home to live in for Harold and his wife. But as avid art collectors, they also formed a dedicated space for which it was open to the public to enjoy art.
In 1966, Harold gifted the building and the collection to the University of Cambridge. The collection now consists of twentieth-century paintings, sculptures and artists’ textiles.
3. Go punting along the River Cam
One of the best and most enjoyable ways to see Cambridge is by punting along the River Cam. You have a choice between hiring a boat and punting yourself, or you could take a guided tour. Guided tours are a great way to learn fun facts about Cambridge as the tours are usually conducted by either locals or students.
Nevertheless, punting is sometimes the only way in which you can truly immerse yourself in the beauty of the city - with so much of it being hidden behind the university’s walls. Float along the river and past the college Backs, glide under the Bridge of sighs and past the sophisticated piece of engineering known as the Mathematical Bridge - it truly is a beautiful way to while away a morning or afternoon.
4. Visit Cambridge’s Botanic Gardens
Often enough, the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge can get overlooked by Oxford and Kew Botanic Gardens, but if you find yourself lucky enough to be visiting on a day whilst the UK sunshine is out, then Cambridge Botanic Gardens should definitely be on your list of places to visit.
The garden contains over 8,000 different species of plants coming from all over the world, and it is also owned by Cambridge University. As such, it is commonly used by the university to help facilitate research and teaching for students of the University of Cambridge.
Depending on the time of year you decide to visit Cambridge, there are an array of different plants and species that bloom during different seasons of the year. If you are visiting during the summer, ensure you make your way to the rose garden, then let your senses guide you towards the scented garden for a truly smell-bounding experience.
5. Visit the fudge shop on King’s Parade
Another must-visit place in Cambridge is the Fudge Kitchen located on King’s Parade, right opposite King's College Chapel. Not only is it a favourite place for locals to visit, but it is a staple for tourists too who like to explore their range of fudge flavours.
Before it became commonly known as what we all recognise it as today, Fudge Kitchen, the business was originally established in 1983 and known as ‘Jim Garrahy’s Fudge Kitchen,’ named after its original owner. Jim himself would add a blend of American style fudge based on an 1830 recipe to make this shop a thriving success. Though it is not known for sure the details behind the creation of his fudge, we do know that instead of using butter, Jim would use whipped cream to give the fudge its creamy texture.
Sadly Jim passed away in 2010, and since then the name of the business has changed. However, the shop’s owners still stick to Jim’s philosophy of doing the cooking on traditional stoves, and of course, cutting the fudge by hand on marble slabs in front of customers - which is an experience in itself.
6. King’s College Chapel
With over 30 Cambridge colleges dotted around the city, it can be difficult to choose which to visit. If you are short on time, we would recommend going to King’s College and more specifically, its Chapel. As one of Cambridge’s most famous pieces of architecture, it is instantly recognisable - whether walking past or floating along the River Cam.
When you first enter the college you’ll feel as though you have travelled back in time. King’s College was originally built as an architectural stamp on the Tudor-era, but it wasn’t completed until 1828 by William Wilkins who would describe his work as more ‘Gothic Revival’ than Neoclassical.
When you visit, there are plenty of guided tours available if you want to learn the history behind the building. Even if you choose to explore the grounds yourself, you’re still in for a treat with its beautiful architecture - just don’t forget to look up when you enter the chapel.
7. Enjoy afternoon tea at Orchard Gardens
What better way is there to immerse yourself in the ultimate British lifestyle than sitting in an open green space sipping your afternoon tea? The Orchard Gardens provides a great space for you to do just that.
Interestingly, the tea garden opened purely by accident; the orchard was first planted in 1868 (close to what is now known as the Orchard House). The house was owned by a Mrs Stevenson, who in 1897, turned her garden into a communal space after a group of Cambridge allegedly students asked if they were able to have tea beneath the trees.
As news spread of the peaceful green space, students would travel to the Orchard as a tradition to have tea. Over time it became more popular, and the Orchard House was eventually bought by Robin Callan, who then established the Tea Garden in 1992, turning it into a garden as well as a working space.
8. Enjoy some sport in Parker’s Piece
Looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life? Spend an afternoon playing sport with your friends or family at one of Cambridge’s famous parks, Parker’s Piece.
Parker’s Piece gained its fame for being the birthplace of what is now recognised as the modern rules of football.
This green space, which was originally part of Trinity College, was first opened in 1587 and named after one of the college cooks, Edward Parker. It was then acquired by Cambridge city council in 1613 and since then, it has been a public space which has seen many people enjoy its grounds and organise special events, including a feast for 15,000 people held to honour Queen Victoria's coronation!
9. Climb St Mary’s Church Tower
St Mary’s is known to be the largest church in Cambridge and it serves a dual purpose as the city’s church as well as a usable workspace for Cambridge University; “During the mediaeval period, it served as a meeting hall for the University and the annual conferment of degrees ceremony was held there” (Ross, 2022)
Despite the university’s association with this church, its main draw is the church’s tower, which tourists can climb and view the whole city from the top of the building. As with any building that offers stunning views, there will be some climbing involved - expect to climb 123 steps up the 800-year-old church.
Once you have completed the climb you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view of the city, including the well-known King’s College and local market. If you are planning to make this part of your itinerary, we would recommend either starting your day at St Mary’s as it can become quite busy during the middle of the day.
10. Visit the city’s cattle
One of the unique eccentricities of the city of Cambridge is that while wandering around its grounds, you may find yourself spotting cows along the River Cam. If you haven’t been to a small city like Oxford or Cambridge before then this might seem odd, but be assured that this is completely normal.
For centuries, cattle have been roaming the city parks freely. Seeing cattle around may give you the sense that you have left a busy city and stepped into a rural part of town, but this is far from the truth, you could enjoy the illusion of escaping a bustling city while still very much being close to its centre.
11. Check out the Corpus Clock
While wandering around the most central parts of Cambridge, you may find yourself passing by an interesting piece of history; a mechanical grasshopper on top of a clock located down Trumpington Street.
Known as the Corpus Clock, it was built in 2008 by a Cambridge alumnus, John Taylor.
The design alludes to the Big Bang, with the centre considered to show the beginning of time. The grasshopper which sits atop the clock - a ‘Chronophage,’ meaning time-eater - moves with each second, showing how every minute that passes leads closer to death. A rather morbid, although interesting concept, we would recommend going to view at least once just to capture its unique features. However we wouldn’t recommend going to the Corpus Clock if you are trying to find out the time, as it can become quite difficult to read.
For more information regarding the clock, why not take a look at our blog giving you ‘a brief history of the Corpus Clock’.
12. Go on a shopping spree
Cambridge has three shopping centres; The Grafton, Lion Yard and the Grand Arcade, all offering a variety of luxury retailers, high-street names, as well as independent businesses. You can spend hours getting lost in its shops and find anything from clothing to furniture all within the centre of Cambridge.
The Grand Arcade is a great place to see some of the most beloved brands, with 60 different high street retailers located in a three-story shopping centre with all kinds of stores including clothing and technology.
The Grafton is best known for its food social on the first floor, where you can also find a cinema which can be great on days when the true British weather rears its ugly head.
13. Explore Market Square
The city’s independent market, located in the central Market Square, has been around since Saxon times and holds a sizable presence in the city of Cambridge. Not only was Cambridge able to grow a significant portion of its economic wealth from the traders at Market Square, but it also provides a hub of local goods for the local people to enjoy all week round. In the past, people would flock from all over the world to sell their farm goods, “making Cambridge the unofficial centre of East Anglia” (Footprints tours, 2022)
Still loved by many locals and tourists with an extensive selection of fashion, books, crafts and cuisines from all over the world, there’s so much to dive into in this little pocket of locality.
Market Square is open from Monday - Sunday, 10am - 4pm.
14. Take a walk around Trinity College
Originally founded by King Henry VIII, Trinity College remains to be one of the wealthiest colleges in Cambridge and subsequently holds the title as the most prestigious college in Cambridge.
Being recognised as the most prestigious college, it comes as no surprise that members of Trinity have won 34 Nobel Prizes out of the total 121 won by members of Cambridge University - the highest number of winners than any of Cambridge or Oxford colleges.
If you choose to visit the college, one area we would recommend visiting is the Wren Library. Housing over 750 impressive items, the showstopper of this library is the collection of 12th and 13th-century manuscripts as well as Sir Isaac Newton’s notebook. The library is open to the public from Monday - Friday between 12pm -2pm and Saturday between 10:30am - 12:30pm.
15. See Sir Isaac Newton’s inspirational apple tree
Sir Isaac Newton is considered to be one of the most influential scientists of all time, having made momentous discoveries with gravity as well as a number of basic principles that have gone on to make modern physics.
As the legend goes, Isaac was sitting beneath an apple tree, when suddenly an apple hit him on the head at which “point, he realised that the same force causing the apple to fall, kept the moon falling towards the Earth and the Earth falling towards the sun” (Historyworks, 2015).
Unfortunately to see the original apple tree you’ll need to travel to Isaac's family home ‘Woolsthorpe Manor House’, which is based in Lincolnshire. However, to honour Newton, Cambridge University grafted the original apple tree and planted it in 1954. Now located at Trinity College, you can see a clone of the original apple tree.
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Don't miss Cambridge when in the UK! Explore universities, museums, gardens. Try punting, visit King's College Chapel. Enjoy fudge, tea, sports. Climb tower, spot cattle, marvel at Corpus Clock. Shop, stroll Trinity College. Immerse in Cambridge's charm!