Cambridge is an iconic English city offering some of the country’s best universities, parks, museums, and theatrical productions. It is known for its friendly people, academia, and great student parties.
Since you can visit Cambridge in a few hours from London, the city is a popular day trip but I enjoyed it enough that I would recommend it for at least a night. Like Oxford, life here revolves around the university but you can find a lot to do here that isn’t related to the university. I really enjoyed the museums, wandering around the parks, and the just enjoying a more relaxed pace than in London.
This travel guide to Cambridge can help you plan an affordable and off-the-beaten-path trip!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cambridge
1. Visit the colleges
2. Walk along the Backs
3. Visit the Fitzwilliam Museum
4. Visit Great St. Mary’s Church
5. Go punting
Other Things to See and Do in Cambridge
1. Visit the Botanical Garden of Cambridge University
If you want to spend a quiet afternoon out, head to the Botanical Gardens. They’re definitely a highlight of the area, with over 8,000 plant species from around the world. Hang out in the Woodland Garden and Lake, or visit the Glasshouse Range, a series of buildings with themed environments, like deserts and tropical rainforests. The Winter and Autumn Gardens are seasonal glasshouses that are especially colorful during the right months! They cost £6 (7.92 USD) to enter.
2. Attend a lecture
It’s possible to attend one of the university’s lecture if you plan ahead. There is a list of public talks on the university’s website. You’ll find lectures on everything from molecular science to the global learning crisis to archaeological mysteries. Talks are usually free and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
3. See a show at the ADC Theatre
Take in an amateur show at the ADC Theatre. It’s the University’s playhouse and offers productions by students and other local theatrical groups starting at £6 ($7.90). It offers something different from the normal fare of activities and gives you a way to see the local art scene.
4. Do a walking tour of Cambridge
Cambridge is just a great place to walk around. Go and enjoy the beauty of the parks, river, and old historic buildings. It’s a lovely way to spend a few hours. If you want some context about the city, Footprints Walking Tours has the best free walking tour in the city. GPS My City also has some self-guided audio walking tours that will take you all around the city and the university.
5. Attend the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival
Every summer, a selection of Shakespeare plays are performed in the gardens of the various colleges. Come early as the good spots fill up quick. Tickets are £17 ($22.45 USD) per performance.
6. Go rowing
Cambridge is renowned for rowing on the Cam, the river named for the town. All colleges and some schools have their own clubs, and there are over half a dozen large “town” clubs. Besides punting (see #5), this is the most popular activity in town. Any hostel can help you get a boat or tour and some of the bigger rowing clubs offer classes for beginners who wants to give the famous sport a try. A 90-minute punting class and tour with Scudamore’s will £34 ($44 USD).
7. Visit Anglesey Abbey
Less than 7 miles (11 kilometers) outside of Cambridge, Anglesey Abbey is a stunning Jacobean country house with colorful gardens and a working watermill. Originally built in 1600 (but extensively remodeled in the early 1900s), the interior consists of medieval vaulting, 17th-century paneling, and rooms full of antique furniture and books. Two of the main highlights are the pair of Tudor royal portraits, including the earliest likeness of Henry VIII. You can tour the watermill, the house, and the grounds for £15.80 ($20.86 USD). In the early spring, a carpet of white snowdrops bloom across the 100 acres of gardens, making for a scenic stroll if you’re here during this time.
8. Visit Wren Library
While at Trinity College, be sure to stop at the Wren Library with its impressive collection of 55,000 books all published before 1820. AA Milne’s original Winnie the Pooh is here—Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, were graduates from Cambridge.
9. Go to the Polar Museum
If you’re interested in learning about the world’s earliest explorers, the Polar Museum (officially named the Scott Polar Research Institute) was founded in 1920 as a memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott. He and his team famously died in 1912 on their return trip from the South Pole. There are photographs, archival videos, drawings, paintings, and even the last letters written by Scott during his final journey. It’s free to visit.
For more information on specific cities, check out these guides!
Cambridge Travel Costs
Hostel prices –During peak season, a bed in a hostel dorm will cost £20 ($26 USD) per night. They start from £15 ($20 USD) in the off-season.
A private double room begins around £50 ($66 USD) per night in peak season, or £35 ($45 USD).
There are a few campgrounds outside the city with basic facilities for anyone with a tent and cost between £8-15 (10.50-20 USD) per night.
Budget hotel prices – You can stay in a budget two-star hotel for about £70 (92 USD) in Cambridge, though prices will drop by £5-15 (6-20 USD) per night during the off-peak months.
During the summer months, when the semester is over, you can book one of the college rooms to stay in. For example, you can get a single standard room at Churchill College (with breakfast) from £56 ($72 USD).
Airbnb is another and abundant option for budget travelers in the city. For shared accommodation, you can expect to pay £35 (46 USD) per night. A private room averages £43 ($55 USD) and around £100 (132 USD) for an entire home or apartment within the city center. There are cheaper options further out into the countryside if you have a car.
Food – Since there are so many broke college kids in the city, there are a lot of budget food options. Pizza will run you around £5 (6.60 USD) at chains around town, although you can also find lunch specials at Italian restaurants for around £6 (7.90 USD), and a deli-style sandwich for £5 (6.60 USD). Hungry? Try the jollof (a one pot rice dish that’s popular in some African countries) at Africfood’s food stall in Cambridge Market for heaping portions for £9 (12 USD).
Dinners out will cost between £10-25 (13 to 35 USD) depending on the type of restaurant. Plan for spending about £12-15 ($16-19.50 USD) for a pub burger at a quintessential British pub. But, since Cambridge is a student town, there are often cheaper specials and happy hours away from the touristy areas of Sidney Street, Fitzroy Street, and Bridge Street.
Buying your own food will cost you around £40-55 (52-72 USD) a week at a grocery store for basic food stuffs.
Backpacking Cambridge Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Cambridge, expect to spend about £46 ($61 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, walking everywhere, street food and cooking your own meals, limited drinking, and mostly free attractions.
A mid-range budget of about £98 ($126 USD) will cover a private Airbnb room, eating out for most of your meals, public transit, and about one paid attraction each day (like a visit to Anglesey Abbey).
On a luxury budget of about £230 ($296 USD) or more per day, you can get an excellent four-star hotel, eat at nice restaurants, have some drinks, and take a few Ubers. You’ll also enjoy a tour or a few attractions. The sky is the limit!
If you come in the low season, you’ll save about 25% on hotels.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Cambridge Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Since Cambridge is a student-oriented city, you can find lots of ways to cut corners on your budget. Here are my top tips for saving money when you visit Cambridge:
- Attend a lecture – Attending a lecture at the University is well worth it. You can experience what the students do and be immersed in the academic world for an afternoon. (Check the university’s website for the official public talks or play student for the day!)
- Walk in the parks – The parks are mostly free here (the Botanical Garden charges a small entrance fee) and they are a great way to escape the noise of the busy city and take in some of Cambridge’s quieter scenery.
- Take a free walking tour – If you want to get a better feel for the city, be sure to take a free walking tour. They only last a couple hours and are a great way to engage with the city’s history (don’t forget to tip your tour guide if they do a good job showing you around!). Footprints Tours offers free walking tours daily during peak season and on the weekends during late autumn and winter.
- Visit the Visitor Information Centre – Pop into the Visitor Information Centre and chat with the locals there. They often have discounted tickets for punting and other activities around the city.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. Using the Uber Pool option, you can share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
- Couchsurf – If you’re on a budget you’ll definitely want to try couch surfing. it’s a great way to cut costs while connecting to the local scene. Many students will be away in the summer, however, so be sure to apply early.
Where To Stay in Cambridge
Cambridge only has one real hostel. Everything else is a budget hotel or a guesthouse. Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Cambridge:
How to Get Around Cambridge
Cambridge is pedestrian-friendly, and you shouldn’t have to travel any other way within city limits. But if you want to go outside the main campus radius, try:
Bicycle – Bike rentals are also available and are a great way to explore the outer areas of the city. Full-day rentals will cost around £10 (13 USD).
Public transit – If you take the city bus, you’ll pay between £1-3 (1.30-4 USD) per ride depending on how far you go. Try to have exact change as the bus drivers here seem resistant to handing you change. You can also consider buying an all-day pass for £4.50 (6 USD).
Additionally, London is only an hour away from Cambridge by bus or train, making it easy to plan a day or weekend trip to the university town. You’ll pay between £7-15 (9-20 USD) for a bus or £25 to 50 (33-66 USD) for a train. Heads up: Buying in advance will save you peak fees that push the ticket prices higher.
Rideshares – Going somewhere off a bus route? Taking an Uber is cheaper than a taxi, especially if you opt for an Uber Pool rather than springing for your own car. You can save money off your first rides with the following Uber code (jlx6v to save $15).
When to Go to Cambridge
Like London, Cambridge can be rainy and foggy year-round. Summer is the hottest time of year, with temperatures averaging 68°F (20°C) each day between June to September. This is also Cambridge’s peak travel season, so expect bigger crowds and inflated prices.
Winter can be very cold, with temperatures averaging about 43°F (6°C) each day. December and January can be rainy, so be sure to pack lots of layers.
Spring and autumn are the shoulder seasons, with milder temperatures and moderate rainfall. The atmosphere in town is upbeat, as the school year is in full swing. Prices are also lower, so you can afford to splurge a little more.
How to Stay Safe in Cambridge
Cambridge is one of the safest cities in the UK, but like all university towns anywhere in the world, it’s good to keep your wits around you, especially after a fun night out at the town’s great pubs. Being inebriated makes you an easier target for theft, or worst.
Anything around the university is very safe. It gets seedier if you venture into the Kings Hedges or Arbury areas, but even in those places you’re unlikely to get into too much trouble.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Cambridge Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Cambridge. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around England, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- Take Walks – A day tour company in Europe. What makes them so good is they get you inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock too!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Cambridge Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Cambridge Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
It’s pretty impossible to not love anything Bill Bryson writes. After spending nearly 20 years living in Great Britain, Bryson decides to return to the United States. (To quote him: “I had recently read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But first, he sets out on a tour of his adoptive country, delivering hilarious social commentary on the nation that brought us Shakespeare and zebra crossings.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s most popular novel is one of those classics you read and can’t ever forget about it. It’s famous for a reason. When Elizabeth Bennet meets an arrogant bachelor named Fitzwilliam Darcy, she immediately brushes him off as too conceited – and he immediately ignores her good looks and charm. Elizabeth discovers that Darcy has become involved in the disastrous relationship of his friend Bingley and her sister Jane, which further deepens her disdain. What follows is an excellent commentary on England’s snobbish middle-class life and the dangers of judging someone by first impressions.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
This is Emily Brontë’s only novel, but itsa impact has withstood the test of time. The story focuses on Lockwood, the newest tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the Yorkshire moores who is forced to seek shelter one evening at Wuthering Heights (the home of his landlord). He soon uncovers a love story between a gypsy orphan named Heathcliff and high society’s Catherine Earnshaw. She eventually succumbs to societal pressure and marries the well-bred Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff’s bitterness is cast upon the next generation. Somehow, the couple’s heirs must escape this painful legacy.
Sorry!: The English and Their Manners, by Henry Hitchings
The Brits are notorious for their polite behavior and the importance of having proper manners, and this book from Henry Hitchings is an investigation into this phenomenon. It isn’t just holding doors open and keeping your elbows off the table, either – there’s a whole system for things like sexual conduct, hospitality, chivalry, online etiquette, and so much more. This is a funny, upbeat read about British manners and what it all says about the English character.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
An English reading list without Charles Dickens isn’t a reading list of all! The book is about the course of orphan Pip Pirrip’s life as he is transformed from a poor boy begging for soup to the heir of a mysterious inheritance from an unknown person. Dickens takes us through Pirrip’s life as he abandons his apprenticeship to a blacksmith named Joe Gargery and then takes up a new station as a proper English gentleman. Dickens is a masterful storyteller.
Cambridge Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling England and continue planning your trip: