For years on end, a repetitive procession of bookworms and generations of politicians and studious individuals has walked the city streets of Cambridge – Oxford’s rival for the title of “England’s Most English-y Town.” But the quaint independent coffee shops, archaic buildings, and dusty bookstores are no longer reserved for the privately schooled or thoroughbred Brits: Cambridge is becoming everything hipsters daydream of when searching for something to instagram.
That’s not to say, of course, that Cambridge is only for hipsters – the combination of charming cobbled street corners and buildings that look like they’ve fallen straight from a postcard, it’s hard not to fall in love with the city. But with so much to do, so many places to see, and so much cake to eat, it’s a good job we’ve got all the “best bits” figured out for you.
Explore the University
Feign your best look of scholarly intent and set off to nose around the (other) top university in England. Though often paired together with everything from prestige, academic rankings, and adorably pretty buildings, Oxford and Cambridge universities do have some differences: Cambridge is a smaller town, for example, so the university is much more prominent – you literally can’t miss it. The buildings of the 31 colleges are largely free to explore, though whatever you do, DO NOT step on the grass. King’s, Trinity, and St. John’s colleges are the renowned showstoppers and attract the crowds, while the Fellows Garden of Clare is well worth a wander.
Set foot in the museums
Cambridge is a city that knows how to truly indulge anyone whose idea of a fun afternoon is traipsing through a plethora of museums. With England’s highest concentration of internationally renowned collections outside of London, no matter whichever avenue of culture tickles your fancy, you’ll have no excuse not to get down to your good-tourist duties. Find art and antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, set off on a journey through the history books at the Imperial War Museum, or roam the natural world through the Cambridge University Botanical Garden.
Punt, Punt, Punt
Once again, much like its rival English counterpart, Cambridge is a town built on the banks of a gently meandering river – so why explore on foot when you could do so from the lazy comfort of a wooden boat? Take to the River Cam and give punting (a kind of one-person, standing-up rowing) a go, but make sure you’ve also picked up a private chauffeur from Scudamore’s, Cambridge’s oldest punt-hire company. Essential for when you get tired or realize that you’re going round in circles and making a right mess out of trying to steer a boat with just a long stick.
Visit Cake-shop Heaven
If you dare to leave Cambridge without so much as taking a peek into Fitzbillies, then you better book a return visit – pronto. Fitzbillies is to Cambridge as Harrods is to London – this old-school bakery is a truly beloved establishment. From the outside, the faded wooden paneling that lines the glass windows make it seem as though you’ve accidentally stumbled into a time warp and stepped into 1921. You wouldn’t be 100% wrong, because some things haven’t changed since the store opened almost a century ago – most notably, the secret recipe for their world-famous, sumptuous sticky Chelsea buns.
Be English – Drink Tea
To not drink tea in such an English setting is simply a no-go. Whether you’re visiting for a day or studying for a few months, join the locals and settle down for a brew. Once you’re sitting in a garden deck chair of the Orchard Tea Gardens, the lightly warming English sun on your face, a steaming china mug of fresh tea, and a jam-and-cream-covered scone to wash it down with, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. The Orchard has been serving cups of the delicious stuff since 1897 and has become legendary with both university students and professors: Stephen Fry, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Hawking and Sir David Attenborough, among many others, have all raised a mug here.
Save Time for Some Retail Therapy
Each Monday to Saturday, the Cambridge’s historic market square is home to dozens of colorful, tented booths where local vendors peddle their wares in the same place that their predecessors have done for generations. Here, eagle-eyed shoppers can bustle through the stalls, snag bargains on books, jewelry, fresh fruit and arts from homegrown craftsmen – and even get their bikes repaired. Once you’ve wandered through the stalls, set your sights further than the square: The quaint surrounding alleys and passages are crammed full of unique shops, with a few high-street stores thrown in for good measure.