Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Cambridge
Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is one of Britain’s oldest and most prestigious universities. Made up of six schools, 31 constituent colleges, and more than 100 academic departments, the historic university boasts an impressive alumni, which includes Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, and Lord Byron.
Founded in 1441 by Henry VI, King’s College is one of the most prestigious and perhaps the best-known of the Cambridge colleges. Notable alumni include writer Zadie Smith and mathematician Alan Turing; however, it’s the grounds and buildings which are of most interest to visitors. Here, explore landscaped gardens, stroll along the River Cam, and admire the 15th-century Gothic King’s College Chapel.
With its elaborate Perpendicular Gothic façade and exquisite stained glass windows, the King's College Chapel is worthy of the accolades that are ravished upon it. Often touted as the most impressive work of medieval architecture and Gothic design in Britain, it now ranks as the most visited attraction in Cambridge. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, who laid the foundation stone himself, the chapel was the design of royal architect Reginald of Ely and took almost 75 years to be completed, continuing through the reigns of Edward IV, Richard II, Henry VII and Henry VIII.
Visitors to the chapel are unlikely to be disappointed – the ornate interiors are truly show-stopping, with highlights including the magnificent fan vaulted ceilings, the elaborate Tudor motifs and screens, and Rubens' Adoration of the Magi, which overlooks the high altar. Also of significance are the remarkably preserved 16th-century stained glass windows and the gilded Harrison & Harrison organ, celebrated for its rich and distinctive sound.
As well as being the architectural star of Cambridge University’s prestigious King’s College, the King’s College chapel is also a working chapel, used for daily services and recitals by the acclaimed King’s College Choir. The famous ‘evensong’ (evening choral performances), performed by the resident choir, have become hugely popular among both locals and visitors. The most notable service is the Festival of the Nine Lessons, the carol service that has been held on Christmas Eve since 1918 and huge crowds gather for the event.
Founded by Henry VIII in 1546, Trinity College is the largest Cambridge University college and the alma mater of many British Prime Ministers, Royal Family members, and Nobel Prize winners. Here, visitors can explore the 17th-century Great Court, Trinity College Clock, and Wren Library among other buildings, as well as attend public lectures and rent punts for use along the River Cam.
The River Cam cuts through the heart of Cambridge and is one of the city’s most important natural attractions. While visitors can stroll along its banks, floating down the River Cam in a traditional flat-bottomed punt is one of the most quintessential Cambridge experiences and a convenient way to see some of Cambridge University’s most prestigious and otherwise inaccessible college buildings.
The principal museum of the University of Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam Museum was founded in 1816 to house the art collection of the 7th Viscount FitzWilliam and it remains the city’s most impressive collection of art and antiquities.
More than half a millions works make up the mind-boggling permanent collection, with items dating back as early as 2500 BC and ranging from Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts to medieval coins and Renaissance sculptures, to 21st-century art. Highlights include works by Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Monet, Renoir, Picasso and Cézanne; an extensive collection of Turner paintings; and a remarkable exhibition of Oriental art. Rarities include a series of printed books and illuminated manuscripts, a huge collection of Elizabethan music manuscripts and bas-reliefs excavated from ancient Persepolis.
Alongside the permanent exhibitions, the Fitzwilliam Museum hosts a number of major exhibitions, special events and workshops throughout the year, as well as an on-site café and museum shop.
Stroll along the riverfront or take a punting tour along Cambridge’s River Cam and you’ll be sure to see the Mathematical Bridge, one of the city’s most photographed landmarks. The humble wooden footbridge crosses the river between the old and new buildings of the Queens College, and dates back to the 18th century.
Popular legend dictates that the bridge was the masterwork of Cambridge University alumni Isaac Newton, who built it to illustrate his theories of force and gravity, using only wood and no nuts, bolts or metal framework. In reality, the bridge was built by James Essex in 1749 to a design by William Etheridge. Officially called the ‘Wooden Bridge’, the Mathematical Bridge earned its famous nickname thanks to its impressive engineering design – using straight timber arranged in a series of tangents to create a self-supporting arc.
The bridge that stands today was actually rebuilt in 1905, but it’s become so well known that a replica has even been built at Oxford University, Cambridge’s notorious rival.
First established in 1448, Queens' College is one of Cambridge University’s oldest colleges, taking its name from founders Queen Margaret and Queen Elizabeth (the Queens of Henry VI and Edward IV respectively). With its grand medieval buildings and prime waterfront location on the banks of the River Cam, it’s a striking and highly photogenic site, making it a popular choice for visitors to the city.
A number of areas at Queens’ College are open to the public and visitors can explore the Old Hall, Chapel and cloisters, and see the President's Lodge, the oldest building on campus. Perhaps the most famous landmark of the Queens’ College is the Mathematical Bridge, a historic wooden footbridge that runs over the River Cam and connects the college buildings on the river’s east and west banks. Built by William Etheridge in 1748, the unique bridge is a remarkable feat of engineering, leading to the popular (but false) legend that it was built by Cambridge University alumnus Isaac Newton – who actually died years before it was built.
As striking as its namesake in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs is one of Cambridge’s most memorable landmarks, spanning the banks of the River Cam at St John's College. Built in 1831 by architect Henry Hutchinson, the bridge actually bears little in common with its Venetian counterpart, aside from being a covered bridge. It’s none-the-less a romantic spot, with its Neo-gothic arches and dramatically sculpted windows.
Now a grade I-listed structure, the bridge remains an important thoroughfare for college students, linking the New Court with the old college. For visitors, the best view of the bridge is from the river and Cambridge punting tours typically pass beneath its arches.
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