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This Cambridge Day Trip guide provides all the information you need to plan the perfect day trip to Cambridge from London, whether it’s your first time or your fifth.
A charming and pretty city in England, brimming with scholarly achievements Cambridge makes for a pleasant day trip out of London.
The university city is home to a long list of colleges as well as the famed University of Cambridge. The streets hold stories of past residents who lived and studied here and went on to live in history books.
But the city also boasts some of the most striking architecture in its buildings and bridges, and alleyways, the River Clam is a popular punting place for locals and visitors alike. So, it’s safe to say that there is plenty to do here in a day. But where to start? No worries let me help you with that.
This guide provides all the information you need to plan the perfect day trip to Cambridge from London, whether it’s your first time or your fifth.
How To Get To Cambridge From London
There are three main options to get from London to Cambridge, namely train, coach, and car. If you’re wanting a scenic trip where you control the schedule, then driving yourself is ideal.
The coach is the cheapest, although also the slowest journey. However, the train is, without a doubt, the fastest way to get there, which will allow a little more exploration time.
London to Cambridge by train
I took the train down to Cambridge from London the journey takes around 48 minutes, and cost between £27 and £42 for a return ticket.
The prices depend mostly whether you’re travelling first-class or not and if you’re travelling in off-peak or peak times.
You’ll leave from London Kings Cross Station and arrive at Cambridge Station. From here you can take a bus to the city centre or explore the surroundings first. You can use your contactless card or phone on the bus.
London to Cambridge by Coach
Taking a coach is definitely a cheaper option, but it’s also quite slow, which may cut into your time in Cambridge if you plan on getting back to London the same night.
There are several companies that offer coaches from London to Cambridge, but National Express is the best-known and most commonly used.
Bus tickets cost between £5 and £15, and if you’re really looking for a bargain you can book a week or so in advance to get cheaper fares.
The ride will take around two hours, and buses are usually available from Victoria Coach Station, leaving hourly.
London to Cambridge by Car
Driving to Cambridge will allow for flexibility of time as you won’t be waiting for transport to arrive and you’ll be able to get around Cambridge on your own.
The route is along the M11 motorway, which is incredibly scenic and enjoyable. The drive will typically take just under two hours.
This road can get quite crowded, however, and so you may find yourself sitting in a bit of traffic. Therefore, you’ll need to account for any delays. The cost of driving will depend on how much petrol your car uses.
Cambridge Places To Visit And Things To Do In A Day
There’s lots to do in Cambridge and plenty to discover, so you probably won’t get to everything on this list in just one day in Cambridge.
But you can pick the options that most entice you and leave the others for your next visit.
Note: All opening hours and times are according to usual circumstances, but it’s best to check online before you go.
Take A Guided Walking Tour By An Alumni
This was one of the highlights for me when visiting Cambridge and I learnt so much about the University’s history and deep traditions.
A big part of Cambridge’s attraction is that it’s such a stunning university city, home to the elite University of Cambridge since 1209, and boasting a number of university colleges. One of the best ways to see the city is to take a tour guided by an alumnus.
This tour will allow you an inside look at the city, from the eyes of a university graduate. Your guide will share facts and stories about the city, its history, and what makes it such a fascinating place. You’ll also get to visit a couple of the colleges and see what they’re like on the inside.
Climb The Great St Mary’s Tower
Standing in the centre of Cambridge city is GSM, or Great Mary, the most magnificent church in the city. Connected to the church is the tower, which offers panoramic views of the historic town.
From the top of the tower, you’ll see Cambridge market square, Kings College and Trinity College.
As you ascend the 123 very narrow stairs, you’ll pass the world-famous bells which have called the tower home since 1303.
There is a small entrance fee of £6 to the tower, and opening hours are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Tuesdays to Fridays, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and noon to 4:00 pm on Sundays.
Go Punting On The River Cam Tour
Cambridge has so many stunning buildings and bridges, that a punt along the river makes for an almost magical experience.
From your seat in the boat, you’ll look up and across at the beautiful colleges and cathedrals along the riverside.
You can choose from a traditional punting tour, which is a simple yet fantastic chauffeured ride on the river or take part in a tour that combines a food or drink – like a champagne tour! There are also romantic trips which are perfect to end off a day trip as a couple.
I don’t think anyone can visit Cambridge without going punting, its blasphemy.
Visit A University College
As mentioned above, there’s an extensive list of colleges in Cambridge. You’ll probably need to pick just one or two to visit since a day trip is too short a time to see them all.
I’ve listed three of the top Cambridge must-see colleges below to help you pick.
This is the top-ranked college at the University of Cambridge and one of the richest, so definitely worth a visit.
For most of the year, the Great Court and chapel of the college is open daily to the public, between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:30 pm. Although you must purchase tickets.
This college is supposedly home to the apple tree that led to Sir Isaac Newton’s great discovery or so the story goes.
It’s located outside his old dorm room’s window. This is where my alumni tour ended so you can miss it.
You can also check out the Wren Library on Saturdays from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm or during the week between noon and 2:00 pm.
St John’s College
This is a beautiful building, with amazing architecture and an abundance of history in its walls.
It’s also a great place to see the Bridge of Sighs (similar to the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford). It’s open for visits for much of the year, daily between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, but closes at 3:30 pm during off-season times.
This college is one of the most recognisable in the city (if you have ever watched University Challenge you would have seen their various teams over the years), and it’s simply stunning.
It’s open to the public during the week from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm.
On Saturdays, it closes 15 minutes earlier, and Sundays it’s open for just 45 minutes, between 1:15 pm and 2:30 pm.
Wander Through The Streets Of Cambridge
This is one of the best ways to see the city, whether it’s on a walking tour or simply a leisurely stroll.
You’ll be able to discover local favourites, hidden gems, and well-known landmarks all in one go.
You can take a Cambridge map with you and tick off attractions as you go, or simply see where the road takes you.
Stop in at pubs and shops along the way, find a quaint bookstore, and admire all of the prettiness as you go along.
Even the streets of Cambridge are stunning you will not be disappointed.
Take A Cambridge Guided Tour
When you only have a day in Cambridge, things can seem rushed – or you may feel like you’re missing out on important parts of the city.
So a guided tour can help you feel less stressed and make sure that you reach all the highlights.
With a skilled guide, you won’t have to try and find your own way around and you’ll receive information, facts, and insights into the city’s history.
There are even free guided walking tours that you can take if you’re on a tight budget.
Visit Fitzwilliam Museum
Home to a compilation of art and antiques, this museum began with a generous donation from Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, which included his entire art collection.
Today, the museum features a wide assortment of ancient artworks and pieces of human history.
And while the contents of the museum are amazing, the building itself is impressive in its own right.
The entrance hall was designed by Edward Middleton Barry and is worth a minute of marvelling.
Visit any day from Tuesday to Saturday between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, Sundays the museum opens at noon.
Check Out Cambridge Market Square
Since Saxon times this market has held outdoor stalls selling a number of charming products.
Visit anytime between Monday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and browse at your own pace. You’ll find books, gifts, second-hand treasures, and food.
Sundays are when the market transforms into a fair of food, arts, and crafts, and you’ll find local farm produce as well as resident artists, sculptors and potters’ work.
Step Inside King’s College Chapel Cambridge
This chapel is quite breathtaking, and you’ll be awe-struck as you step inside. It’s home to the largest fan-vault ceiling in the world, as well as exquisite stained-glass windows. There’s also a rod screen, given to the chapel by Henry VIII.
The 15th-century building is magnificent inside and out and should be on every Cambridge itinerary.
The Perpendicular Gothic-style architecture is fantastic to see up close. You do need to book tickets to enter the building.
The chapel holds concerts and performances at times, so if you’re lucky enough to be visiting Cambridge during one you could enjoy that too.
Observe The Mathematician Bridge
Standing strong since 1749, this bridge is somewhat of an optical illusion since it looks arched but is built from straight timbers.
You can see the bridge from a punting tour, or by purchasing an entrance ticket to Queens College.
And, since this is where the A. A. Milne’s son went to college, you’ll probably hear about the game Pooh Sticks – if you haven’t already. Apparently, the Mathematician Bridge is the best place to play the game, so this is a great time to learn.
Stop and See The Corpus Clock
This 1.5-metre wide timepiece has a face plated in gold and is a real work of art. The project involved more than 200 people and cost over a million pounds.
It’s no wonder it was named one of the Time Magazine‘s best inventions of 2008.
The clock has an image of a grasshopper sitting on top of it, this insect is known as the Chronophage which is Greek for “time eater”.
You’ll find the clock on the corner of Bene’t Street and Trumpington Street and it’s accessible to public viewing for free.
Explore the Botanic Gardens
This is a great space to wander through, breathing in the smell of the flowers and taking some time to rest on your day out. The garden has a variety of trees, bushes, and flowers, all set in a perfectly manicured park for your enjoyment.
The Botanical Gardens are a 15-minute walk from the city centre and there’s a cafe on the premises so you can enjoy coffee and cake as well.
And there’s a gift shop for those looking to take home a souvenir to remember your trip by. The gardens are set over 40 acres, and you’ll find a selection of greenhouses to explore as well.
Things To See: Cambridge Photo Spots
One of the best reasons to visit Cambridge is to take a myriad of photos. The city boasts so many remarkable buildings, and the bridges over the River Cam are just as impressive.
So pack your favourite camera and head to one of these picture-perfect spots to snap a few shots.
Named after Magdalene College, this cast-iron bridge has been in place since 1823 and was designed by architect Arthur Browne.
The bridge joins Magdalene Street and Bridge Street and standing on this structure allows for magnificent views on both sides.
Whether you’re taking pictures of the actual bridge or taking advantage of the viewpoint over the river and nearby pubs, colleges, and the crowds, there’s opportunity everywhere you look.
Cambridge University Botanical Gardens
For landscape photographers, the botanical gardens are a green paradise. The park’s tree-lined walkways and lily-covered ponds are a true sight to behold.
There is an entrance fee, but it’s worth the visit and the abundance of photo opportunities available.
Spend some time discovering as many of the 8,000 plant and tree specimens in the garden as possible and take-home beautiful reminders.
Of the total 31 colleges in Cambridge, there are many that offer stunning photography angles. The best of these include Trinity College, St John’s College, Queen’s College, and Downing College.
These venues can get quite crowded, so try to go in the quieter times, and look out for unique spots that other eager camera-carrying tourists haven’t yet found.
Great St Mary’s Church
As both the university church and the city’s main church, Great St Mary’s is a stately building with centuries of history.
It stands tall and proud in the city centre and has done so for more than 800 years.
There are many small, intricate parts of the church for budding photographers to find, such as the gilded clock face with sunray hands and the oak roof from 1505.
And once you get to the top of the tower, there are scenes of the city below to enjoy (and photograph).
This museum of the University of Cambridge was founded in 1816. The galleries inside are filled with amazing artworks and antiques, showing off a collection of Cambridge culture and history.
Entrance to the museum is free, although it’s only open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
You can take photos in the galleries as long as you’re not disturbing other visitors and the images are for personal use only.
And you’ll need to make sure your flash is off. The outside building is also quite an impressive structure to capture.
Best Day Trip To Cambridge Tours
If you’d prefer a day trip that’s completely planned out for you, those are available too.
These offer a full day out to explore, guided by a knowledgeable local who can show you all the ins and outs of the city.
Full-Day Oxford And Cambridge From London
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this tour is going to call to you. It journeys from London to Oxford, and then finally on to Cambridge. In Oxford, there’s a walking tour of the city as well as a visit to Christ Church college which was a filming location for the Harry Potter movies.
Then on to Cambridge to climb the Church of St. Mary the Great and take in more stunning English city scenes.
There’ll be some free time as well, so you can find a snack in a coffee shop or go punting on the River Cam, whatever takes your fancy.
Classic Cambridge Day Tour From London
This is the perfect balance of a guided tour and self-exploration. The journey is done on a luxury coach from London to Cambridge and back.
It’s a full day of discovery, including a guided walking tour of the university city and entrance to the St. Mary the Great Tower.
After the initial tour, there’s free time to explore whichever part of the city is most appealing. Whether that’s the colleges, the river, or simply wandering through the streets.
Oxford and Cambridge Universities Tour
With this tour, the first half of the day in Oxford, exploring the place where Bill Clinton, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R Tolkien, and C.S Lewis were scholars.
A walking tour of the city allows for a slow but purposeful discovery of everything Oxford has to offer. As well as a look into its history.
The rest of the day trip happens in Cambridge, and also includes a walking tour that shows off true Cambridge charm in its purest form.
Visit the colleges and chapels and see the many impressively designed bridges over the River Cam.
Where To Eat On A Cambridge Trip
When your tummy starts to rumble, it’s time to take a break from Cambridge sightseeing and stop off for a bite to eat. Thankfully, there is no shortage of good places to find coffee, food, pastries, and even a drink, so you’ll never be too far from sustenance.
But if you’re looking for the absolute best, here are a few top suggestions.
If you’re in search of something sweet and sticky, Fitzbillies is well known for their cinnamon buns and brunch.
But they also do a range of other scrumptious baked goods and serve up breakfast and lunch. And, of course, a delicious cup of coffee is served alongside all meals and snacks.
This is a college city, so student life is the energy throughout. Which is part of what makes FoodPark such a great place to chow down on some of the mouthwatering food available in Cambridge.
This large space is rented to a variety of food vendors, for a big, tasty collection of street food.
Orchard Tea Gardens
For that quintessential English afternoon tea experience, head to Orchid Tea Gardens.
Take your tea here and share a similarity with historic figures such as Virginia Woolf, Ernest Rutherford, and Stephen Hawking, among others.
You must book at least 24 hours in advance, and tea is served between noon and 5:00 pm. After indulging in cakes and tea, you can take one of the garden walks to stretch your legs.
This is a simple spot to enjoy a pint of beer and a meal, but it’s their scotch eggs that have people talking. But you can order from their full menu if you’re not a fan of scotch eggs, they also have curry, fish & chips, and more.
Pair your meal with a gin, beer, or soft drink and you’ve got a winning lunch or dinner.
The Eagle Pub
This pub has been in the city for centuries and was the chosen watering hole for many of Cambridge’s masterminds, including Francis Crick and James Watson.
It’s a great place to enjoy a quick drink before you head back to London, and perhaps hear stories of past patrons.
What To Pack For A Day In Cambridge
The great thing about a day trip is that you don’t need to pack too much, just the essentials for a day.
Make sure the following list of items appear in your bag and you should be well prepared to hit the streets of this historic city.
● Camera – there are too many opportunities for photographers to take advantage of in Cambridge. Leaving your camera behind would be a sad situation.
● Powerbank – if you’re away from your accommodation for the entire day, you’re going to need to recharge at some point. Keep a charged powerbank with you so you can charge on the go.
● Walking shoes – walking tours are an obvious way to sightsee through Cambridge, so pack comfy shoes to get you around the street.
● Windbreaker/coat – regardless of when you visit Cambridge, you don’t want a little cooler weather to ruin your trip. Pack something light that will keep you warm and protect you from wind.
● Water bottle – if you’re walking, you’re no doubt going to get thirsty. Pack in a bottle so that you can fill it up when needed.
● Backpack – this is important, since it’s what you’ll need to pack everything into. Make sure it has enough space, protection for you valuables, and is comfy to carry.
● Umbrella – just in case Cambridge decides to shower you in (rainy) love during your day trip, it’s always best to be prepared.
Find more top travel necessities in my essential gear list.
Time To Plan Your One Day In Cambridge
There you have it, one full day planned and packed with history, culture, food, and discovery.
As well as opportunities for your photography portfolio or Instagram feed. Cambridge offers a day full of intellectual wonder, and amazing views wherever you go.
This city works well as a solo trip destination, but can also be extremely romantic for a couple of travellers.
And if you have older kids, a family journey out to Cambridge and its colleges is sure to be eye-opening.
Whatever your travel plans are, this list should help build a foundation for the ultimate day trip, and you can always plan a return trip if you happen to miss a few of the attractions.