If architectural splendour is what floats your boat, you’ve certainly come to the right place! When it comes to Cambridge tourist attractions, the city is positively teeming with historic buildings – your biggest headache is likely to be whether you’ve got enough time on your itinerary to see them all.
Attractions in Cambridge
One of the first stops on any sightseeing tour of the city should be the famous Bridge of Sighs, said to be one of Queen Victoria’s favourite places in Cambridge. It's a beautiful covered bridge spanning the River Cam between the Third Court and New Court of St. John's College. Built in 1831 and designed by the architect Henry Hutchinson, it's a Grade I-listed building which is, not surprisingly, one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the city. Some wrongly believe that the bridge is so-called because of the sighs of anxious students heading to see their tutors, but it actually takes its name from the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, which was built to transfer people from the criminal courts to prison.
With the River Cam dominating so much of Cambridge life, it's not the only bridge worth seeing in the city. If you only have time for one other, then make it the exquisite Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College. Its unusual design was the work of carpenter William Etheridge, and it was built in 1749 by James Essex the Younger. The bridge was badly in need of repair in the 19th century and was eventually rebuilt in 1905 exactly in accordance with Etheridge’s original design.
Cambridge has so many magnificent university buildings that it’s hard to know where to start, but most people agree that King's College Chapel is not to be missed. Spectacular enough from the outside, it's also well worth going inside to look round, but you need to go across the road first to buy your admission ticket.
A fine example of late Gothic architecture, the chapel took more than 100 years to build, with work beginning in 1446 during the reign of Henry VI. The chapel boasts the biggest fan vault in the world and some awe-inspiring medieval stained glass. It's also the venue of the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held every Christmas Eve and broadcast to millions of listeners around the world.
Trinity College is famous for the Great Court Run which was recreated for the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire (although not actually filmed in Cambridge). To this day, students still attempt to beat the college clock as they run around the Great Court every year at noon on the day of the Matriculation Dinner. The college also has a monument to Sir Isaac Newton who is said to have been inspired to develop his theory of gravity by an apple falling from a tree in its grounds.
Many colleges have an admission charge, although some are free, such as Christ's College, where John Milton is said to have written some of his poetry. Others worth visiting include Corpus Christi College, famous for its 400-year-old mulberry tree, the glorious gardens of understated Clare College, and Emmanuel College, regarded by many as one of the city's hidden gems.
Our video guide to attractions in Cambridge
Cambridge is a fantastic place to spend time outdoors – and where better to start than The Backs? These are the iconic open spaces and gardens which lead down behind many colleges to the River Cam. If you're in the city in the spring, you might be lucky enough to see them carpeted with daffodils and crocuses – but they are a glorious sight at any time of year.
Spring flowers are also a highlight of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden – but again, it's a delightful place to visit all year round. The brainchild of John Henslow, one of Charles Darwin's professors, the site comprises 40 acres of landscaped gardens and greenhouses, and its plant collections boast a mind-boggling 8,000 species from around the world.
Other picturesque parks in central Cambridge include Parker's Piece, a popular spot for picnics, which is regarded by many as the birthplace of the modern game of association football. There’s also Jesus Green, where you’ll find an outdoor swimming pool and six tennis courts if you’re feeling active.
Further afield, you’ll find Wandlebury Country Park and Nature Reserve, a short drive south of Cambridge near the village of Stapleford. Set in the gently undulating Gog Magog Hills, the park is partly wooded and has a superb network of walks, as well as a selection of picnic spots. The sunken path around what used to be an old hill fort is particularly attractive.
On the other side of the city is Milton Country Park, only a couple of miles or so from our Cambridge (A14, J32) hotel. It offers many opportunities for making the most of the outdoors, from walking and cycling trails to horse-riding treks. There are also two lakes for fishing enthusiasts and picnic and play areas for when you need to relax and refuel.