If you’re visiting Cambridge, you won’t know where to turn for your next dose of culture. There are numerous galleries for lovers of the visual arts and the city is positively bursting with museums – while festivals of all kinds take place regularly throughout the year.
Culture in Cambridge
In a city like Cambridge, where you’re surrounded by history at seemingly every turn, it’s hardly surprising that there are numerous museums housing absorbing exhibitions of all kinds. Our dedicated Cambridge museums page has details of the best places to visit.
The Fitzwilliam Museum
For all its deserved reputation as a centre for scientific excellence, Cambridge is also a thriving regional hub for the visual arts.
The intimate Kettle's Yard gallery on Castle Street is one of the highlights for art lovers visiting Cambridge. Admission is free to this historic building, which was originally conceived as a gallery in the 1950s by the artist Jim Ede and was reopened in February 2018 following a multi-million-pound refurbishment, which took two years to complete. The new galleries at Kettle's Yard host constantly changing exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, ceramic work and textiles, many of them shown alongside natural objects such as shells and plants. There are also creative spaces for other activities, plus a café and shop.
If you're a fan of the latest in cutting-edge artistic techniques, make sure you schedule a trip to the Ruskin Gallery. Based at the Cambridge School of Art on the campus of Anglia Ruskin University, it features an innovative digital gallery which boasts a high-tech plasma screen and a state-of-the-art audio system, making it the first one of its kind in the UK.
One of the more unusual settings for an art gallery is the top floor of the Grand Arcade shopping centre – but that's where you'll find Castle Galleries. Among the local artists on display are Lawrence Coulson, whose works are significantly influenced by the big skies and wide horizons of the Cambridgeshire Fens.
There's never a shortage of things to do in Cambridge at any time, but if you happen to be in the city during one of its many festivals, you really will be spoilt for choice.
The most famous of them all is Cambridge Folk Festival, held every year since 1965 at Cherry Hinton Hall just outside the city. Over the past half a century, it has attracted all the giants of the folk music tradition, including Joan Baez, Fairport Convention and Loudon Wainwright III. But as well as pure folk artists, the festival has a reputation for showcasing musicians who are at best on the very fringes of the folk music scene. These have included the likes of Chumbawamba, Joe Strummer, Frank Turner, Idlewild, Jake Bugg, Joan Armatrading and Wilko Johnson. All of this goes to show that it's a hugely eclectic event! The festival is held every year over a three-day weekend in August and regularly attracts 14,000 music fans.
The charity Cambridge Live, which runs the folk festival, also organises other popular city centre events, including the Midsummer Fair and Market and the Big Weekend.
The Midsummer Fair and Market is a six-day extravaganza held in late June on Midsummer Common. As befits an ancient fair which has been held in the city for centuries, it a nostalgic affair through and through. Expect the aroma of toffee apples, candy floss and hot dogs to waft across the air, as young and old descend on the common for some magic of the country’s oldest travelling fun fair. As well as rides, including dodgems and the ghost train, there are also traditional market stalls selling goods such as china and clothes.
Later in the summer is the annual Big Weekend, which takes place on Parker's Piece and has as its centrepiece the Cambridge Mela. This is a colourful celebration of Asian culture, featuring world music and dance, alongside Asian crafts and fashion.
Beer festivals are commonplace all over the UK these days, but there's none quite like the annual Cambridge Beer Festival. For one thing, it's the oldest one run by the real ale campaign group CAMRA – and it's also one of the biggest. A five-day event held on Jesus Green, it features giant marquees, which are great for keeping off the rain or seeking shade from the sun, depending on the weather. The event attracts over 40,000 drinkers who sip their way through an incredible 100,000 pints. And it's not just real ale – there's also cider, perry, mead and even wine on sale.