The best of Cambridge curated by a local
When I visited Cambridge for the first time about 30 years ago, I fell in love with it straight away. I adore the charm, the stunning architecture and the open green spaces. More than anything else, it feels so much like back home, the Netherlands. Although I grew up in Friesland, in the North of the Netherlands, I lived for a long time in Gouda. It’s a pretty town with a stunning town hall and quaint canals lined with characteristic canal houses.
Cambridge reminds me of Gouda. The pretty old buildings, the canals and the bikes! I like to make my way around the place I live on my bike or on foot. Something, I couldn’t do when I lived in my beloved Cape Town. So I am glad I can hop on my bike again and take a stroll into town along the river.
Cambridge is one of the oldest university towns in the UK, and I am amazed that visitors to Cambridge often only spend a few hours here or during the summer months. It is actually a city for all seasons and deserves definitely more than a few hours. There are so many festivals in Cambridge from food to music and art festivals and not to forget the famous Cambridge Folk Festival, which draws a massive number of visitors to the city. So a good excuse to stay a few days in Cambridge.
I often get asked for recommendations on where to eat and sleep. So I decided to curate a Travel Guide for Cambridge. It includes my favourite restaurants, the best places to stay, where to shop, how to go off the beaten track and quirky things to do.
I love food and travel and started the Cambridge Food Tour in 2012. On my personal blog here, I share my stories about my travels and food. If you want to explore Cambridge through the eyes of a foodie, check out my daily food walking tours. There are 6 to choose from, even a Gin Tour!
Enjoy your time in Cambridge and don’t hesitate to contact me on one of my social media channels if you want to know more about Cambridge or one of the other destinations I have visited.
Sleep in Cambridge
When you visit Cambridge only for a few days, you want to be close to the historic centre. Many people think that the area around the station is central Cambridge and quite a few hotels in this area indicate this is the case. However, it is not! If you want to be in walking distance of the colleges, the River Cam, pubs and restaurants then you want to stay around here. Suggested accommodation.
Mingle with locals
Prefer to stay where the locals hang out? Then you should stay in and around Mill Road. You will not find any big hotels here, but you will be staying in a lovely B&B. If you don’t like this, but still want to stay around this quirky road, then I recommend booking a room in one of the hotels at the station is your best option. It is less than 10 minutes walk. My recommendations.
Unusual places to stay
More into the quirky kinda stuff? Staying in a boat, glamping or champing? There are some great alternatives in the Cambridge area. Here are my suggestions.
Must do in Cambridge
Cambridge is all about the river Cam and the colleges. I suggest starting the day with a historical walking tour followed by a guided punting trip on the river Cam. It is very relaxing drifting along the River Cam soaking up the stunning views of the colleges and listening to the interesting stories of your Chauffeur about the colleges, Cambridge and college life.
Please note, that the colleges are not always open to the public. They are sometimes closed for filming, private events or when the students have to study ( end of May). During the May balls, they are closed too.
There is no better way to explore Cambridge than from the water. Sit back and relax soak up the stunning views from the colleges and listen to the stories about the colleges, college life and Cambridge from your chauffeur. Please be aware that you will get approached by touters when you walk through Cambridge. These companies are not insured, and I recommend avoiding them. Only licensed companies are allowed to tout at specific places such as the Quayside and Mill Lane. The guides of Scudamore’s are well trained and reliable. You can find their stations at the Quayside and Mill lane.
Take a look behind the college doors. Roam through the stunning gardens and peep into the impressive formal halls of the colleges. You can tour the colleges yourself, but if you want to hear the stories about the Cambridge scientists who changed the world, 90 Nobel Prize winners who have lived and worked here in colleges and universities, then you should one of the guided tours. Although there are free historical tours available in Cambridge, they cannot take you into the colleges. Only blue badge guides are allowed to take tourists on a guided tour here. I recommend booking with Visit Cambridge.
Cambridge Botanical garden
If you like to escape the crowds and love gardens, then the Botanical Gardens of Cambridge University is the place the head off to. It is about 15 minutes walk from Kings Parade, heading west. Check out their website for their music events in the gardens during the summer months.
My 6 favourite tours
What is the best way to explore Cambridge on a guided tour? It depends if you are a foodie, like biking or to go off the beaten track. Here are my favourite 6 guided tours in Cambridge. Not included on this list is the Museum of Cambridge. Check out their website as they organise monthly tours exploring hidden parts of Cambridge with an expert guide.
Quirky things to do in Cambridge
When I visit a city I love to do something unusual, mingle with the locals and experience a city how the locals do. Sampling their food, learn something new, go off the beaten track and take part in an activity.
Festivals in Cambridge
Cambridge and the surrounding areas offer a vibrant and eclectic selection of festivals all year round. There is something for everyone. My favourite ones include either food, music or art.
- Eat Cambridge – 2-week Food and Drink Festival in May. WEBSITE
- Cambridge Beer Festival – 6-day Beer Festival on Jesus Green in May. WEBSITE
- The Big Weekend – 3-day event in July including music, activities and food. My favourite time is Friday evening. WEBSITE
- Cambridge Folk Festival – 4-day Music festival in August. WEBSITE
- Mill Road Winter Fair – On the first Saturday of December, Mill Road is closed off for traffic, and the street is lined with food stalls. WEBSITE
Galleries in Cambridge
I love browsing shops and galleries for unusual gifts or to spoil myself. When I travel around the world I always busy an interesting gift to remind me of the destination. Cambridge is fortunate to have interesting independent galleries, where you can busy stunning presents. Two of my favourite ones are actually not a gallery but at two of my favourite museums, the Fitzwilliam Museum and Kettles Yard. Check out my favourite galleries here.
Museums in Cambridge
I have to admit that I am not the type of person who hangs out in museums a lot. I am more the hands-on, active one, mingling with locals, visiting markets, checking out foodie places and checking out quirky, unusual things. That doesn’t mean that I avoid them, but I prefer the other things in life. There are a lot of museums in Cambridge, but there are 4 which you really should include in your visit.
These 4 are The Fitzwilliam Museum for the fantastic collection of art, Kettles Yard as it is such an unusual museum of modern and contemporary art. Previously the residence of Jim and Helen Ede where Jim used to guide people personally around his house to show the art. In 1970 the house was extended and turned into a museum. Since the recent refurbishment, they organise music events now too. Check them out. They are really interesting events. The 3rd one is almost next door, The Museum of Cambridge, representing the history and heritage of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire history of over 300 years. The last one is in Downing Street. The Museum of Archeology and Anthropology and holds floors of artefacts collected from all over the world. As a keen traveller, I find it fascinating.
Eat out in Cambridge
On a budget
There are some fantastic cheap eats in Cambridge from street food to Indian, Chinese and pub grub. Don’t be mistaken, eating at these places doesn’t mean you have to skimp on quality! My favourite cheap eats.
I have been many times to India and learning about the culture, and the people made me fall in love with Indian cuisine. I grind all my spices and make all my Indian food from scratch. Needless to say, I have a vast collection of spices. Wondering which my favourite Indian restaurants are? Check them out here.
Another one of my favourite cuisines. I have travelled many times to Italy and Rome, so I like authentic cuisine. I prefer pizzas from Napels instead of the thin ones from Rome, and I proof my dough for 3 days finished off in my wood-fired oven. My Italian food at home is made from scratch, and I like a good vibe and a good glass of wine. So this is how I choose my Italian restaurants too. Check out my favourites in Cambridge.
Cambridge has become very popular with Chinese tourists and students. As they like to eat their own cuisine Chinese restaurants are popping out of the ground like mushrooms. Previously these restaurants used to be dotted around the city, but recently the bottom end of Regent Street is turning into ‘our’ China town. The street is now lined with Chinese restaurants, and they are packed with Chinese students and visitors. Here is the list of my favourite Chinese restaurants away from ‘China town’. Check out my favourites away from ‘our’ China Town.
Quirky, roaring fires, good pub grub and a good pint of beer, gin or wine. That sums up a good pub for me. There are a few in the historic centre. If you want to have a pint in a pub where the locals hang out, then you need to venture a bit further out. My favourite pubs in Cambridge.
The first time I was introduced to street food was on my first visit to Singapore in 1994. I fell in love with this casual way of dining instantly. On our food walking tours, we include street food too. Mainly on the market, as the other markets are too far out to add them to our food walking tours. Street food can be found at one of the breweries and a quirky bottle shop too. Where do the street food traders pitch?
Something to celebrate or you just like good food? We have some excellent fine dining restaurants in Cambridge from vegetarian to local cuisine and Michelin stars. Here are my favourite restaurants.
Food Social Grafton Centre
There is a new food experience in Cambridge – Food Social Grafton Centre. Shopping can be a tiring experience and food, and drink is always a good reason to perk you up. Looking for a great place to have a bite to eat in the city centre of towns can often be a highly disappointing experience. Attracted by big chain stores and high business rates, chain restaurants and coffee shops settle down here too. There is nothing worse than a tasteless lunch or a ‘fishbowl’ of coffee! More about Food Social Grafton Centre.
Drink in Cambridge
Wondering where to find the best places for a drink in Cambridge? Head over to my guide for the best bars, pubs and funky places for a bite to eat and a pint of ale, glass of wine, cocktail or a non-alcoholic drink. Pub and Bar guide.
My favourite quirky watering holes
Off the beaten track, quirky and the places locals hang out. Here are my favourite quirky bars in Cambridge tourists don’t know about. Where can you find these quirky bars in Cambridge?
My favourite shops
We can be proud of the vast number of independent shops in Cambridge. You might not spot them straight away as they often can be found in small alleyways, a bit further away from Kings Parade and in the area of Mill Road. Where to find my favourite shops in Cambridge.
- Quirky shops – Shop pretty things
- Bakeries – Artisan bakeries with a cafe
- Chocolatiers – Shops for your local Artisan chocolate fix
Walks in Cambridge
Having dogs means I go on a lot of country walks. I don’t have to venture far as Cambridge is a very green city. When you make your way away from Kings Parade, you will soon come across open green fields, also known as commons or common land. It means that the land is owned by the commons so the residents. Unfortunately, this is not true anymore as the Cambridge City council and some of the colleges own these pieces of land. From April to November you will see ‘our Cambridge cows’ grazing here. It is as if you step into the countryside. So where do I go if I want to go for a long(er) walk and have a drink in a pub? Don’t you agree that every good walk should finish in the pub? Check out my favourite country walks ending in a pub.
My favourite 6 walks
Are you a foodie, like art, want to explore the independent shops or keen to explore the Cambridge Commons? These 6 walks are perfect to see Cambridge in a different light.
Free Map of Cambridge
Where are the best places to eat and drink in Cambridge and which are the highlights you must see? There are so many review sites these days, but many of them are sponsored entries. I have made a Free Map of Cambridge for our foodie guests who join us on our food walking tours. I update the map regularly and only include our favourite places to eat and drink. You can download the map here for free.
The best Cambridge travel apps
Cambridge in your pocket! The best 6 Cambridge travel apps.
Have a great time in Cambridge and I hope you have found my recommendations useful!