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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Cambridge, England

Famous the world over for its university, Cambridge - the county town of beautiful Cambridgeshire - lays claim to having one of the highest concentrations of perfectly preserved historic buildings anywhere in England. Most of this architectural splendor is centered around Cambridge University's 31 colleges, each rich in tradition and possessing a special quality of its own.

Even before the university was founded, Cambridge was important for its annual wool fair, and its position on the principal trade route between eastern and central England brought early prosperity. The first "schools" were established in the 12th century by immigrant scholars from Paris and the first college, Peterhouse, was founded in 1284. Despite its romantic medieval character, Cambridge is a thoroughly modern town that hosts a variety of top-notch cultural events throughout the year including the Midsummer Fair (800 years old and still going strong,) the famous Cambridge Folk Festival and a world-class film festival.

University Colleges

University Colleges
University Colleges
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Cambridge, one of the best known of England's universities, was founded in the mid-13th century and today boasts some 10,000 students. In the Middle Ages, students were sent to the university as young as 14, earning the title of Master of Grammar after three years and Master of Arts after another four years. The colleges were laid out according to monastic tradition with cloister-like courts, a dining hall and chapel accessed through the gatehouse (or Porter's Lodge). As the colleges are first and foremost academic institutions rather than museums, visitors may find themselves turned away at exam time, so plan accordingly.

Location: The Old Schools, Trinity Lane, Cambridge

Official site: www.cam.ac.uk

River Cam

River Cam
River Cam
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Punting on the River Cam is undoubtedly a highlight of any visit to Cambridge. The river is 40 miles long and runs through the very heart of the city, and offers incredible views you'll not find while exploring on foot.

Location: Baits Bite Lock House, Fen Rd, Milton, Cambridge

Official site: www.camconservators.co.uk

Peterhouse College

Peterhouse College
Peterhouse College
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The oldest college in Cambridge, Peterhouse, founded in 1284, is also one of the smallest. Its hall and storeroom on the south side of Old Court are the earliest of the original 13th century buildings. Among those who studied here were Cardinal Beaufort, chemist Henry Cavendish and poet Thomas Gray. Worth seeing are the stained glass windows in the chapel (imported from Munich in the 1850s) and the 17th century altar window.

Location: Trumpington St, Cambridge

Pembroke College

Pembroke College
Pembroke College
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Pembroke College was founded in 1347 by the Countess of Pembroke but has been greatly altered since. The chapel (1665) is famous as architect Christopher Wren's first work, and was later extended in 1881. Pembroke has produced many bishops and poets, the most celebrated being Edmund Spenser (1552-99). Reformist bishop Nicholas Ridley, burned at the stake in Oxford, and statesman William Pitt also took their degrees here.

Location: Trumpington St, Cambridge

Official site: www.pem.cam.ac.uk

Queens' College

Queens' College
Queens' College
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Founded in 1448 by Andrew Dockett under the patronage of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, Queens' College was refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. It has the most complete medieval buildings of all Cambridge's colleges, including the magnificent gateway leading to the red brick First Court, dating from the period of foundation.

Other Queens' College sites to visit: The wooden Mathematical Bridge, a 1902 reconstruction leading over the Cam to the lovely college gardens (the bridge is so called because it was built without nails, relying for its strength on meticulous calculation); Cloister Court (1460) has the President's Lodge, a handsome half-timbered building; Pump Court with the Erasmus Tower above the rooms occupied by Erasmus when he taught Greek here (1511-1514); and Walnut Tree Court (1618) and Friars Court with the Erasmus Building (1961) and Victorian chapel (1891).

Location: Silver St, Cambridge

Official site: www.queens.cam.ac.uk

Corpus Christi College

Corpus Christi College
Corpus Christi College Jim Linwood
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Corpus Christi College was founded in 1352 "by the townspeople for the townspeople". Old Court dates back to 1377, although since restored. The library contains valuable manuscripts collected by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1550), and the adjoining St Benet's Church was the original college chapel and has a late Saxon tower. Dramatists Christopher Marlowe (1564-93) and John Fletcher (1579-1625) were notable members of the college.

Location: King's Parade, Cambridge

Official site: www.corpus.cam.ac.uk

King's College

King's College
King's College
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Founded in 1441 by Henry VI and the earliest of the royal foundations, King's College is worth visiting for the huge expanse of lawn extending down to the river and King's Bridge with its lovely views along the Backs, the various college grounds situated along the riverside. Distinguished alumni include writer Horace Walpole, poet Rupert Brooke and economist Lord Keynes.

Location: King's Parade, Cambridge

Official site: www.kings.cam.ac.uk

King's College Chapel

King's College Chapel
King's College Chapel
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King's College Chapel is renowned for its 12-bay Perpendicular style interior, as well as its breathtaking fan vaulting by John Wastell (1515). Also worth checking out: the lovely tracery on the windows and walls; the spectacular 16th century stained glass windows; the lavishly carved 16th century wooden organ screen and choir stalls; and the altarpiece, Rubens' Adoration of the Magi (1634). Visitors should try to attend Evensong, when the King's College Choir sings.

Location: King's Parade, Cambridge

Senate House

Senate House
Senate House
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Beyond King's College stands the Senate House, a Palladian building by James Gibbs (1730), with delicate plaster and woodwork and numerous statues. It's used for important academic occasions and ceremonies such as the conferment of degrees.

Location: King's Parade, Cambridge

St Mary the Great Church

St Mary the Great Church
St Mary the Great Church
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St Mary the Great is both a parish and university church. Built in the 15th century, it has a fine interior, its galleries being added in 1739 at a time when university sermons, given by great scholars, attracted huge congregations. The tower (erected in 1608) is famous for its view.

Location: Senate House Hill, Cambridge

Official site: www.gsm.cam.ac.uk

Trinity Hall

Trinity Hall
Trinity Hall
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Founded in 1350, Trinity Hall has a remarkably well-preserved Elizabethan era library, complete with books chained to shelves.

Location: Trinity Lane, Cambridge

Official site: www.trinhall.cam.ac.uk

Clare College

Clare College
Clare College
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Clare College was founded in 1326 as University Hall, but bad management necessitated its refounding in 1338. Following a fire in 1638, work began on rebuilding the college in its present Renaissance style, seen at its loveliest in First Court. Also, the delightful Clare Bridge (1640) crosses the Cam to the Fellows' Garden from here.

Distinguished past members include reformer Hugh Latimer, later burned at the stake in Oxford, and Elizabethan dramatist Robert Greene.

Location: Memorial Court, Queens Rd, Cambridge

Official site: www.clare.cam.ac.uk/Home/

Gonville and Caius College

Gonville and Caius College
Gonville and Caius College
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Caius College (pronounced "Keys"), or Gonville and Caius College to give it its full name, was founded in 1348 and enlarged after 1558 by Dr. John Caius, physician to Edward VI and Queen Mary.

Caius has three gates symbolizing the student's academic "path": the college is entered through the Gate of Humility, leading into Tree Court; from there the Gate of Virtue gives access to Caius Court; and finally, the Gate of Honor opens onto Senate House.

Location: Trinity St, Cambridge

Official site: www.cai.cam.ac.uk

Trinity College

Trinity College
Trinity College
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Established in 1546 by Henry VIII, Trinity College was created by the merger of several older colleges, including Michaelhouse and King's Hall. Beyond King Edward's Gate (1418), parts of the old King's Hall buildings are still identifiable. Trinity Great Court is the largest court in Cambridge and was laid out around 1600. A passage leads into Nevile's Court (1614), its chapel and statues of distinguished scholars. Wren added the library, with its old oak bookcases and fine lime wood carvings, later.

Trinity has more distinguished former members than any other college: statesmen Austen Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin and Nehru; poets and writers such as George Herbert and Edward Fitzgerald; philosopher Bertrand Russell; and scientist Isaac Newton. Edward VII and George VI were also at Trinity. From New Court, or King's Court, take the bridge over the Cam for its beautiful view of the Backs. A magnificent avenue of limes leads to the College Grounds.

Location: Trinity College, Cambridge

Official site: www.trin.cam.ac.uk

St John's College

St John's College
St John's College
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St John's College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. A richly ornamented gateway opens into First Court, a fine example of Tudor architecture. The dining hall of 1519, known simply as "The Hall", was enlarged in sympathy with later buildings in 1826 and has an excellent hammerbeam roof, beautiful paneling and some good portraits. The Combination Room has a splendid plaster ceiling with festoons of vines. Second Court, built in 1602, is exceptionally attractive with its mellow brickwork, while Third Court includes the Library (1624).

Among the many notable members of St John's were dramatist Ben Jonson and poet William Wordsworth, who described his college rooms in his famous Prelude. Be sure to visit the exquisite Bridge of Sighs. Built in 1831, this enclosed bridge leads over the Cam into New Court and the College Grounds.

Location: St John's St, Cambridge

Official site: www.joh.cam.ac.uk

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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Better known as the Round Church, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is one of only four Norman round churches left in England. Built in 1131, its rectangular chancel was added in the 15th century.

Location: Round Church St, Cambridge

Magdalene College

Magdalene College
Magdalene College
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Magdalene College (pronounced "Maudlen") is the only one of the old colleges to be built on the west side of the Cam. Originally established as a Benedictine college, it was refounded during the dissolution in 1542. First Court retains its charming 15th century character, while Second Court boasts the 17th century Pepys Library, a handsome building containing more than 3,000 volumes and manuscripts bequeathed by former student Samuel Pepys (1633-1703).

Location: Jesus Lane, Fen Ditton, Cambridge

Official site: www.magd.cam.ac.uk

Jesus College

Jesus College
Jesus College
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Jesus College (1496) incorporates parts of the old Benedictine nunnery of St Radegund, founded in the early 12th century. The entrance is through a gateway leading to the Early English (13th century) chapel with its stained glass windows by Ford Madox Brown and Burne-Jones. On the east side of the court is the facade of the old chapter house (1230).

Among its alumni were writer Laurence Sterne, economist Thomas Robert Malthus and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Location: Jesus Lane, Fen Ditton, Cambridge

Official site: www.jesus.cam.ac.uk

Christ's College

Christ's College
Christ's College
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Christ's College, founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort in 1505, marked a step on the way towards the modern university as students were allowed to attend lectures without being members of the college. Notable members of Christ's include John Milton (who is supposed to have planted the mulberry tree which still grows in the garden) and Charles Darwin.

Location: St Andrew's St, City Centre, Cambridge

Official site: www.christs.cam.ac.uk

Emmanuel College

Emmanuel College
Emmanuel College
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Emmanuel College was founded in 1584 and incorporates parts of a former Dominican priory. The college produced a number of Protestant ministers, many of whom emigrated to America, including some of the Pilgrim Fathers. The Chapel and cloister are by Wren (1674), one of its windows commemorating John Harvard, the principal founder of Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Location: St Andrew's St, Cambridge

Official site: www.emma.cam.ac.uk

Fitzwilliam Museum

Fitzwilliam Museum
Fitzwilliam Museum
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The most famous museum in Cambridge, the Fitzwilliam should be included on everyone's must-see list. This masterpiece of architecture contains a magnificent collection of English pottery and china, as well as Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, and illuminated manuscripts. The exceptionally fine gallery has works by Hogarth, Gainsborough and Turner as well as the Impressionists and Dutch Masters of the Baroque such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Rubens.

Location: Trumpington St, Cambridge

Official site: www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill

Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill
Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill Karen Roe
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Although built in the 12th century, Anglesey Abbey was refurbished in 1926 and came to be known as a house of fine art and furnishings. Now a National Trust property, this spectacular home contains numerous tapestries by the likes of Gobelin, Soho and Anglesey, as well as an art collection featuring Constable's The Opening of Waterloo Bridge.

Be sure to spend time enjoying the surrounding gardens and 114 acres of parkland, including the Wildlife Discovery Area, an area where younger visitors can watch birds and bugs in their natural habitats, and climb the Lime Tree Lookout. Afterwards, visit the historic water mill to watch the grindstones do their job.

Location: Quy Road, Lode, Cambridge

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Developed by Cambridge University in 1884, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology holds an important collection of prehistoric material and artifacts dealing with social anthropology. Collections have been gathered from around the world and include pieces from Africa and the Orient, with a particular focus on the visual and classical arts. Of particular note is the Pacific collection, taken mainly from Cook's explorations, and other research projects made by notable British anthropologists.

Location: Downing St, Cambridge

National Horse Racing Museum

National Horse Racing Museum
National Horse Racing Museum David
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Just 13 miles east of Cambridge, Newmarket is a Mecca of English horse racing. Racing in Newmarket dates back to 1174, and horse fans will find it time well spent visiting the National Horse Racing Museum on the picturesque High Street. Exhibits relate to the history of the "sport of kings", still one of the most popular sports in Britain.

The collection includes paintings of famous horses and jockeys, old saddles, tack and trophies. There are several stables actually in the town, not to mention the famous racecourse and training "gallops" close by.

Address: 99 High St, Newmarket

Official site: www.nhrm.co.uk

Where to Stay in Cambridge for Sightseeing

With the university's 31 colleges filling the entire center of Cambridge, there isn't much space left for hotels. But you'll find a few amid its historic buildings, with more just outside the ring of streets that encircles the center. Here are some highly-rated hotels in Cambridge:

  • Luxury Hotels: Overlooking a broad park near the River Cam and the colleges, with plenty of restaurants within easy walking distance, the large rooms at The Gonville Hotel are well located for exploring Cambridge. Walk along the Cam and to the historic sites from The Varsity Hotel & Spa, a boutique lodging with a rooftop terrace, near Trinity and Magdalene colleges. The name Hilton Cambridge City Centre says it all, right in the center surrounded by historic colleges, restaurants, and shops. The modern hotel offers free Wi-Fi.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: Regent Hotel rooms overlook a park near the colleges and River Cam or busy Regent Street's shops and restaurants. A two-minute walk from either the Fitzwilliam or Polar museum, Royal Cambridge Hotel occupies a series of 19th-century row houses. The neighboring boutique-style Lensfield is also about halfway between the train station and the city center.
  • Budget Hotels: You can walk through the park to city center colleges from Travelodge Newmarket Road Cambridge, or there's a bus stop right in front; underground parking is free. There's also a bus stop at Ashley Hotel, or you can walk across the river and over Midsummer Common to the center in about 20 minutes. Rooms here have safes, coffee and tea-making, and free Wi-Fi. For lodgings with history, choose a student room with a full English breakfast and Wi-Fi included in Christ's College Cambridge, founded by the mother of Henry VII in 1505 and the college of Charles Darwin.

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