When in London, there are many choices for day trips outside the city. A day trip to Cambridge offers wonderful opportunities for those interested in history and science.
University of Cambridge
The biggest sight to see on a day trip to Cambridge is the University of Cambridge. It’s the second oldest university in England. It’s made up of many colleges, the most well-known being King’s College. And the reason you may have heard of King’s College is because of King’s College Chapel.
The chapel is one of the most iconic buildings in Cambridge. It was built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Started by King Henry VI in 1446 and completed under King Henry VIII in 1515. It is recognized as one of the finest examples of late Gothic English architecture. You can attend King’s College Chapel choral services which are open to the public when school is in session. The choral services are held at 5:30 PM on weekdays and at 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM on Sundays. Be sure to arrive early if you want to attend as the queue begins about 30 minutes prior to services.
The Backs is a lovely pastoral area running behind the University of Cambridge riverside colleges. It is a park that is open to the public. It once held livestock and at times cows can still be seen peacefully grazing in this park. You’ll find families enjoying the landscaped grounds of the Backs as well as students of the colleges. You can see folks “punting ” on the Cam River from here too. I’ll explain that in the next section. A visit to Cambridge simply would not be complete without a stroll along the picturesque Backs. It’s an experience you won’t forget.
Punting on the Cam
Punting on the Cam is probably the very best way to see the Backs up close and personal. So, what is “punting” you may ask. Well first, let’s find out what a punt is. It’s a long boat with a flat bottom that is propelled by pushing against the river bottom with a long pole. It’s similar to a gondola in Venice but wider.
Punting on the Cam is an activity enjoyed by visitors to Cambridge. You can try your hand at punting or you can hire a punt and guide. Your guide, usually a university student, will tell stories about the colleges and bridges you’ll see on your trip along the River Cam. Among the sights you’ll see are the Bridge of Sighs at St. Johns College and the unusual Mathematical Bridge, which divides Queen’s College in half.
The Bridge of Sighs was built in the 19th century and modeled after the covered bridge in Venice of the same name where prisoners would sigh as they were led to their cells. The Mathematical Bridge was built in 1749 by James Essex the Younger. I tell you this just in case your guide tells you it was built by Isaac Newton. You can call your guide on this “myth” if he tries it. The Mathematical Bridge is a wooden bridge that has been rebuilt twice since it was first built. It is one of the most recognizable sights in Cambridge and one you can only see from your punting cruise.
If you’re standing at the corner of Bene’t Street and Trumpington Street, looking out over King’s Parade, you’ll see an odd golden contraption at the corner of a building there. It’s the Corpus Clock which was donated to Corpus Christi College by Dr. John Taylor, an alumna of the college.
It’s a most unusual clock based on the relativity of time. It’s topped by a chronophage, or “time eater”, modeled after the normally hidden “grasshopper” escapement in mechanical clocks that mark each second’s passing. The Corpus Clock is also a mechanical clock, as in not driven by a computer. It was unveiled in 2008 and has become an important point of interest for all visitors to Cambridge. Before visiting this landmark you’ll want to view this explanation of the clock by Dr. Taylor, himself. You’ll be able to understand what you’re seeing if you watch the video.
The Eagle Pub
When you get hungry, there’s no better place to go than the Eagle Pub on Bene’t. It’s a traditional English pub with a twist of history. If you wander to the RAF Bar in the back, you’ll see graffiti on the ceiling. Lest you think the Eagle is lax in their cleaning of the pub, look at little closer. You’ll see that the “graffiti” is actually the names and nicknames of World War II RAF and American airmen burned into the ceiling. The Eagle Pub, dating back to 1667, was a favorite gathering place for the World War II airmen. It was an honor to look at this piece of history, especially since my son-in-law is a pilot.
On the wall, is a plaque commemorating another piece of history, most significant to those interested in what their own DNA can tell them about their ancestry. It is in this spot that scientists, Francis Crick and John Watson, used to sit going over their findings of the day. It is where they made the announcement in 1953 that they had found “the secret of life.” That “secret” was the double-helix structure of DNA. Their discovery was made possible by the study of Rosalind Franklin using an X-ray technique, crystallography, which revealed the DNA molecule’s helical shape.
Getting to Cambridge
The easiest way to get to Cambridge is by train. Fast trains run from King’s Cross station every few minutes. It’s a lovely trip by train and you don’t have to worry about driving yourself, you know, on the “wrong” side of the road! In fact, I love traveling by train most anywhere in Europe. You get to see the countryside and get where you want to be quickly and efficiently. You can book your trip ahead of time on the TRAIN app.
The Wrap Up
A day trip to Cambridge from London is a delightful way to spend a day outside of the busy city. It’s a change of pace you’ll love and a chance to explore another part of England that is steeped in history and cutting edge science. Take the train from London to Cambridge and see the sights such as King’s College Chapel, The Backs, and the Eagle Pub. Go punting on the Cam and don’t miss the Corpus Clock! You’ll love Cambridge so much you’ll want to come back again and again.
If you want to read more about travel in Europe and what you need during your travels, take a look at these popular posts.
- Must-see Sights in London
- The Top Travel Accessories You Need
- Best European Christmas Markets
- Ultimate Gift Guide for Travelers
- Slow Down in Girona, Spain
Subscribe and get your Free Travel Planner!
Subscribe to get your freebie and our latest content by email.