Ahhhh, Cambridge. Oh how I love this city! How to describe its vibe to someone who has never been?
Well, it’s so full of gorgeous buildings that no matter how many times I go into town my breath is still taken away by something new. And at night, when King’s College is all lit up, it’s downright MAGICAL.
And despite what the inaccurate article in The Sunday Times said this earlier month, the variety of food available here is GREAT with more exciting independent and creative restaurants and cafes popping up all the time. There is always a ton to do in the evenings and on weekends with various arts, literature, cultural and science festivals happening year-round.
It’s not just historic and traditional though; we moved here to be a part of the tech cluster that is booming year-on-year, and it’s that mixture of old and modern high-tech that gives it such a unique feel. It’s brimming with a creative energy I haven’t felt in many other cities.
Then there’s the nature surrounding the city, with some of the country’s quaintest villages a 10 minute drive or cycle ride from the city centre. Although the traffic situation isn’t great, you can get almost anywhere within a 20 minute drive and the city itself is entirely walkable. Most of Cambridge’s residents choose to commute by bike and this makes for a fit (and happy!) population.
Simply put, Cambridge is a wonderful place to call home ❤
If you’re heading here for a weekend city break or even a day trip – it’s a mere 50 minutes on the train from London’s King’s Cross – here is a list of places I recommend hitting up for eats, drinks and general fun times.
Starting the Day off Right: But First, Coffee.
Every city break I’ve ever taken with my husband starts off with a hunt for the area’s best coffee. In recent years, Cambridge has been blessed with a variety of caffeine-providing establishments that meet my very-particular-about-coffee husband’s approval.
- Hot Numbers was recently named by The Telegraph as one of the UK’s 30 best coffee shops, and you’ll find their delicious brews in other coffee shops and restaurants all over the city. There are two locations depending on where you’re staying; if you’re in the city centre head to Trumpington Street, if you’re closer to Mill Road you should definitely hit up their larger location on Gwydir Street which also has events most evenings. You can even take a barista-training or coffee tasting class here, and you’ll find cafe-style food for a quick brunch or lunch if you find yourself a but peckish.
- Espresso Library is another great choice due to its good coffee and cool environment. Like most things in Cambridge it avoids being too hipster whilst at the same time offering everything Generation Y/ Millennials are looking for; free wifi, art on the wall, plant-based food featuring lots of avocado, and a space for you to hang your bicycle – on the wall! It’s a short walk from town across Parker’s Piece to this fine spot.
- Staying on Mill Road? As well as Hot Numbers, there are several other great places to get caffeinated at. There’s The Black Cat Cafe which has lots of veggie / vegan options and offers up a free hot drink with breakfast…
- Urban Larder, where I’ve heard that the sourdough toasties are to die for.
- Relevant Records, which has a record shop in the basement for any music enthusiasts.
If you’re in the city centre and it’s more of a hot chocolate kind of day, head to the Grand Arcade Mall and visit one of the area’s thriving businesses: Hotel Chocolat. This place offers fantastic chocolates on the shop floor and there’s a small cafe at the back where you can get a real hot chocolate that will hit the spot for any chocoholic.
- Bould Brothers Coffee is the city centre’s newest independent offering and is conveniently located next to the Round Church and close to many of the colleges.
- Coming in from the train station? It’s a 20 minute walk so you might want to stop off at one of the fine cafes on Regent Street – hurry past the enormous new Starbucks and make a beeline for one of my current faves; The Old Bicycle Shop and/ or Novi.
Finally, and last but not least, if you’re staying in the north end of town then a trip to STIR on Chesterton Road is a must! Not only is the coffee lush, the food divine and the staff super friendly, there is tons of room, lots of highchairs, free magazines and designer sofas for you to enjoy all of the above from. Highly recommend, especially if you’re grabbing your coffee with a baby or kids in tow.
Morning Activities: Getting Your Bearings
One of the first things you’ll want to do is take a tour of the city to ensure you see all of the treasures on offer. If you don’t know a local tour guide to take you down the back streets and show you around the colleges, consider taking an official guided tour. While it’s fun to wander around the quaint streets aimlessly and get a little lost, it’s really interesting to learn about the history of the city and all of its hidden gems to really grasp the magic of the city.
- Punting is the “must-do” tour – there are plenty of touts trying to sell you a spot on their boats in town – don’t worry, they’ll come and find you! Pick up a bottle of Prosecco from M&S food and some strawberries from the market square and you’re all set to go.
- There are a few Walking tour options – Footprint Tours offer 2-hour free tours and the Visitor Information Centre have both public and private tours (as well as a Ghost Tour…).
- Then there’s an Eating tour – If you’d rather munch your way around town, try the Cambridge Food Tour.
Next Up: Take a Break for Cake! / Afternoon Tea
Being a traditional British city, there are lots of options for tea and cake or a more formal cream tea / afternoon tea.
- Harriets: Where you’ll be served by waitresses in pinnies. I’ve never been, but through the window it looks like the kind of place I’d take my Nan and she’d be dead happy.
- The Orchard: One of my faves – you can grab tea and a ginormous scone and sit on the deckchairs outside in the meadow. It’s located in the village of Grantchester, which is worth the 45 minute – 1 hour walk from town on a nice day.
- Fitzbillies: A 90-year old Cambridge institution most famous for their perfect cakes and sticky chelsea buns, there are now two locations in town. Head to the one on Trumpington Street (just down from King’s College) for a more traditional experience, or to Bridge Street for the more up-to-date coffee shop version. (Pssst… read the story of how Fitzbillies was ‘saved’ from closing down in 2011 here. It will make you love it even more.)
- Try The High Tea Club on Mill Road for something a little quirkier. Here you can get tea-based cocktails or a Dim-sum style Afternoon Tea.
- There are also lots of independent cafes such as Afternoon Tease, Sticky Beaks, Tom’s and Novi, which all offer a less traditional / more modern environment and a good selection of vegan and gluten-free cakes. If you find yourself at Afternoon Tease, be sure to order the crumpets – if there are any left that is.
The Afternoon Agenda
You’re probably best off choosing the afternoon’s activities based on the weather. It’s England, so it rains of course, but we do live in one of the driest parts of the country – so there is that! It’s so flat here that it often gets windy though, so whatever the season, pop a hat and scarf in your bag. Some nice options are…
- Enjoy a walk or cycle at Grantchester Meadows followed by tea and a scone at The Orchard.
- Visit The Fitzwilliam Museum – described by one (probably) very important person as “one of the greatest art collections of the nation and a monument of the first importance” and has free admission.
- Look around The Wren Library – this is Trinity College’s library where you can find many notable original manuscripts including A. A. Milne’sWinnie-the-Pooh! (Opening hours and numbers are limited – check the website).
- Go for a dip at the Jesus Green Lido – perfect on a boiling hot day.
- Hire a bike and cycle around town like a local.
- Visit the Botanic Garden and look at the pretty flowers.
Time for Some Liquid Refreshments
After all that a activity, you’ll want to quench your thirst, naturally. There are a few good options for a sophisticated G&T or something more exotic if you’re in the mood: 196 on Mill Road is a cosy cocktail bar where you’ll feel like you’re in 1920’s Paris. Sticks ‘n Sushi opposite the Corn Exchange on Wheeler Street offers up Japanese-inspired cocktails (sit at the bar and get the full experience), The Old Bicycle Shop on Regent Street has plenty of botanical drinks if that takes your fancy, and if the weather’s playing nice, head over to The Varsity Hotel’s Rooftop Terrace. They don’t take reservations here so arrive a little early; the drinks and the view of the city are worth the wait. (Tip – try the Cambridge Distillery’s multi award-winning Japanese Gin in a G&T or straight if you can handle it.)
If you’d rather a pint than a cocktail, the following pubs are well known for having a wide variety of beers and a great atmosphere: The Cambridge Blue, Pint Shop, The Cambridge Brew House. (Full disclosure: I don’t drink beer but I have it on good authority these are the places to try.) If you want to experience a true piece of Cambridge history, grab a seat at The Eagle, but be warned that it gets rather busy here.
Time to Eat!
When hunger strikes (wow, it’s only taken me 30-something years to realise that expression is a pun), you can be reassured that Cambridge has a surprisingly diverse food scene for a rather small city. While it might not be London, New York or Tokyo, you can find pretty much anything to a high standard – except perhaps for good Mexican as my American friends have often pointed out. There’s also a strong preference for home-grown and independent establishments, something that thrills me. Here’s a list of current favourites:
- SmokeWorks, MillWorks and The Chop House – Popular, high quality dining all owned by local restaurant group, CambsCuisine
- The Oak Bistro – For the full package: fantastic service, presentation, food & ambience! I love it here and often take friends / fam on a special occasion
- Aromi – An authentic Italian cafe perfect for a casual lunch. Stand in line for a slice of Sicilian-style pizza, and then get in another line at their sister site (two doors down) for gelato to finish off. It’s worth all the queuing, honestly
- Bread & Meat – Serves creative sandwiches, mostly meat-heavy but they do have some veggie options
- The Pint Shop – A meat and real ale heavy menu in the city centre.
- Steak & Honour – Cambridge’s newest burger shop, born from popular demand of their traveling food truck. If burgers aren’t your thing, order the Mac ‘n Cheese.
- Alimentum – A Michelin-star restaurant with a creative set menu of 3 or 7 courses, a short walk from the city centre on Hills Road.
- The Olive Grove – The city’s premier and award-winning Greek spot.
- Balzanos is a family-run café, bakery and delicatessen a little outside of town on the Cherry Hinton road and totally worth a visit.
Chinese: Seven Days on Regent Street is the city’s best Chinese and its takeaway arm Double Seven is equally as yum – rumour has it that Stephen Hawking frequents the former location.
Japanese: Sticks ‘n Sushi: modern and fusion Japanese, lovely atmosphere and good for date night / a treat (it’s a wee bit pricey).
Korean: Bibimbap House on Mill Road is casual and really yummy.
Vietnamese: Pho is a chain cafe with good (Westernised) offerings & Than Binh on Bridge Street is a more upscale restaurant with good vegetarian options
Thai Food: Lotus Thai is small but worth the wait for a table or making a reservation. I’ve heard very good things about Sala Thong which I haven’t made it to yet. If you’re after a quick and cheap bite at lunchtime, the Thai food stand at the market in the city centre is surprisingly good – dishes for under a fiver.
Several of the village pubs around Cambridge now offer authentic Thai food too – it’s a bit of a trend and I LOVE it! Try The Navigator in Little Shelford, The George in Girton, The Three Tuns in Great Abington.
Pub Food / Sunday Lunch
If you’re in town on a Sunday, you’ll definitely want to experience the joy of a Roast Dinner. Even if you’re not, it’s worth visiting one of the city’s child-friendly pubs for traditional fare. The Eagle is the city’s most famous spot (it’s allegedly where Watson and Crick announced they had discovered DNA) and hence it gets very busy even on a weekday. Definitely worth popping in for a pint though if time allows. If you have a car or are willing to jump in a taxi, make a reservation at one of the pubs in a nearby village; The Green Man in Trumpington, The Plough at Fen Ditton (prob best menu for vegetarians), or The White Hart in Fulbourn.
Vegetarian / Vegan Food
Most places across the city offer decent veggie options to its health and environmentally-conscious population. Those with a wider vegetarian and vegan selection include:
- Rainbow Cafe – city centre, vegetarian & vegan food only, no reservations taken.
- Stem & Glory – Cambridge’s only vegan restaurant, located at CamYoga Mitcham’s Corner.
- Novi – on Regent’s Street, not strictly vegetarian but has a decent selection and often
- Bedouin – North African food on Mill Road which usually requires a booking – try its sister restaurant Al Casbah if you can’t get in here.
- CoFifteen – a 15 minute bus ride from the station with a good selection of veggie cafe style food.
- The Old Bicycle Shop – a good selection of creative veggie and vegan food alongside meat options. Best to make a reservation.
- Bedouin / Al Casbah on Mill Road (see info above and pic below).
Taj Tandoori on Cherry Hinton Road – don’t be fooled by its rather lack-lustre street appeal (you might think you’re at the wrong place on arrival). This place is often called “the best curry in town”. Plus, it’s BYOB so it makes for a very affordable dining experience.[Update: this place recently received a whopping zero stars in the Hygiene Rating inspection (which I didn’t even realise was possible!) and is slightly horrifying so I don’t think I can recommend this place anymore :(. I’m currently on the look out for our replacement Indian go-to – if any Cambridge folk have any recs I’d love to hear them!]
Other Things to Do / Miscellaneous
- See The Footlights – www.footlightstheatre.co.uk
- Watch some comedy / music / poetry at The Junction
- Grab a drink and watch some independent cinema at The Arts Picturehouse
- Take a Cooking Class at Cambridge Cookery School
- Go Gin Tasting or Gin Making at the Cambridge Gin Lab
- Visit Kettle’s Yard: a beautiful house with an amazing collection of modern art
- Tour some colleges – there are 30 and many of them charge non Cambridge-residents an entry fee, so choose a few carefully! St. John’s, Trinity, King’s, Queens are some of the most popular and photogenic.
Take a Yoga Class!:
- CamYoga is the city’s most well known yoga studio, and with four locations and its own vegan restaurant it’s thriving amongst a population of wellbeing-conscious residents. (It was also just awarded Cambridge small business of the year 2017 – yay!)
- CoFifteen in Cherry Hinton have recently started offering hour-long classes in a gorgeous location, and if you’re travel buddy isn’t wanting to get on the mat, he or she can grab coffee and a cake – and watch you work up a sweat!
- BodyWise Studio on Mill Road (very close to Hot Numbers Coffee) offers regular classes.
Get Back to Nature:
Luckily for us, the city is full of green space so you don’t have to go very far to hug a tree or set out your picnic blanket on a sunny day. Try Parker’s Piece, Jesus Green or Midsummer Common if you don’t want to leave town. If you’re here for a little longer and can get out of town, head to Grantchester Meadows, Wimpole Farm, Wandlebury Park or Anglesey Abbey.
In a nutshell, Cambridge is a picturesque, food and fun-filled city with plenty of good nature surrounding it. If you’re heading here for a day, weekend or even longer, I’d love to hear what you’re looking forward to doing and answering any questions you might have.