With our newest home from home, Neptune Cambridge, opening in early December in the nearby village of Harston, we're taking a trip to this famous university city - and a little further afield - to explore the very best things to do, as well as the places to eat and shop.
See the city by bike or boat
To live in Cambridge is to be a cyclist, it would seem, and it’s almost a prerequisite of student life. If you’re visiting the city then, better to join in and hire one for the day. There are more than a handful of places where you can rent your wheels, but try Barton Bicycles on King Street or Primo on Jesus Lane if you’d like one with a suitably vintage sense of style.
Punting is probably to other mode of transport Cambridge is most known for, and although it can seem a little touristy, the views from the River Cam really are some of the best – many of the colleges back onto the river, affording glimpses into otherwise secret gardens. Hard to get the knack of, we’d recommend you don’t opt to do the actual punting yourself.
Unsurprisingly, as one of the country’s most famous university cities, Cambridge isn’t short on museums to visit. The university itself owns many of them, including the well-known Fitzwilliam, with its collection of art, antiques and artefacts. For something a little more unusual though, you could try The Polar Museum – dedicated to all things intrepid polar exploration – and the Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences, the university’s oldest museum and worth a visit for its rows of original wooden display cases alone.
Top of our list though, is Kettle’s Yard. Part contemporary art gallery and part house, it was once the home of Jim and Helen Ede. A former curator at the Tate, Jim gathered together works by the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Alfred Wallis, and today, Kettle’s Yard is very much as he left it. A homage to one man’s extraordinary vision, it’s a showcase of mid-century interiors as much as it is of art. And the shop – filled with artisan pieces like Leach pottery and Cambridge Imprint stationery – is also not to be missed.
Venture outside the city
Cambridgeshire is so much more than just its namesake city, and there’s lots to explore a little further afield (Neptune Cambridge included, of course). Picturesque riverside city Ely is one such place – most notably its towering cathedral. Or, if you’d like to head out into the countryside, the National Trust properties Anglesey Abbey and Wimpole Estate aren’t too far away either. Visit the former to tour the 1930s country home, and the latter for acres of parkland walks.
Anyone who knows Fitzbillies will tell you that it’s a Cambridge institution – and rightly so. Visit the original location on Trumpington Street (there’s a littler coffee shop on Bridge Street too) to tuck into the Chelsea buns they’re most know for from the wooden-fronted cake shop, or take tea (brunch or lunch) in the café.
The University Arms hotel might not be a newcomer to Cambridge, but its recent top-to-toe renovation has put it firmly on the map. Even if you’re not staying over in the city, we recommend popping by to visit the hotel’s restaurant, Parker’s Tavern. Wonderfully cosy – with its panelled and picture-lined walls, library-style brass reading lamps, and sofa-strewn bar – it’s just the place to hunker down in on an autumn or winter afternoon. And, like all the best restaurants, Parker’s menu is inspired by the seasons, the surrounding landscape, and the area’s culinary heritage: think game pies and foraged mushrooms, wild garlic and garden-fresh broad beans, and the famous Cambridge burnt cream pudding.
More than just a coffee shop, Espresso Library is also a celebration both of Cambridge’s cycling scene (there are bicycles hanging from the ceiling, and space inside to store your own while you stop awhile) and its cultural one, with a continually changing art exhibition gracing the walls. The coffee’s good too, of course (responsibly and transparently sourced and chosen by which beans are in season) as are their plant-based breakfasts and brunches.
You can find Cambridge’s main market sprawling across the historic market square every day of the week, although it’s the arts and crafts stalls on Sundays that are most especially worth a visit. Here, you can browse organic produce as well as the work of local craftspeople. Be sure to look out for Full Circle, a zero-waste shop, and Mac Daddy (macaroni and cheese connoisseurs) in particular.
If you’re in town on a Saturday, you could also stop by the smaller arts and crafts market in All Saints Garden on Trinity Street.
The Cambridge Cheese Company
This little gem of a shop is, tucked down the quaint All Saints Passage, just off the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, Trinity Street. Specialising in cheeses made using sustainable farming methods, they’re the kind of shop to head to with basket and recycled jars for filling in hand. You might even spot their basket-fronted bicycle making its local deliveries around town. They have an online shop too, which is a good excuse to buy one of their charmingly illustrated gift vouchers for cheese-loving friends.
Topping & Company Booksellers, Ely
Our next shopping pick is another reason to take a trip outside the city. Readers of our When in Bath blog will know that we’re already fans of Topping & Company (known to regulars as just simply Toppings) and their second outpost in Ely is similarly wonderful. Filled with floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcases and vintage tables groaning under the weight of piles of tomes, it’s a welcoming place to stop for a browse and freshly-brewed coffee in a cosy window seat.
Like most cities, Cambridge isn’t short of gift shops. But Ark, filled with, as they put it, ‘gifts for interesting people’, is anything but run of the mill. Visit for their cheery pink-painted walls, vintage cashier’s desk, and fun (and occasionally bizarre) designs, including their own Ark Colour Design pieces.