A weekend in Cambridge: A 48-hour itinerary

A weekend in Cambridge, England

After living in Oxford for a few years, I thought I knew where my loyalties lay – you’d never find me cheering Cambridge in the boat race. But my first trip to Cambridge started to sway me. Like Oxford it’s got a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, punts on the river, cobbled streets, bikes and enough museums and libraries to feel like you’re getting cleverer by osmosis.

But the river running past the colleges adds an extra level of prettiness that had me considering switching allegiances. It turns out that Cambridge University was founded by students from Oxford though, so I think we can justifiably class it as an extension of Oxford! So if you’re planning a visit, here’s my 48-hour itinerary for the perfect weekend in Cambridge.

Read more: 10 Great British weekend break ideas

How to spend a weekend in Cambridge

Punts on the River Cam

Punts on the River Cam

Friday evening

Get a glimpse behind the closed doors of Cambridge’s colleges with University Rooms, who rent student accommodation out to visitors. The money helps with upkeep and you get to wander through their gardens, eat in their dining halls and drink in the student bar. Prices start from a bargain £40 a night B&B, with a choice of en-suites or rooms with shared bathrooms, and lots of single rooms so it’s great for solo travellers. You can book two–three months in advance, with most availability during the summer, Christmas and Easter holidays.

Or splash out on a luxury stay at The Varsity, tucked between St John’s and Magdalene colleges on the banks of the River Cam. It has stylish, boutique-style rooms in the modern main building, named after different colleges, with balconies on the higher floors. There’s also a spa and restaurant in a 19th-century warehouse conversion next door. Standard rooms from £115 B&B.

Even if you’re not staying at The Varsity, head up to their rooftop bar in time for sunset for a drink with a 360-degree city view. Then have dinner at the Cambridge Chop House, which serves traditional English food with a great view across to King’s College.

The Backs, Cambridge

Cambridge’s colleges

Saturday morning

Start the day at the heart of Cambridge – its colleges. There are 31 to choose from, and most are open to visitors at least part of the time (opening times vary, especially during exams, so check in advance). Cambridge University’s three big-hitters are King’s, Trinity and St John’s, but don’t discount the smaller colleges which each have their own character, stories and secret spots.

King’s College (£9 adults/£6 concessions) is famous for its Gothic Chapel, which has a rare fan-vaulted ceiling and huge stained-glass windows. It’s got fantastic acoustics and you can hear the chapel choir sing during services. Trinity is the home of the Wren Library, designed by Christopher Wren in 1676 and housing historic books like Isaac Newton’s notebook and the manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh (free entry, open Saturdays 10.30am–12.30pm in term-time).

King's College Cambridge chapel

The fan-vaulted ceiling of King’s College Chapel

St John’s (£10 adults/£5 concessions) has beautiful grounds, and is where you’ll find the Bridge of Sighs. It’s also where a lot of the film The Theory of Everything, about Stephen Hawking’s life, was filmed (though there’s a bit of artistic licence as in real life he studied at Trinity Hall). Or if you want to get an insiders’ view of Cambridge life, you can take a guided walking tour.

Stop for lunch at the Michaelhouse Café, in a converted medieval church. The menu changes daily and features simple, fresh food like soups, sandwiches, casseroles, homemade quiches and cakes. Then grab an ice cream from Jack’s Gelato on Bene’t Street – they have a whole range of weird and wonderful flavour combinations on their ever-changing menu, with everything from salted balsamic caramel or Chelsea Bun to beetroot and cumin or roasted rice.

Inside the quads of Trinity College, Cambridge University

Inside Trinity College

Saturday afternoon

You can’t visit Cambridge without getting out on the water in a punt. Scudamore’s are Cambridge’s oldest punt hire service and run a range of different tours. Head along the Backs – the area where several of the colleges back onto the River Cam – for the most scenic stretch.

You pass a string of bridges, including the Bridge of Sighs (named after the bridge in Venice) and the quirky Mathematical Bridge, which looks like an arch despite only being made up of straight pieces of wood. A 45-minute shared guided tour with commentary costs £22 for adults/£20.50 concessions (you can save £3 if you book online in advance). Or you can hire a punt seating up to six people for £33 per hour if your balance is good enough to do it yourself.

Mathematical Bridge, Cambridge

Punting past the Mathematical Bridge

Finish the day off with a view of Cambridge from above at Great St Mary’s Church. A 123-step spiral staircase takes you to the top of the church tower for a panoramic view over the college rooftops (open until 5.30pm/4.30pm in winter, £5 entry). Then head to The Eagle pub on Benet Street, where scientists Crick and Watson announced they’d discovered DNA.

When you’re at the bar, look up and you’ll see the RAF ceiling, where pilots coming back from the Second World War signed their names. Have dinner at Cambridge’s oldest restaurant, Varsity, with dishes like duck breast and slow-roast pork belly on the menu. And if you’ve got the stamina, finish off the evening with a cocktail or two at 2648, a basement bar beneath Trinity Street which serves a range of cocktails, from classics to new inventions.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, generally known as The Round Church

The quirky Round Church

Sunday morning

Cambridge has a higher proportion of cyclists than anywhere else in the country, and its 80 miles of cycle routes (and lack of hills) make it a good place to join them. You can hire a bike from Rutland Cycling at Cambridge train station, with a choice of standard bikes (from £12 for four hours) or electric bikes if you want to take it easy (from £15 for four hours).

There are some nice waterside cycle paths running through Midsummer Common and past canal boats and rowers along the banks of the Cam, or head out of the city to one of the surrounding villages. You can download cycle route maps from the local council website. Stop for lunch (or grab a picnic) at Aromi on Bene’t St, a Sicilian-style café which uses authentic Italian ingredients to make tasty pizzas, focaccias, paninis and cannoli.

Cycing among the colleges in Cambridge

Cycling Cambridge

Sunday afternoon

Head to the Fitzwilliam Museum, a stunning building that houses art and antiquities from around the world (open 12pm–5pm on Sundays, free admission). Take a wander around some of the galleries – you can take your pick from medieval manuscripts, Egyptian carvings, Turner’s watercolours, Michelangelo’s sculptures as well as a few thousand more exhibits.

Then finish off your weekend in Cambridge in genteel style with afternoon tea at Fitzbillies, across the street from the museum. This Cambridge institution is famous for its sticky Chelsea Buns, which have been made to the same recipe since 1922. They also do a traditional afternoon tea of finger sandwiches, scones and mini cakes (with or without a glass of Champagne).

Fitzbillies Café in Cambridge


Have you visited Cambridge? Do you have any tips to add on what to see, do and eat?

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A 48-hour itinerary for a weekend in Cambridge, England, with tips on what to see, do, eat and drink in a weekend guide to this pretty riverside university city #Cambridge #England #weekend #weekendbreak #itineraryHow to spend the perfect weekend in Cambridge, England – what to see, do, eat and drink in a 48-hour itinerary, including the University colleges, chapels, punting and more #Cambridge #England #weekend #weekendbreak #itinerary

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  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Wonderful post!

    • Reply
      August 16, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    Anne Morgan
    August 16, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Beetroot ice cream??? Wish I’d known about that when I was in Cambridge!

    • Reply
      August 16, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Bizarre isn’t it – I have to admit I went for one of the more conventional flavours though but maybe next time!

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    I live in Oxford so like the idea of it being an extention.
    I’ve only been to Cambridge once for a wirk related day trip. Definitely need another visit.

    • Reply
      August 16, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      I’d only been for work too and that was about 15 years ago so it was well overdue!

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Lovely post – I really enjoyed Cambridge when I went for a weekend earlier this year. Fitzbillies is definitely a Cambridge must! We went kayaking to the Orchard Tea Rooms at Grantchester (fabulous scones!) which was great fun and I would also recommend. We did it instead of punting so I am still yet to go on a punt.

    • Reply
      August 16, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      We didn’t get out to Grantchester this time but it looks lovely so that’s one for a second trip definitely – and I am always up for more scones!

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    Most amazing! We usually go to London when in England, but your post is very convincing!

    • Reply
      August 17, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Thanks, Cambridge is a really easy trip from London too!

  • Reply
    August 16, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    Oh my goodness! We are going to England (from New Zealand) for the first time ever and staying in Saffron-Walden which is in Cambridge. Were staying with family but I have emailed this link to my sister I law because I want to do all of this!!! The timing of this article is perfect! My sons science teacher has just moved to NZ from Cambridge and he told us of the rivalry that exists between Oxford and Cambridge hehehe We are there September to October this year! Yay! This is perfect timing this blog post! Thank you!

    • Reply
      August 17, 2017 at 9:24 am

      That is good timing! Hope you have an amazing trip and that it comes in useful (you’ll have to make it over to Oxford too to see which you prefer!).

  • Reply
    August 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    I love Cambridge! So beautiful. Too bad I’m far too late to go to school there! 😉

    • Reply
      August 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Not for a PhD maybe!

  • Reply
    August 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    My favorite surprise gem in Cambridge was the Scott Polar Research Institute. If you have any interest in polar exploration (which I do) you will find it fascinating. We just sort of stumbled across it, and I’m so glad we did.

    • Reply
      August 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      I so wanted to go and have a look around the museum there as the stories of the explorers are so fascinating – unfortunately it was closed on the Sunday so I missed it but one to go back and see sometime!

  • Reply
    August 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    I lived in Oxford for years too (love the idea Cambridge is an extension!) but rrally enjoyed my couple of visits. The most recent was in winter when we ended up wrapped in blankets on a punt after a tour of some of the colleges. Perhaps time to go back in summer for some ice cream.

    • Reply
      August 23, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Bet it looks lovely in winter too – I’ll have to go back sometime and do a comparison!

  • Reply
    Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    August 22, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I definitely need to visit Cambridge! I’ve never quite made it other than passing through to catch a train, and having an argument with a bus driver (he wouldn’t accept my Scottish money and I almost missed my connection back to Scotland as a result!!). Maybe not the best first impression! Also that bike hire system sounds fantastic – I hope it works and spreads to other places!

    • Reply
      August 23, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Sounds like your Cambridge experiences can only get better! Apparently the bike hire scheme has just started up in Oxford too so hopefully it’ll keep spreading.

  • Reply
    Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel)
    August 24, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Having grown up in Herts I’m the other way round and a big lover of Cambridge but never really embracing what Oxford has to offer. I need to do a mirror trip to yours to see if I can fall in love with Oxford! 😉 K x

    • Reply
      August 25, 2017 at 11:08 am

      You so should! (I have an Oxford guide too if you need some tips 😉 x

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    August 27, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    I’d love to visit Cambridge and Oxford for the weekend and staying in the University Rooms sounds wonderful, there so much history associated with them. It’s also given me the idea to see if I could stay in one of my old halls of residences at Bristol University where I went some 30 years ago now! It would be a great way to revisit the city. What memories it would bring back! I’ll take weekends away in all three, please.

    • Reply
      August 27, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      I stayed in the University Rooms in Oxford for my sister’s hen do and it was great – we almost had a college to ourselves! They do the same thing in my old uni Exeter so wouldn’t be surprised if they did in Bristol too. It’s a real bargain and you can get some amazing rooms in the historic Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    August 28, 2017 at 2:28 am

    I had no idea Cambridge was so gorgeous. You had me at the first photo of the bridge. So much history here to explore. Lovely images!

    • Reply
      August 28, 2017 at 9:10 am

      It is so pretty! (I got a new wide-angle lens for my birthday last month so it’s been put to good use there).

  • Reply
    August 28, 2017 at 8:56 am

    It’s a gorgeous city for a weekend mooching around! I agree about staying in college, we did once for a university sailing event years ago and it was good fun!

    • Reply
      August 28, 2017 at 9:10 am

      It’s especially good if you’ve got a group of you as you can usually use the sitting rooms too so you have some communal space.

  • Reply
    September 4, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I still have’t visited Cambridge but I just found your post while looking for something else and it reminded me I need to go! I love Oxford – would you say one is better or similar?

    • Reply
      September 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Ooh that’s a tough one! The riverside setting of Cambridge makes it extra pretty but I think there’s maybe a bit more going on (better bars, restaurants etc) in Oxford. Both fab cities though.

      • Kaushik
        June 25, 2018 at 5:25 pm

        Like it, visiting next week, would definately spare time to look around. Thanks, icecream I love it. Definately not going to miss it.

      • Lucy
        June 28, 2018 at 9:46 am

        Have a great trip!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    I absolute love Fitsbilly’s! Such a Cambridge classic!

    • Reply
      November 28, 2018 at 8:02 pm

      It’s a great place isn’t it!

  • Reply
    Sharon Sinclair-Williams
    January 6, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    I just came across your post while looking for places to stay and things to do in Cambridge. We are going at the end of this month. We have to visit family on the Friday in Long Sutton so have decided to go onto Cambridge on the Saturday morning for an overnight stay. This was a very helpful write up. Sharon xo

    • Reply
      January 7, 2019 at 9:21 pm

      Thanks Sharon – so glad to hear it was useful, and hope you have a great trip!

  • Reply
    September 23, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Thanks for this program Lucy!
    I’m french, and visited my boyfriend in Cambridge …30 years ago, and I’ll come again with my daughter for her 20th birthday, in November, I’m so excited! As I only remember of Saint Mary’s church, your post is very very helpful:))))
    On Sunday morning, if it’s raining, can we go walking and shopping? Are shops open on Sunday?
    Many thanks:)))

    • Reply
      September 23, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Pascale, yes most shops will be open on a Sunday from 10am-4pm so you should be fine – have a great trip!

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