Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Cambridge Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Cambridge

Set along the banks of the River Cam in eastern England, the city of Cambridge is famed worldwide as the home of one of the world's most prestigious and oldest learning institutions, the University of Cambridge. Indeed, the University makes up the bulk of the local sights, including the affiliated colleges themselves, such as King’s College renowned for its choir and Gothic chapel, Mathematical Bridge and many others. To find your way around the plethora of Cambridge's remarkable sights, follow this self guided walk.
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Cambridge Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Cambridge Introduction Walk
Guide Location: England » Cambridge (See other walking tours in Cambridge)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 17
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: sylvia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Market Hill
  • Gonville and Caius College
  • Great St Mary's Church
  • King's College
  • King's College Chapel
  • Corpus Clock
  • St Catharine's College
  • Corpus Christi College
  • Mathematical Bridge
  • Darwin College
  • The Pitt Building
  • Whipple Museum of the History of Science
  • MAA: Museum of Archeology and Anthropology
  • Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
  • Pembroke College
  • Peterhouse
  • Fitzwilliam Museum
Market Hill

1) Market Hill

Market Hill (aka the Market Square) is the location of the marketplace in central Cambridge, operating as a marketplace since Saxon times. Here you will find stalls selling a wide range of goods including: clothes, books, fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, second hand bikes, mobile phone accessories and much more. The market is open from Monday–Saturday, 10am–4pm.

On the west side of Market Hill is Great St Mary's, the Cambridge University Church, with its tower on King's Parade. On the south side of the Market Square is the Cambridge Guildhall, built in the 1930s. To the southeast are the Grand Arcade and Lion Yard, two shopping centres.
Gonville and Caius College

2) Gonville and Caius College (must see)

Gonville and Caius College is one of the oldest and most influential colleges within Cambridge University. Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Britain’s two most prestigious places of learning, are made up of affiliate colleges such as Gonville and Caius. First established in 1348, the college is the fourth-oldest at the University of Cambridge and one of the wealthiest. It owes much of its success and development to the two men who give the college its name – despite the fact they lived two centuries apart. William Gonville founded the college but died three years later. Gonville Hall, as it was then known, moved to its present site shortly afterwards.

John Caius took over the running of the dilapidated college building in 1559, renaming it Gonville and Caius College. He restored and extended the buildings and created the elegant courtyards that still stand today, including Caius Court. Master of the college for 15 years, Caius was renowned for his unusual entry rules, barring the sick and infirm, as well as the Welsh, from studying there. While this rule has thankfully been abandoned, Gonville & Caius is still known for its strong traditions. Meals are eaten communally in the dining hall, often whilst wearing formal gowns. Specialising in sciences, particularly medicine, the college has several famous alumni, including Sir Stephen Hawking or broadcaster Sir David Frost. The college has been attended by many students who have gone on to significant accomplishment, including fourteen Nobel Prize winners, the second-most of any Oxbridge college (after Trinity College, Cambridge).

Why You Should Visit:
To enter and roam around the intimate, peaceful grounds and chapel – and you can do that for no charge.

For around £50 you can sleep in an admittedly basic and ancient traditional room in one of the old courts of the main college. You may be woken earlier than you intended by the bells of the adjacent Great St Mary's Church. Included is a full English breakfast in the old hall, lined with paintings of former masters and of Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-2pm (Oct-Jul 6); Mon-Fri: 8am-12pm (Jul 7-Sep 30)
Please note that the College is closed to visitors during examination periods (the majority of Easter term) and short closure periods in the summer and at Christmas
Great St Mary's Church

3) Great St Mary's Church (must see)

Located on King’s Parade, in the centre of Cambridge, Great St Mary's Church is the official church of the University of Cambridge. As a result, the church’s location is integral to university legislation – traditionally, undergraduates must live within 3 miles of St. Mary’s to study at the university. The church is known as Great St Mary's to distinguish it from Little St Mary's, a smaller unrelated church on Trumpington Street. Great St Mary's also houses the University Organ and University Clock. The clock chimes, known as the Cambridge Chimes, are also used by Big Ben, the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament in London.

The current church building has stood on King’s Parade since 1608, although the church has existed here in some form since at least 1205. Designed in the Late Perpendicular style, Great St Mary's was a centre for debates and sermons during the English Reformation, which began in Cambridge.

Why You Should Visit:
As well as viewing the beautiful nave, you can climb the bell tower (admission fee) to the viewing platform for a spectacular panoramic view across the city.

The acoustics here are excellent for concerts (watch for a schedule) and be sure to check out the first edition King James Bible on the left-hand side as you enter the church.
If you climb the tower, try to be the first in your group and go up quickly (very narrow stairs), so you have one minute alone on the top.
King's College

4) King's College (must see)

King’s College is located on the western side of Cambridge University campus, close to the River Cam and the surrounding Backs area of countryside. The college gatehouse stands adjacent to King’s College Chapel, one of the city’s most iconic buildings. The history of King’s College is one of many paradoxes. Completed in the Tudor era, the college was at one time only accessible to students of Eton, a renowned private school for children of the English upper classes. Nowadays, it has one of the highest intake rates of students from state schools of any Cambridge college.

True to its name, the college was founded by Henry VI and saw heavy investment under his reign, including the creation of the adjoining chapel. Other colleges viewed King’s College as a status symbol for the Tudor monarchy – to this day, many of the buildings, including the striking Gothic gatehouse, feature the Tudor rose emblem repeatedly. Despite its royalist beginnings, King’s College has become known for left wing and republican sentiment among its student base. Famous alumni of the college include authors Salman Rushdie and E.M. Forster.

Opening Hours:
[Chapel & Grounds] Mon-Fri: 9:30am-3:30pm; Sat: 9:30am-3:15pm; Sun: 1:15pm-2:30pm (Jan 15-Mar 15 / Apr 23-June 14 / Oct 8-Dec 9); Daily: 9:30am-4:30pm (at all other times, except during Dec/Jan when the Chapel closes at 3:30pm)
King's College Chapel

5) King's College Chapel (must see)

King’s College Chapel has stood in Cambridge since 1515 when Henry VIII was King of England. As its name suggests, the chapel was built to provide a place of worship for residents of nearby King’s College, at the western end of the city’s sprawling university campus. The chapel is considered to be one of the city’s finest examples of late Gothic English architecture. The interior of the chapel building is notable for its ornate fan vault ceiling, as well as elements of Renaissance-era design. Nikolaus Pevsner, a leading expert on ecclesiastical architecture, stated that King’s College Chapel contains the UK’s finest surviving examples of Italian decoration. The chapel is one of Cambridge’s most distinctive buildings and is featured on the city council logo.

The chapel is known for its exquisite original stained glass windows, which date from the 16th century. Still an active place of worship, King’s College Chapel is also used for college events and concerts, including the college music society’s May Week Concert, where the audience is treated to free champagne and strawberries on the church lawn. The chapel has a rich musical history, on account of its exceptional acoustics, and has a world-famous men’s choir.

Why You Should Visit:
This chapel is like a cathedral in scale and grandeur with high stained glass windows and a wonderful ornate ceiling which is worth seeing on its own.
The grounds offer a superb view of the chapel exterior and other buildings as well as the river.

Try going to Evensong at 5:30pm (you need to get there around 5pm) which is not chargeable, but has a retiring collection; the service is lovely and you can sit within the chapel and soak up the atmosphere of this ancient building.

Opening Hours:
[Chapel & Grounds] Mon-Fri: 9:30am-3:30pm; Sat: 9:30am-3:15pm; Sun: 1:15pm-2:30pm (Jan 15-Mar 15 / Apr 23-June 14 / Oct 8-Dec 9); Daily: 9:30am-4:30pm (at all other times, except during Dec/Jan when the Chapel closes at 3:30pm)
Corpus Clock

6) Corpus Clock (must see)

The Corpus Clock can be found in the Library Court at Corpus Christi College. The newest of three at the college, the court incorporates a former library building, redeveloped and extended to provide accommodation for students. The clock is Library Court’s centrepiece and was unveiled to the public in 2008 by Professor Stephen Hawking, himself a Cambridge University graduate.

The clock is a unique device, a fitting addition to a university campus renowned for invention throughout its history. Fitted with a rippled, 24-carat gold face, the clock displays time through three rings of LEDs, which depict hours, minutes and seconds. The face is topped by a large metal object, which resembles a grasshopper. This is an enlarged clock escarpment, which links the pendulum to the cogs inside the clock. It has been set on top of the clock face to resemble an insect that ‘eats’ time as the clock face rotates. It is even fitted with eyes that blink occasionally.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Corpus Clock is the fact that it is only accurate once every five minutes. It has been set to randomly slow and accelerate, to give the appearance that the metal insect is indeed eating up time at will. The clock, one of Time Magazine’s greatest inventions of the 21st century, can be viewed within Corpus Christi’s grounds. Ask at the porter’s lodge for admission times and costs.

Try to time your visit after dark and see the clock from across the road, when there's no traffic or significant pedestrian noise, as it is then at its best.
In the daytime there are generally a number of tourists standing in the road taking photos, gathering particularly on the hour, so take care not to get run over.
St Catharine's College

7) St Catharine's College (must see)

St Catharine’s College, known locally as Cat’s, is situated on Silver Street, between King’s and Queens’ colleges, close to the River Cam. Founded in 1473, St. Catharine’s was known as Katherine Hall until the 19th century. It is named after Saint Catharine, the patron saint of learning. Traditionally a moderately successful college, specialising in theology and philosophy, Cat’s has grown in recent years to become one of the best performing colleges within Cambridge University.

The college is notable for its distinctive three-sided ‘quad’ (an area of grass surrounded by faculty buildings). With the fourth side opening onto Trumpington Street, passers-by are offered a unique view into the centre of a Cambridge college. The existing buildings were built across a century, from 1675 to 1757. There have long been plans to create a fourth building hiding the courtyard from view, so the quad may not be visible for much longer.

The college was one of the first in Cambridge to have a female Master – Dame Jean Thomas, who remains college master to this day. Traditionally a sociable, relaxed place of learning, St. Catharine’s has a number of famous alumni, including TV presenter Jeremy Paxman and actor Sir Ian McKellen. Outside of term time, the historic college is available for hire as a conference centre.

You can book one of the guesthouse rooms here to experience how staying in an old heritage college feels like, with breakfast and dinner in the dining hall, college student style, and clean & comfortable rooms (nothing too fancy but very convenient and quite good).
Corpus Christi College

8) Corpus Christi College (must see)

One of the oldest institutions within Cambridge University, Corpus Christi College is located in the heart of the academic district on Trumpington Street, opposite St. Catharine’s College. It was founded in 1532 and, as its name suggests, has been one of Cambridge’s most religiously active colleges throughout history. For many years all graduates from this small, wealthy college became members of the clergy. Often at the centre of religious argument and debate in the city, the college was known as St. Bene’t’s for several years following the Reformation, when Catholicism was outlawed. This relates to nearby St. Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge’s oldest building, which was once used as the college chapel.

The main Corpus Christi campus is divided into three courts. Old Court is the original college building dating back from its creation, and one of the city’s oldest academic buildings. New Court, completed in 1827, was designed by William Wilkins. The architect considered the courtyard his finest work and is buried within the college chapel, which was built at the same time. The third courtyard is Library Court, a brand new area housing student amenities, which opened in 2008. Together, the three courtyards span the college’s 650-year history.

Why You Should Visit:
The college contains lodges that are the oldest in either this Cambridge or Oxford; the lawns are manicured, the buildings are austere and ooze character.
The Parker Library, which has some really spectacular manuscripts, is open to the public just once a week and should be visited by everyone if possible.
The chapel is small, certainly not the size of Kings College, but is unusually bright and lovely for a Cambridge chapel.
As one of the colleges you can enter, this should definitely be on your list.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9:30am-3:30pm; Sat: 9am-3:15pm; Sun: 1:15-2:30pm (during term time); Mon-Sun: 9:30-4.30pm (out of term time), except during Dec/Jan when the Chapel closes at 3:30pm
Mathematical Bridge

9) Mathematical Bridge (must see)

The Mathematical Bridge is the local nickname for the Wooden Bridge, a footbridge that crosses the River Cam, connecting the buildings of Queens’ College that lie on either side of the river. It lies within the university grounds but can be viewed from the road bridge on Silver Street, a few metres to the south. The bridge has earned its nickname from its unusual design – it is formed of long, straight timber beams which are arranged radially, to create an arcing structure. Designed by William Etheridge and completed in 1749, the bridge was rebuilt twice, in 1866 and 1905, retaining the original design on each occasion.

Due to its unusual design, the bridge appears to be held above the water almost unnaturally, leading to many myths – one of the most famous being that the bridge is constructed without the use of any bolts, and is held together by design alone. Sadly, this is not true – although the original design used embedded nails which gave the impression that this was the case. The bridge is still widely believed to be the work of Sir Isaac Newton, who discovered the law of gravity. The mathematical design of the bridge contains hallmarks of Newton’s theories – but they can only be in tribute, as Newton died 20 years before the bridge was built.

You can see the bridge for free from a distance away or you can pay to see it up close and walk across it on a tour of Queens' College. However, you can also travel under it on a punting tour, which is what many choose to do.
Darwin College

10) Darwin College (must see)

A small, modern college to the south of Silver Street, opposite Queens’ College and close to Mill Pond and an area of fenland at the edge of the city centre, Darwin College is one of five Cambridge graduate colleges. Founded in 1964, it was the first college to only admit graduates and the first to admit women. Darwin College is named after Charles Darwin, the famous British naturalist who conducted much of his research within the city of Cambridge. Many of Darwin’s collections, which he used to build his theories of evolution and natural selection, published in his 1859 thesis, "On the Origin of the Species", are housed in the city’s Zoology Museum on Downing Street.

Newton Grange, the oldest building in Darwin College, was once home to the Darwin family. A collective of colleges, mindful of the need for a specialist graduate college within the city, purchased the building from Darwin’s estate in the 1960s. The college has expanded since its foundation to include the nearby Hermitage building and a new library complex. One of Cambridge University’s newest colleges, Darwin college hosts an annual series of themed lectures, the Darwin Lecture Series, which have quickly become a highlight of the university calendar.

Why You Should Visit:
Very serene and informal college, with gardens you can actually walk on! The grounds are lovely and include a private island across part of the river, reached by two bridges.
During the day you can enjoy a lunchtime humanities seminar and a sun-filled dining hall. In the evening, you won't find a better or friendlier college bar than "DarBar".
The Pitt Building

11) The Pitt Building (must see)

The Pitt Building is a nice, old construction, that has preserved its architectural value despite being recently renovated. Established in 1833 in honor of William Pitt, the building accommodated the headquarters of Cambridge University Press. Today, the Pitt Building also offers professional meeting and conference rooms.

The amazing foliage-covered facade looks incredible during autumn when it is red. Turns back green during spring!
Whipple Museum of the History of Science

12) Whipple Museum of the History of Science (must see)

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science is situated within Cambridge University’s Downing Site, a globally renowned centre of scientific research. Founded by Robert Stewart Whipple, the former chairman of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company, the museum is a quirky collection of historic instruments and contraptions.

The museum's holdings are particularly strong in material dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, especially objects produced by English instrument makers, although the collection contains objects dating from the medieval period to the present day. Instruments of astronomy, navigation, surveying, drawing and calculating are well represented, as are sundials, mathematical instruments and early electrical apparatus.

The museum is partially housed within a Jacobean hall, built in 1628 and formerly the Cambridge Free School. The building has also housed the Perse School and was a temporary home for the Fitzwilliam Museum collection before it moved to its current home on Trumpington Street. A number of temporary exhibitions run at the Whipple Museum throughout the year, including a recent display of historic globes and mapping devices.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 12:30am-4:30pm; free admission
MAA: Museum of Archeology and Anthropology

13) MAA: Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (must see)

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, also known as MAA, at the University of Cambridge houses the University's collections of local antiquities, together with archaeological and ethnographic artefacts from around the world. The museum is located on the University's Downing Site, on the corner of Downing Street and Tennis Court Road. In 2013 it reopened following a major refurbishment of the exhibition galleries, with a new public entrance directly on to Downing Street.

In all, the MAA contains over 800,000 historically important artefacts. The turreted, Gothic-style building has housed the museum since the end of WWI. The MAA covers three floors: the ground floor, known as the Clarke Gallery, is dedicated to archaeology, while the Maudsley Gallery above houses anthropological and ethnographic finds. The upper floor is used as a space for new/rotating exhibitions on specific themes, such as a recent exhibition on the indigenous Sami people of Lapland.

Highlights of the MAA collection include numerous antiquities found in the Cambridge region, and artefacts collected by Captain James Cook on his voyages to the Antipodes. The Clarke Gallery houses some of the earliest human tools ever discovered, originally found in East Africa.

Why You Should Visit:
Gorgeous building and really accessible collection. Children will marvel at the tallest totem pole and adults will have time to reflect on the huge and fascinating diversity of the physical expression of culture.

If you're a bit short-sighted make sure you take your specs as a lot of the exhibit signs are quite small!

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10:30am–4:30pm; Sun: 12–4:30pm
Free admission
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

14) Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences (must see)

Together with the MAA and Zoology Museum nearby, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences has helped to make this corner of the Cambridge University campus a global centre for natural history research. Created by physics professor Dr. John Woodward, the museum blossomed under the stewardship of Dr. Adam Sedgwick, who attracted exhibits of global significance to the site. Following Dr. Sedgwick’s death, the museum was moved to a new site in his honour. The current building was opened by King Edward VII in 1904, and now houses an extensive collection of exhibits dating back to the prehistoric era.

The Sedgwick Museum has an impressive collection of prehistoric artifacts, including a number of exhibits on the Jurassic era, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. A complete Iguanodon skeleton, discovered in South East England, forms the breathtaking centrepiece of the museum’s entrance hall. The museum also houses galleries of prehistoric minerals and fossils dating back to the origins of animal life as we know it. A number of child-friendly exhibitions take place at the museum each year, making this a must-see attraction for children with an interest in the prehistoric world.

Why You Should Visit:
If you like geology this is the place! Lots of specimens with informative signs and labels, and you get a sense for how the discipline evolved. Wonderful collection!
Each section has an overview of climate, types of creatures that appeared and what the continent(s) looked like along with a ton of fossils. There are literally thousands on display.
This is a really fine example of what museums looked and felt like 50-60 years ago while the staff has clearly worked hard to make sure that the expectations of modern audiences are met.

They close for lunch so make sure you leave enough time for your visit.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am–1pm, 2–5pm; Sat: 10am–4pm
Free admission
Pembroke College

15) Pembroke College (must see)

Located on the corner of Pembroke Street and Trumpington Street in Cambridge City Centre, Pembroke College is one of Cambridge University’s largest colleges, and also the third oldest, having been founded in 1347. The college was founded by Marie de St. Pol, the widow of the Earl of Pembroke. Originally known as Valence Mary, it was originally a specialised place of learning for French graduates living in England, but grew to become one of Cambridge’s most successful colleges. The college chapel was the first building to be designed by Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The college was extensively rebuilt around the old courtyard in the Victorian era. Renowned Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse redesigned the dining hall and a range of rooms, although these were expanded and modified in the 20th century. Sir Gilbert Scott also designed New Court, an area of student accommodation. Pembroke College therefore contains works from three of Britain’s most celebrated architects. The gatehouse, facing onto Trumpington Street, is the last surviving part of the original medieval college.

Pembroke's enclosed grounds also house some gardens, sporting vegetation. Highlights include "The Orchard" (a patch of semi-wild ground in the centre of the college), an impressive row of Plane Trees and a bowling green, re-turfed in 1996, which is reputed to be among the oldest in continual use in Europe.

Why You Should Visit:
To walk around in the tranquil and immaculately kept gardens; a haven of old and new buildings with statues to the famous and memorials to the fallen – and all for no charge, which is rather rare for central colleges.

Don't miss the many charming little features, including a passageway alongside the hall, an old spiral stone staircase, and the Wren chapel.
You do not have to pay to get in and you can actually walk on the grass without being chased by a porter.

16) Peterhouse (must see)

Based on Trumpington Street and founded in 1280, Peterhouse College is Cambridge’s oldest educational institution. The university site sprawls across the area behind the famous Fitzwilliam Museum and has been redeveloped and extended repeatedly throughout its history. The dining hall, off Old Court beyond the chapel cloisters, is the only surviving 13th-century building. It was restored in the 19th century by renowned architect Sir Gilbert Scott.

The chapel itself is the most visible building from Trumpington Street and features a dazzling interior that blends Gothic architecture with Renaissance decoration. The chapel contains manuscripts from its early years, which form an impressive collection of Tudor and Jacobean church music. The area adjacent to the chapel, visible from the main road outside, is known as First Court. This courtyard houses the Perne Library, which has housed Peterhouse’s collection of books and scripts since it was built in 1590.

As Cambridge’s most historic college, Peterhouse has an array of famous alumni. Novelist Kingsley Amis, scientist Lord Kelvin and Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, all studied here. In addition, Peterhouse College is known as a politically conservative college which has educated many Tory party MPs, including Michael Portillo and Michael Howard.

Why You Should Visit:
To explore the parts open to the public, including the small but elegant chapel dating from 1628, the sublime dining hall in dark wood, and the gorgeous and extensive back garden. No tourists, but much beauty.
Fitzwilliam Museum

17) Fitzwilliam Museum (must see)

Owned and managed by Cambridge University, the Fitzwilliam Museum is located on Trumpington Street, within the university campus. The museum’s collection was founded in 1816 when Viscount Fitzwilliam donated his extensive fine art collection to the university. The current building, an imposing neo-Classical edifice resembling the Parthenon in Athens, was designed by George Basevi and opened to the public in 1848. The museum has achieved global recognition for the quality of its collections and has been described as one of the world’s best small museums. Containing over 30 galleries, the Fitzwilliam specializes in fine art, sculpture and antiquities from around the world.

The Fitzwilliam’s remarkable collection of antiquities includes coins, engravings and pottery from civilisations around the world, including Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire and Persia. The building’s art galleries contain original masterpieces by Monet, Canaletto and Picasso amongst many others. The museum was extensively modernised in 2006, and now houses an impressive collection of 20th-century art.

Why You Should Visit:
To get a sense of the staid, scholarly atmosphere of a respected English university town.
Wide-ranging collection; magnificent surroundings and buildings; occasional free lunchtime concerts.
Photography is allowed so long as you don't use a flash making it a brilliant place for stocking up the photo album.
You probably won't see everything the first time but that's fine because admission is free and you can pop back another time.
The café serves delicious soup and has a superb choice of cakes; the shop has a lovely range of gifts and is a jigsaw fan's haven of delight.

Consider researching what the museum has to offer in advance of your visit to make sure you fully benefit from the eclectic exhibits – there is something here to cater for the whole family's interests.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sundays & Bank Holiday Mondays: 12-5pm
Free admission

Walking Tours in Cambridge, England

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
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Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles