The Colleges of Cambridge University, Cambridge (Self Guided)

Cambridge is famous for the University of Cambridge, the second oldest institution in England and the leading one in Europe. The collegiate university is made up of 31 self-governing and independent colleges. The university grounds are also beautifully decorated with lush lawns and terrific Gothic architecture. Here are some of the most prestigious colleges on campus.
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The Colleges of Cambridge University Map

Guide Name: The Colleges of Cambridge University
Guide Location: England » Cambridge (See other walking tours in Cambridge)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 km
Author: sylvia
Gonville and Caius College

1) 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
King's College

2) 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)
St Catharine's College

3) 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

4) 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
Pembroke College

5) 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.

6) 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.
Queens' College

7) Queens' College (must see)

Queens’ College is the southernmost in the chain of prestigious colleges which line the east bank of the river Cam. It is one of only two colleges in this chain (the other being St. John’s College to the north) to have buildings on either side of the river. The two sides of the campus – known as the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ sides by students – are connected by the college’s famous wooden Mathematical Bridge, one of the city’s most famous structures. Sitting adjacent to Silver Street, the college’s medieval buildings are perhaps the most accessible in the city. The oldest building on the river Cam belongs to Queens’ – the President’s Lodge, a Tudor style structure completed in 1460.

Queens’ College is so named as it was founded by the respective queens of Henry VI and Edward IV. The college was first founded in 1448, and then refounded by Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward, in 1465. It is one of the oldest and largest colleges within Cambridge University, and one of the most academically successful. The large Queens’ campus encompasses modern and medieval buildings which can be viewed along the length of Silver Street. Queens’ College is a progressive, social institution that has produced a variety of famous alumni, including Stephen Fry, Oliver Cromwell and the renowned philosopher Erasmus.

Why You Should Visit:
For just a few £s you can enter and walk all around the courtyard, Tudor Gatehouse, the Old Hall and many of the courts including the Old Court - which apparently is much the same as it was in the 15th century.

Do cross the Mathematical Bridge and become photography subject(s) for the tourists :)
Darwin College

8) 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".

Walking Tours in Cambridge, England

Create Your Own Walk in Cambridge

Create Your Own Walk in Cambridge

Creating your own self-guided walk in Cambridge is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Religious Tour of Cambridge

Religious Tour of Cambridge

Cambridge is a welcoming place with warm and authentic people. There are many places of worship in the area, all of which offer the chance to celebrate your own personal beliefs. like: Travel along the streets of Cambridge and discover many of the city's most famous churches and chapels.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 km
Cambridge Specialty Shops

Cambridge Specialty Shops

Cambridge is a famous English city and thus offers some of the greatest shopping opportunities in England. In the heart of the town, tourists will discover a wide range of small shops and boutiques, as well as some large shopping centers and the well-known Market Square. Explore the specialty shops of Cambridge today.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.2 km
City Orientation Walk

City Orientation Walk

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,...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 km
Cambridge Nightlife

Cambridge Nightlife

Cambridge is an exciting city, compact and easy to get around, which ultimately makes it ideal for a terrific nightlife. When the sun goes down, the city begins to relax. Cambridge features an abundance of pubs, clubs, live-music venues, restaurants, and cinemas for your relaxation and enjoyment.

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Art Galleries in Cambridge

Art Galleries in Cambridge

Cambridge is a famous English town, and with that comes a fantastic heritage. Art galleries and museums help share, spread, and preserve that heritage. Inside Cambridge art galleries, visitors will cherish phenomenal paintings, sculptures, handmade prints, and crafts.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
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Museums in Cambridge

Museums in Cambridge

The city of Cambridge prides itself on the famous museums that collect and preserve objects of cultural, historical, artistic, and scientific value. The special collections and exhibits are available for public viewing and serve as the primary way to learn and experience the historical traditions of this fine city.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 km

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Cambridge for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Cambridge has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Cambridge, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.