Day Trips from London: Cambridge

As one of the oldest and highest-ranking universities in the world, Cambridge is a magical place to visit. Filled to the brim with beautiful architecture, insanely smart people, and lots of history, this university town is a must-do day trip from London. Looking for other day trips from London? Try Cardiff, Stonehenge & Salisbury, or St. Albans!

A little history

The earliest record of Cambridge University dates back to 1209 when groups of scholars convened at the ancient Roman trading post of Cambridge. Peterhouse College was founded in 1284 and is the first college at Cambridge. Pembroke College arrived next. King Henry VI laid the first stone at King’s College. Erasmus was a professor around 1516, working on textbooks and a translation of the Greek New Testament, leading him to be one of the leading scholars of the Northern Renaissance. Henry VIII founded Trinity College in 1546.

Today, there are 31 self-governing and teaching colleges whose mission is to “contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence“.

Notable alumni include Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Francis Bacon, Charles Darwin, Jane Goodall, Alan Turing, Erasmus, Keynes, Thomas Malthus, Milton Friedman, Vladimir Nabakov, John Donne, John Milton, Lord Byron (who kept a pet bear in his room because he couldn’t have a dog), Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Cleese, Eddie Redmayne, and John Harvard.

As the top university in the world, it is practically a breeding for the world’s elite: it has graduated 15 British Prime Ministers, 23 foreign heads of government, 9 monarchs, Oliver Cromwell, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence. Wow. If that doesn’t make you want to visit, I don’t know what could!

Naturally, I wanted to visit all 31 colleges, but alas not all are open to visitors and many have early closing times. The ones I did visit, however, were absolutely beautiful and I highly recommend you to visit as many as you can whilst there on your day trip!

Getting to Cambridge:

  • Trains to Cambridge depart from either Kings Cross or Liverpool Street Station.
  • Return tickets during off-peak times are £16.50 or £10.90 with a railcard.
  • During the week, tickets to Cambridge range from £3.95 and £15.20 each way with a railcard and £6 and £23 each way without.
  • There are a couple 45-minute train rides to and from Kings Cross each day, but the rest of the trains range from an hour to an hour and a half.
  • The Cambridge train station is about a mile from the town centre, so be prepared for a nice little walk straight into town.

While you’re there:

  • The town itself is very walkable and has a lot of shopping and restaurants ~ when it’s crowded, be sure to make a booking for lunch or go early!
  • Have a game plan for which colleges you want to visit ~ there are so many and each of them has such beautiful architecture. I like to think that we saw some of the prettiest ones!
    • Colleges can be closed when it’s not term time or during examination periods. They also have different opening hours, so be sure to do your research online. The colleges in the centre of town usually have visitor information as well!
  • A couple of the colleges (like King’s and St. John’s) charge a small fee to enter, but it is incredibly worth it! Be sure to have cash on hand as they only take credit cards for expenses over a certain amount.
  • Cambridge also has free museums if you’d rather see them instead of spending the day looking at the colleges.

The Colleges

Downing College 

cambridge-downing-college

Downing College wasn’t originally on my list but I just happened upon it while walking into town from the train station. It was founded in 1800 and has around 425 undergraduates and 250 postgraduates. It also apparently has a strong music and theatre tradition. The neoclassical buildings were really pretty and different from the majority of the other buildings in Cambridge.

downing-college-cambridge

Emmanuel College

Emmanuel College has the reputation of “the friendly college”. It also has some of the best examination results in the university as well as one of the biggest endowments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer to Elizabeth I founded the college in 1584. Today, the college has about 600 students total. John Harvard is a notable alumnus.

emmanuel-college-cambridge

Christ’s College

Christ’s College was founded in 1505 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. It houses about 600 students and notable alumni include Charles Darwin and John Milton.
christs-college-cambridge

Sidney Sussex College

Sidney Sussex College was founded in 1596 and has about 600 students. Oliver Cromwell attended the college but never graduated, but his head is buried beneath the college’s ante-chapel. It ranks fourth highest among Cambridge colleges in Nobel Prizes won by alumni.

sidney-sussex-college-cambridge

Clare College

clare-college-cambridge-exterior
Founded in 1326, Clare College is the second oldest college at Cambridge. It’s famous for its chapel choir and its gardens that overlook the River Cam. It houses about 800 students and is considered one of the most popular colleges.
clare-college-cambridge-river-cam

King’s College

kings-college-cambridge-chapel
King’s College, probably the most famous college of Cambridge, was founded in 1441 by King Henry VI. Its chapel is an amazing example of late Gothic English architecture. The Chapel was built over a period of 100 years from 1446-1531. It has the world’s largest fan vault ceiling (my favorite kind of vaulting!), Peter Paul Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi as the altarpiece, and stained glass dating from the 16th century. I was absolutely floored upon walking in and you will be too. I could’ve stayed there for hours! #obsessed
kings-college-cambridge
St. John’s College

st-johns-college-cambridge-chapel

St. John’s College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort. The goals of the college are the promotion of education, religion, learning and research. 9 Nobel Prize winners, 6 prime ministers, 3 archbishops, 2 princes and 3 saints have graduated from the college. Today, about 870 people attend the college. The college was sprawling, with many buildings, each with its own unique architecture. Also, the Bridge of Sighs (see below) has its home at St. Johns, so be sure to visit. It’s beautiful.

st-johns-college-cambridge-exterior

st-johns-college-cambridge

bridge-of-sighs-cambridge

st-johns-college-cambridge-turret

Jesus College

jesus-college-cambridge
Jesus College was established between 1496 and 1516. It was much more spacious than the other colleges we visited, which was nice. The chapel (which we didn’t see) was founded in the 12th century, is the oldest university building in Cambridge still in use. The college has about 800 students.

As you can see, Cambridge is incredibly beautiful and well worth a visit. Have you been before?

If you love history and beautiful architecture then Cambridge is the day trip you need to take from London, England. Use this as your ultimate guide to make the most of this beautiful university town!
England, Travel Guides, Travels
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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Jenny
    8 November 2016 at 10:00

    What a beautiful campus! I’d love to visit there someday.

    • Reply
      almathews
      8 November 2016 at 12:35

      It is! I hope you can visit soon. Thanks for your comment :)

  • Reply
    Brandi P Creative
    8 November 2016 at 12:39

    WOW, that is such a beautiful place. I have always wanted to travel overseas from the US, but I just truly detest flying. It is so awesome that we have blogs & instagram so that those of us who don’t travel can still see such beautiful places!

    Brandi

    • Reply
      almathews
      8 November 2016 at 15:20

      It is stunning! I am really scared of flying–I have to take a lot of medication to even be able to board a plane, so you’re not alone! Glad to help with your wanderlust though :) Thanks for your comment!

  • Reply
    Carmen Baguio
    8 November 2016 at 14:49

    All of these colleges are so beautiful. I would have a difficult time deciding which one to visit!

    • Reply
      almathews
      8 November 2016 at 15:22

      Right?! Each one was different from the other, so they are all worth a visit in my opinion. I hope to go back and visit the ones I wasn’t able to one day! Thanks for your comment :)

  • Reply
    Valerie Stimac
    8 November 2016 at 15:44

    Wow! This is a nice comprehensive guide to Cambridge. I’ve been before, but I’ll definitely have to refer back to your post to see what I’ve missed, before I plan my next trip :)

    • Reply
      almathews
      10 November 2016 at 09:24

      Thank you so much, I’m glad it’ll come in handy! Thanks for your comment :)

  • Reply
    Betj
    8 November 2016 at 17:23

    Your photography is amazing! Cambridge is definitely on my list as a place I want to visit when I’m in London. Great information about all the colleges there!

    Beth || http://www.TheStyleBouquet.com

    • Reply
      almathews
      10 November 2016 at 09:25

      Thank you so much!! It’s such a beautiful place, I hope you get to visit when you’re in London!

  • Reply
    Pamela
    8 November 2016 at 18:19

    I have always been fascinated with London colleges as they are very different then here in the USA. The photography on this blog post is beautiful.

    • Reply
      almathews
      10 November 2016 at 09:26

      Yeah, they have a very different and pretty fascinating system over there. Thank you for your comment :)

  • Reply
    Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
    9 November 2016 at 05:04

    great post! I’ve been to Cambridge several times:)

    • Reply
      almathews
      10 November 2016 at 09:27

      Thank you! Lucky, I’d love to return and do some more exploring..I feel like I only scratched the surface when I was there!

  • Reply
    Kandja Sylla
    9 November 2016 at 16:19

    Oh my! Looking at your photos made me feel like I’m travelling back in time. The architectures and ambiance are all incredible. Hope I can go there soon. xx

    http://www.prettyweirdbombshell.com/jord-watches-giveaway/

    • Reply
      almathews
      10 November 2016 at 09:28

      Yeah, it’s a city that seems like it’s stuck in time because all the buildings are so old! Hope you can visit soon too :)

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