Member preview

Cambridge and Oxford: A Travel Guide

The English university towns are in a world of their own — and it’s magical.

Cambridge, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson

Cambridge

An easy day-trip from London, Cambridge is an incredibly attractive part of the world.

Situated on the River Cam, the city is dominated by the University of Cambridge which was founded in 1209. It’s the buildings of the university and its associated colleges, libraries, and chapels that create an otherworldly street-scape — reminiscent of the Harry Potter movies.

How to get there?

Cambridge is only 50 miles from London, so if you have access to a car you can drive, but catching the train is a simpler way to travel.

There are two train options, with direct trains departing from either Kings Cross or Liverpool Street stations. The express train from King’s Cross takes forty-five minutes.

When you arrive in Cambridge, you can walk into the historic old town — this takes about 20–30 minutes — or there are buses and taxis available.

The key sights

You’ll have to pay an entry fee for pretty much everything worse seeing in Cambridge, but it’s worth it.

One of the top picks is the chapel of King’s College. This is a spectacular example of Gothic architecture from the 16th-century.

There are a huge number of colleges that you can pay to visit and explore. If you only have time for a couple, then start with Trinity College — the largest college of the university. From its unique Tudor gateway to the expansive great court, this sets the standard for what a great educational institution should look like.

The botanic gardens of Cambridge are worth a visit, with over 8,000 species of plants on display. Guided tours are available.

Go for a walk

If you fancy exploring a bit beyond the city, Grantchester meadows is definitely worth checking out. You can wander along, stopping at a pub for a drink or some food, plus there’s the Orchard Tea Gardens. The Grantchester meadows are just to the south of the city of Cambridge — you’ll be wandering through a riverside nature reserve and in Spring this area is awash with wildflowers.

Where to eat

There’s a lot of dining options to choose from while visiting Cambridge — try your best to avoid the overly touristic places and look for some of the traditional pubs that are serving up excellent roasts and favourites such as fish and chips.

  • Aromi: No mini-break is complete without a stop for ice-cream, and it was the long queues outside the ice-cream window of this Italian cafe that led us to Aromi. We opted for a tub of pistachio ice-cream. Freshly made, quality ingredients, and an excellent coffee to go with it.
  • Novi: An attractive restaurant with friendly, professional staff.
  • The Granta: The Granta pub overlooks the water and is conveniently located next to a punt hire, so you can reward yourself with a pint after having successfully navigated the punt traffic on the River Cam.

Where to stay

  • DoubleTree by Hilton — a reliable brand and a great location on the banks of the River Cam.
  • Hotel du Vin — a touch of luxury for a romantic mini-break.
  • Duke House — situated in the heart of the historic old town.
  • The Varsity — a boutique spa hotel located on the River Cam.
  • The Gonville — a high-end accommodation option.
Cambridge, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson

Oxford

Located 57 miles from London, the city of Oxford is the home of the University of Oxford — the oldest university in the English-speaking world. The University of Oxford in first mentioned in records from the 12th century.

Oxford describes itself as the “city of dreaming spires” — a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold. A broad range of architectural styles are on display from across the centuries — its buildings are bold and dramatic.

How to get there?

If you don’t have a car, Oxford is easily accessible by train. The train station is walking distance from all of the key attractions. Oxford is an ideal day-trip from London.

The key sights

  • Oxford is a city for walking, unless you fancy a bit of cycling.
  • From a cultural perspective, there’s a lot of museums to explore — including the Ashmolean, which is believed to be the first-ever public museum.
  • There’s plenty of canals and waterways through Oxford. You pretty much have to experience a punt ride.
  • If you’re into gardens, then Oxford’s green spaces include the Botanic Garden, the lake of Worcester College, or the meadow of Christ Church.
  • The city’s castle has been restored and can be visited.
  • Ultimately, Oxford is all about the university. The hall at Christ Church is said to have been an inspiration for Harry Potter, the Bodleian Library is worth a look, and the Radcliffe Camera is postcard-worthy.

Where to eat

  • I called into The Bear Inn for a pint. This claims to be the oldest pub in Oxford, tracing its heritage back to 1242.
  • I had dinner at Chinese restaurant Sojo. Good option.
  • Breakfast at The Jam Factory was solid.

Where to stay

I stayed at the Malmaison, which has converted the old jail into a smart and contemporary hotel. Walking distance to everything.

Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson
Malmaison Hotel — Oxford, England. Photo: Gareth Johnson

Read more from Gareth Johnson