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What to See and Do in Cambridge - A Walking Tour of Colleges, Churches, and Museums

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Despite its small size, it's easy to spend hours wandering around the centre of Cambridge. It's a labyrinth of pleasant streets, green spaces, and courtyards. There are triumphs of church and college architecture at every turn. You'll find many of Cambridge's key sights along Trumpington Street, King's Parade, and St. John's Street, which meet end-to-end. This main drag joins Bridge Street, which leads you across the River Cam over Magdalene Bridge.

North of the centre

 

History lovers should visit Magdalene (say "Maudlin") College, which houses the grand, eccentric Pepys Library. 17th-century chronicler Samuel Pepys (say "Peeps") left his collection of 3,000 books, including a personal diary in which he recorded events such as the Great Fire of London, to the college. To move from book learning to folk wisdom, cross the street to the Museum of Cambridge. This eclectic collection celebrates the customs and superstitions of Cambridgeshire country folk - a world apart from scholarly Magdalene.

 

  • Magdalene College, Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AG; Tel: +44 1233 332100; Website: Magdalene College
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  • Museum of Cambridge, 2 - 3 Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AQ; Tel: +44 1233 355159; Website: Museum of Cambridge

Around St. John's Street

 

To step through the twin-towered Front Gate of St. John's College is to enter a masterpiece of 16th-century craftsmanship, complete with heraldic beasts and a statue of the college's patron saint. A highlight is the 19th-century Bridge of Sighs, built to link St. John's with its annex across the River Cam. Across the junction of St. John's Street and Bridge Street, the 12th-century Round Church, or Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is one of only 4 such “round churches” left in England.

 

  • St. John's College, St. John's Street, Cambridge CB2 1TP; Tel: +44 1223 338600; Website: St. John's College
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  • The Round Church, Bridge Street, Cambridge CB2 1UB; Tel: +44 1233 311602; Website: The Round Church

 

Along Trinity Street

 

You can't help being impressed by the sheer size of Trinity College. Founded by Henry VIII in 1546, it's Cambridge's largest college, with courtyards and gardens stretching from Trinity Street to the river. The Great Court, with its Elizabethan fountain, is a major feature. Statues of alumni, including natural philosopher Isaac Newton, stand in the 16th-century chapel. Across Trinity Lane, highlights of 14th-century Gonville and Caius (say “keys”) College include serene Caius Court. Three noted entrances - Humility Gate, Honour Gate, and Virtue Gate - were named to reflect the founders' core values.

 

  • Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ; Tel: +44 1223 338400; Website: Trinity College
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  • Gonville and Caius College, Trinity Street, Cambridge CB2 1TA; Tel: +44 1223 332400; Website: Gonville and Caius College

 

Sights near King's Parade

 

Entering King's College, you'll soon realize why this centre of learning hogs the Cambridge limelight. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, it's a breathtaking example of the genius of late medieval masons. The King's Chapel was intended to overshadow the buildings of rival colleges. It still does. Henry VI's consort, Margaret of Anjou, founded neighbouring Queens' College in 1448, but its finest buildings are from the Tudor period. You can cross King's Parade to St. Mary's Church, and climb to its belfry for a bird's-eye view of both colleges, the city centre, and beyond.

 

  • King's College, King's Parade, Cambridge CB2 1ST; Tel: +44 1223 331100; Website: King's College
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  • Queens' College, Silver Street, Cambridge CB3 9ET; Tel: +44 1223 335 511; Website: Queens' College

 

South of the centre

 

A clutch of colleges lies south of the centre, either side of Trumpington Street. Here, you'll find Pembroke College, Peterhouse - the oldest college - and Downing College, the youngest college in central Cambridge. Between them stands Corpus Christi, founded not by kings or nobles but by merchant guilds. Smaller than some of its rivals, it's still impressive, and its 14th-century Old Court has changed little over the years. Next door, you can see the sturdy Saxon tower of St Bene't's Church, Cambridge's oldest building.

 

  • Corpus Christi College, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RH; Tel: +44 1223 338000; Website: Corpus Christi College
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  • St. Bene't's Church, Bene't Street, Cambridge CB2 3PT; Tel: +44 1223 352927; Website: St. Bene't's Church