Cambridge is an easy city to love with its charming back streets, willow-draped river bends, and imposing architecture. Those with big brains – and, from next year, bulging wallets – may be lucky enough to study
here, but anyone else can get a taste of student life.
For the authentic experience, visitors to the city during student holidays (about six months of the year) can rent a room in a college. Aside from the thrill of waking up in these ancient and famous institutions, most are handily located in the centre of town and come with breakfast served in the college buttery (student canteen). Some also have free parking, broadband internet and even sports facilities. Bookings can be made through Cambridge Rooms (cambridgerooms.co.uk), starting from £34 a night for a single room; twins with ensuite from £90.
Cycling around Cambridge
Cycling is a local obsession – you can tell by the swamped railings and lampposts – and there’s no better, or more authentic way, to see Cambridge than by bike. Rent yours from City Cycle Hire (citycyclehire.com) for £9 a day, and then take off to visit one of the city’s free attractions, like the Whipple or Fitzwilliam museums. The tourist office (visitcambridge.org) can give you a list of all the places where entry is free, and can also supply a Local Secrets Cambridge Pass and map with 48-hour discount vouchers (£2.95) for those that cost.
Punting is the classic Cambridge activity, and many students work as punting guides during the summer. Save money on your first punting adventure by booking ahead with Scudamore’s (scudamores.com). A 45-minute guided tour of The Backs (behind the colleges), for instance, will cost you £15 on the spot, but as little as £11 if you book in advance online. Self-hire is £14 per hour, but less with online discounts or early-bird rentals.
For more riverside hijinks, be sure to visit Grantchester, a 45-minute walk from the centre. This village has been a top student summer hangout for hundreds of years. It was way back in 1897 when the first students took tea in The Orchard Tea Garden (orchard-grantchester.com) – now a long-standing student ritual. A more recent tradition is lounging on nearby Grantchester Meadows – immortalised in the work of Pink Floyd – often with a little something from the local off-licence.
On the tiles
Student life’s all about the drinking and the dancing … and then drinking some more. Sadly, The Cambridge Union Society Bar is for members only, but there are plenty of student-frequented watering holes in the town centre, with prices to match. The Eagle, Anchor and St Radegund are three particular favourites.
Experience the best – and cheapest – nightlife that Cambridge has to offer at the Moroccan-themed Fez Club, down Market Passage. ‘Fat Poppadaddys’ every Monday night has funky cheese and 2-4-1 cocktails, while Wednesday has ‘Fiesta’ – an international and hip-hop night (£3 before 11, £4 after) – where drinks specials include £1 shots of saki and £10 for five bottles of Corona.
So, there you go. All the joy of being a Cambridge student, without even opening a book!
Where to drink
The Eagle: A student favourite for decades, if not centuries. Enjoy a pint of real ale in the stone-cobbled courtyard.
» Benet Street, CB2 3QN
The Anchor: People-watching is the name of the game, as the terrace overlooks the efforts of unsteady new punters.
» Silver St, CB3 9EL
St Radegund: Named after the patron saint of Jesus College, this small bar is firm favourite.
» 129 King Street, CB1 1LD
Where to eat
Dojo: Not quite Southeast Asian prices, but these noodles are definitely tasty.
» Millers Yard, CB2 1RQ; (dojonoodlebar.co.uk)
Thanh Binh: This top Vietnamese has a two-course lunch for £7.95.
» 17 Magdalene St, CB3 0AF
Rainbow Vegetarian Café: Proof that cheap food can be healthy and tasty.
» King’s Parade, CB2 1SJ
Where to stay
Cambridge YHA: This Victorian house is converted into a pleasant hostel, with beds from £16.40.
» Cambridge YHA, 97 Tenison Road, CB1 2DN; (yha.org.uk)
Central Travelodge: Offers good value for a private room – with doubles from £70.80 – if not the most central.
» Clifton Way, CB1 7DY.
Harry’s Bed And Breakfast: Just a 10-minute walk from town, all Harry’s doubles have TV and internet for £75-a-night.
» 39 Milton Road, CB4 1XA (welcometoharrys.co.uk)
– Sarah Warwick