Culture

24 hours in Cambridge

In search of an idyllic weekend getaway that's close to home? Look no further

Words by
Johanna Derry

Only three-quarters of an hour away by train from London, Cambridge has gradually been adding to its assets, so that now it’s not just the university luring Londoners north. With wide open skies, new luxury hotels, excellent food and drink, and less intellectually rarified occupations on offer, it seems churlish to ignore a city so close at hand.

Whatever your particular nerdy obsession is, Cambridge can satisfy that curiosity. At the Scott Polar Research Institute the Polar Museum holds Scott’s Terra Nova expedition journals. Reminisce over 48kb computer games and put your old school gaming skills to the test at the Centre for Computing History. Or visit the Cambridge Gin Laboratory and make an appointment to have a gin tailored bespoke to your tastes by the Cambridge Distillery.

But to plan a visit solely filled with geekery is to miss the wider scope of the city and the beauty of the countryside around. Cambridge is eminently walkable, but get extra energy nevertheless to explore further than the tourist traps and push beyond the bounds on a punt, boat, or bike. Start the day working up an appetite with a swim in the 91-metre long lido on Jesus Green, one of the longest in the country, before fuelling up on a breakfast of Dovecote Bakery sourdough topped with homemade hummus, baby spinach, poached eggs and halloumi at Afternoon Tease on King Street.

A punt along The Backs is a must, but don’t be tempted to have a go yourself unless you really know what you’re doing. Instead head to Scudamores for a champagne punt tour, and take in the grandeur in genteel style. Alternatively, hire one of their canoes, pick up a jug of beer from The Mill and head in the opposite direction towards Grantchester Meadows. You can hire a bike from Rutlands and cycle, or walk the route out to Grantchester too, tracing the steps of writers Rupert Brooke and Sylvia Plath, and countless young lovers.

Alternatively stay closer to town, for a big lunch at Steak and Honour, an award winning Scotch egg at the Pint Shop, or a more abstemious coffee at Espresso Library, before taking a late afternoon stroll round the botanical gardens, founded by Darwin’s mentor John Stevens Henslow. Nearby newly opened luxury hotel The Tamburlaine’s striking garden room makes a lovely spot for afternoon teas that spill over into cocktail hour, and the sumptuous rooms and suites make it one of the best places to stay the night if you’d rather not rush for the train.

For many hearing evensong at Kings College chapel is an absolute must, but if you’d rather not spend the time queuing to get in, steal a moment instead inside All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane with stunning stained glass windows designed by Arts and Crafts artists like William Morris and Ford Madox.

It’s a half hour cycle to Hole in the Wall, Masterchef finalist Alex Rushmer’s restaurant in Little Wilbraham, or find Michelin-starred dining at Midsummer House on Midsummer Common, where you can make the most of the long evening as it fills the city’s vast Fenland skies.