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What Is Cambridge Known for & Famous For?
Cambridge is a university city in Eastern England. The city is a wonderful blend of traditional and modern, with architecture existing since the 11th century. Some of the most influential names in history passed through the town, but that is not the only reason you should visit the city.
Cambridge is known for and famous for its world-class university, exquisite architecture, and and pastimes like punting and rowing. The city has many alluring attractions, from the Fitzwilliam Museum to the Bridge of Sighs. For quieter relaxation, you can visit the botanic gardens or Grantchester.
Are you planning a trip to this famous city? This article will cover some of the things Cambridge is known for to help you plan your itinerary.
Naturally, this is the first port of call when discussing Cambridge. The Cambridge University, founded in 1209, is ranked among the top two universities in the UK and the top eight globally. Over the years, many legendary names and faces have passed through the university. Some of the most popular ones include:
Professor Stephen Hawking is one of the most recognizable scientists of the modern age. His book A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, has sold over 10 million copies in 35 languages.
Before he died in 2018, Stephen Hawking was a highly revered source on alien life, time travel, Middle Eastern politics, and more. Over his lifetime, he amassed dozens of awards and honors.
Charles Darwin was a theology student at Cambridge who followed his passion for natural history to become one of the most revered names in natural science today. His Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is the centerpiece of all Life Science studies.
Isaac Newton was the greatest mathematician of his era, laying the foundation for vital mathematical concepts like integral calculus and differential. The theory of relativity only superseded Newton’s theories of the laws of motion and universal gravitation after many long years.
His work on optics also ensured him a legacy of one of the most outstanding scientists ever to have lived.
Cambridge has seen so many scientific discoveries and inventions. In some cases, the inventors were staff and students of the University of Cambridge, while others simply took advantage of the city’s opportunities. Some of the common scientific discoveries from Cambridge include:
- Reflecting telescope (1688)
- Thermos flask (1892)
- The first graphical computer game (1952)
- IVF (1968-78)
- The ARM processor (1983-1985)
- Webcams (1991)
- Iris recognition algorithm (1991)
Currently, there are over 96 Nobel Prizewinners who attended Cambridge University. The number shouldn’t come as a surprise due to the university’s prestige, but still, that number is massive. About 32 of the Nobel Prizes are in physics.
Some of the fantastic professionals who have gone through Cambridge include those in writing. The university produced some of the most remarkable literary experts in history. Some have widely celebrated works in classical literature, poetry, prose, literary criticism, and more.
Some of the most famous names include:
- Stephen Fry
- A.A Milne
- Zadie Smith
- Sylvia Plath
- Ted Hughes
- William Taylor Coleridge
- William Wordsworth
- Lord Tennyson
- Thomas Shadwell
- Lord Bryon
Grantchester is a Cambridgeshire village known for its surrounding meadows and stunning views of the River Cam. The quaint pubs attract visitors from different parts of the country. Students and other tourists enjoy regular picnics in the meadows and town pubs.
The water in the meadows is also of much better quality than the Cambridge city center, so it’s a popular swimming destination.
Most people would expect Cambridge to have some libraries as a student city. However, nothing will prepare you for the 100+ libraries in the area. The central University Library is a depository library that holds more than seven million books.
The Caius College and Gonville libraries right next to the Senate House are the most picturesque.
Cambridge offers a wide variety of architecture reflecting the area’s rich historical past. Visitors can enjoy viewing properties from as early as the 11th century until the modern day.
Pembroke and Corpus Christi College offer some of the oldest architecture in the area and the iconic Round Church, built in 1130, still stands to date. Some of the buildings have won numerous architectural awards over history.
Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge draws its name and inspiration from the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. It’s a covered bridge crossing the River Cam, connecting the New Court of St John’s College and the Third Court.
The bridge attracts a lot of tourists along the river. It is a beautiful example of Gothic revival architecture.
River Cam is one of the central features of Cambridge. It snakes through the city center, crossing the various colleges along the banks. This river is a popular waterway for small boats and rowing and it stretches from 43 miles (69km) from its source to its confluence with the Great Ouse.
In an area called the Backs below the walls off several colleges is a popular tourist spot with its elegant bridges and willow trees.
Punting is one of Cambridge’s most famous activities. It involves slow sailing along the river in wooden boats. This is similar to Venice’s wooden canals. You need a designated driver to steer the punt and employ a long pole to maneuver the boat down the stream.
Many tourists hire a trained guide for the job, but you can also do it yourself if you’re up for some fun and adventure.
Aside from punting, students and locals also navigate River Cam rowing a boat. The local rowing competition attracts 31 colleges. The biggest event is the May Bumps, which requires teams to win by bumping into the back of rival boats.
The professional event is the Boat Race, where Cambridge competes against Oxford in a 6.8km race across the river Thames in London. The race attracts an estimated 15 million TV viewers every year. Cambridge holds a slight advantage over Oxford in the Men’s and Women’s events. They have won 85 to Oxford’s 80, while the women have won 45 races to Oxford’s 30.
King’s College Chapel
The King’s College Chapel is, without doubt, one of the most famous images of Cambridge. Most brochures and search results use it as the lead image and for good reasons. Few buildings can boast of the magnificence of this architectural marvel.
Different English kings built the chapel between 1446 and 1515, with Henry VI laying the first stone. It’s one of the best and most famous examples of Gothic architecture in Europe and the UK. It’s a top-rated site with tourists, so it’s in your best interest to visit on weekdays to avoid the typical weekend crowds.
Great St. Mary’s Church
The beautiful Great St. Mary’s Church dates back to 1205, making it older than the University of Cambridge. Over its lifespan, the church has undergone multiple destructions and rebuilds. The current Tudor era construction remains a beautiful architectural wonder.
Visitors to the church climb to the tower to take in the stunning views of the King’s College Chapel and the city. There are many children’s activities if you intend to travel with your young ones.
The Market Square in Cambridge is an open-air market in the city center—a nice change from most English cities.
The market is the place to be for a mix of authentic local and ethnic cuisine. You’ll find everything, including Chinese, Brazilian, Greek, and Nigerian foods. There are fruit and vegetable stalls, sweet stalls and an eclectic mix of local fare.
The Round Church (Church of the Holy Sepulcher)
The Round Church is a magnificent historic building composed of several parts. The Fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher—the Rotary club of the 12th century—constructed the round structure in 1130.
The construction took inspiration from the circular church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem built in the 4th Century by Constantine the Great. It’s one of the holiest sites in Christendom to date.
Cambridge is the birthplace of modern football rules. A group of students created the Cambridge Rules in 1863 for the football games in the city center (Parker’s Piece). Their rules influenced the creation of the standard practices by the Football Association later that year. Before then, football had no consistent rules.
The city’s football club, Cambridge United FC, currently competes in the third tier of English Football (League One) and Oxford United is down there with them. They are both taking the rivalry seriously!
One of the first things you’ll notice about Cambridge is the sheer number of bikes everywhere. You’ll see the rows of bikes locked in rows on every street. If you’d like to hire a bike, you may choose from several rental services.
The city’s flat terrain makes it an excellent location for cycling. One-way systems across the city and numerous bike-only zones and bike lanes have made the city one of the most eco-friendly in the United Kingdom.
The Fitzwilliam Museum is an excellent attraction at the university. Since its establishment in 1816, it has remained an integral part of the Cambridge culture. The museum is home to some of the best ancient and modern art collections across western Europe.
There are over a million artworks and objects to see. Some of the works come from some of the biggest names in the art world. You can expect to find Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Picasso works.
Admission to the museum is also free to the public. As always, you should expect to see more crowds during weekends.
University Botanic Gardens
If the city center feels too touristy to you, you can walk down to the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens. It’s less than five minutes on a bike from the city center and ten minutes away if you choose to walk. The garden covers more than 8,000 plant species from around the world.
Therefore, it’s a popular attraction for gardeners, scientists, and walkers alike. If you choose to visit in the summer, you need to prepare for the hot weather. In July 2019, locals recorded the highest summer temperature of 38.7°C (101.66°F) in the gardens.
Fitzbillies is a popular café in the city. It delivers the typical Cambridge café experience. It has 100 years of history as a hub for coffee and food lovers. The locals love the Chelsea buns in the Fitzbillies. The bun is like a cinnamon roll, glazed while the bun is still hot. The result is a sticky and sweeter bun.
The Chelsea bun tradition goes back to the Second World War when the locals received a treat of a Chelsea bun alongside their usual rations.
Castle Mound or Cambridge Castle is the place for the city’s best views. Since most of the city is flat, this Mound in the northwest provides breathtaking views of the landmarks across the city. You can expect to see landmarks like St John’s College Chapel, King’s College Chapel, and more.
You can reach the castle on foot. It’s a five-minute walk away from the city center.
Footlights Theater Club
The Footlights Theater Club is a comedy club made up of students. Former members of the club have enjoyed significant comedy and acting careers. Some famous names include Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson.
The club holds shows at the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC). You can also enjoy a variety of plays and student drama from other clubs here all through the week.
Cambridge is famous for its abundance of cows. Surprised? Well, don’t be. The city is rural compared to similar cities in the UK and abroad. The cow population is free to roam many popular grassy areas across the city.
Grantchester is one place you should expect to walk past dozens of cows quietly relaxing or munching on the grass along the pathways. Visitors to the Mill pub look forward to feeding ducks and meeting these cows occasionally.
Cambridge has a jam-packed list of outdoor activities and events all year round. Movies on the Meadows is a popular event that allows people to come together and enjoy a movie while sitting on the grass on a balmy evening.
The Big Weekend is another popular attraction that draws in over 10,000 people. The event features comedy festivals, glittering firework displays, and more. Anyone looking at Cambridge as a dull Gothic city is surprised.
The locals are constantly looking for the next good time.
The FoodPark is a street food hub where the vendors move to different parts of the city every day. They offer several innovative dishes to suit any kind of palate and are a great place to stop for a bite on a busy day sightseeing. They update their location on their website, so you know where to find them before you head out for the day.
These are some of the things Cambridge is known for and famous for around the world. Since Cambridge is a small city, you can expect to complete a city tour in 2-3 days with adequate planning. Don’t forget to dress for the weather and keep some change on hand.
While many of these locations are free to enter, options like the Fitzbillies require you to make a purchase to get a chair in the pub. Some of the museums also require you to book tickets. Overall, it’s one of the best tourist destinations you can visit in the UK.