5 Tips for Visiting Cambridge, England with a Baby
We heard so much about Cambridge that we were really looking forward to a visit there. From our friend telling us it's one of her favorite cities in Europe, to the Buckden locals telling us we had to visit and go punting, we knew it was a place not to be missed. Unfortunately, our first visit to Cambridge was on a weekend. The crowds in Cambridge surprised us and tainted that first visit so the following week we made another trip. This time we visited on a Wednesday and made sure to get out of the house early.
Based on our two visits, here are 5 things we recommend for anyone planning a trip to Cambridge, especially if time is short and you only get one opportunity to see this beautiful city.
1. Avoid visiting Cambridge on a weekend or in the summer if possible.
We had not anticipated Cambridge being such a big tourist draw, but as we drove into town on a Saturday in August we passed tour bus after tour bus on the side of the highway. They were just waiting to pick up their passengers at the end of the day.
It turns out, the sites to see in Cambridge are all within a small area of about 3 square miles. While this is great for getting around and easily exploring, it is challenging fitting so many tourists in such a small area at the same time. Cambridge sees an average of 3.5 million visitors annually making it the 10th most visited city in Britain.
2. Biking is a fun way to see Cambridge, but it can be tough to rent a bike with a child's seat.
If you are determined to rent bicycles as a family, like I was, get there right when the rental shops open. As we planned our day in Cambridge I had this grand idea of renting bikes and leisurely riding around the city. I envisioned this romantic scene with the wind flowing through our hair and smiles on our faces as we effortlessly navigated from place to place. After researching online, bike rentals seemed straight-forward enough. The websites boasted a plethora of bikes with no need for a reservation. There were several outfits in town so I thought it would be relatively easy.
I must have temporarily forgotten we were traveling with a toddler. Following a 20 minute wait in line with a squirming now-walker who had just spent the previous 40 minutes in the car, we were told that their child's bike seat was already rented. Yep, seat, as in singular. Really?!? This meant no bikes for us on visit number one.
On trip number two, I made sure we were prepared. I called ahead the night before our second visit and then again when we were on our way to confirm they had a child's seat available to rent. They did and for an extra £11 we were set up with a seat and helmet. I never said it was cheap!
3. However, you can easily see the major sites in Cambridge on foot.
Much to my chagrin, the bikes might have been overkill because you can easily walk between the major sites in Cambridge. The major attraction is the University. There are 31 different colleges that make up Cambridge University; the 3 most famous being King's College, Queen's College, & Trinity College. The older colleges are mostly situated around the center of town and the River Cam.
Then there's the Fitzwilliam Museum. The museum has free admission, which is great when your toddler decides after 30 minutes that looking at paintings in silence is no longer an activity they want to continue with.
And no trip would be complete without acknowledging St. Mary's Church. This is considered the center of Cambridge and is located across the market square from King's College. There was a service taking place when we stopped by so we could not go in or up in the tower (admission fee of £2.5), but there was a very nice gentleman there who took a liking to us and gave us a great lesson on Cambridge. Did you know that all students must live within 3 miles of St. Mary's Church during the school session? The reason given by the college is that they do not want travel interfering with studies. It's considered a requirement to graduate.
4. Map out a few good places to eat within your budget before you arrive.
We did not do this on our first visit. Based on Cambridge's size, I figured we would be able to make it to the few eateries I had read about. I again forgot we were traveling with a toddler that does not have patience yet. That left us scrambling for a bite based on eateries we had passed instead of knowing how close or far we were to the ones recommended in the guides. It turns out we had only been one tiny block away from Fitzbillies on visit number one and could have easily stopped in for a Chelsea Bun. Instead, we had to factor it in to our second visit which made for a more costly lunch.
On the positive side, we did get to eat at a delightful Italian bistro with delicious lasagne in our haste to find something quickly. It was not a place I read about and would have missed it had everything been planned out. That's part of traveling though - pros and cons for each strategy.
5. Decide which touristy activities you want to partake in.
As with any tourist-fueled location there will always be several activities to choose from. You should spend time deciding what is right for you. In Cambridge we considered punting, eating a Chelsea Bun, drinking a pint in a pub, renting bikes, taking tours of the colleges, going to the Fitzwilliam Museum, and just walking around and taking in the sights.
We decided against punting because it reminded us of riding a gondola in Venice. It would be amazing if you were the only ones, but the river was pretty crowded. And unlike gondolas where only a trained driver can control the boat, you can hire a punt to maneuver yourself. It's actually quite entertaining watching the groups that went the self-hire route because from the looks of it, driving a punt is harder than it appears.
Something else that factored into our decision was time and other places we would be going in England. Due to time constraints we avoided the tours of the colleges. We were able to peek into the courtyards, but could not enter without paying the entrance fee. We also decided against stopping for a pint in Cambridge because we knew we could (and would) be doing this elsewhere anyway.
We enjoyed our visits to Cambridge, but definitely had more fun during our second visit because we knew what to expect and were more prepared. It was a good lesson to learn early on and we took that into consideration as we mapped out future "tourist days".
Have you been to Cambridge before? If so, do you have any additional tips to add? We'd love to hear them in the comments below.
Be sure to pin this for later so you don't forget our top tips!