Cambridge is well known worldwide for several things but most prominently for being the home to one of the oldest prestigious universities in the World, the University of Cambridge. However, Cambridge has so much more to offer, and many of these things are free!
Here are the most popular free things to do in Cambridge:
- Explore the University of Cambridge and Colleges.
- Walk along River Cam and leisurely tour The Backs.
- Visit Market Square and enjoy two unique sights.
- Marvel at the museums and galleries.
- Gaze at the stars from the Institute of Astronomy.
- Visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial.
- Check out the chapels and churches.
- Walk around the historic neighborhoods.
- Have fun outdoors at the parks, pools, and more.
Most free tours in this guide cover multiple attractions and activities. Hence, a planned trip will enable you to enjoy several free things to do at many locations or places of interest. Therefore, we decided to create this handy guide so you can make the most of your trip to Cambridge.
Table of Contents
- 1. Explore the University of Cambridge and Colleges
- 2. Walk Along River Cam and Leisurely Tour the Backs
- 3. Visit Market Square and Enjoy Two Unique Sights
- 4. Marvel at the Museums and Galleries
- 5. Gaze at the Stars From the Institute of Astronomy
- 6. Visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial
- 7. Check Out the Chapels and Churches
- 8. Walk Around the Historic Neighborhoods
- 9. Have Fun Outdoors at the Parks, Pools, and More
1. Explore the University of Cambridge and Colleges
The University of Cambridge is the second-oldest in England, after Oxford. Also, it is among the oldest medieval universities in the world that is still operational.
Today, the university has 31 autonomous colleges and six schools. Each college has policies regulating onsite tours.
The University of Cambridge allows visitors to tour its premises, except for when exams and special events are scheduled.
Also, not all colleges permit free tours, such as Clare, Corpus Christi, King’s, Queens’, St. John’s, and Trinity. However, Clare Hall and Trinity Hall offer free admission and Pembroke College.
You can benefit from free admission to most colleges, subject to the opening times. A few sections of the grounds, such as gardens, may have restricted hours. Groups may need an advance free reservation at some colleges.
Wren Library at Trinity College
You cannot tour Trinity College for free unless you are a prospective student. However, you can visit the Wren Library as it does not charge an admission fee.
Since you cannot access the Great Court without a ticket, you can take Queen’s Road or Garrett Hostel Lane to visit the Wren Library.
You can see several notable works at Wren Library, such as 12th-century Eadwine Psalter from Christ Church Canterbury and the 13th century Anglo-Norman Trinity Apocalypse. Not to mention the collection of Milton manuscripts and the notebook of Isaac Newton.
King’s College Chapel
King’s College charges a fee for public tours, but the Chapel is accessible. In addition, the King’s College Chapel has a famous evensong. You may consider this free activity in Cambridge if the timing works out.
The weeknights and Saturday timings are 5:30 p.m., and the Sunday Evensong is at 3:30 p.m. First, however, refer to these chapel services updates to confirm when you plan your tour.
King’s College Chapel is one of Cambridge’s most instantly recognizable buildings and is worth a visit. You can look at the stunning architecture or join in the worship; all are welcome.
2. Walk Along River Cam and Leisurely Tour the Backs
Most tourists go punting on River Cam, where you can rent a punt and sail under the bridges to explore The Backs. Alternatively, you can walk along the western bank beyond the private grounds of the colleges.
The Backs comprise both public and private grounds, so you can’t access the latter unless you pay for a guided tour. However, the public route is idyllic, too.
You can start at Queen’s Road if you visit the Wren Library, but it is better to begin this tour farther north, like Magdalene Street. Then, you can walk south along the river while covering the Backs of several colleges, including Magdalene, Darwin, St John’s, Trinity, Clare, King’s, and Queens’.
Also, you will get a reasonably good view of the Mathematical Bridge at Queens’.
At Pembroke College or nearby, take Silver Street and walk north along River Cam. This tour will take you to Kettle’s Yard, another free attraction in Cambridge. Again, a map is handy to choose the route, depending on where and how long you wish to walk.
The Backs are beautiful and serene, making them a perfect spot to stop and enjoy the day or even to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets.
3. Visit Market Square and Enjoy Two Unique Sights
Like Cambridge, the Market Square has existed since medieval times. The historic city centre has dozens of stalls open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for the annual year-end festivals.
On Saturday, go to the All Saints Garden on Trinity Street if you visit the square. This arts & crafts market features handmade paintings, jewellery, pottery, sculpture, clothing, and more.
Beyond window shopping at Market Square, you can explore all the nearby attractions that don’t cost anything. For instance, you can check out the Corpus Clock, Great St. Mary’s, and more.
Great St. Mary’s
You can visit Great St. Mary’s next to Market Square for free. However, climbing the tower of the University Church requires a ticket.
The fee is minimal, but the panoramic view is phenomenal. The city of Cambridge has numerous heritage buildings, preserving a priceless architectural legacy. You will remember the views from Great St. Mary’s tower forever, for a small fee.
Great St. Marys church is stunning both inside and out, so even if you don’t pay to go up the tower, the church itself is well worth visiting for the stunning architecture and design.
The Corpus Clock
The Corpus Clock is a public monument created by Dr John C Taylor. The clock features a gold face representing the big bang and the time-eater monster Chronophage.
Try to decipher the time without the usual hands and digits on this clock. If you are already at Market Square, the short walk to the Corpus Clock should not take you longer than three minutes or so.
The wonderous clock is also known as the grasshopper clock due to the grasshopper which sits on top. The clock itself does not have any hands or numbers to tell the time.
The clock is located on Trumpington St, a stone’s throw from St Johns College and Great St.Marys church. You are most likely able to spot it as there is often a fair-sized crowding around the clock watching it work and taking pictures.
4. Marvel at the Museums and Galleries
Cambridge has several museums and a few art galleries. In addition, the University of Cambridge has a few departments in charge of the associated museums.
Unlike the university library, you can get free access to many museums and at least one popular gallery.
The Fitzwilliam Museum welcomes a few hundred thousand visitors every year to its collection of over half a million artefacts. You can get free entry to the museum.
However, it is necessary to make a booking, not unusual at some of the museums in Cambridge.
Museum of Zoology
The Museum of Zoology in Cambridge offers free admission without booking or reservation. However, you need to book a ticket for weekends and half-term holidays.
Also, you need a pre-booked and timed ticket for the half-term holiday weekends, which is also free.
The Polar Museum
The Scott Polar Research Institute offers free admission to visitors on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. However, every visitor needs a pre-booked free ticket. Self-guided groups can submit a booking form and get access, subject to space availability.
Guided tours and other arrangements involving groups don’t get free admission, and approved reservation is necessary.
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences should be on your list of free things to do in Cambridge, especially if you are fond of geology, fossils, rocks, and minerals. Also, you do not need to book a ticket to get free admission to this museum.
You can walk in on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum remains open till 4 p.m. on Saturday and is closed on Sunday.
Museum of Archeology and Anthropology
The Museum of Archeology and Anthropology has around one million artefacts, a world treasure, and delightful exploration for people of all ages. However, everyone needs a free ticket for entry, including children.
The tickets are for either morning or afternoon slots. You may only get access without the free booked ticket if and when the museum is not crowded.
The Whipple Museum is a fascinating treat for any science enthusiast. The artefacts show you the evolution of the sciences, as our species understand and have nurtured over the centuries.
You get free admission to the Whipple Museum on all five weekdays, but with a ticket. Also, such bookings are not available months or weeks in advance.
Kettle’s Yard is a gallery of modern art featuring exhibitions. You can check out the exhibition only or sign up for a complete tour of the house. The exhibition and house tickets are separate, but both are free. You must book these timed tickets for your slots.
Also, the rules of admission are somewhat strict at Kettle’s Yard owing to timed slots and high demand, so plan accordingly.
The Duxford Air Museum and the Center for Computing History offer free admission to children younger than five. Others must buy tickets for the Center for Computing History or become a member of IWM Duxford.
5. Gaze at the Stars From the Institute of Astronomy
The Institute of Astronomy hosts an open evening for the public every Wednesday during the observing season, which is generally from October through March.
Participants listen to a talk for half an hour starting from 7:15 p.m. and take to the telescopes for stargazing.
The University of Cambridge has three departments of astronomy, and this institute is the biggest. Also, the Institute of Astronomy is among the largest such sites in the UK.
Therefore, you can expect a treat if you plan for this evening, subject to the weather conditions, of course.
6. Visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial
The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial remembers 3,811 fallen and 5,127 missing heroes. Most graves are of the soldiers that braved the Battle of the Atlantic and bombardment of northwest Europe.
All visitors get free admission to this wheelchair-accessible memorial from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is an onsite parking lot and a visitor centre for assistance.
If you are at the city centre of Cambridge, say, Market Square, or near the colleges, you can board a bus or drive to reach the American Cemetery and Memorial.
The X3 Express bus from Drummer Street near Market Square should take you there within half an hour. These country buses are available every twenty minutes, or you can drive if you have a car.
7. Check Out the Chapels and Churches
Cambridge does not have a cathedral but a few chapels and churches.
In this guide, you have already read about the Great St. Mary’s University Church and the unforgettable panoramic views from the tower and King’s College Chapel with the famous evensong.
You may visit the following churches:
- The Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs
- All Saints Church
- St. Paul’s Church
- St. Giles’ Church
- St. Andrew the Great Church
- St. Botolph’s Church
A few colleges like Pembroke and Queens’ have chapels, too. Also, many chapels and churches are in the city centre area, so you can cover them when you are at those places or passing by.
8. Walk Around the Historic Neighborhoods
An old city like Cambridge has history at every nook and corner. While the buildings and the architecture of each distinct era are evident, you will find many gems every few steps if you are observant.
Cambridge’s Rose Crescent and Green Street may remind you of the Harry Potter films, whereas Hope Street Yard offers another special experience, distinct from Market Square.
The Hive and Cambs are adjacent on Gwydir Street. The Old Chemist Shop Antique Center is around five minutes down the Mill Road from The Hive and Cambs, a while longer if you pause at places.
9. Have Fun Outdoors at the Parks, Pools, and More
Cambridge offers a plethora of choices for outdoor fun. First, of course, you must visit Mill Pond, only for the ambience, if nothing else.
Quayside should be on your list, too. The indulgences at Quayside cost money, but you can visit and explore for free.
Likewise, watching the sunset from Castle Mound or being there at Gog Magog Hills doesn’t cost anything.
For more fun, dive into the free Lammas Land Pool, play tennis at the public courts of Jesus Green and plan a picnic at Wandlebury Country Park, where you pay only for parking.