Cambridge Colleges


The best time to visit Cambridge as a tourist is in the first half of June, particularly the week known as May-week – a Cambridge chronological mystery. All exams are over by then and the students want to relax with parties, open-air drama, rowing races on the river, all-night balls in the Colleges and general mayhem. Most of the events are open to the public and ticket prices are usually low, the exceptions being the College balls (May balls) where prices are high and tickets are usually sold-out in April. Only go to a May-ball in a college that sits along the Backs (the college backs onto the river Cam).

A visit to the bumping races on the river is well worth while during May-week but means an excursion outside Cambridge to the north east. Its possible to walk or take a bicycle – a car is probably inadvisable unless you are familiar with the area. Cambridge is crowded with tourists between April and September. Most arrive and depart by coach in the same day and don’t get much past Silver Street Bridge (to look at the Mathematical Bridge in Queens’ College) and King’s Parade (to see King’s College Chapel). Many of the colleges are now charging admission and restricting the times of access for visitors.



The colleges contain the great architectural treasures of Cambridge. Founded by kings, queens bishops, nobles, guilds and rich widows, they attracted powerful patrons and large endowments of land and money. Such wealth allowed the colleges to use the best architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, Powell and Moya – to create beautiful buildings that reflect perfectly 700 years of British architectural heritage. It is a heritage symbolised by the soaring windows and fan vaults of King’s College Chapel.


Punts, rowing boats and canoes can be hired from the boatyard at Mill Lane, either to go along the Backs or up river to Grantchester. Boats for the Backs only are on hire from Quayside. But beware: punting is more difficult than the nonchalant experts make it look and you may prefer to take advantage of a chauffeured punt. If you take a boat along the Backs please do not land at the colleges, try to avoid hitting the bridges and banks, and respect the colleges’ wishes for quiet, especially during exams. The boatyards are open from Easter to early October.

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