Exploring Cambridge University with a prospective student

Exploring Cambridge University with a prospective student

with 16 Comments

 

Standing outside of the Cambridge Visitor Information Centre, we carefully studied the paper map. King’s College, Trinity College, St John’s College… and oh look: here’s the Fitzwilliam Museum, and there the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology!

 

Soon, we understood that history is layered at every corner in Cambridge. But can the city’s wonders be laid out on a tourist map? We both looked at our niece, all excited to explore Cambridge as a prospective student. The amount of colleges to be visited seemed to be overwhelming to her too. Without a word, we folded the map and put it away. – Let’s just wander around, and absorb the atmosphere…

 

Just like Oxford, Cambridge is a University City where everything is within walking distance. Colleges are spread around town, entangled with modern shops and restaurants. But compared to Oxford, it is much easier to venture into the cloistered grounds of Cambridge’s colleges.

 

 

In total, there are 31 colleges in Cambridge, the oldest one being St Peter’s (or Peterhouse), founded in 1284. About 300 meters up north, chairs King’s College, now a favourite place for tourists to take selfies. Founded by King Henri IV in 1441, King’s College is mainly famous for its grandiose 16th century chapel, regarded as the best example of England’s Gothic architecture.

 

As the queue to King’s College was extremely long, we decided to first visit Trinity College, and next-door’s St John’s College. Kerstin was about to pay for our entrance tickets, when the lady at the counter overheard our niece exclaiming her excitement to visit her (hopefully future) college. Oh, you’re a prospective student, she asked. Well, your entrance fees are waived then! And soon, we passed through imposing oak doors into the two largest of Cambridge’s colleges, gazing at heraldic carvings, beautiful magnolias, and elegant Tudor gateways.

 

 

Behind the colleges’ grandiose facades and manicured lawns, lies a series of gardens butting up against the river Cam, known as The Backs. There we strolled along the river, taking in the unparalleled views of the colleges and the dozens of punts.

 

In the Middle Ages, these flat-bottomed boats, which are propelled with a long pole, were actually work boats. Nowadays, punting is a popular activity for tourists, Cambridge students and locals. But instead of choosing the comfort of sitting in a punt, we meandered through the meadows on foot, at our own pace, soaking in the blossoming atmosphere. At regular intervals, ancient bridges spanned over the river, while weeping willows bent over the shimmering waters.

 

 

The most curious bridge in The Backs is certainly the Mathematical Bridge: made of wood, it joins the two halves of Queen’s College, one of the oldest and largest colleges of the University of Cambridge. After marvelling at it for a while, we found out that the only way to cross the Mathematical Bridge is to enter Queen’s College from Queen’s Lane. Once inside, we crossed two medieval courtyards: the Old Court and the Cloister Court, both built in the middle of the 15th century, right after the foundation of the college by Margaret of Anjou, Queen of Henri IV.

 

The other eye-catcher from river Cam is the Bridge of Sighs. As we approached it, we saw our niece beaming at this Gothic Revival, built by Henry Hutchinson in 1831. A true masterpiece of stone tracery. And the future of a prospective student suddenly looked brighter…

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Exploring Cambridge University with a prospective student © Travelwithmk.com

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Travelers at heart, Mei and Kerstin have been roaming the world together since 2002. Expats for over a decade, they used to live in Bordeaux, Paris, Athens, and San Francisco. They recently returned to their motherland to get married, and decided to stay to re-explore Luxembourg in depth. While they both have a full time job, they continue to feed their wanderlust by traveling the world whenever they can.

16 Responses

  1. Jen Joslin
    | Reply

    I had no idea that there are 31 colleges in Cambridge! It sounds like a very fun and interesting place to explore. So nice that the woman at St. John’s College waved your fees. What amazing history and architecture inside those buildings!

  2. Meg Jerrard
    | Reply

    I loved exploring Oxford, though haven’t made it to Cambridge yet – cool to know that it’s a University city in quite similar fashion. Nice to know also that it’s easier to gain access to the colleges – I got kicked out of Oxford because it was closed for orientation week when I visited so was students only – I snuck in anyway lol! Love the grandiose facades – definitely going to include a visit on my next UK trip 🙂

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      In Oxford we also got kicked out several times, but when we told them that our niece is a prospective student, they ended up letting us stay. 🙂

  3. The Road Trip Guy
    | Reply

    damm, you got some nice looking universities. Ours look more like office buildings and yours look like a disney adventure. Thanks for sharing! Hope they never change it.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      I don’t think they’ll change anything, since almost all the buildings are national cultural heritage. 🙂

  4. Anna Johnston
    | Reply

    As an Australian, I cant help but giggle thinking of showing tourists our universities – to my mind, it’s not much better than visiting a modern day jail. :/
    Clearly NOTHING like the gorgeous Cambridge University with all its grandiose facades and manicured lawns. Hope your niece attends this college, if she does, can you do a follow up story on where all the best coffee spots are. 🙂

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha! Yes, we’d definitely return pretty often to explore Cambridge in depth, and check out all the great coffeeshops, bookstores, restaurants and more! 😉

  5. Why does it make me think of Harry Potter? It must be such an honour to be able to study in Cambridge. Such a beautiful place full of (hi-)stories. Magic!

  6. Hannah
    | Reply

    TBH, Cambridge hasn’t been on my list of places to visit, but perhaps it should be. As a serial academic, it would be fascinating to see these famous universities – and the amazing architecture!

  7. Simon
    | Reply

    The buildings in Cambridge are really beautiful works of art. I can understand why the chapel at King’s College is so popular with tourist. It is really special. The Mathematical Bridge is interesting as well.

  8. Rhonda Albom
    | Reply

    When we were in England we didn’t visit Cambridge but we did make it to Oxford. The ornate old buildings and picturesque landscapes are so much different than the universities in New Zealand.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oxford is beautiful too, and we also liked it very much. But we had the feeling that Cambridge was more “open”.

  9. WorldGlimpses
    | Reply

    Didn’t know that there are so many collages in Cambridge! I mean, 31?! And how interesting is the fact that the first dates back to the 13th century. What an amazing detail! Would love to visit that one. 🙂

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes there are A LOT of colleges in Cambridge. They are all part of the University of Cambridge (the central governing body) but are still autonomous and have their own statutes.

  10. Rishabh & Nirali
    | Reply

    This would definitely be an interesting way to visit an university. We’ve always wanted to visit the hallowed grounds of cambridge and oxford which we’ve read about so many times. Hopefully soon !

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      The good news is that neither Cambridge or Oxford will change tremendously since most buildings are protected as monuments. So you don’t need to hurry! Haha..

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