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Alice Abel picks her favourite nine things to see and do in Cambridge, without visiting the colleges.

Cambridge punts

Almost everyone knows there’s a university in Cambridge, and it’s almost certainly the biggest draw for many of the 4 million plus visitors to the city each year.  Without doubt, the world famous colleges are beautiful, historic and absolutely worth seeing, but if you’re in Cambridge for more than a couple of days or you’ve seen enough of the university then the city definitely offers some great changes of scenery.

Here are some fabulous, non-college based things to do and see: 

Take a Punt

Punting along the college backs is one of Cambridge’s best known tourist activities, but heading along the ‘Top’ river in the opposite direction towards Grantchester can be just as rewarding. Generally there are far fewer river users which makes for a more leisurely experience. The winding route takes you through tranquil glades and unspoiled meadowland, and is popularly enjoyed with a jug of Pimms on board! 

Orchards, pubs and cream teas

Whether or not you arrive by punt, Grantchester is well worth the 2km journey from the city. Known as the home of poet Rupert Brooke, the pretty village is home to several pleasant pubs, ambles through meadowland down to the river and many chocolate-box-worthy cottages. For most, what makes the trip truly worthwhile on a summer’s day is the taking of a cream tea in the charming and timeless ‘Orchard’, whilst pondering how many of the university’s great minds may have sat in the same spot.

Climb the Castle Mound

Being such a flat city and with so many of its taller buildings being closed to the public, it can be hard to get a glimpse of Cambridge’s delightful skyline. However, a short walk across the river across Magdalene Bridge and up Castle Hill leads you to Castle Mound. Although the castle is long gone, this is the only place (apart from the tops of the city’s car parks) where you can admire the city as a whole. 

Hidden culinary corners

For a totally different side to Cambridge, head to bustling Mill Road which starts just east of the city centre across Parker’s Piece. Although the inevitable chain restaurants and coffee shops have begun to creep in, Cambridge residents are still proud of this home to food from across the world. As well as many fabulous cafes, takeaways and restaurants offering a multitude of cuisines (at better prices than city centre equivalents), there are several amazing Asian supermarkets.

Ale Trail

Although there are a few pleasant pubs in the city centre, the best of the city’s ale houses are to be found a little further out. Just a short walk from the centre is the area known The Kite, which is roughly bounded by East Road, Parkers Piece and Newmarket Road. The area is home to a number of bustling little pubs which nestle amongst charming terraced houses. Try The Free Press on Prospect Row and The Elm Tree on Orchard Street. Another couple of more atmospheric pubs can be found on King Street. 

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Keep on the grass

The University Botanic Gardens are a favourite outdoor space for both residents and visitors. It is easy to spend hours wandering amongst the ancient trees, thousands of incredible plant species, duck ponds, fountains and the highlight for many, the wonderful greenhouses which offer both desert and jungle experiences. After the restrictive colleges, it’s a refreshing and open place to be, especially for children who need not keep off the grass here!  

Crammed with culture

For a university city, it’s no surprise that the city is home to several  museums. The most famous is the beloved art and antiquities museum, The Fitzwilliam. Also worth a visit are the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute and the Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences.  Art lovers will appreciate the remarkable Kettle’s Yard, the former home of art collector and former Tate curator Jim Ede.  

With the fairly recent addition of glossy The Grand Arcade, Cambridge’s shopping scene now matches the offerings of bigger cities. The centre is home to some of the best known and most respected brands but for more a quaint, boutique shopping experience there are the cobbled streets and alleys running between (and including) Trinity Street and Sidney Street.

Cambridge offers a wealth of fantastic festivals throughout the year, so it’s worth finding out if any will coincide with your visit. The most beloved include the Folk Festival (late July) , Comedy Marquee (mid-July), the family-friendly CAMRA Beer Festival (late May) and Strawberry Fair (early June).