Hidden gems: places in Cambridge it took me three years to find
You probably have a particular café, museum or green space that you’re especially fond of. When the buzz of Freshers’ Week subsides and you get your first supervision sheets, you’ll realise that finding somewhere enjoyable to work, as well as places to unwind, is crucial. In fact, one of the less obvious opportunities that going to university offers is gaining new favourite spots in a new city! I wish I had taken the time to learn about Cambridge’s lesser-known gems sooner, rather than sticking to the familiar (read: chain) study spots and shops. So, don’t make the same mistake I did and get to know the place you’ll be calling home – you’ll have the low-down before you even unpack your suitcase.
As much as it pains me to put studying first on the list, it’s realistically how you’ll spend a lot of your time, so making it as enjoyable and varied as possible could not be more important. Your college will have a library, and some people prefer to exclusively study there or at their faculty. One way of branching out is going to other college libraries – especially if that library is particularly architecturally beautiful. But what if you prefer a bit of background bustle while you work, or you’d rather be able to chat and eat as well as studying? There is a plethora of lovely cafes in Cambridge, some of which have gathered quite the cult following among students and Cambridge locals alike – for example, Fitzbillies and Hot Numbers attract so many customers it can be impossible to get a table. Crucially, if you’re going to be sitting somewhere for a long time – to finish off an essay, to work through a worksheet or reading list – you want the coffee to be affordable and the atmosphere to suit how you study best.
Among the cafes I found out about towards the end of my time in the city was the Grad Café, an airy top-floor location overlooking the river. It is University owned, spacious and very reasonable. Similarly, the café in the Judge Business School has an impressive array of cuisine on offer and, crucially, one of the best selections of hot and cold drinks that I came across at University. Table space abounds and it has a really modern, communal yet calm vibe that works perfectly for a laid-back ground study day. Definitely worth the walk, even from a hill college! Situated in a converted church a stone’s throw from the high street, the Michaelhouse Café is spacious, friendly and very reasonably priced. You can sit in there for hours without being disturbed or feeling pressure to buy another drink or snack. It is so close to some colleges and yet doesn’t, in my experience, get many students working there which means its atmosphere is quite different to that of, for example, the many Café Neros across Cambridge.
Norfolk Street Bakery is tucked away by Cambridge Railway Station and sells some of the most delicious artisan bread and sweet treats in the city. If you’re getting back from a train journey or just happen to be on that side of town, pop in – you won’t be disappointed. The staff are so friendly and the loaves of bread will enhance any sandwich no end. Nestled by the Guildhall, Indigo Café is cosy and quaint in the best way possible. It’s not a study spot – they don’t have wifi and table space is scarce – but sitting at their al fresco seating with a coffee and a good book or a group of friends has got to be among my favourite memories of the city centre. Bedouin on Mill Road is a sumptuous North African restaurant that has hosted many of my friendship group’s birthday dinners. The food is excellent and made all the more so by the ambience. Plenty of the dishes are ideal for sharing so it’s a fantastic place to come as a group. If you’re a brunch person, you have to visit The Old Bicycle Shop. They have a stylised map of the city spanning an entire wall and modern, airy décor that makes every visit feel like a treat. It is quite far down the high street, beyond where most of the shops end, which is why it’s less frequented than other spots.
Taking a break
Taking a day off to spend time with friends or just unwind is important. Thankfully, Cambridge has so much to offer in terms of beautiful places and fun (free) activities to break you out of the university bubble. If you’re down to cycle – or take a particularly long walk – visiting Coton Farm Shop will give you a taste of the English countryside and has so much to offer, from wool to wine. Only one person I know ever mentioned this shop, so it’s a real hidden gem and perfect for a trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. One of my favourite trips was the short train journey to Ely – a quiet city with great restaurants and pubs and a stunning cathedral that seems to loom over every street. Visiting a new town with your friends, especially in first year, is a great way to make memories and take a breather from university life. Finally, a particularly sentimental suggestion is that of Evensong at Kings College Chapel. My mum asked me to go, just to tell her about it, and so what started as a reluctant favour ended up being a peaceful hour spent relishing the talent and history of the choir.
Cambridge is known for its historic limestone buildings and winding river, but its charms are not limited to its history. The cafes I spent many hours in, engaged in working or chatting to good friends, defined my time at university just as much as the sights of the city. So, when you get your first reading list or want to relax after a hectic few weeks, I hope you enjoy these locations as much as I did.