The day has come! I have finally written a blog post about my favourite colleges in Cambridge. This article is not about academic specialities or prestige of the colleges. If you are planning on attending the University of Cambridge and are looking for advice which college to choose, this blog post will not help you, sorry!
My selection is purely based on the following criteria:
- Open to the public without admission fee
- Good photo opportunities
- Idyllic gardens
- Impressive architecture
- Opportunities for walks and rest
The best time to visit the colleges is in early spring and autumn. You should avoid visiting Cambridge during the Quiet Period (early May to mid-June) as most of the colleges are closed due to University examinations. I would recommend not to visit Cambridge in July and August either. It is crowded with tourists and language students at that time and I believe many colleges shut their doors to avoid the floods of tourists coming in.
I would also recommend sticking to opening times and rules in general: do not walk on the grass, do not enter buildings (apart from the chapel perhaps) and please be quiet. Colleges are an active place of learning and research and students also live there. That is why I would visit a college with no more than two or three people. In fact, I always found it most relaxing to explore the colleges on my own or with just one friend (or a baby in my case).
The Fellows’ garden in Christ’s College might be the best kept secret in Cambridge. It is open on weekdays from 9am to 4pm and barely visited by tourists. I love the little green house in the corner and the benches scattered around the path. One afternoon in autumn I went there for a walk with my 5-month old baby. He fell asleep in the pram and I read a book. Maternity leave at its best! Christ’s College is super friendly with visitors and very easy to access as it is located in the city centre. You mustn’t miss wisteria season when the Master’s Lodge in the First Court will be covered in beautiful lilac blooms!
Emmanuel College equals duck pond for me. I am sure it is much more than that but I often went to see the ducks and fish at Emma’s with my baby. There is a large grassy area, where you are allowed to walk and sit on. And the chapel, designed by Christopher Wren, is stunning!
I always wonder why there aren’t more people visiting the college, since it is located on busy St Andrew’s Street and pretty much open to the public. It’s such a wonderful quiet haven away from the crowds!
Gonville & Caius College
I am biased about this one as my husband is a member of the college, so we spent a lot of time here and made many happy memories during our time in Cambridge. However, you can find one of the prettiest college corners here: a statue of Dr Stephen Perse, fellow and benefactor of the college, surrounded by wisteria in the beautiful Tree Court. The college itself doesn’t have very large grounds but three important gates: Gate of Humility, Gate of Virtue and Gate of Honour. The story behind it is, that when students start their academic journey, they are still all humble and enter the college through the Gate of Humility. Over the years, when they become more knowledgeable, they will often pass through the Gate of Virtue. Finally, the Gate of Honour will be opened when they graduate.
Caius is one of the few colleges where children are allowed to Formal Hall. Just recently they also added a baby changing room in the Old Courts, so it has become quite a child-friendly college. We actually took our son to a Formal Dinner on his first birthday!
Unfortunately Gonville & Caius is closed for tourists at the moment due to a kitchen refurbishment project. But it used to be open to the public in the morning without an admission fee and I hope it will be open again later this year!
I first visited Newnham College by accident when I had a stroll around the area. I was immediately drawn to the beautiful red brick gate on Newnham Road. I never imagined there would be 17 acres of beautiful gardens behind that gate, that are open to the public for most of the year! I also really like Newnham’s architectural style with lots of red brick, white sash windows, steep roofs and curving bay windows. There are so many photo opportunities with flowers in spring and colourful ivy in autumn. Every time I went to visit Newnham College there were barely any people around, probably because most of the tourists don’t make it that far.
Another tourist-friendly college is Pembroke, which is located quite centrally on Trumpington Road. Like in Emmanuel College, the beautiful chapel was built by Christopher Wren, who also designed the famous Wren Library in Trinity College. If you ever need a break from the crowds in the city centre, Pembroke College have a lovely garden and lots of space to walk around.
I hope this overview helps you to decide which college you would like to visit! I deliberately left out the big ones like Trinity, St John’s and King’s College. Whilst they are definitely worth visiting too, I always find them a bit overwhelming with all the people. Parts of the grounds are often fenced off and you normally pay an admission fee. However, they do have access to the river, which makes them quite appealing. You could also hire a punt or do a chauffeured punting tour down the Backs, where you will learn more about the colleges that back on to the River Cam.
Have you ever visited Cambridge? Which one is your favourite College?