Cambridge is one of the most popular destinations in the UK and doing a Cambridge day trip from London is a great option if you’re visiting or living in the British capital.
Over 400,000 tourists visit Cambridge every year and there are plenty of good reasons for it. Cambridge is one of the most well-known universities in the world, with famous alumni including Sir Isaac Newton and Steven Hawking.
The city of Cambridge is built around the university and colleges, creating a buzzing atmosphere filled with students, beautiful architecture, fascinating history and plenty of places to eat and drink!
The beauty of the town and its proximity to London has made Cambridge an extremely popular destination, resulting in a significant number of tourist traps around Cambridge. So with that in mind, here’s things you can do in order to have a Cambridge day trip from London on a budget!
How to Get to Cambridge from London
Cambridge Day Trip from London by Train
If you’re staying in London and are planning to take this trip in advance, I highly recommend buying train tickets online to save money.
An off-peak return ticket from Kings Cross bought at the train station on the day will cost £17.80 return, however, it can cost significantly less if you buy your ticket in advance online.
Regardless of whether the fares are cheaper or not, it is also more convenient to buy online as the lines can be quite long at Kings Cross particularly during rush hour and on the weekends. Click here to browse train schedules and book online.
The train is undoubtedly the most convenient and fastest way to get to Cambridge. The journey time varies depending on which train you end up on how the fastest trains take approximately 50 minutes.
Cambridge Day Trip from London by Bus
If you want to save a few more pennies and aren’t concerned with the journey taking a bit longer than you can also choose to visit Cambridge by bus.
Buses to Cambridge leave from London Victoria Station and take approximately 2 hours one way. The bus might, in fact, prove to be more convenient if you are staying in South London or near Victoria Station. Click here to browse bus schedules and book online.
Cambridge Day Trip from London by Car
If you are planning a longer itinerary through England (and possibly Scotland, Wales or Ireland!), then renting a car is a great option to see the UK! If you are renting your car from London and heading north it might make sense to visit Cambridge on your way out of London rather than visiting as a day trip.
When renting a car in the UK or anywhere in Europe, we recommend browsing RentalCars.com to find the best deals – click here to check car rental options from London.
Make sure to also buy excess insurance from a third party like iCarHireInsurance which works out considerably cheaper than buying it from the car rental company. This will ensure you don’t need to pay any amount if you have to make claim.
Cambridge Day Trip from London by Tour
While visiting Cambridge from London as part of a guided tour is certainly not the most budget-friendly way to see the city, it is a popular option for many travellers.
If your London budget allows it, it’s also a great way to combine visiting both Oxford & Cambridge in one day. This guided tour includes visits to both cities with a walking tour and free time included in both Oxford & Cambridge – click here to check availability.
Alternatively, this guided tour is perfect for travellers that only want to visit Cambridge and also includes a guided walking tour as well as free time to explore yourself – click here to check availability.
What To Do on a Cambridge Day Trip on a Budget
Instead of going on a paid tour…go on a free walking tour
Cambridge University has been around since the 13th century and being on a budget shouldn’t be an excuse to not finding out more about its fascinating history during your one day in Cambridge.
There are a number of paid tours that you can take through Cambridge, however, one of the best ways to save money is to go on a free walking tour with Footprint Tours. All their tours are run by knowledgeable local guides who will not only take you around to all the main sites in Cambridge but also share fascinating history and amusing anecdotes about the city and university life. Their tours run daily at 11am and 2pm and go for approximately two hours.
Our guide, Tim, was a Ph.D. student at Cambridge who brought the city to life through his stories and he clearly had a passion for showing people around the city he has called home for a couple of years. While these tours are technically free, please leave a tip at the end if you enjoy the tour as the guides don’t otherwise get paid.
If the timing of the free walking tour doesn’t work out for your Cambridge day trip, then another affordable option is to take this paid walking tour. It is run by Cambridge Alumni Tours and takes you on a similar route of the free walking tour. It runs daily at 1pm and 3pm and goes for approximately 90 minutes.
Instead of going punting…make fun of tourists punting
One of the most popular tourist activities during a Cambridge day trip is to go punting along the River Cam. The cheapest option to go punting is to share a boat with a number of tourists which will cost about £15-20 per person. You can also rent your own boat for around £30 for the hour.
If both these options sound too expensive, follow the lead of local students who sit along the banks of the River Cam and make fun of all the tourists punting who clearly have no idea what they’re doing!
The River Cam is quite narrow so on a warm sunny day when there are a number of boats in the river, there is plenty of carnage to watch as dumbfounded tourists struggle to navigate. The highlight is undoubtedly watching tourists get their poles stuck in the river and then having to paddle backwards to retrieve it. If you’re lucky you might even see someone fall in!
If you want to go punting on the River Cam but don’t want to do the hard work yourself, then I recommend booking this affordable guided shared punting tour. It’s at 45-minute tour along the River Cam where you will learn more about the history of Cambridge.
Instead of paying to enter colleges…find secret entrances or visit the grounds
There are 31 colleges in Cambridge which are the residential halls of all the students studying in Cambridge. Some of the most famous colleges, including King’s College and Trinity College, are steeped in tradition, making them popular tourist destinations and hence charging admission to visit.
One way to get around this is to just visit the grounds of places like King’s College which lets you get a close look at the colleges without paying admission. Alternatively, for Trinity College, there is a secret entrance to see the colleges by entering through the small gate on Trinity Lane which doesn’t charge admission.
If you do decide to visit the colleges during your Cambridge day trip, please be mindful that these are people’s homes and be respectful. Also during exam season, the colleges are closed to visitors so please respect that and don’t sneak into the colleges!
Where To Eat on a Cambridge Day Trip on a Budget
Eat affordable Asian food
There is nothing students like more than cheap food and as Cambridge is predominately made up of students, there are a number of cheap restaurants where you can get a bite to eat.
In particular, there is some great cheap, tasty and filling Asian food for under £7-10 per meal. I can highly recommend Yippee Noodle Bar which is located in the centre of town and is extremely popular with students.
Get a Meal Deal
A great tip for not only visiting Cambridge, but also if wanting to cut costs in London and other British cities is to have a meal deal for lunch. Meal deals are available at most major supermarkets and allow you to choose a sandwich, a snack like a packet of crisps and a drink for approximately £3.
When in Cambridge look out for major supermarkets like Tescos or Sainsburys which offer meal deals.
Go to the pub at lunch
If you want to experience a traditional British pub during your one day in Cambridge then it’s best to head there during lunchtime if you are visiting England on a budget.
There are a number of pubs that offer significant discounts on meals during the rush hour which while probably won’t be as cheap as a meal deal or Asian food, can be incredibly good value for the price you pay.
If visiting Cambridge on Sunday, you can also choose to indulge in a classic British Roast. For those of you not familiar with this quintessentially British tradition, on Sundays, pubs serve a roast lunch where you choose your roast meat (many pubs will also have a vegetarian option!) and it is served with potatoes, vegetables, gravy and a Yorkshire pudding. Expect to pay about £10-15 however the plus side being you won’t need to eat again that day!
A Cambridge day trip is a fascinating day out and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive if you follow these tips!
When travelling in the UK, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Have you been to Cambridge? What is your favourite part of the city? Let us know in the comments below!