12 Best Places to Visit in Cambridgeshire (England)

It goes without saying that Cambridge overshadows the county around it, and so it should, with one of the world’s great universities, and all of the history and culture that radiates.

But there’s still a great deal to sink your teeth into in the rest of Cambridgeshire.

It can be hard to imagine now, but many of the towns in the east of the county were once islands surrounded by flooded marshes.

And it’s thrilling to hear how a whole swathe of the country was transformed in the 17th-centiury when lands, often below sea level, were drained, creating new wealth and industry.

Cambridgeshire was also home to Oliver Cromwell who ruled the country instead of a monarch as the Protector of the Commonwealth in the 1600s and became one of UK history’s most significant and controversial personalities.

Lets explore the best places to visit in Cambridgeshire:

1. Cambridge

Cambridge, EnglandSource: flickr
Cambridge, England

The University of Cambridge has a worldwide reputation for excellence, and, having been founded in 1209, is the second oldest in the English-speaking world.

The university’s various colleges like Kings’, Queens’, Trinity and St Catherine’s  are integral to a visit to the city with stunning architecture from different periods.

Punting along the “Backs”, where several college buildings back onto the River Cam is one of several must-dos.

Another, if you have time, is the sensational Fitzwilliam Museum, with a Henry Moore sculpture in its grounds and a trove of painting from the Dutch, English, Flemish, French and Italian Schools.

Rubens is especially well-represented, with 14 paintings.

2. Ely

Ely CathedralSource: flickr
Ely Cathedral

It’s fun to wonder what a bewildering sight Ely must have been in the middle ages: A resplendent cathedral isolated in the marshes on a lone chalk hill.

This incredible monument still has the power to catch your breath and commands the landscape for what seems like miles.

There’s a blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture in the design, feted for its octagonal tower, which is as beautiful outside as it is when you stand in the interior and gaze up from underneath.

Olive Cromwell lived in Ely from 1636-47 and his half-timbered house at St Mary’s Vicarage will tell you about his time in the city, as well as the compelling history of the Fens.

3. Huntingdon

HuntingdonSource: flickr
Huntingdon

This town is as cute as they come, but has a history that will excite the antiquarian in all of us.

Huntingdon got its charter from King John at the start of the 13th century.

Follow the “Historic Trail” around the centre to see the medieval bridge over the River Ouse and coaching houses from the 1700s when Huntingdon was an important cog in England’s horse-drawn transport network.

But the main reason to come to Huntingdon is for Oliver Cromwell, who was born in the town in 1599 and later became its MP. Get some perspective on this divisive figure at the Cromwell Museum, which has a sumptuous venue in a medieval school house that the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys also attended.

4. St Ives

St Ives, CambridgeshireSource: flickr
St Ives, Cambridgeshire

From medieval times onwards St Ives thrived because of the trade afforded by the River Great Ouse and thanks to its road transport connections to London.

At one time in the 1830s there were 64 pubs in this town.

You can still experience some of the former bustle at the markets on Mondays and Fridays that occupy most of the town centre.

St Ives Bridge, constructed in the 1400s, is one of only four bridges in the county to come with a chapel.

In the 1500s the prior from the dissolved St Ives abbey was permitted to live here.

The Old Riverport by the bridge is also where you can embark on a guided cruise on the river and to see the pleasing greenery of the water meadows in the Ouse Valley.

5. March

St Wendreda's Church, MarchSource: flickr
St Wendreda’s Church, March

The highlight of this market town is the Church of St Wendreda.

And specifically it’s the interior you need to see, which has a 14th-century double hammerbeam roof with the images of 120 angels carved into the wood.

In the Fens to the northeast of the county, March was actually once an island until the surrounding marshes were drained, and this helped the town develop from the 1600s on.

The River Nene, now very charming, became navigable, and was used for trading grain and coal, and the town was granted its market.

This is still in rude health and trades in front of the neo-gothic town hall on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

6. Wisbech

WisbechSource: flickr
Wisbech

Further downstream on the Nene is Cambridgeshire’s second largest town.

Like March Wisbech’s fortune’s changed as soon as the Fens were drained because overnight it became a crucial inland port shipping produce from the Fens’ new farmland.

The Nene Quay and the North and South Brinks are a stunning testament to this period and one of Cambridgeshire most agreeable man-made sights.

On either side of the Nene are rows of 17th and 18th century warehouses and tall houses that now have a stately air but would have been bustling before the railways came.

On the grand Museum Square is the Wisbech & Fenland Museum in a handsome townhouse and has been open since 1847.

7. Peterborough

PeterboroughSource: flickr
Peterborough

A prosperous city on the edge of the Fens and known for its manufacturing and commerce, Peterborough is often neglected by tourists.

But there’s a great deal to discover if you give it a chance, with the added bonus the shopping and dining of an urban centre.

The most obvious landmark is the cathedral, which shines for being one of just a handful of 12th-century early-Gothic churches to be largely unchanged since it was first completed.

Lovers of medieval architecture may lose all track of time in this monument.

Bronze Age discoveries are made around Peterborough all the time, and, just east of the city centre, Flag Fen is a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age site cleverly presented as a museum.

8. Ramsey

Ramsey, CambridgeshireSource: wikimedia
Ramsey, Cambridgeshire

Despite being compact, the town of Ramsey has 60 listed buildings in a historic centre designated as a conservation area.

Branching off the High Street is Great Whyte, and the curious thing about this street is that it has large dock warehouses at the top end even though there’s no sign of a river.

That’s because the High Lode River channelled under Great Whyte in the 1850s, which is the reason for the distinctive width of the street.

The highly-rated Ramsey Rural Museum sheds light on the early years of farming the reclaimed Fens and is even contained in beautiful farm buildings that date to 1600s.

9. Duxford

Imperial War Museum DuxfordSource: flickr
Imperial War Museum Duxford

In the far south of Cambridgeshire is this village most famous for its airfield.

In the Second World War RAF Duxford was a key base during the Battle of Britain and then for the United States Air Force.

Since the 70s it has been redeveloped as a visitor attraction, and has a staggering collection of vintage aircraft at what is now the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

There are 200 aircraft and all kinds of other military vehicles in seven buildings.

You could stop for lunch at one of the three pubs in the village and then go and investigate St John’s Church, which has Gothic frescos and walls that are etched with historic graffiti.

10. St Neots

St NeotsSource: wikimedia
St Neots

Many visitors may arrive in St Neots in an unconventional way, by barge along the River Great Ouse, which is one of the UK’s longest rivers, flowing across eastern England and emptying into the North Sea.

The riverbanks could well be the most agreeable part of the town, as there’s a riverside park where you can see the waterborne traffic floating by in the summer.

Nothing beats a quirky local museum, and the one in St Neots ticks this box, being housed in the town’s former magistrates court.

This attraction will relate some interesting tales about the people who used to live in the town, like the Eynesbury Giant , who lived in St Neots in the 1800s.

11. Lode

Anglesey AbbeySource: flickr
Anglesey Abbey

A loveable village northwest of Cambridge, Lode has sweet little thatched cottages and grander flat-fronted homes, and is great for walks in the southern Fens.

But there’s some inspiring history in Lode’s back garden too: Anglesey Abbey is a marvellous 17th-century Jacobean manor house.

The property is crammed with paintings, antique furniture, clocks and silverware belonging to Lord Fairhaven, who bequeathed it all to the National Trust.

The landscaped grounds surpass even the manor house, and have year-round appeal thanks to the snowdrops that bloom in February.

Last but not least there’s Lode Mill, a watermill from the 1700s, still milling grain and open to the public.

12. Buckden

Buckden TowersSource: wikipedia
Buckden Towers

One of the many things to love about the village of Buckden is how its high street is still a cornerstone of the community.

There are boutiques, restaurants and inns all clustered together, and at the George Hotel & Brasserie you’ll realise how Buckden was once a staging town on the Great North Road, which linked London with Edinburgh.

And it’s not every high street that can claim to have entertained royalty.

Buckden Towers first went up in the 1100s, and the design that you see now is Tudor.

A host of the medieval and Tudor England’s most significant figures stayed here, like Edward I (Longshanks in Braveheart!), Richard III and Henry VIII, as well as his wives Catherine of Aragon and Catherine Howard.

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Cambridgeshire, England
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12 Best Places to Visit in Cambridgeshire (England):

  • Cambridge
  • Ely
  • Huntingdon
  • St Ives
  • March
  • Wisbech
  • Peterborough
  • Ramsey
  • Duxford
  • St Neots
  • Lode
  • Buckden