What springs to your mind when you hear about Cambridge and Oxford? Probably you imagine the two old and famous Universities, right? Not to mention some important names in Sciences and Arts such as Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis and many others. The simple mention of these two cities always made me shudder, and getting to know them seemed something extremally distant and even unreal to me. However, the opportunity knocked on my door when I lived in England for 1 year, between 2015 and 2016. Now I'll share here my memorable experiences in the unforgettable cities of Cambridge and Oxford.
The breathtaking city of Cambridge
City of Cambridge
Pride of Cambridgeshire County
Only a month after my arrival in England, I went with my Korean roommate to Cambridge, which was my second city visited in England (the first was London). The capital of Cambridgeshire County, Cambridge has only 122.000 inhabitants, it's 80 kilometers distant from London and has a completely different atmosphere from the English capital. Flat town, very few big buildings, cozy restaurants and cafes and a very welcoming people. Special highlight for the locals' accent: clear and easy to understand.
The University of Cambridge and its attractions
Most of the attractions of the city are related to the University of Cambridge, founded in 1209 and one of the 10 oldest in the world still in operation. Our first stop was the Sedwick Museum of Earth Sciences, which belongs to the University. A fascinating place to discover and appreciate the geology studies of such great scientists as Charles Darwin, observe fossils of dinosaurs, plants and animals, discover all the information contained in the nature in the Cambridge region and understand how the University has contributed so much (and still contributes) to this field of science. After the museum, we walked down the lanes heading to the Colleges (that is, each one of the 31 subdivisions f the University) which were located to the right and left bank of the Cam River. We entered the College of the Main Library and there we had the fascinating sensation of walking between bright minds that may become “Darwins” of the future. It's important to note that you can visit the Library and College premises where it's located, but not inside – only if you have an international student card.
The Main Library College
Then we went to King's College, where is located the University's official chapel, the King's College chapel. Religious services are held daily there. Stunning architecture, from the outer façade to the details on the altars on the inside, passing by the staggering vault and the pictures on the walls. Extremely busy, full of tourists (it closes during the daily services). Entry ticket costs 8 pounds.
You better punting
Finally, there was no better way to end the adventure: we walked along the river banks until we reached a busy spot full of pubs and restaurants, and at this place we did a tour that, in my opinion, is mandatory for all the tourists: Punting. It's a type of boat with flat floor, stools and in the back a type of elevated “step” where the boat's conductor rows by the water. Of course, this conductor isn't simply a rower, but a very qualified guide full of stories to tell about each of the Colleges and the city. The tour lasts 1h and costs about 20,00 pounds.
The endless charms of Oxford
The University of Oxford and its traditions
As in Cambridge, tourism in Oxford is pretty much all about the University. The 39 Colleges are located along the wide, old and dizzing city's streets. The River Thames goes through Oxford and carries extreme significance, as it is where the famous canoeing competitions take place between the students of University of Cambridge and University of Oxford. Six friends of mine and myself started the amazing day by walking throughout the river banks and admiring the canoes, boat-houses, puntings and even yachts in it.
Thames River Banks
Red Bus Tour: the best option for sightseeing
Because of the difficulty of choosing among the 39 Colleges to visit and intending to have a more global perspective of the city, we decided to do sightseeing by bus, the famous red ones – the tickets can be purchased at any touristic spot of the city or directly with the driver. Inside the bus, each passenger has a headset to listen to explanations about attractions in many different languages. The euphoria of passing through the Colleges where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll studied is inexplicable! After that, time for lunch in the small, delicious and cozy restaurant “Cafe Loco”, all themed with Lewis Carroll's tale “Alice in Wonderland”.
The Main Library and The Christ Church
Finished the meal, we chose two of the most crucial spots from University of Oxford to go on foot due to the proximity to the restaurant. The first one was the University's Main Library. Unlike the Cambridge Library, the Oxford Library allows tourist access through guided tours with varying prices. And the second one was the Christ Church, official chapel of University of Oxford, located in the Christ Church College. We didn't enter it due to the tight time, but we could admire the incredible building surrounded by an astonishing garden full of lavender, a flower cultivated all over England. That brings an even more special atmosphere to the place.
Time for Afternoon Tea
Finally, after a long walk with no destination throughout the city's streets, observing each of the Colleges and taking hundreds of photos, we ended the incredible tour having a typical British Afternoon Tea at “The Grand Cafe”: it's simply the oldest tea house in England, established in 1650! After almost 4 centuries of existence, the place still keeps intact its architectural features and impeccable service.
Afternoon tea at The Grand Cafe
A rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford? No way – I'll take both
Compare these two cities and choose the best one? Impossible. Oxford is a little larger, with 150.00 inhabitants, and it houses the oldest University in Europe. On the other hand, Cambridge is the mother of the University that most formed Nobel Prizes winners in the world at all times. Oxford colleges mingle among the streets and the many ancient buildings. On the other side, Cambridge shows an interesting alignment of its colleges, positioned exactly on the river banks. Two rivers, four banks, one rivalry. As for us, tourists, two very different tours await us with their unique and incomparable experiences.