Most visitors to Cambridge would like to take a look inside a College or two. There’s over 800years of history to explore and many of them are free to enter.
We have created an exclusive and helpful table showing Colleges, weblinks, opening information and charges. See here… https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1OlNqtNpEPFtrLmnF4n6VCbJWccBZEgP59_tpjdX3WmE/edit?usp=sharing
It should be noted that Colleges are private institutions that have the ability to close at a moment’s notice if a special guest has been invited to look round or something like that. There is no guarantee that a College will be open on the day you might have decided to visit.
If there is a concert or a recording taking place this might also be a reason for a College to close so it’s best to check their websites before you go. Many Colleges keep their social media up to date with any opening restrictions.
We hope some of your questions might be answered below:-
Which are the best Colleges in central Cambridge that are free to look round?
These would be:-
- Christ’s College where Charles Darwin studied (Only open Tuesdays and Thursday)
- Downing College has the Heong Gallery
- Pembroke College with it’s Chapel by Sir Christopher Wren
- Gonville & Caius College with it’s different courts and medical history
- Jesus College with it’s garden sculptures
- Magdelene College right on the river with the Pepys Library
- Peterhouse being the oldest of all the Colleges in Cambridge
- Sidney Sussex where Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried
- St. Catherine’s College in a small intimate College in the heart of Cambridge
- Trinity Hall has an amazing history and a beautiful garden on the river
Which are the Colleges that charge visitors to enter?
These would be:
- Clare College
- Corpus Christi College
- St John’s College
- King’s College
- Queens’ College
- Trinity College
Which are the most famous or popular Colleges to look round?
Trinity is by far the wealthiest and the largest of all the Colleges in Cambridge. They only charge £3 for an adult to enter the College but access is restricted to the Great Court and the Chapel. To gain admission enter via the Great Gate on Trinity Street.
It is also possible to see the Great Court free of charge by entering through the Queen Elizabeth Gate on Trinity Lane but do not cross the barrier marked PRIVATE! If you do the porters wearing bowler hats will be after you.
King’s College is probably the most visited College in Cambridge as the chapel is the finest example of late gothic architecture anywhere in the world. It has the finest example of renaissance stained glass anywhere in the world and the largest fan vaulted ceiling.
To look round the chapel and grounds at King’s you can buy a ticket online here: https://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/visit/your-visit
It is £1 cheaper online but you can just pop into the Kings Shop on Kings Parade and buy your ticket there. It is £11 for an adult and £8.50 for a child when buying from the shop.
Once you have your ticket you will need to walk round to the north door of the chapel to present your ticket and enter.
After you have seen the chapel and the priceless painting by Rubens you can walk round the College grounds. Many visitors just head off after the chapel but it’s a strong recommendation to enjoy the grounds and walk over the bridge to the west, which has inspired famous Chinese poetry.
It is worth noting that with many guided walking tours entry to the chapel is included. Many people walk around the chapel but have no idea what they are looking at so having a guide is a strong recommendation. These can be arranged through Cambridge Walking Tours
It is possible to attend a Choir Services known as Evensong at King’s College chapel free of charge. These take place in term time and you will need to book online as they are restricting the number of people attending due to Covid-19. You can see all the information you need and book online here:-
Once you’ve booked you need to come to the front of King’s College on King’s Parade at 4:55pm. If you are after 5:05pm you will be at the back of the queue. At 5pm you will be allowed into the College and permitted to queue up at the south door to the chapel (follow the crowd). At 5:15pm you will be allowed into the chapel. At 5:30pm Evensong will start. You will not need to pray or sing. Just stand up when everyone else stands up and sit down when everyone else sits down. The service lasts around 45mins. Dress appropriately for a religious service and do not take photographs. It’s important to be respectful of the College allowing visitors to participate in an ancient and beautiful tradition.
Queens’ College is special because of the wooden bridge over the cam often incorrectly referred to as the Mathematical Bridge. It also has a historic sun dial and some of the oldest courts in Cambridge.
It is only £5 to look around this College and much of it is open to the public.
Access is gained via Queens’ Lane.
St. JOHN’S COLLEGE
St. John’s College is very famous as William Wordsworth studied here and it’s one of the most beautiful. It is also the only College to have two bridges over the river one being the famous Bridge of Sighs.
The movie about Steven Hawking’s life called The Theory of Everything was filmed here although Mr. Hawking went to Trinity Hall.
Entry to this College is £11 for an adult and they charge for children over 12yrs. This is the most expensive of all the Colleges to visit.
With the entry to the College you can wonder around most of the buildings. It’s possible to go into the chapel but often this is restricted just to the entrance and not the stalls.
Make the most of your time at St. John’s College and make sure you walk over the Bridge of Sighs and into New Court and the gardens.
What Colleges are off the beaten track but worth a visit?
Selwyn College is a short walk to the west and has some pretty buildings.
Churchill College is a bit of a trek but it has a lot of grounds and some amazing sculptures.
When is the worst time of year to visit the Colleges?
That would be April and May whilst the exams are taking place. Colleges are often closed around this time to allow students to study and prepare for exams.
When is the best time of year to visit?
July and August are good because Colleges are open and there are no student’s around but King’s College Chapel Evensong is not on as it is out of term time.
June can be a great time with Evensong on, students still around and the crowds have not arrived.
If you want to see some nervous new students and get a feel for life as a student October can be fun.
Our favourite time in September when things are quietening down but the evenings are still long and mild.
Here are some other bits of information about visiting Colleges that you might wish to know:-
Cambridge Alumni can gain entrance to Colleges with their CamCard. It allows them to bring one guest with them into St. John’s or Queens’ or up to three guests in other Colleges. It even allows access with two guests into King’s College Chapel.
Cambridge residents can apply for a resident’s card at Kings Shop to gain access to Colleges for free.
Social distancing is still important to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19. There are various measures in place within Colleges that must be adhered to. There is a new booking system for the chapel at Kings for example to keep numbers in confined spaces to a minimum.
Colleges are centres for academic study and life within them are for students, staff and fellows. It is a privilege to be allowed in as a visitor so be mindful of people trying to work.
Many people see their College as their home and identify strongly with them. Alumni and staff can choose to get married in their College chapel as example and so often a College might close for the day to allow that to happen.
If you are interested in women-only Colleges there are now only Murry Edwards and Newnham after Lucy Cavendish started to admit men in 2021.
Once you have looked round a College take the time to enjoy their gardens. Make the most of your visit. College gardens are arguably more exclusive and more enjoyable to look round than the buildings.
Fellow’s gardens are closed to the public but each summer they hold plays as a part of the Shakespeare festival. It is a chance to look inside a garden that’s rarely available to the public’s eye. Get to a performance well before the start and enjoy the garden before the play begins. Don’t forget to bring your picnic! For more information visit https://cambridgeshakespeare.com/
When walking around Colleges it’s easy to forget that the cobbles under your feet are hundreds of years old and may not be perfectly flat so do mind your step.
Fellows are often trying to educate young minds just the other side of a window as you walk around a College so do be mindful not to shout. Many areas are marked PRIVATE for good reason.
Be aware of emergency procedures in the event of an alarm. This information is usually quite clear but might be worth noting as you go in.
We hope this article has proved interesting and useful.
Plan your visit and take as much time as you can to enjoy this wonderful City.
Article by Anthony Dean
College individual websites as listed in the spreadsheet above