Cambridge/London suggestions?
July 23, 2011 3:49 PM   Subscribe

4-5 days in Cambridge and London. What to do? Where to eat?

My father and I are going to be in Cambridge for a conference in early August for 4-5 days, with the option of staying in London for the last night. Last (and only) time I went to London, I took the tube from Heathrow, went to a mediocre Bach concert and went right back on the tube to get back to my airport hotel before midnight and left at 6 the next morning. So London has a bit of an unfairly bad first impression for me (that was my first and only impression of England as a whole, actually!). Help me fix that!
posted by sdis to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you want really outstanding veggie lunch, go to Food For Thought on Neal Street in Covent Garden. Usually a queue and you'll end up sharing a table. Outstanding food. Whenever I'm in London, I always stop there for lunch. An local favorite for sure. It's been there for decades, and Convent Garden is a great place for walk around shopping in it's own right.
posted by about_time at 4:19 PM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's --> its
posted by about_time at 4:20 PM on July 23, 2011

We liked Ottolenghi in London.
posted by novalis_dt at 4:24 PM on July 23, 2011

London: um there are so many great restaurants its hard to choose and so many things to do and see. a tube trip and a bach concert is not really a thorough investigation.

If I had to choose I'd say eat at St John, the smithfields restaurant or the Commercial Rd "Bread & Wine' the Menu might be a bit confronting for some but the food is great and somehow quite British.

for daytime entertainment, I'd say Tate Modern or... hmm Brick Lane. London is such a mess of cultures now and I think that is the one place that sort of gives you a taste of the place.
posted by mary8nne at 5:56 PM on July 23, 2011

Have you got any more info than that? It's a pretty broad question.

Have a look at some of the past questions. There's been lots and lots written about London. Here are some tagged with both London and Travel.

I would recommend that you don't stay in Heathrow, as the travel time makes enjoying London a bit prohibitive.

Cambridge is a slightly more unusual prospect. I was there for a conference a couple of weeks ago, and they provided pretty good food in the college where it took place.

Here's a recent Chowhound thread. Here's an older one, which may still be useful.

I find looking at the top results on Yelp quite useful when I've spending a day or two in a new place.
posted by Magnakai at 6:38 PM on July 23, 2011

I've stayed more than once at the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square. It's reasonably priced for London, a short walk from the Russell Square tube station, and about five seconds away from the British Museum. (Warning: single rooms are about the size of a broom closet.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:44 PM on July 23, 2011

Newton's apple tree is in Cambridge....
posted by sexyrobot at 12:06 AM on July 24, 2011

I'd nth mary8nne on St John - had one of the best meals of my life there. Book in advance though!
posted by prentiz at 1:37 AM on July 24, 2011

I lived in Cambs for a couple of years. In August, a lunch in a pub next to the river takes some beating. From memory, the Green Dragon, or a 10 min cab ride away, the Plough in Fen Ditton were both nice spots.
Another cab ride 10mins north will take you to Histon, a pretty little village around a pond with 5 pubs, should you wish to escape the tourist vibe.
In the middle of town try the Eagle for a pint. Out the back is where Mr Hobson had his stables and invented the term "Hobson's choice". Looking at the ceiling will also show some graffiti from WWII USAF airmen. It was also apparently the local for Watson and Crick where they celebrated discovering DNA. Layers of history like this are par for the course all over the town.
The various little museums in the colleges are all excellent ways to spend an hour or two - the quality of the collections in these little poky halls was eye opening to my antipodean eyes.
And a sunny day just strolling around the center of town then off to the backs of the colleges along the river is time well spent to my mind.
sexyrobot mentioned Newton's apple tree (well, supposedly a descendant of.) and there is academic history a plenty along these lines.
I did a walking tour lead by a blue badge guide that was excellent. I think the tours here would be the same.
I'm happy to answer any specific questions if my 10yro memory of the place is useful.
posted by bystander at 2:52 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Which college are you staying at? Depending on that food quality can vary but usually they go all out for conferences. If it's fairly central you can walk to most places in the historical part of Cambridge.

Food-wise: seconding the Eagle, a very traditional style English pub, Auntie's Tea Shop near King's College for English breakfasts/cream tea, and the pubs by the river near Magdalene College are nice as well. For vegetarian and nice ethnic cuisine I like to go to Rainbow Cafe (great carrot cake!). The Cambridge Chophouse (opposite the Corpus Clock) is a pricier option serving pretty authentic British food. Jamie Oliver also has a restaurant near Market Square, which is a must-visit especially on weekends - loads of stalls selling fresh produce, accessories, clothes, cakes etc. The Michaelhouse Cafe is inside a church so that might be interesting. Other place that seemed amazing but I never managed to try (sob): Indigo Coffee house, CB2 (a bit far from the centre though).

As for sightseeing, the usual routine is King's College and chapel, Trinity College, St. John's College (you'll have to pay as a non-student for these), a punt ride along the Cam that will take you past the above three, Mathematical bridge in Queen's College, and perhaps the amazing Fitzwilliam Art Museum. If you're more interested in smaller specialist museums a lot of departments have their own. My personal favourites are the Sedgwick museum of earth sciences and the university Zoology museum - lots of fossils, yay!
posted by monocot at 11:25 AM on July 24, 2011

Former Cambridge resident here. On the things-to-do front:

The historic city centre is very pretty to wander around; it's also conveniently compact. In August, it's outside term, so all (most?) of the colleges will be open to visitors, if you want to take a look inside as well as admiring the buildings from outside.

The Corpus Clock is very weird and well worth a look. Possibly best viewed after dark, as during the day the reflections in the glass make it harder to see.

There's a small art gallery, Kettle's Yard, which is pretty interesting.

You may notice that the road Kettle's Yard is on is called Castle Street. Don't be fooled: the castle itself is long gone, leaving only the mound on which it stood. However, that does provide a nice vantage point for a view over Cambridge.

There are a number of university museums. The big one is the Fitzwilliam Museum: it's an excellent museum with a very varied collection (including, but by no means limited to, Egyptian mummies, classical antiquities, suits of armour and an extensive collection of paintings). There are often lunchtime talks or concerts there.

The smaller museums have more limited opening hours, but are mostly clustered together in the centre of town. The Whipple Museum of the History of Science and the Museum of Zoology (it has a whale skeleton hanging outside, and a giant ground sloth in the basement) are both on the New Museums Site. Across the road from it is the Downing Site, housing the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and the Museum of Classical Archaeology. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is also there, but it looks as if it's closed till 2012. Finally, there's the Polar Museum, one street further out.

By the time you've reached the Polar Museum, you're most of the way to the Botanic Garden, which is lovely in good weather. It contains one of the several "Newton's apple tree" claimants: a descendant of the original. There's another descendant at the Great Gate of his college, Trinity. (The original tree was at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, where he grew up; presumably the one there now is also a descendant. And there's yet another descendant at his old school, the King's School in Grantham. Doubtless there are more.)

If the weather's good, you could also try your hand at punting. If you head towards Grantchester rather than along the Backs (of the colleges), the river's usually less crowded. If you don't fancy manning the punt pole yourself, there are plenty of "punt chauffeur" services; I've never tried that, so can't offer recommendations.

Finally, I have no recent experience of restaurants in Cambridge, but if you fancy a pint after all of that sightseeing, how about the Devonshire Arms, the Live and Let Live, the Cambridge Blue or the Free Press? They're not on the river and they don't have historical associations, but they all serve good beer (and probably good food too).

Heh, sorry about the essay! I hope you enjoy your visit.

posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:49 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

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