Taking A Punt in Cambridge, England

From a bridge over the River Cam

This isn’t about gambling, so no punter here trying to take your money away. You can relax now.

Cambridge is your quintessentially alluring British city. It’s a university town, immaculate in appearance, and proud of its history and heritage. Known the world over for and because of the many movers and shakers who have passed through its many colleges, Cambridge not only attracts students from all around the world but also tourists in vast numbers.

For individuals like myself, the only chance we will ever get to tell someone that we are “Cambridge return” is by actually visiting the city as a tourist. Since I have done that, I think it’s okay to mention, in passing, that I have “been to Cambridge” even if the other person is asking about my educational qualifications. I mean I did learn something new while I was there, so what if I didn’t attend a university…officially.

Romantic Cambridge

Punting - River Cam

Cambridge - Architecture


Jokes apart, what does one do in Cambridge, especially if it happens to be a bright and sunny day?

First of all, check if somehow Cambridge has miraculously teleported itself from England to some other part of the world, because let’s face it, the chance of British weather being so good, especially on a day you are out visiting a new place, is unheard of.

Seriously though, and I mean it this time, if you happen to be in Cambridge on a beautiful day, make the most of it by spending as much time as you can on the outside.

Trust me, the colleges aren’t going anywhere. It’s a guarantee. They have been standing tall for decades, centuries even, and when you’ve seen a couple, you’ve sort of seen them all. Blasphemy? Not really. They are gorgeous academic institutions that should be celebrated, but you can do that… from the outside, learn about them… from the outside, appreciate their impressive architecture…from the outside. Save the whole “walking through the halls” bit for a rainy day.

In fact, if this is your first time, and you are here for just a day, and there is even a remote chance you will return, then the museums spread across the city can wait too. Be it the Fitzwilliam Museum, The Imperial War Museum, The Polar Museum or the Cambridge University Museum, all are interesting places to visit and definitely educational in their own rights, but you can easily skip a couple to instead immerse yourself into the vibe of the city that comes alive on beautiful sunny days.

Which also includes partaking in a British essential experience. The tradition of Afternoon Tea is an integral part of life here, and quite honestly, with such tasty delights included, it’s hard to skip, especially for a food lover like myself. So, from drinking a rejuvenating cuppa to biting into mini-sandwiches, scones, and cakes, tea time in Cambridge is exceptional.

Once replenished, head on out and enjoy the gardens surrounding the Colleges. The oh-so-pretty flowers blooming, trees giving shade, rolling green grass sort of parks where it is almost mandatory to have a picnic. Provided it is allowed to “Stay on the Grass”. And no, not THAT kind of grass, HA HA! I get it, you are so hilarious.

Cambridge Gardens

Cambridge Green

Cambridge - Bridges

Enough about the grass, there’s also an abundance of flora and fauna to keep you occupied, but even if botanical names of plants don’t fascinate you, the exquisiteness of the natural beauty is tremendously soothing to the eyes, and you’ve only got to be human to appreciate it all.

Of course, like any quaint British town, you must explore the streets of Cambridge for its delightful cafes and local shops (in addition to the high-street brands and souvenir stalls). If you are a little nerdy and bookish, as I am, then a visit to the Cambridge University Press Bookshop should be on your shopping list. But, if you just want to really chill out, then head to one of the bars by the river for a quick drink or two.

Cambridge is picture perfect. Now, one of my many regrets in life has been that I am artistically challenged, ‘cause if I were not, then the city would be my muse, and nothing would pleasure me more than to sit under a tree, set up my easel, and paint away the beautiful scenes that would play out in front of my eyes. Buildings with enchanting arches, the reflections in the water disturbed by the ripples whenever a boat would pass, and of course the people who add character to the very nature of the city.

View from the Bridge

Scenes from a Boat, Cambridge

No Moorings, Cambridge

Punting on River Cam

However, the one “excursion” you must partake in, when in the city, especially on a bright sunny day, is taking a ride in a Punt, that “long flat-bottomed boat, with square ends, propelled with a long pole”, which can be found-a-plenty floating on the River Cam.

I must confess, I did lie a little right at the start. There is a bit of gamble involved in taking a boat ride because every now and then it capsizes. Usually, it is the poor punter who ends up in the water, much before he/she lets any one of their customers get wet, but I was informed that there have been cases where one moment everyone is enjoying the local scenery and the next they are taking a refreshing dip in the river.

I’m scaring you more than I should. It’s perfectly safe, so don’t worry because a leisurely ride in a punt is a must do when in Cambridge.

For the adventurous souls out there, and to some extent suicidal individuals, you can hire a boat and be your own punter. However, it does get crowded and if you don’t know where you are going or end up in the wrong direction, well, remember what I told you about taking a dip in the river, so best if you come without bathing that day.

Boating on River Cam

Cambridge Architecture Buildings

Cambridge - Picture Perfect

Cambridge - University Town

For a more relaxed individual, let the professionals do their job. By doing this, you will also be helping the local student population as most of them work as boat-men and women to earn extra cash.

During the high tourist season, students can be found spread across the main touristy areas enticing you to take a punt, so to speak. Bargain with them because we were initially quoted £10 per person and £5 for my then 2-year old daughter, but eventually ended up paying £7 p/p and my daughter went for free. Also, do not feel bad about it, as, by bargaining, all that you are doing is providing these young minds with the kind of business acumen that only real-life situations can provide. I mean if they would have figured out we are outsiders and that we have a young enthusiastic child with us, they’d know that we would have even paid double for the ride. If you are in Cambridge and reading this, let this be a lesson to you.

If you luck out with a good punter like we did, he/she will also be your source of entertainment and information, giving you an inside, well technically outside, look at the city’s colleges and their rivalries and friendships. What you can do in the end is give a tip for your punter provided you enjoyed your little boat ride (although it is not expected).

There you have it, folks. Make it a day trip from London, or come and stay for a weekend in the town, but if you are looking for a laid-back, relaxing, gently swaying time in Cambridge, remember, sometimes it pays to take a punt.

22 replies »

  1. Being an American, I’ve only thought of “punting” as something you do in what we call, football. But you have enlightened me and it definitely looks like something I would want to try in Cambridge. I still have yet to visit Cambridge but it looks like you can easily spend a relaxing afternoon drifting down the river 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been to Cambridge as a tourist a few times, but years ago, when you are there a lot to study you do get a little beauty blind. Thank you for the wonderful and engaging – not to mention aesthetic – post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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