Our city — Did you know?
Facts about Cambridge.
It’s in the DNA
It’s fairly well known that DNA was discovered in Cambridge by geneticists Crick and Watson at Cambridge University. Less well known is that it the iconic double-helix was illustrated in Cambridge, by lecturer Odile Crick, at Cambridge School of Art.
Cambridge is a tech hub, dubbed Silicon Fen. It’s estimated that 18% of the UK’s computer gaming industry is based here, alongside a host of science and technology companies – some of them valued in the billion-dollar region. The place to be then.
Not just any Tom, Dick or Harry
JK Rowling got the idea for Harry Potter while delayed on a train travelling from Manchester to London King's Cross. Cambridge School of Art graduate Thomas Taylor brought Harry to life in Cambridge as a ‘faint pencil sketch, painted with concentrated watercolour... and then outlined with a black Karisma pencil’ in 1996, whilst drinking a Belgian beer (possibly). This sketch became the original English cover for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and Harry’s image was set in stone forever.
Have you herd?
Cambridge might be a buzzing 21st-century city, but its pastoral origins are still seen in the herds of cows grazing on common land. The cattle on Midsummer Common are such a part of Cambridge’s identity that they have their own Twitter account and recently an art trail dedicated to them. Midsummer Common is also the venue for annual events like Midsummer Fair and Strawberry Fair.
Expect the unexpected
Where can you find a rare 15-foot-high tequila plant, a time-eating monster, an 800 year old fair, and a complete Iguanodon skeleton? Yes, you guessed it - in Cambridge! Our city has a unique history and culture, with over 150 libraries, museums and galleries and a wide range of events and festivals. Plenty to inspire and entertain.
There’s something in the basement. A very lifelike puppet of former Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi, gifted by Cambridge School alumni Nigel Law and Roger Fluck. After studying at Cambridge School of Art in the 60’s, they went on to create the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, which ran throughout the 80’s and 90’s and returned to our screens in 2020.
Music to your ears
From tiny acoustic sets to a full-blown orchestra, we know how to do live music in Cambridge. Whether you want to discover the next big thing or just enjoy something a little bit different, these are the places to go.
A venue where art meets life. Catch live music from both well-known and up-and-coming acts as well as stand-up comedy and theatre in their eclectic programme.
Cambridge Corn Exchange
It may have started life as the hub of merchant trading, but today it’s known as Cambridge's biggest venue for music, comedy and entertainment across every genre you can think of.
The Portland Arms
This venue is a little bit legendary in this city, playing host to everything from folk and indie or live hip-hop to very unusual electronic stuff. Perfect for discovering new music.
We’ve got green spaces galore in Cambridge. Here are some of the best:
Milton Country Park
This little gem is well worth the trip. On the edge of the city, this woodland has a lake, wildflowers and even a sensory garden. Perfect for walks and picnics and only a short stroll from Cambridge North train station.
Not a fan of how busy it gets at Jesus Green? Pop over the road and you’ll find Alexandra Gardens. Only 15 minutes from the city centre, it’s a bit of a hidden treasure surrounded by a perimeter of ancient trees.
An ideal place to take a picnic, admire the ancient willow trees or soak up some sun. Cross over the bridge and head to Sheep’s Green where you can walk along the river and get away from the busy city streets. You can also walk on to Coe Fen and across to the river, busy in summer with punts, or walk in the more peaceful Paradise Nature Reserve.
From folk to jazz, literature, art and a whole two months dedicated entirely to Shakespeare, find your crowd amongst the city’s annual festivals.
Cambridge Film Festival
A celebration of everything film – past, present and future. Watch the classics, experience films from other countries and cultures and discover new talent shaping the future of cinema. Talk to actors, writers and directors, and look out for screenings in unusual spaces and places.
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival
Throughout July and August, the city comes alive with Shakespeare. So much so that it’s not unusual to see actors strolling down streets in full Elizabethan costume. Pack a picnic and watch classic Shakespeare performances in some of Cambridge University’s private gardens – some of which aren’t even open to the colleges’ own students. July and August.
Cambridge Folk Festival
One of the most famous folk festivals in the world, right here in Cambridge. Experience traditional folk alongside contemporary, country, blues and roots in the beautiful surroundings of Cherry Hinton Hall Park. End of July.
Cambridge International Jazz Festival
Promoting jazz within the city and beyond, Cambridge’s International Jazz Festival takes over many of the city’s iconic venues in November – including the Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge Junction and Mumford Theatre. November.
Cambridge Literary Festival
Each year, Cambridge Literary Festival welcomes over 350 writers and speakers to the city to talk about all things books. The festival offers up a whole host of exciting events with literary greats and debut writers, scientists, artists, politicians, comedians, historians, journalists, poets and more. Year-round.
Held on Midsummer Common, Strawberry Fair is a local festival of music, entertainments, arts and crafts. Oh, and it’s entirely free. June.
Day trips with a difference
Everybody knows that London is only a short train ride away from Cambridge, but what about something a little less ordinary? From a mysterious cave and shipwreck to live music in a forest, find the unusual and extraordinary wherever you go.
Beneath the city of Royston there’s a mystery that remains unsolved. Royston Cave is a man-made cave decorated with religious wall carvings. With no records of its age or purpose, it’s a bit of an enigma.
The Wreck of Sheraton
Head to Hunstanton beach for a day on the Norfolk Coast for some fresh sea air and a surprise shipwreck. Wedged in the sands, you’ll find the remains of an old fishing-vessel-turned-warship. The Sheraton actually survived both world wars before being wrecked in 1947.
The UK’s largest man-made forest and a secret gig venue hidden amongst the trees. High Lodge in Thetford Forest is one of the venues for Forest Live with acts like Ed Sheeran and James Bay previously gracing the stage. Go for the nature, stay for the music.
We are Modernists
Think Cambridge is just centuries-old chapels and medieval marvels? Think again. There’s some extraordinary modernist spaces in this city. Eye-sores or creative experimentation? We’ll leave that up to you to decide...
A brutalist surprise hiding at the back of the 16th-century style Christ’s College. Its small rooms are stacked together and look a bit like typewriter keys – hence the nickname.
Cambridge Nuclear Bunker
Near the Botanic Gardens is a concrete relic of the Cold War era. This building was originally built in 1953 to house local government officials from Cambridge in the event of a nuclear attack.
This brutalist building led the way in saying goodbye to traditional collegiate architecture and hello to new ways of design. With a focus on concrete beams, wooden framed windows and a new found focus on functionality.
A sculpture in the city centre celebrates a fundraising legend. Often accompanied by his animals, Walter ‘Snowy’ Farr was a well-known presence in Market Square where he would collect money for charity. The cat and mice really would sit on his hat like the sculpture.
Graveyard with the highest IQ
Ascension Parish Burial Ground is known as Britain’s brainiest cemetery for a reason. Some of Cambridge University’s most influential astronomers, poets, biologists, engineers and philosophers are buried here – including three Nobel Prize winners. From the scientist who split the atom to a pioneering mathematician who campaigned for women’s education, there’s so many stories to uncover in this unlikely place.
The birthplace of football...
Fancy a kickabout? The very first game of football was played on Parker’s Piece in 1848 when a group of Cambridge students wrote a set of rules and nailed them to the trees surrounding the park. From there, the game as we know it today was born with the Cambridge rules being the basis for the Football Association rules in 1863.
...and auto-destructive art
This city is a home for art and activism. Art that challenges, interrogates and calls for change. The pioneer of radical auto-destructive art (with destruction as part of the process) Gustav Metzger studied at the Cambridge School of Art during the 1940s. His role as both a conceptual artist and political activist continues to inspire contemporary art today.
Cambridge Art Crawl
Our very own gallery, surrounded by the artists’ studios on campus. Ruskin Gallery changes exhibitions regularly so there’s always something new to see. When student shows are on it's a great chance to see what happens on the other courses.
For all things Pop Art and Rock n’ Roll. A modern and contemporary art gallery in a converted barn bursting with neon, urban art and work by some of the most exciting contemporary artists today.
New Hall Art Collection
A hidden gem in Murray Edwards College, with the largest collection of modern and contemporary art by female artists in Europe – over 450 pieces, no less. Look out for work by Mary Kelly, Sandra Blow and Tracey Emin.
A unique art gallery dedicated to showcasing artwork from young, aspiring artists. Byard A little bubble of modern art opposite King’s College Chapel. This contemporary art gallery and shop includes a rolling exhibition programme of solo and mixed artists, as well as housing a permanent collection.
ARU students can choose from 180 original works of art to keep in their room for a year. Kettle’s Yard is a modern and contemporary art gallery and students at ARU and Cambridge can borrow from their Loan Collection. Over the last decade, approximately 100 works of art – paintings, drawings, and photographs – have been borrowed every year. Shhh… don’t tell everyone.
‘Any colour you like...’
...said Pink Floyd in 1973. But it was a blue plaque that commemorated founder member and former student Syd Barrett, unveiled at Cambridge School of Art in 2017. Syd studied and performed along with band member Dave Gilmour in the 1970’s, and their first ever gig was played from one of the studio balconies.
Walk across Parker’s Piece from the city centre and you come across a lamppost on which the words ‘Reality Checkpoint’ are written. Legend has it that it was first written there in the 1970’s by students from Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (now ARU) to mark the point of which you entered the real world. It’s probably the only lamppost in the world with its own Wikipedia entry.
Reality Checkpoint has endured for half a century because it reveals a significant truth about Cambridge. There is another reality, a less well-known Cambridge, and ARU is proud to be at its centre. Our side of Reality Checkpoint is Mill Road and Romsey town; vibrant, alternative, accepting.
Mill Road Moments
Mill Road is a little bit special. Home to independent shops, microbreweries, food from around the world and Europe’s first Eco mosque.
Illustration student Guoste Kukcinaviciute shares her pick of places that make this spot so unique:
A wonderful food shop especially for vegetarians or vegans. They have an amazing selection of items from fresh produce to sustainable bathroom products!
A brilliant patisserie and a coffee shop that sells mouth-watering Italian desserts.
This North African restaurant serves the most delicious traditional Algerian dishes and the best Baba Ghanoush in Mill Road.
Delicious cakes, pies, brownies and anything else that could come to mind! They also have a great garden where you can sit and enjoy your new favourite dessert from Tom’s.
This shared sense of belonging, celebrated in the annual Mill Road Winter Fair, attracts diverse but like-minded people. Over the years it has been home to Pink Floyd members Dave Gilmour and Syd Barrett; Douglas Adams; Richard Berengarten (aka Burns); Susanna Clarke; Rajani Palme Dutt; Mary Kingsley; F. R. Leavis; Ronald Searle and Tom Sharpe.
Our values are those of our community and also those of our namesake - renowned art critic and social reformer John Ruskin who opened Cambridge School of Art in 1858.
Inclusive, creative and socially-aware education can transform lives for all.