When travelling with kids, the easier the better. Grab the snacks at the train station and a seat by the window, sit back and relax in the knowledge that in less than an hour you’ll be at your destination. That was the draw of Cambridge for me. Keeping it simple, we checked into a hotel right by the station (thoroughly impressed with the ship-shape, pod-like rooms at the Ibis) and within minutes we were heading down the main road into the town centre on foot.
The main Saturday afternoon focus for us (and many other families with kids; both locals and out-of-towners) was the home-to-two-million fossils, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences (free entry). With life-size dinosaur skeleton casts, insights into the eating habits and habitats of Ichthyosaurus and Ankylosaurus (my five-year-old, Gus’ favourites) puzzles, books and countless carefully labelled fossils in glorious old glass-fronted bookcases, we happily whiled away a couple of hours at least.
The best plans are the ones that come together at the very last minute, I say. En route, I’d garnered a few foodie recommendations from some Instagram pals and a resounding favourite was the parquet-floored Pint Shop just minutes around the corner from the Sedgwick on Peas Hill. A bustling pub restaurant known for its ales, it was busy downstairs but more chilled in the dining rooms on the first floor where we tucked into some late lunch — delicious sea bass and chips (for the grown-ups) and macaroni cheese for Gus, watching the world go by on the streets below.
Camera in hand while the boys were finishing up, I popped out on a quick recce and stumbled upon an old bookshop around the back of a pretty little church before hitting gold as one of Cambridge’s best-loved ice-cream parlour’s — Jack’s Gelato was just a stone’s throw away from where we were. Usually with queues up the street on a sunny day, the slightly overcast skies were in our favour. Straight in with a double scoop vanilla in a cone and one hot chocolate please! Gus devoured the ice-cream before I got a look in, but that’s mainly because I was having my own moment with one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever tasted. Thoroughly recommended. Sit inside gazing at the passersby, or the swirls of the chocolate ice-cream being churned counterfront.
The next morning we woke to glorious sunshine and, raring to go, we headed off to another recommendation — The Espresso Library on East Road, just by Parker’s Piece football common. A fantastic glass fronted, high-ceilinged (with suspended bicycles) caf. serving specialty coffee alongside its rotating art exhibition. Here we indulged in yummy avocado toast and poached eggs brought to our sofa and coffee table spot, as a relaxed Cambridge professor gave his Sunday morning tutorial to students over latte by a window table.
Bellies full, it was time for punting. I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of companies offering trips and the differing ticket prices. We’d been approached by touts offering a good deal leaving our hotel in the morning, but I’d decided to wait until we were riverside. This proved to be the more expensive option; I would definitely research this in more detail next time!
However, waiting in anticipation at a waterside caf. Looking out on the sparkling water was blissful. And there’s something about stepping into a low-sided glossy wooden punt, blue-checked cosy blankets waiting for you, that is quite magical, especially for a five-year-old. With each guide brimming with knowledge and jokes to share, I was mesmerised by the dappled light on the stone bridges we passed under and the exquisitely beautiful college backs on route. Of course, Gus just wanted to drag his hands through the water and stroke the (very bold and fast!) ducks swimming right next to us. Such a special experience to glide close to the water, I could have quite easily spent the whole day there, drifting up and down the Cam, dozing off in the warm sun.
By this time though, London was calling us back. The beauty being we would be back home in under an hour. Bliss!
If you have any time left…
25 MINS • MARKET
The bustling Cambridge Sunday Market (10am–4pm) sells everything from organic farm produce to books, music, plants and second-hand bikes.
45 MINS • GARDENS
Explore the 40-acre Cambridge University Botanic Garden seasonal trails or drop in to the Family Saturday Activities sessions (first Saturday of every month).
60 MINS • GALLERY
Visit the just opened Astronomy & Empire exhibition in the Whipple Museum’s newly refurbished Exhibition Gallery (until 28 September 2018).
This article first appeared in the winter 2017 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.