After Stonehenge and the Harry Potter Studio Tour, Cambridge is one of the most popular day trips travelers can take from London. Historically, London and Cambridge have always been well-connected neighbors and the route is frequently traveled by Londoners and Cantabrigians (what people from Cambridge call themselves) alike.
Although the two cities are only separated by 64 miles, traveling that distance may take longer than you think, depending how you go about it. Because the cities are so close, you would be hard-pressed to find direct flights from London to Cambridge and frankly, it would probably take just as long as driving when you factor in the traffic you're likely to hit on your way to the airport.
The only sensible options are to travel by car, bus, or train. The best way for you depends on your travel style and also your itinerary. The bus is the cheapest option, but it takes the longest. For most casual travelers, the train is the best option because it will take you from city center to city center in less than an hour and is relatively affordable, although slightly more expensive than the bus.
If you go by car, it will still take you over an hour to get there, but you might consider doing so if there are other cities nearby you hope to visit. Driving will give you the most freedom, but remember that gas, or "petrol" as the British call it, is expensive in the UK and you will need to be comfortable driving on the other side of the road. Traffic is also a factor and really, unless you are staying in northeast London, you'd be better off traveling by train or bus.
How to Get From London to Cambridge
- Train: 48 minutes, from £28
- Bus: 1 hour, 45 minutes, from £7
- Car: 1 hour, 30 minutes, 64 miles (103 kilometers)
There is frequent train service between London and Cambridge from several Central London mainline train stations. The Great Northern/Thames Link Railway runs fast trains to Cambridge Station from London King's Cross every few minutes throughout the day. The journey can take between 48 minutes and 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on how many stops are made.
There are also hourly trains from London Liverpool Street Station operated by Abellio Greater Anglia. This route also ranges from about 50 minutes to an hour and 25 minutes and tends to offer the cheapest tickets, which start at £12 for a one-way ticket.
New services on this route are now also being run from Saint Pancras International, which is five minutes from King's Cross and served by the same London Underground station. Many of these services involve changing trains at King's Cross, and the tickets cost quite a bit more. Unless you are arriving in London on Eurostar with heavy luggage and are planning to leave for Cambridge immediately, it makes more sense to take the train from King's Cross.
Finding the right combination of one-way tickets to arrive at the cheapest fare can sometimes be confusing and time-consuming. You can spend a lot of time trying out different combinations, but if you can be flexible about your date and time of travel, it's easier to let National Rail Enquiries do it for you with their cheapest fare finder.
The National Express operates coaches from London to Cambridge. Tickets typically cost between £4.70 and £18 each way depending on how far in advance you buy them. The more expensive tickets involve changing at Stansted Station, which connects to London Stansted Airport (36 miles outside of Central London) so unless you are planning to fly out immediately, take the direct buses for £4.70 each way. Early morning coaches and several journeys through the day make a detour to Stansted Airport, adding both time and cost to the trip.
National Express now accepts payment by Paypal, so it's easy to book a bus ticket from anywhere in the world. The trip takes between 1 hour 45 minutes and 2 hours 20 minutes (with a stop at Stansted) and buses leave hourly between Victoria Coach Station in London and Cambridge City Center.
Cambridge is 64 miles northeast of London via the M11 motorway, which happens to be the scenic route and is very straightforward. Ideally, it should take about 1 hour 45 minutes to drive, but the northeast routes out of London are among the most chaotic and traffic-clogged. Keep in mind, too, that gasoline is sold by the liter (a little more than a quart) and the price is usually more than £1.50 a quart.
If you do choose to drive, one stop along the way that may make for an interesting diversion is the Audley End House and Gardens, a Jacobean mansion with sprawling lawns and pretty English gardens.
What to See in Cambridge
Cambridge attracts many travelers eager to explore this university city's history, which makes it one of the most popular and easiest day-trip destinations from London. In addition to the historic architecture, churches, and museums, the city has a lively local scene as well with many fashionable restaurants and shopping boutiques to explore. There also many pubs and microbreweries, where you can grab a pint and enjoy the atmosphere.
While in town, you'll of course want to visit Cambridge University and its major landmarks like King's College Chapel and the library which is over 300 years old and houses a well-preserved 500 year old copy of the English classic Canterbury Tales. Another must-see is the Museum of Zoology, where you'll find some incredible specimens on display like the 10,000 year old and 12 foot tall skeleton of the long-extinct giant sloth. Other interesting spots in town include the River Cam, which is great for kayaking, and the American Cemetery, a burial ground for fallen American soldiers during World War II.