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Best Free Things To Do With Kids in Cambridge

King's College, Cambridge Architecture and Scenery
King's College, Cambridge Architecture and Scenery

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As one of the two most famous University cities in the United Kingdom, Cambridge lies in the heart of the fens in the East of England, and is known for its green and pleasant setting. It’s packed with history and culture and is a gorgeous city to explore on foot or by bicycle. It’s been settled since at least the Bronze Age, and was also home to the Romans and the Vikings. The University dominates the skyline; the city is also known for the world-leading Addenbrooke’s Hospital. In recent years, the area around the city has become known as “Silicon Fen” due to the very high numbers of tech and computing firms who’ve relocated to the region. The country parks and museums are especially appealing for families, and there are other quirky installations to keep you entertained. During some of the school holidays there are often free events in the parks funded by the local council – it’s all about the education in Cambridge. Check the council webpage for details.

Table of Contents

Milton Country Park

Kayaking at Milton Country Park
Kayaking at Milton Country Park

What it is: Situated just to the north of the city, this 95-acre park has plenty of attractive facilities to appeal to families, including lakes, pathways, and playgrounds. It was created from old gravel pits, and the pathways are suitable for wheelchairs and bicycles. You can enjoy hawthorn and apple blossom in spring, damselflies and dragonflies in the summer along with the lizards and grass snakes, bees and butterflies. And in autumn there’s a wealth of fruit and the muntjac and roe deer to listen for.

Why we liked it: Apart from the extremely pleasant children’s playground, we liked the dog-friendly nature of the park, and the fact that there is always plenty going on – you can check out events at the Visitor Centre. Plus, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, there’s always something different to look at in terms of wildlife and plant life. One of the high spots for us was spotting the kingfisher by the lake in the spring, and sampling just enough blackberries in late summer. We’re also pretty sure we heard a barn owl or two, and we managed to time our autumn visit to combine with the annual festival.

More information about the Milton Country Park

Address: Milton Country Park, Cambridge Road, Milton, Cambs, CB24 6AZ

Opening Hours: 24/7 every day; play area open 9.30am to 5pm.

Wandlebury Country Park

Foliage at Wandlebury Country Park

What it is: With Milton to the north of the city if you’re on the other side of the town and feel like visiting one of the city’s appealing parks, head south for this lovely estate. There are miles of gorgeous walks through meadows, Highland Cattle to appreciate, and plenty of places to build dens, watch the wildlife go by, or indulge in barbecues or picnics. There are eight miles of trails laid out and waymarked if you feel like exploring, or head to the Gog Magog hills that surround the park. And amazingly, if the weather is favourable, you can see for 17 miles across the fens to Ely Cathedral.

Why we liked it: As a family of history buffs, we enjoyed checking out the Hillfort from the Iron Age, The Roman Road at the north, and the 18th-century gardens and stables. A big hit was the hide where you can watch the wildlife to your heart’s content. There’s also a games field and plenty of picnic seating. We’ve heard winter rumours of sledging and can vouch for the fact it’s a great place to play ball games, fly kites, or get the frisbee out. Plus the Highland “coos” are just gorgeous – you never know which field you’re going to find them in, doing their task of natural lawn mowing. There’s a sensory trail you can download to help children to connect with the wildlife. You do need to know there is a daily charge for car parking.

More information about the Wandlebury Country Park

Address: Wandlebury Ring, Gog Magog Hills, Cambridge CB22 3AE

Opening Hours: Dawn to dusk all year round.

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences Exhibit
Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences Exhibit

What it is: If you’re into dinosaurs, micro beasts, earthquakes, and all things unusual, this museum is a great way to spend some time in Cambridge. Look out for the magnetic poetry board, the book trolley, and the colouring stations dotted around the place, not to mention the fossilised poo. Ask the front desk for one of the free trails to help you get the most out of your visit.

Why we liked it: Okay, we admit it – we’re always taken by dinosaurs, and there are plenty of them to discover here. And there are always great exhibitions – when we visited, there was a display from one of the international scholars who’d volunteered over the previous months, and a display about the largest arthropod that ever walked the Earth (better known as a millipede). How do you “measure up”, compared to the creature? There were plenty of interactive activity sheets and other options available online too, with our all-time favourite being the UK Virtual Microscope.

More information about the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences

Address: Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EQ

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday; 10am to 4pm Saturdays. Check with the museum for Bank Holiday opening times.

Scott Polar Museum

Scott Polar Museum Entrance
Scott Polar Museum Entrance

What it is: You’ll have gathered by now that Cambridge is a truly brilliant place for museums, all with great activities and exhibits specially designed for kids. This is a small museum that gives a great insight into the exploration of the poles, with a special selection dedicated to Sir Ernest Shackleton. The building where the Museum is located is Grade II listed and extremely beautiful. Audio guides are available (there is a small charge for these if they’re of interest, but the films you can watch as you go around the museum are free and cover various topics including clothing from goggles to mittens; food, navigation, science, and transport from pony to sledge.

Why we liked it: You’d expect it of a museum in a city dedicated to learning, but the learning packs here really are excellent. Plus you can explore online before or alongside your visit. There are special events throughout the year, including talks for the grown-ups and specially designed activity days targeted at families. If you’re a large group, double check with the museum directly to confirm whether booking ahead is required – self-guided tours remain free. We also had great fun making the origami penguin and the photography on show is stunning.

More information about the Scott Polar Museum

Address: Lensfield Rd, Cambridge CB2 1ER

Opening Hours: 10am to 4pm, Wednesday to Saturday

The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibit
The Fitzwilliam Museum Exhibit

What it is: Staying with the museum theme, the Fitzwilliam is the largest museum in Cambridge, and absolutely jam-packed with interesting artefacts from around the world. Like many of the other museums, it’s part of the University.

Why we liked it: We really enjoyed the kids’ activity boxes scattered around the place as well as the variety of exhibitions and galleries. When we visited there was an exhibition about money. The permanent gallery exhibitions also appealed, with the favourite being the ARmoury.

More information about The Fitzwilliam Museum

Address: Trumpington St, Cambridge CB2 1RB

Opening Hours: 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday; 12 noon to 5pm Bank Holidays and Sundays.

Corpus Clock (Grasshopper Clock)

Tourist Looking at the Corpus Clock in Cambridge
Tourist Looking at the Corpus Clock in Cambridge

What it is: This large clock can be seen outside the Taylor Library, part of Corpus Christi College, right where Bene’t Street meets Trumpington Street. You’ll see it at street level; it was both funded and conceived by a former College member, John C. Taylor, and unveiled by Stephen Hawking on September 19 2008. Traditional clock-making techniques were used to create the structure. The face is stainless steel plated with 24-carat gold, and the diameter measures around 1.5 metres or just under 5 feet. Taylor’s name for the creature is the Chronophage, a word combined from the Greek words for time and the phrase “I ate”. There’s also a rumour that other names are Rosalind and Hopsy.

Why we liked it: It might not have been in Cambridge all that long compared to many of the other places you can visit, but this is definitely one of the quirkier items of interest in the city. The sculpture that is the main feature of the clock is some kind of insect – similar to a locust or a grasshopper. There are no numbers or hands on the clock face – the time is shown by blue LEDs that show through the seconds, minutes, and hours in slits in three concentric rings. It’s especially fun to watch its mouth move, its eyes blink occasionally, and to hear the grinding noise it makes along with the clanking of a chain on the hour. What might not be obvious at first is that when the chain clanks, it falls into a small coffin made of wood. In addition, it’s only accurate every five minutes.

More information about the Corpus Clock

Address: Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, CB2 1RH

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Lammas Land

Kids Having Fun in Lammas Land
Kids Having Fun in Lammas Land

What it is: As the name suggests, this attractive park is especially popular in summer, and can be found in the southwest of the city. In between Newnham Road and Fen Causeway, it’s known for its large children’s play area and paddling pool as well as its sporting facilities. The willows are particularly attractive and are managed to ensure they regenerate as they grow. There is a charge for the car park from 8am to 10pm daily.

Why we liked it: It’s a great place for games and picnics, and we enjoyed crossing the bridge to Sheep’s Green. We loved watching the punts on the river, and when we needed a slightly quieter space, we headed over to Coe Fen before checking out Paradise Nature Reserve. As well as the paddling pool, the playground is great – there are various swings, climbers, a space net, and spring rockers which are especially good for younger children.

More information about the Lammas Land

Address: 61 Newnham Rd, Cambridge CB3 9EY

Opening Hours: The paddling pool often closes for the winter or sometimes for maintenance at other times of year although the park stays open all year round.

Explore the Colleges

King's College Fascinating Architecture
King’s College Fascinating Architecture

What it is: Cambridge is most famous for the stunning collection of colleges that make up the University, some founded in the 15th and 16th centuries and some more recently. If you’re always on the lookout for a location that looks like the Potterverse, Cambridge has to be high up the list. Not all of the colleges are accessible to the public, at least not without a charge, but many are. They include the Pepys Library at Magdalene College (although it’s out of bounds for children under six); the grounds of Downing College; and the Courts of Gonville and Caius. You can also visit the grounds and chapel of Trinity Hall College.  

Why we liked it: With Harry Potter fans in the clan, we had hours of fun pretending we’d somehow slipped through a portal into Hogwarts and the village. Our favourite was probably Christ’s College, with gorgeous artwork and sculptures to explore among the trees and flowers.

More information about the Cambridge Colleges Please note that Open Days are usually intended for prospective students

Address: The Old Schools, Trinity Lane, Cambridge CB2 1TN (Central Address)

Opening Hours: Check individual college web pages for details of access hours

Explore the Backs

Cruising under Mathematical Bridge
Cruising under Mathematical Bridge

What it is: While the quads, fronts and gardens of the colleges are some of the most famous views of Cambridge, there’s a whole other world along the “Backs”, as they’re known. This area of reclaimed land lies to the east of Queen’s Road and runs along the River Cam. The main river that runs through the city is picturesque and pleasant, giving the city a surprisingly rural air. For those with an interest in formal gardens or history, this Grade I listed Historic Park was designed by the famous Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Why we liked it: One of our favourite scenes was watching the cows on the River Cam – not something you expect to find in the middle of a university city. A huge part of the fun of the day was exploring the various bridges that cross the river, especially the Mathematical Bridge and the gorgeous Grade I enclosed Bridge of Sighs.

More information about the Cambridge Backs

Address: Queen’s Rd, Cambridge CB3 9AH

Opening Hours: 24/7 all year round

Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Whipple Museum of the History of Science Exhibit
Whipple Museum of the History of Science Exhibit

What it is: Another of Cambridge’s delightful museums, if you’re interested in how things work, this is one of the best places for families to visit in the University City. Although the museum itself was founded in 1944, the room where you’ll find the Main Gallery was built in 1618 and formed part of the first Free School in the city. There are models, photographs and prints, books, and all kinds of fascinating instruments from the Middle Ages right up to the present. Groups of more than ten people must book ahead of time.

Why we liked it: The stargazers in the family were especially fascinated by the astronomy-related items, and we were all impressed with the sundials and early electrical pieces. In the past, the space was an electrical laboratory. Many of the pieces in the collection were originally used in Departments and Colleges in the University and it’s still part of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Address: Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH

Opening Hours: 12.30pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday

Honourable Mentions

Teens Touring the Botanic in Cambridge
Teens Touring the Botanic in Cambridge

If the parks listed above don’t appeal, there are plenty of others to while away an hour or two in Cambridge. Under 16s accompanied by adults still get free entry at the Botanic Gardens although adults have to pay. You can find more details at https://www.botanic.cam.ac.uk/ or find out about other playgrounds and parks at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/parks-and-playgrounds.

If you’re in search of more indoor pursuits, then give Kettle’s Yard a look. Technically this is an art gallery, but it’s a delightful, if compact, place to wander through, and there are often family-orientated events and exhibitions taking place.

And it wouldn’t be Cambridge without at least another couple of mentions of museums. The Zoology Museum will appeal to animal lovers, while the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology has to be one of the coolest collections of items under one roof. (Think Raiders of the Lost Ark and other archaeological type artefacts.)

Finally, don’t forget the local library service – you can find out more about what’s on at https://www.library.live/.

Written by
David Prior

David Prior is an NCTJ-qualified journalist and the editor of Big Family Breaks. He is also a father of five and an experienced traveller, especially with kids.

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