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Best 5 Day Trips from Cambridge: Sandringham House to Norwich

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2 weeks ago

Home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Cambridge is a must on any England vacation. It’s full of fascinating museums, grand colleges backing on to the beautiful River Cam, top brand shops and excellent restaurants. And just to add to the joy, it’s also very well positioned for exploring the region, making day trips from Cambridge an easy choice.

We recently listed Cambridge as one of the top 10 day trip destinations from London but it’s a great place to stay for longer too. There’s no end to the choice of hotels; some of the best boutique options include the University Arms, The Varsity – a must for spa lovers – and Graduate Cambridge.

There’s plenty of great day trips from Cambridge. The city has easy access to the East Anglia region’s best towns, cities and countryside. East Anglia is not a name you’ll often see on maps but it’s one you’ll hear a lot when you visit. It consists of Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Colchester

Few places can claim to be both the oldest city in Britain and one of the newest, but Colchester can. Established by the Romans in 43 AD, Camulodonum (as the Romans called it) grew quickly as a major garrison.

In 2022, as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee celebrations, Colchester was given city status again for the first time in almost 2,000 years. This makes Britain’s oldest recorded city one of the three newest cities in the country.

Aside from the Roman history, Colchester has a very well-preserved castle, one of the biggest zoos in England and some fantastic art galleries. It’s also my birth town, so please excuse my bias (but there’s definitely more to why it’s one of the best day trips from Cambridge)!

Colchester Castle

Built in 1076 by William the Conqueror, Colchester Castle has the largest surviving Norman keep in England. It’s even bigger than the keep in the Tower of London. The castle’s history actually goes back almost 1,000 years before the Norman conquest.

Throughout its history, it’s been a royal castle (until 1607), a prison whose most notable inmate was ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins before being bought by the Borough of Colchester in the 1920s.

Local tip: If you want to follow in the footsteps of Matthew Hopkins, head out of town to Mistley (20 minutes by train or 35 minutes by bus).

Hopkins lived in the village from 1640 and purchased The Thorn Inn. It’s still an inn today, albeit a rather more fancy one known as The Mistley Thorn and is a great place for lunch.

Colchester Castle is home to a massive collection of historical artefacts. Their exhibits include everything from Celtic coins to Roman statues plus more artefacts from more recent times such as the English Civil War.

Tours are available for an additional £4.25 and are well worth it as they give access to areas self-guided guests don’t get to see. You’ll see the original Roman vaults and the rooftop for a panoramic view of Colchester.

Hollytrees Museum

Right next door to the castle, Hollytrees Museum is housed in an elegant Georgian townhouse. It holds a staggering collection of clocks and a remarkable vintage dolls’ house. You’ll get a great insight into family life in East Anglia through the years and there’s an interesting exhibition on the history of the British Empire.

Castle Park

Running from the back of the castle right down to the River Colne and the pretty Dutch Quarter, Castle Park is perfect for a relaxing stroll.

Stop off at Café in the Park for an ice cream or refreshing drink. There’s also a beautiful boating lake where you can hire paddle boats and potter about on the water.

Firstsite Art Galley

One of Colchester’s newest additions, Firstsite recently won Museum of the Year. It’s a modern, innovative space which has art exhibitions every day of the year. 2024 highlights include David Lock’s first ever public exhibition, ‘Concrete Dreams’ which is an exhibition on brutalist architecture and daily film screenings.

Getting to Colchester

The easiest way from Cambridge to Colchester is to take the train. Most journeys require a change at Ipswich and the whole journey takes around 1 hour 45 minutes. Colchester has two stations: Colchester and Colchester Town. The latter is right in the town center, but has fewer services and you’ll need to change onto a local train at Colchester.

Norwich

Relaxed and feeling more like a small town than Norfolk’s county seat, Norwich (the ‘w’ is silent by the way) is one of England’s most underrated cities and is easily one of the best day trips from Cambridge.

Norwich is also an important site for Jewish history. In the Middle Ages the Jews of Norwich were accused (falsely) of murdering a local boy. In 1190, after an invasion by the Flemish (natives of the Flanders region of Belgium, Norwich’s Jewish population was massacred. Only a handful escaped, seeking refuge in the castle.

In more recent times, Norwich has served as home to Admiral Lord Nelson, TV-chef Delia Smith and, probably the best known amongst British readers, Alan Partridge. For those less familiar with Steve Coogan, Alan Partridge is a fictional radio DJ. The city is also famous for Colman’s mustard, Caley’s chocolate and it’s football club, lovingly known as ‘The Canaries’.

Norwich Castle

Built a few years before Colchester Castle in 1067, Norwich’s Castle is another remnant of the Norman conquest. It has only been captured once in its history, in 1174 by the Flemish invaders. A few lucky Jews managed to seek sanctuary in the castle during the massacre of 1190; they were the only survivors.

The castle keep is currently undergoing a £15 million restoration project and is closed as at the time of writing, but its expected to reopen in summer 2024. Whilst it’s closed, the rest of the castle’s museum remains open to visitors.

Norwich Cathedral

Consecrated in 1101, Norwich Cathedral was so badly damaged by riots in 1272 it was deemed unholy and had to be consecrated again in 1278. In 1643, it was mobbed by Puritans who destroyed every symbol of Catholicism. It was left for ruins until 1660 when a restoration project began.

The cathedral is open to visitors and offers free tours plus an excellent café. Evensong is sung at 3:30 pm on weekdays and 5:30 pm on Sundays as well as the occasional Saturday.

Norwich Market

Famous for it’s colorful stalls, Norwich Market is as close as you’ll get to a bazaar or souk in England. Vendors sell everything from meat to handmade crafts and flowers, and no matter when you go, it’s always busy.

This is the UK’s largest permanent open air market which means it is absolutely one of the best day trips from Cambridge, although it’s so well covered you’d be forgiven for thinking you were inside. The market trades daily from 10 am to 6 pm (11 am to 4 pm on Sundays).

City of Norwich Aviation Museum

Right next to Norwich Airport, a couple of miles outside of the city center but easily accessible by bus, Norwich’s Aviation Museum is a hidden gem. It was actually started as an enthusiasts’ group by staff of the local bus company in 1977 and moved to its current site in 1985.

The museum is an absolute must for any aviation lovers and holds over 25 aircraft ranging from dinky Cessnas to a Harrier jet.

Shopping

For the first 18 years of my life, every Christmas gift I bought for my family came from Norwich. Every year, my grandparents would take me to the city in early December for Christmas shopping. There were plenty of towns and cities closer to home, but they swore blind that Norwich was the place to go. Looking back, they were right. Surprisingly, given its slightly inconvenient location, Norwich really is a world-class shopping destination.

If you’re looking for big name brands, Chantry Place is the place to go. Locals still know it by its old name of Chapelfield, so don’t be confused if they tell you to go there! For a more local feel, head to the Royal Arcade, a Victorian shopping mall which is now home to independent and high-end stores.

Getting to Norwich

The easiest and quickest way to reach Norwich from Cambridge is by train. Direct trains leave every hour and take an hour-and-a-quarter.

Ely

If you ask any Cambridge student for suggestions for the best day trips from Cambridge, they’ll likely reply: Ely. At just 14 miles north of Cambridge, the historic cathedral city of Ely feels a world away. It’s quiet, chilled out and is full of majestic buildings.

Built on a clay island, Ely sits on the Fens, a marshy region reclaimed from the North Sea between the 16th and 19th centuries. Ely as an island existed long before the reclamation. In fact, a monastery was built on the site in 673. The present Cathedral sits on the site of the monastery and is the city’s biggest draw today.

Ely Cathedral

Built in stunning Romanesque style, Ely Cathedral is a sight to behold. At 161 meters long and 66 meters high, it’s the forth largest cathedral in the UK. Construction started in 1083 and took almost 300 years.

The Stained Glass Museum

Housed upstairs in Ely Cathedral, the Stained Glass Museum is a unique exhibition which offers a fascinating insight into the history of stained glass. It features over 125 stained glass panels dating from the 13th century to the modern day.

Oliver Cromwell’s House

Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell, was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in 1599. He was gifted the house in Ely by his uncle and moved here in 1636, staying in the city for around 10 years. The house came as quite a blessing to Cromwell who, despite his status, was not wealthy at the time.

It wasn’t until civil war broke out in 1642 and Cromwell took a stand against the King that he became a well-known figure.

When war drew to an end in 1649 with the beheading of King Charles I, Cromwell moved to London and became Lord Protector of England, ruling the nation in place of a monarch. His former house in Ely is very well preserved and pays homage to his life and legacy, making Ely one of the best day trips from Cambridge.

Prickwillow Museum

In the village of Prickwillow, a couple of miles outside Ely (a taxi is the best way to reach it, although you can take a bus with a change in Littleport), Prickwillow Museum tells the story of how the Fens were drained.

The museum houses a collection of diesel pumping engines which were used to remove water from the Fenland marshes.

Getting to Ely

Train is the quickest way from Cambridge to Ely, with four trains per hour and a journey time of 15-20 minutes. An alternative is to take the bus. Stagecoach service 9 runs every hour from Drummer Street Bus Station in Cambridge and takes around 55 minutes. With such good links, Ely is one of the easiest day trips to take from Cambridge.

Imperial War Museum, Duxford

A sister site to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, the Duxford museum showcases aviation from the early days of flight right through to the present day. Throughout the Second World War, Duxford was used by the United States Air Force who launched bombing raids on Germany from here. Many of the original hangars remain today.

Displays

The museum is split into seven main areas: five hangars and two exhibition hall. The first hangar is known as ‘AirSpace’ which houses over 30 aircraft. Whilst most of the planes are military one, their Concorde is a must-see.

Hangar 2 shows off IWM’s collection of fighters which include the largest collection of spitfires under one roof. The third hangar, called ‘Air & Sea’, serves as home to navy aircraft, helicopters and boats including torpedoes and a wartime lifeboat.

Hangar 4 tells the story of RAF Duxford and showcases aircraft used during the Battle of Britain, many of which were based at Duxford. The final hangar, Hangar 5, is used for conservation projects which visitors can watch.

Getting to Duxford

Painfully, there are no direct links to Duxford except on Sundays. But it’s still one of the best day trips from Cambridge. If traveling by public transport, the best option is to take the train from Cambridge to Whittlesford Parkway (8 minutes with 3 departures per hour). From Whittlesford, take the 7A bus to the museum. Check times before traveling as there are only 3 buses per day. Tickets cost £3.30 return, just pay the driver.

On Sundays, there is a direct bus from Cambridge. The 132 bus runs five times every Sunday from Drummer Street Bus Station in the city center and takes 35 minutes to get to the museum.

Sandringham House

Built in the late 19th century for Edward VII (at the time, he was Prince of Wales), Sandringham has been owned by the Royal Family ever since. Owned personally by the monarch, the house is now in the possession of King Charles. And with this day trip from Cambridge, you can follow in the footsteps of the royals.

During Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, she and her husband, Prince Phillip, would spend two months every winter at Sandringham. Every year since 1957 until 2020, she broadcast her Christmas address to the nation, The Queen’s Speech, from the house. She celebrated her Platinum Jubilee here, and made her final visit in July 2022.

King Charles, continuing his mother’s tradition, spent his first Christmas on the throne here. Since starting treatment for cancer in February this year, he has lived permanently at Sandringham.

What to see

In addition to the house, the estate covers 20,000 acres of land. Much of this is given over to the Royal Park. You could easily spend hours ambling around the woodland, immaculate lawns and the lake.

The old stables (which once kept Queen Elizabeth’s horses) are now a museum. Exhibits include a number of cars owned by previous monarchs and a collection of gifts donated by heads of state from around the world.

St Mary Magdalene Church, which serves as the village church, is also available to visit. This is the church attended by members of the Royal Family, who famously come for the Christmas service every year.

Sandringham Shop sells food and drink made on the estate, with much of the produce grown on site. They also have a large selection of plants and garden ware, plus goods from local businesses.

Sandringham Restaurant serves breakfast, light lunches and organic burgers from the estate’s herd. Afternoon Tea is also offered, but needs to be prebooked. There’s also a takeaway café, Terrace Café, which offers snacks and drinks to enjoy in the park and gardens.

Getting to Sandringham

Sandringham is on the North Norfolk coast, around 50 miles north of Cambridge. Driving takes around 90 minutes, whereas public transport takes around an hour and three-quarters. There is no direct transport link, but the journey is still an easy one.

From Cambridge, take a train to King’s Lynn. Trains run every hour and take 55 minutes. From Kings Lynn, take Lynx bus 35 to Sandringham. Buses run every hour and take just over 20 minutes to reach the estate. In short, a visit to Sandringham is still one of the best day trips from London.

Can I visit London on a Day Trip from Cambridge?

Absolutely! We haven’t included London because the idea of this list is to give you suggestions of places to visit that you might not have considered. But just as Cambridge is a great day trip from London, you can easily visit London for the day from Cambridge. Not that one day in London is ever enough.

The train journey from Cambridge to London takes as little as 50 minutes and there’s several trains every hour. It’s really cheap, too. When booked in advance, round trip tickets can cost as little as £16.

If you go, we’ve got a load of handy tips on how to make the most of your time in London.


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