Welcome back to Britain Insiders – our new series of city guides, curated by locals. For our next installment, we chatted with Cambridge resident Louisa Ackermann about the number one rule of punting, her favorite haunted bookshop, and the spot that never fails to take her breath away – even after 20 years.
On growing up in Cambridge: My family moved to the area from South London when I was three, and I’m so glad to have grown up there. We rented a house that belonged to the university for the first year, then we moved to a district called Castle, in the north of the city. Supposedly, my parents put a letter through the door of every house on our street until someone agreed to sell their house.
Cambridge is quite dominated by the university, but I do think “town and gown” blend quite well in a lot of areas. The university is responsible for the Literature Festival, the Science Festival, and the Festival of Ideas, which bring great events and speakers to the city all year round. It also means there are lots of great bars and pubs to serve the student population (though the less said about the clubs, the better).
On weekend routines: On Saturdays, I like to cycle into town, and if it’s sunny, meet my friends at a pub overlooking the river or on one of the greens – The Mill is my favorite, but it gets quite crowded. Or, I might walk down through Grantchester Meadows with my boyfriend and go to The Orchard Tea Garden, which is right at the other end of the meadows – supposedly Virginia Woolf frequented it when she was at Cambridge.
On local cuisine: The city center is mostly home to chain restaurants, so it’s best to venture slightly further out. Regent Street has a couple of great Chinese restaurants, and there are lots of independent restaurants of all different cuisines on Mill Road. My favorite is Bedouin, a North African restaurant with fantastic tagines, and beautiful bright fabrics draped from the ceilings.
On quirky shops: There are some great second-hand and antique book shops in central Cambridge, including The Haunted Bookshop. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be haunted by, however. Heffer’s Bookshop on Trinity Street is also fantastic and has a huge selection.
There’s a great shop called Ark, which specializes in unique gifts and all sorts of trinkets. The Craft Market in All Saints Garden is also lovely – they sell handmade leather belts, original paintings, ceramics, and jewelry.
On staying active: Cycling is more popular in Cambridge than in any other city in Britain. Most of the time, it’s quicker to cycle than to take the bus or drive, so exercise is engrained in a lot of people’s daily routines. I really like jogging through Milton Country Park, a woodlands and wetlands in a village just outside of Cambridge. There’s a free 5K ParkRun every Saturday morning – and all the participants get coffee together afterwards.
Punting is much harder than it looks, at least if you have no upper body strength like me! If you can convince someone else to man the pole, it’s a great way to spend a day. Bringing a picnic is mandatory. It’s mostly for tourists, particularly the guided tours (where you should take some of the ‘facts’ the guides tell you with a pinch of salt) but I still go at least once a year in the summer.
On must-visit attractions: It’s imperative to walk through King’s Parade and along the backs of the river. The earlier you arrive, the better, because it does get very crowded – especially in summer. More than 20 years after moving to Cambridge, I still find it breath-taking.
On gems outside the city: Ely is less than 20 minutes away from Cambridge by train, and is home to an extraordinary cathedral and stained glass museum. It has a quaint, village-y feel, but still has lots to offer in the way of bars and restaurants.
For more travel inspiration, follow Louisa on Instagram @louisa__5