Experience the Magic: Things to Do in Cambridge at Christmas

Cambridge, the city renowned for its prestigious university, iconic architecture, and rich history, becomes even more enchanting during the Christmas season. From exploring the hallowed halls of Cambridge's colleges to enjoying festive activities and savouring delectable food and drinks, there's no shortage of delightful experiences awaiting you in this historic city. In this comprehensive guide, we'll share our top suggestions so you can make the most of your .

And don’t forget to book your before we’re all booked up.

Where to go in Cambridge at Christmas

1. Cambridge Colleges

A visit to Cambridge would be incomplete without exploring its world-famous colleges. During the Christmas season, these historic institutions take on an extra layer of charm. Let's delve into some of the most iconic colleges you can visit:

  • Peterhouse: Founded in 1284, Peterhouse stands as the oldest college in Cambridge. Its ancient courtyards and architectural grandeur provide a glimpse into the city's storied past.

  • St. John’s: Capture the essence of Italy right in Cambridge by visiting St. John’s College. Don't miss the Bridge of Sighs, and while you're there, indulge in some delightful panettone from Limoncello to add an Italian touch to your Christmas.

  • King’s College Chapel: The quintessential Cambridge college, King’s College Chapel is a must-visit. Head to The Backs for the best photo opportunities, and if you're in town during term time, enjoy a magical musical experience by attending one of the Evensong services, where angelic voices fill the exquisite chapel.

2. Christmas Markets

Cambridge's Christmas markets offer a unique and festive shopping experience. Beyond the mainstream shops, these markets provide an opportunity to discover local crafts and culinary delights. Here's what you need to know:

  • All Saints Garden Arts and Crafts Market: Located on Trinity Street, this charming market showcases a variety of local artisans' works. It's the perfect place to find unique gifts and support local artists.

  • Cambridge Central Market Square: Particularly lively on Sundays leading up to Christmas, this market is ideal for finding independent stalls and unique presents for loved ones.

  • Ely Christmas Market: Just a 15-minute train journey from Cambridge, stumble across the cathedral city of Ely. This year, they will be hosting their Christmas Gift & Food fair again on the 16-18th November.

In addition to these regular markets, Cambridge will be hosting some special Christmas markets in 2023. One of the highlights is the Cambridge Christmas Market, featuring nearly 60 local artisans and crafters. Make sure to mark your calendar for December 9th and 10th, 2023, and check back here for more details as they become available.

3. Winter Walks Around Cambridge

Cambridge boasts an abundance of green spaces that provide the perfect backdrop for a serene winter walk. These leisurely strolls are a traditional and soothing way to experience the festive season in the city. Here are a couple of recommended options:

  • Wandlebury Country Park: Just a short drive out of the city) If you want to add a touch of Highland magic to your Christmas to-do list, head to Wandlebury Country Park. Here, you can catch sight of Highland cows, which are used to maintain the grassland. The park also features an Iron Age ring walk and a scenic tree-lined avenue leading to a Roman Road. After your walk, visit the Gog farm shop next door to stock up on winter treats.

  • Cambridge University Botanic Garden: Located at the end of Station Road and close to the train station, the Botanical Garden offers a change of pace from the crisp winter air. The hot and humid glasshouse creates a lush environment, making it a delightful escape. The dedicated winter garden ensures that there's something interesting to see regardless of the season.

  • Riverside Walks: If you prefer a riverside walk, consider exploring some of Cambridge's best riverside paths for picturesque views and serene moments. You may even spot the Cambridge Rowing teams out on the river.

These walks allow you to embrace the tranquillity and natural beauty of Cambridge in winter and during the festive season. Whether you're a nature enthusiast or simply seeking a peaceful escape, these walks offer an ideal way to experience the city in a different light during Christmas.

4. See the Christmas Lights

Cambridge transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season, with sparkling lights illuminating the city's streets and landmarks. Here are some of the best places to soak in the festive ambiance:

  • Rose Crescent: This pedestrian lane adorned with charming Christmas lights and vibrant shop displays will make you feel like you're in a Christmas movie.

  • Green Street: A traditional cobbled street with independent shops and restaurants that radiate a cosy, Christmassy atmosphere.

  • Magdalene Bridge: One of Cambridge's picturesque bridges adorned with a dazzling array of sparkles, adding a touch of magic to the winter scenery.

  • John Lewis Window Display: The annual mega-curtain of lights at John Lewis officially marks the start of the holiday season and brightens up the city.

  • Cambridge Train Station: The Christmas tree outside the train station is a perfect backdrop for capturing holiday selfies.

  • The Guildhall on the Market Square: By day, the market square might seem unassuming, but when it's illuminated at night with a Christmas tree next to the Guildhall, it takes on a magical glow.

  • The Corpus Clock: Although not a Christmas light display, witnessing the illuminated and ornate Corpus Clock at night is an unforgettable experience.

  • Christmas at Wimpole Estate and Anglesey Abbey Winter Lights: These National Trust winter light trails offer enchanting experiences (tickets required).

What to do in Cambridge at Christmas

1. Cambridge Botanic Lights

For a memorable Christmas experience, don't miss the Cambridge University Botanic Garden's first-ever winter lights trail, Cambridge Botanic Lights. This captivating display brings the garden's most beloved features, such as the Fountain, Lake, and Glasshouse Range, to life after dark. It's an enchanting way to connect with nature during the colder months.

2. Listen to Carols

Embrace the spirit of the season by enjoying enchanting choral music at one of Cambridge's college chapels. Choral Evensong, a beloved 45-minute church service, provides a moment of tranquillity and contemplation. Consider attending one of the Evensong services at King's College in November or early December. These services, held during university term time, combine the beauty of the chapel with angelic voices, creating a truly magical atmosphere.

For a similar Christmassy experience, the famous Carols from King's broadcast on Christmas Eve is pre-recorded in early December, but you can still attend the live service, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, on Christmas Eve. Tickets for this sought-after event are available in early November.

3. Workshops & Entertainment

Christmas Brush Lettering Calligraphy Workshop: Discover the art of calligraphy and add a personal touch to your Christmas cards and gift tags. This beginner-level workshop includes a brush calligraphy pen, calligraphy paper, and gift tags for you to practise your newfound skills at home.

Jazz Nights at Parker’s Tavern: Embrace the musical spirit of the season with live jazz performances every Friday from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm featuring the Sam Miles Trio and the Andy Bowie Quartet. It's an excellent way to unwind and enjoy the evening.

Choirs in Parker's Tavern: Every Saturday at 7 pm throughout December, Clare College Choir serenades visitors with Christmas Carols on the stairs in Parker’s Tavern. It's a heartwarming experience that embodies the holiday spirit.

4. Winter Punting

Don't let the colder temperatures deter you from one of Cambridge's quintessential activities—punting. Book your punt with Rutherford's Punting and experience the charm of a winter punt along the serene River Cam. Punting is a timeless Cambridge tradition that takes on a magical quality during the Christmas season. Wrap yourself in the warm blankets provided and feel the mist gently brushing your cheek as it rolls in off the river. Whether you're accompanied by a loved one or exploring solo, punting becomes one of the most romantic things to do in Cambridge at Christmas.

Details for Punting in Cambridge:


  • £80 – £90 for a private tour (maximum 6 passengers)
  • £20 – £30 for two on a shared tour with Traditional Punting Cambridge

Duration: Approximately 45 minutes.

5. Gift Shopping in Cambridge

Cambridge is not only a city of academic excellence but also a haven for shoppers looking for unique gifts. While exploring the city's stunning colleges, you might feel like you've stepped into a Harry Potter book. If you're a fan of the wizarding world and want to continue that magical feeling, make sure to visit the independent Harry Potter gift shop in Cambridge during Christmas. Head to 17 Rose Crescent to find all your wizarding wonders.

Beyond the world of magic, Cambridge is home to a variety of independent local shops waiting to be discovered. Wander down charming streets like King’s Parade, Benet Street, Trinity Street, Green Street, and Magdalene Street, and you'll stumble upon these hidden gems.

If you're a book enthusiast and love browsing for Christmas reads, make sure not to miss the Haunted Bookshop in St Edward’s Passage.

Not forgetting, the Cambridge Satchel Company - the perfect gift for a special someone this Christmas.

6. Ice Skating

Embrace the winter wonderland in Cambridge with a visit to the Cambridge Ice Arena on Newmarket Road. Ice skating is the epitome of wintery fun, and this spacious arena provides ample room for you to showcase your best triple salchows and toe loops. For those seeking additional entertainment, you can try your hand at curling or enjoy watching ice hockey. It's advisable to book your session in advance to secure your spot.

Where to eat and drink in Cambridge at Christmas

1. Parker’s Tavern Festive Afternoon Tea

For a truly sumptuous dining experience, indulge in Parker's Tavern's Festive Afternoon Tea. Enjoy an array of savoury and sweet delights, including festive finger sandwiches, Chestnut 'Snowy Farr' Macaroons, Double Citrus Mince Pies, and Father Christmas' Choux. It's the perfect way to treat yourself during the holiday season.

2. Cambridge Wine Merchants

When you need a warm and comforting drink to ward off the winter chill, make a stop at Cambridge Wine Merchants. Established in 1993 by friends Hal Wilson and Brett Turner, this wine haven offers an array of delightful wines, including the perfect hand-warmer—mulled wine. Sip on this seasonal favourite as you explore the city's winter charms.

3. Bould Brothers Coffee

For the ultimate indulgence, head to Bould Brothers Coffee on Regent Street. Located conveniently near Cambridge Central Railway Station, this cosy café is the ideal spot to savour a hot chocolate that transcends the ordinary. With exceptional coffee and captivating interiors, it provides a warm and inviting atmosphere to enjoy some of the finest coffee in the country.

4. Cosy Pubs

The Mill: Located on the picturesque banks of the Rier Cam, The Mill is an iconic 19th-century pub offering a wide selection of well-kept real ales. In the summertime, you can take your drinks and food outside to enjoy next to the Millpond. During the winter, cosy up indoors and relish a glass of their famous mulled wine. You'll even find a radiogram and a selection of vinyl records to take a nostalgic journey down memory lane. The Mill is dog-friendly, so bring your four-legged friend along for some holiday cheer.

The Eagle: Steeped in history since 1667, The Eagle is a legendary pub that has poured pints in gratitude for its patrons' achievements. Notably, it was frequented by Watson and Crick, who discovered DNA and celebrated their breakthrough here. The pub also pays tribute to hundreds of WW2 RAF pilots who left messages on the walls, hoping they'd never be forgotten.

Where to stay in Cambridge at Christmas

If you're planning a Christmas getaway in Cambridge, why not consider the University Arms, a luxurious quintessential hotel? Offering a quintessentially British and unmistakably Cambridge style, we have 189 luxury rooms and suites across four floors. You'll have stunning views of Parker’s Piece, historic Regent Street, and the hotel’s inner courtyard. The classic Edwardian interiors, leather-padded writing desks, low ottomans, and tiered chandeliers create an ambiance that's ambitious, beautiful, and brimming with life. It's the perfect place to make your Christmas in Cambridge truly memorable.

Cambridge offers a magical Christmas experience that combines its rich history with festive charm. Whether you're a local resident or a visitor, there's something special for everyone to enjoy during the holiday season in this charming city. So, make the most of your Christmas in Cambridge by exploring its iconic sites, indulging in seasonal delights, and creating cherished memories while staying at the University Arms luxury spa hotel.