31 Beautiful Colleges - Cambridge Spoils us With Choice

Published: 17/02/2023

We have said it before, but we will repeat it a hundred times over, Cambridge is one of the most beautiful places to live in the UK. In fact, last year, Conde Nast Traveller Readers Choice Awards 2022 voted Cambridge the ‘Best City in the UK’ The best cities in the UK: 2022 Readers' Choice Awards | CN Traveller. Thousands of readers voted for their no.1 place, and our beautiful hometown won. I guess we are pretty lucky to live and work here.

Cambridge claims to have one of the highest concentrations of preserved historic buildings anywhere in England. Most of the architecture is centred around Cambridge University's 31 colleges, each rich in tradition. The first schools were established in the 12th century by immigrant scholars from Paris, but the first college, Peterhouse, wasn’t founded until 1284. The world-renowned University of Cambridge has rightly earned its reputation through more than 800 years of educating some of the world’s brightest and boldest minds. The fourth-oldest university in the world, Cambridge, had more than 24,000 total students in 2020…pretty impressive.  

One of the most popular ways to fully appreciate Cambridge's famous colleges and architecture is to punt along the River Cam, which runs through the heart of the city. Let’s learn about some of the most famous and beautiful colleges that this stunning city has to offer:

  • King's College and King's College Chapel
King’s College was founded in 1441 by King Henry the Sixth and was a finishing school for the top scholars that attended Eton school, another foundation of Henry. King’s is stunningly beautiful, with the most recognisable building in Cambridge: Kings College Chapel. The chapel is one of the key sights on the local punting tours and has become iconic for tourists worldwide. This beautiful Chapel has the largest fan vault ceiling in the world, and at the time it was designed, it was an architectural marvel. Construction of the Chapel commenced in 1446 but took another 98 years to complete. Rupert Brooke, a famous English poet, was a student at King’s College many moons ago.
  • Queens' College and the Mathematical Bridge
Queens' College is one of the oldest colleges in Cambridge and was founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou and refounded in 1465 by the rival queen Elizabeth Woodville – hence the spelling ‘Queens’ as opposed to ‘Queen’s’.  
Queens' College has some of Cambridge's most recognisable buildings as it combines medieval and modern architecture. It is one of two Cambridge colleges which straddle the river (the other being St John’s), and the two halves are joined across the river by the Mathematical Bridge. This famous bridge, drifted under as part of every good punting tour, is officially known as simply the ‘wooden bridge’. Although it appears to be an arch, it is composed entirely of straight timbers built as part of a complex engineering design. And that’s how it got its nickname which has stuck with students and tourists alike.

  • Trinity College
Trinity College was founded by Henry VIII in 1546 when he combined two existing colleges (King’s Hall and Michaelhouse). Since then, Trinity has grown and is now one of the largest of the 31 Cambridge colleges. It is home to around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 Fellows. Over the years, princes, spies, poets and prime ministers have all been taught here. Trinity is the wealthiest Oxbridge college, with a landholding alone worth £800 million; the second is St John’s, also found here in Cambridge.  

  • Peterhouse College
Peterhouse is the oldest of the Cambridge colleges, built in 1284 by Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely. The buildings date from various times and have been much altered over the years. The college is reputed to have been partially destroyed by fire in 1420.
This beautiful college is one of the wealthiest in Cambridge, with assets exceeding £320 million. It is one of the few Oxbridge colleges that still encourages its members to attend communal dinners. In recent years, it has also been ranked as one of the highest-achieving colleges in Cambridge.

  • Corpus Christi College
Corpus College was founded in 1517 by Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester and a trusted political advisor to kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. His original plan was to use the college to train monks. Instead, he deemed it a place of Renaissance learning to educate young men in humanities and sciences, later growing to support many other subjects. Corpus is the sixth-oldest college in Cambridge. With around 250 undergraduates and 200 postgraduates, it also has the second smallest student body of the traditional colleges of the University, after Peterhouse.

  • St Johns College
St John’s College celebrated its 500th anniversary back in 2011. The college was founded on the site of the 13th century hospital of St John, expanding hugely between then and the modern day to become the largest of the Oxbridge colleges by area. St John’s is well known for its choir, which has a tradition of singing religious music; it has sung daily services in the College Chapel since the 1670s. Though it bears little resemblance to its namesake in Venice, the bridge connecting Third Court to New Court (two separate parts of the college), originally known as New Bridge, is now commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs. It is one of the most photographed buildings in Cambridge due to the love Queen Victoria developed for it.
  • Jesus College
Jesus College was established between 1496 and 1516 on the site of the twelfth-century Benedictine nunnery of St Mary and St Radegund, whose buildings, which included a beautiful church, were adapted to house it. These buildings remain at the college even today. Although Jesus College is one of the older colleges at the university, it is known for having a relaxed and informal atmosphere. This is in part due to its active student unions. It is also one of the few colleges to allow walking on the lawns of its courts during the summer months.

But what makes Cambridge so unique?
Well, where do we even start? It has so much to offer in every respect, from history to restaurants to excellent schools, which is why people either want to live or visit here…often both! In fact, once someone visits, they often end up returning permanently. If you are looking to set up home somewhere rich in culture but with a modern pace of life, you won’t find anywhere better. Cambridge is one of the most beautiful places to live in the UK…did we mention that?
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