It’s famous for its venerable colleges and brilliant minds, but historic Cambridge is also a popular shopping destination, with plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants jostling for space in the city’s cobbled centre.
Whatever you’re looking for the alleys and side streets of Cambridge are well worth exploring to find artisan gifts and décor home buys – and a good collection of the high street stalwarts are all at hand to provide those domestic necessities.
Cambridge is of course best known for its thirteenth century university, with its beautiful colleges, traditionally dressed dons and students riding bikes-with-baskets. Situated on the River Cam in the heart of Cambridgeshire, the city is a short train journey from London, and also easily accessible by road.
Décor and DNA
Starting off our interiors shopping spree in the city centre, we head first to Catesby’s in Green Street. Catesby’s stocks a wide range of simple, elegant, housewares, from pots pans and pottery to baskets and blankets. Owners Jonathon and Neil source their wares from around the world to help their clients create a tranquil home.
Prices range from the easily affordable to the more extravagant, such as ceramics by the French artisans of Astier de Villatte.
Next, stay on Green Street and hunt down Susie Watson Designs. Fresh and feminine, Susie Watson’s handmade designs will appeal to fans of Cath Kidston and Laura Ashley who want that extra special touch. Susie’s Cambridge store stocks a range of her housewares, including pottery and soft furnishings, and some examples of her country-style furniture range. Susie Watson’s also sells wallpaper and fabrics, and offers a bespoke curtain making service.
Now continue down Green Hill and onto King’s Parade to our next stop, Byard Art, a two storey art gallery featuring exhibitions and a variety of artwork: paintings, printwork, photography, ceramics and jewellery.
The gallery features mainly contemporary pieces, some of which are showcased online.
Also on King’s Parade is Nomads, an emporium full of Eastern delights such as vibrant textiles, Tibetan singing bowls, ceramic tiles and Afghan rugs.
Our last city centre stop is Ark on Peas Hill – but before heading here you may want to stop for a drink at The Eagle in Bene’t Street, a popular watering hole where in February 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson interrupted patrons to announce their discovery of DNA. Also check out the graffiti in the RAF bar, scrawled there for posterity by RAF airmen.
Refreshed, explore Ark’s eclectic mix of homeware items and accessories – mostly made in the UK. Ark prides itself on sourcing the unusual, and have something for everyone, including a lovely range of children’s gifts.
Take a punt
If you’re not too laden down with bags it may be time to stop for lunch, in which case why not take a picnic out on a punt? (In a wicker basket, of course.) You can arrange your own picnic before your visit or pick up a selection of goodies from the many delis and patisseries around the centre. There are several punting companies down at the riverside, including Scudamores, who have been offering people a chance to fall in the river since 1910.
You can punt all year round but in summer it can be very busy so prepare for a game of bumper boats. Once out through to the Backs things get a little more tranquil.
And of course while you’re here it would be criminal not to walk round the colleges. All are worthy of admiration, but King’s College is perhaps the most beautiful, and usually open to the public. Check opening times before you visit.
Every city has a quirky, artisanal quarter, and in Cambridge it’s Mill Road.
Head away from the colleges towards Downing Street (where you’ll find the Grand Arcade, a shopping centre housing John Lewis, the White Company and Laura Ashley). Turn right then head across the park in front of you.
Mill Road houses a number of vintage shops selling vintage and retro goods, including Romsey Retro in Hope Street Yard, stockists of retro homewares clothing and accessories and The Old Chemist Shop Antiques Centre featuring lots of antiques, curios and retro vintage ephemera.
Mill Road has a popular winter fair every December.
Just outside of the city in rich Cambridgeshire countryside is Burwash Manor, a collection of farm buildings hosting a wonderful variety of independent shops: a cabinet makers, an art gallery, toy store, blacksmiths, a food hall and a haberdashery, among others. For interiors fans, we recommend taking a look at The Secret Garden for a selection of fine iron furniture for the garden, terrace and conservatory in pastel shades. They have benches, tables and chair sets, etageres, planters, urns and all sorts of smart outdoor accessories. At Providence. there’s a cabinetmakers specialising in freestanding painted and oak furniture such as kitchen dressers, linen presses and chests of drawers. Also at Burwash, the ArtHound Gallery is a vibrant gallery specialising in works by established luminaries of Modern British and Contemporary Art who also showcase new and emerging talent. These guys have some beautiful signed original and print works from some really big names including Peter Blake, Patrick Heron and even Salvador Dali! If your tastes are towards luxury hand-knotted rugs, you should also take a look at Persian Tribal Rugs while you are there too. They have some beautiful old and new Persian rugs, all unique and threaded with silk or with a more rustic look.
When to visit Cambridge
Cambridge is busy all year round, exceptionally so in the summer months when the city hosts its Strawberry Fair music festival and the Cambridge Beer Festival (the largest outside of London). If you want relative calm to concentrate on your spree, visit Cambridge late winter and early autumn.
There is easily enough to see and do in Cambridge to warrant a weekend in the city. If you really want to treat yourself book a spa package at the Varsity Hotel and Spa. If you want luxury that leaves a little more in the pocket try the Gonville.
ADDRESSES AND LINKS
- Catesby’s, 10 Green Street Cambridge, CB2 3JU,
- Susie Watson Designs, 38-39 Green Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB2 3JX
- Burwash Manor, New Road, Barton, Cambridge, CB23 7EY:
- Byard Art,14 King’s Parade Cambridge, CB2 1SJ
- Ark,1-2 Peas Hill, Cambridge CB2 3PP, United Kingdom
- Nomads, 5 King’s Parade, Cambridge CB2 1SJ, UK
- Romsey Retros, Hope Street Yard, off Mill Road, Cambridge, CB1 3NA
- The Strawberry Fair
- Cambridge Beer fest
- King’s College
- The Eagle
- Punting: Scudamores
- The Varsity Hotel
- The Gonville Hotel
Punting (c): mkj23, King’s College, (c) patrickboyns/123RF Stock Photo. All other photos (c) stores featured.