Guide to Cambridge

TRANSPORTATION

The following section will provide some useful information on arriving to Cambridge, visiting London, and travelling around Cambridge.

Arriving at Cambridge

The five main airports around London are Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), City (LCY), Luton (LTN) and Stansted (STN, the closest to Cambridge).

  • From Heathrow: The best route is to use the London Underground (also called the “tube”) for which you will need to purchase a single ride or use your Oyster card (£5 deposit and additional topup available from the kiosk machines). Take the Piccadilly (Blue) Line to the King’s Cross Train Station. If you have time, do not forget to check out the Harry Potter shop at the far end corner. Buy a train ticket to Cambridge either from the ticket booth or the ticket machines (some do not accept cash, watch out!). Look for the platform number on the display panels and enjoy the scenic ride (55 min on average). If you prefer you can continue to Liverpool St. with the Central (Red) line and take the train from there, but why would you make life difficult on your first day? Disclaimer: The tube does not run between midnight and 6 am, similar to the train timetables for Cambridge. Alternatively you can take the National Express coach service straight from the airport to the Cambridge city centre (around £15). At Heathrow, just follow the signs to the coach station. More information at: http://www.heathrowairport.com/transportanddirections/busesandcoaches/coaches
  • From Stansted: The train station is conveniently located on level 1. Take the elevator and buy a ticket from the station staff. The journey takes about 30 minutes. Alternatively you can take the National Express bus (~£9) or a taxi (~£60).
  • From Gatwick: Take the train to Victoria Station and make your way to King’s Cross via the Victoria (Light Blue) line on the tube. If arriving late at night, you might want to use the bus option.
  • From Luton: The available options from Luton are to take a train or a coach to London and continue onto Cambridge. However, you can always take the National Express bus directly from Luton to Cambridge, saving you time, hassle and money (No, we do not own National Express shares).
  • From City: Take the DLR (Light Green) to the Bank Underground Station and then use the Northern (Black) line (the most handsome line according to TubeCrush.net) to arrive at King’s Cross Train Station. Buy a ticket to Cambridge and have a safe journey.
  • Quick Tips: The timetable and pricing information can be found on the following websites:
    • Train: www.nationalrail.co.uk
    • Bus: www.nationalexpress.co.uk (Choose the first Cambridge option, and don’t forget to print out your ticket. Ticket sales are online or telephone only! The bus drivers do not sell tickets and they will not let you on board unless you have a valid ticket.)
    • London Underground: www.tfl.co.uk (The journey planner is fantastic! I would definitely suggest buying an Oyster card as it saves a lot of money in the long run and might be the best investment you have ever made. The TubeMap app is also a useful resource for planning your journey.)
    • The tube and the trains stop running at around midnight. Plan your journey accordingly.
    • The information desk at the airport and the station staff are always happy to help.

To/from London

The six main train stations in London are Victoria, Paddington, King’s Cross, Waterloo, Liverpool St and Euston. For travelling between London and Cambridge, the most convenient route to take is the First Capital Connect trains to King’s Cross (average 55 min); however, the tickets are rather pricey, so you might want to consider going to Liverpool St instead, using Greater Anglia trains. If you are coming from north and changing at Euston, the Euston station is about 10 minutes walking distance from King’s Cross a good opportunity for you to stretch your legs. Again: do not forget to check the National Rail and TFL websites for updated information. Especially over the weekend some tube lines tend to be closed for scheduled engineering works. Otherwise, you can also take a coach from Victoria Bus Station to Cambridge.

AROUND CAMBRIDGE

The main mode of transportation at Cambridge is cycling (or walking)! If you have not been on a bike before or need to brush up your skills; the following websites provide information on such courses:

There are a number of places where you can buy first hand or used bikes. If your course of study is longer than a year I would definitely suggest for you to invest in a relatively cheap “new” bike sometimes the repair of a used bike can cost more than a new one. The following website is particularly useful when buying a secondhand bike: http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/article/workshopwhattowatchforwhenbuyingausedcarbonframe23020/

Here are some bike shops. Make sure to shop around before you commit (yet, don’t spend too much time, because the best bikes tend to sell out quickly, especially when you are competing with thousands of others):

Points of Caution

  • Wear a helmet! They might not look cool or may mess up your hair, but as long as it protects your brain (says the clinical neuroscientist) you must wear it! Plus, you can always put on Power Ranger stickers to boost up the cool factor of those gears.
  • Don’t forget to buy a set of lights: red for the back and white for the front. If the police stop you with no lights on, the fine is around £30 in addition to a lovely criminal record.
  • Get mudguards. The droplets will eventually form a line on your back no matter what, but try your best to avoid them.
  • Do service the bikes regularly. The companies mentioned above can provide that at a nominal charge.

Alternatively, you can also use the bus system. The main bus routes are given below: http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/4463639EED124ED5AA208D364A02D632/0/CambridgeCityMap.pdf

The ticket prices range according to your destination and are sold on board. For those of you working at Addenbrooke’s or the West Cambridge site, the Uni4 bus provides a direct route with discounted prices when you show your student card. There are also a number of taxi companies, mainly useful after an exhausting night out in town. Finally, walking is a cheap and healthy mode of transportation. The pedestrian and cycling paths are clearly labelled and are wheelchair friendly.

The most well known Taxi companies are Panther (which also has an app for booking) CamCab and A1. When booking you will be asked for your current location and the destination you would like to go. Around central Cambridge the price might range between 620 depending on the distance and traffic.

Hope this post gives you a general idea about transportation to and around Cambridge. If you have any questions please post comments.

Wishing you all a safe journey!

ACCOMMODATION

The following section will outline some general information on accommodation matters at the University of Cambridge.

College accommodation

Housing is usually allocated via a ballot system.You will be getting e-mails about the options, he rule of thumb is that better rooms are usually more expensive (surprise). At Queens’ College, only a limited number of rooms at the main site are allocated for graduate students, while most stay either at the Owlstone Croft or the college owned houses around Cambridge. A similar set up is also in place at all other colleges. Owlstone Croft is 15 minutes walk or 7 minutes of cycling from the main site of Queens’.

Points of Caution
If you are asked to provide a list of top choices for a housing ballot, make sure to consider:

  • The location of your department (believe me, cycling for 20 min in the rain is usually not a great start to an exciting research day).
  • The type (big OR small, first floor OR basement, next to the bathroom etc).
  • The number of residents (and the number of bathrooms).
  • The price (you don’t want to be spending all of your allowance on housing).

Private accommodation

Although all of you will be allocated a college room in your first year, a few brave soldiers may want to consider living in private accommodation. In any case, the following section will be useful during your second, third year or fourth years.

The student registry, guidance on the statues and ordinances, terms of residence suggests that “all full time graduate courses require you to be in residence in Cambridge for a minimum period of 3 terms if you are registered on a fulltime basis. In order to satisfy the University’s residence requirement you must reside within the University’s precincts; that is, within the 10 mile radius of Great St Mary’s church, Cambridge throughout your terms of study, unless you have specific permission to live elsewhere.” Living more than 10 miles away from the city centre is not very practical anyway. When searching for private accommodation your first point of contact should be the University Accommodation Service. After signing up for an account, indicate the specifications of your housing choice and search through available properties. The website not only lists university/college owned properties, but also private landlords, and a few letting agencies. The biggest advantage of this service is that you don’t need to pay for agency fees if you get the property through them (which can normally sum up to £100 including the reference checks). Sign up for weekly emails and most importantly stay on top of your game. There is an unbelievably high demand and very limited supply. http://www.accommodation.cam.ac.uk/

The alternatives are the housing websites and letting agencies: www.rightmove.co.uk, www.zoopla.co.uk

The above mentioned websites are informative when obtaining a general idea about the housing prices and availabilities. However, they are frequently not updated on time and you might end up calling the agencies just to find out that the property has already been let. I would advise you to check the agency websites instead and give them your details. Here are a few that operate around Cambridge:

It is also useful to walk around Cambridge and check out any properties to rent. Even if the property has already been let, a signpost with the agency information will be available.

Points of Caution

  • Make sure to check the property websites REGULARLY (probably every hour or so).
  • Do not forget that you will also pay for utilities such as gas, water and electricity. If you are sharing with 34 people, that might reduce the cost.
  • Fulltime students are not required to pay council tax. You can obtain a letter from your college confirming your status. Beware that if you are sharing with a nonstudent you will need to pay council tax, so choose your friends wisely (https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/studentsschoolleaversandapprentices).

The letting agents will also conduct a credit check to make sure you can pay the rent. If this is your first time renting a property in the UK you will not have a credit history making this procedure a little trickier. They usually ask for 36 months in advance or a massive deposit to compensate for the lack of trust. In any case, prepare yourself to pay a month in advance and 2 months’ rent in deposit (start saving now!).

Bedding

One item you will urgently need is bedding! If you are an international student or don’t own any pillows or duvet, bedding is usually provided by your college for a nominal fee (price varies depending on the type of animal that donated its feathers/fur for your comfort). Alternatively, you can purchase one at John Lewis or order it online (use your college as the delivery address): http://www.johnlewis.com/ourshops/cambridge, http://www.johnlewis.com/homegarden/bedroom/c6000074

OR the following stores at the Beehive Centre: HomeSense, Dunhelm, TK Maxx and Next Home, and Debenhams, Primark or BHS at the Grafton Centre are alternative places where you can purchase bedding.

WELFARE

Queens’ MCR support

We hope you feel very welcome while in Cambridge, and Queens’ MCR is here to provide information, welfare, support and representation for every college member. Please contact the Welfare Officer, Jack, or any Committee Member with anything during this year, whether academic, social or personal. For instance:

  • If you’ve experienced any form of discrimination, harassment or abuse at the University or in the local community, we can provide non-judgemental and nondirective support.
  • If you’re experiencing a problem with your supervisor, accommodation, administration etc., we can help take your concerns to the appropriate people.
  • We can sign-post you to the many resources available for women students and researchers (e.g. The Cambridge Feminists Society, the CUSU Women’s Campaign, The Emmy Noether Society (for women in Mathematics), Women in Philosophy, PTIH Women’s Lunch, Women@CL, Women in Finance, etc.) and those of you who are parents.
  • Our Welfare Office can provide pregnancy tests in your pidge (in an unmarked envelope), and free condoms etc.

We can guide you to relevant resources, social scenes, and events for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer and questioning students at Cambridge (whether just talking, attending/organizing events, support for discrimination or homophobia, or help for supporting a friend or a cause).

Registering with a GP

The very first official TODO upon your arrival is to register with a general practitioner, a.k.a. GP! The choice of medical practice does not matter, but “location” should be your determining factor since the GP will be your first point of contact when you catch a cold after swimming in the river Cam (you will probably catch more than a cold if you do that) or need any regular prescriptions. Don’t forget to obtain a letter from your college before going to the medical practice and be prepared to battle with 10,000 other students who will also want to register. You can purchase your medicine from any drug store, most conveniently at Boots or Superdrugs. The current prescription charge is £8.05 and aid may be provided for students in financial hardship (ask your welfare officer for more information). Similarly, you can also register with a dental practice and receive service at a nominal fee.

Disclaimer for International Students: Depending on your course of study, you may be asked to go through a health check via the Occupational Health Office, where you will be asked for general information on your vaccinations or previous checkups. Make sure to bring such documentation from your home country, otherwise you might be asked to have the vaccinations once again, and unless you have a particular fetish for needles, I wouldn’t recommend it. In addition, although the NHS provides free emergency care, some conditions may not be covered. Please check out the following website to find out more: http://www.educationuk.org/global/articles/health/

Sexual health

Irrespective of your level of sexual activity, it is always advisable for you to have regular sexual health checkups and luckily there are two sexual health clinics at Cambridge: one called the Laurels and another at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Clinic 1A: https://www.sexualhealthcambs.nhs.uk/info_laurels.php, https://www.sexualhealthcambs.nhs.uk/info_addenbrookes.php

The booking system for appointments is very easy and I am sure you will find the staff very friendly and helpful. Any information regarding your visit remains confidential and only you will receive the result of your tests.

Mental health

University life can often be overwhelming for us all, especially in the first couple of months. If you ever need any help concerning stress, eating disorders, counselling or any other aspect of mental health please do not hesitate to contact the University Counselling Service (http://www.counselling.cam.ac.uk/), which is an excellent resource for all mental health matters. Alternatively, you can always contact your welfare officers, the college tutors and the college nurse who will also provide the necessary information. In addition, the following local services also run at Cambridge: www.sane.org, www.samaritans.org

Quit smoking

Want to stop smoking? Your GP will be more than happy to help (they get points for helping people quit :P). After your initial consultation, the nurse will provide you with nicotine replacements such as inhalers, gums, patches etc. In addition, CAMQUIT runs a great service with lots of information and weekly support groups. http://www.camquit.nhs.uk/

Also, don’t forget to order your quit smoking pack from the NHS website, which contains a useful information, and most importantly a poster and lots of stickers for you to mark your progress.

Emergency numbers

The two main emergency numbers you need to know are 112 and 999 either of which will connect you to an operator who will ask for the nature of your emergency and will direct you accordingly.

Disability resource centre

The DRC is extremely friendly and helpful, and the staff is fully equipped with the necessary information on any issues with disabilities. Please pay them a visit or check out their website: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/disability/

FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT

Eating at Queens’

There are a number of different ways of dining at Queens’. Usually people are having lunch and dinners in the cafeteria in Crisps Hall, for more information, see the Queens’ website – http://www.queens.cam.ac.uk/life-at-queens/domestic/catering.

Upay

Upay is a payment system used by the College and you will need to sign up in order to be able to pay in the cafeteria or in the QBar. You will need your University Card available at the Welcome Meeting. To activate your account:

  1. Using the internet go to http://www.upay.co.uk/.
  2. Click on “create a new account” in the left hand menu.
  3. The Client/Company ID for Queens’ College is 32.
  4. Your User ID can be found on the back of your University Card in the bottom left hand corner, before the forward slash, (eg xy1234t). Now follow the on screen instructions. You will be asked to enter an email address, please use your full Cambridge University address here (e.g. abc12@cam.ac.uk).
  5. An email will be sent to you (please note this can take 30 minutes to 1 hour, but is often much quicker). Once the email is received go back to http://www.upay.co.uk/ and use the “log in” option in the left hand menu and enter the username and password sent to you via mail.
  6. Follow the on screen instructions to create your account, including setting your personal password for subsequent use.

Cafes

Cambridge is full of cafes to cater for the growing number of tourists, sleepy undergrads and thesis focused grad students. In addition to the corporate brands such as Starbucks, Costa, and Nero, you can always enjoy a friendly and cosy environment in one of the independent cafes on Mill Road e.g. order fair trade coffee at CB1 or Black Cat, have delicious pastries at Cafe? de Paris, or smoke shisha at Jaffa Net Cafe? (shhh, it is technically an internet cafe?). Best places for an afternoon tea are Patisserie Valerie, the Harriet’s Tearoom or the Orchard at Grantchester. About 30-40 min walk from the city centre, Grantchester is a lovely little village with the highest number of Nobel laureates per square meter and a famous tea room called the Orchard where Virginia Woolf, Rupert Brooke and John Maynard Keynes used to chillax and drink their tea. Furthermore, do not forget to check out the Grads Cafe? at the University Centre, with its stunning view of Darwin and Queens’ Colleges.

Restaurants

Cambridge is also blessed with an ethnicblend of mouthwatering restaurants. Your gastronomic adventure should begin with a full Turkish breakfast overlooking King’s College, at Agora the Copper Kettle. Some colleges also allow nonmember students to have brunch or lunch in their own buttery and I would highly suggest you try Queens’ or Pembrooke. In addition, the Stickybeaks and the Rainbow Cafe? offer great vegetarian options. You can also explore the market for exotic foods e.g. an ostrich burger on a Saturdays. As for dinner, I am absolutely in love with Nando’s (chicken), Pizza Express and Wagamamas. The local gems include Efes (kebabs), Curry Queen, Bedouin (Algerian), Loch Fyne (seafood), Cau and St. John’s Chop House. If what you are after is a culinary firework then you should check out the one Michelin star “Alimentum” and the two Michelin stars “Midsummer House”; I guarantee it will change the way you look at food.

NIGHTLIFE

Though every night has the potential to be turned into a tunnelvision pub crawl, the end of the week is usually when grad students finally manage to have some time for nonacademic activities (just a tiny bit). College MCRs and bars always offer a great deal of fun for cheap (around 2.20 a pint, yes, I can see your jaw dropping). Browns, the Anchor, the Mill, Cambridge Blue, the Empress and Kingston Arms are great pubs to take your colleagues and enjoy a pint of lager or ale, and do not forget to check out the winter and summer Cambridge beer festivals. Another option is to stop by for a cocktail at either the Snug, All Bar One, Vaults, Ta Bouche or Baroosh. If you still have the energy then get ready for a club night at Lola Lo, The Place, Fez or Ballare (Cindy’s) or Vodka Revolution (where the Cambridge LGBT+ night called “Spectrum” will be held every Monday).

ACTIVITIES

Cambridge also offers a number of social activities. Make sure to check out the local ADC theatre and the Picturehouse where you can enjoy a romantic movie with a glass of wine. Tenpin bowling at the Leisure Centre, concerts and parties at the Junction or a quick trip to London are alternative options. For a quieter evening I would suggest a bike ride around Cambridge, reading a rare book at college or university libraries, walking through the zoology and Fitzwilliam museums or art galleries, and my personal favourite “punting on the river”. While some colleges have boats on the river others offer discounts with the private hires.

Overall, because grad students tend to be a little more isolated, it is highly recommend to make some extra effort to meet people, attend freshers events or organize your own “monopoly nights”, and generally just MAKE THE BEST OF YOUR TIME IN CAMBRIDGE.