Living in Cambridge
Thinking of moving to Cambridge or Cambridgeshire? Good plan. With countryside on its doorstep, a fast London to Cambridge train, great schools, and the world famous Cambridge University, the city is ranked as one of Europe's best places to bring up children. Read on to find out about all aspects of living in Cambridge – from local amenities to the Cambridge cost of living.
Where is Cambridgeshire? | How many people live there? | What's it like for families? | What are property prices like? | Tell me about the schools and nurseries | Cambridge primary schools | Cambridge secondary schools | Things to do | Getting around | GPs and hospitals in Cambridge | What's near Cambridge? | Weather and air quality | What's planned for Cambridge’s future? | Talk to local Mumsnetters
Where is Cambridgeshire?
Located in the South East of England, Cambridgeshire borders Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. It’s 60 miles from the nearest coast, and 65 miles away from London.
Cambridge is a great city to commute to and from: “Just a short car or train trip to Peterborough, near Bedford. Not a million miles from Milton Keynes, Northampton or even Birmingham.” Peterborough can be reached in 50 minutes, and Norwich is 80 minutes away.
And if you’re moving to Cambridge from London, Cambridge Station operates fast trains into London Kings Cross in just under an hour. Services to London Liverpool Street average at one hour and 20 minutes.
But remember – train travel doesn’t come cheap. An annual Cambridge to London Terminals season ticket costs £5K – not ideal if you’re wondering how to live cheaply in Cambridge.
Central London is an hour and a half away via the M11, and the A14 links Cambridge, Kettering, Ipswich and Felixstowe. Stansted Airport can be reached in 45 minutes.
Cambridge North Station gives direct and quick access to the city's science and business parks, suburbs and villages to the north. Intercity Greater Anglia and Great Northern trains stop there, too.
How many people live in Cambridge?
In 2011, the population was declared to be 123,900. If you’re relocating to Cambridge from a large city like Manchester or Leeds, the reduced numbers could take some getting used to. It’s minute in comparison to Birmingham’s 819,000; even tinier in comparison to London’s 8.1 million.
What’s Cambridge like for families?
Cambridge punches well above its weight in international significance, culture and attractions. With spectacular architecture, green parks, wide open spaces, and the River Cam winding through its heart, it's a perfectly scaled small city with plenty of big-city-living advantages. But the real clincher for families are the excellent schools, the relaxed pace of life, and a stronger community feel than comparable UK cities.
“Cambridge is a fantastic place to live with good schools, good healthcare, great parks and museums and loads of activities (many free) for both young and older children.”
What are the property prices like?If you can afford it, I suggest you look at houses in the Romsey/Mill Road area. It's a great area, international, lots going on, some of the streets are very sociable between neighbours with community events and street parties, etc.
Cambridge is a property hotspot, there are no two ways about it. It has the fastest increase in the average property price in England, and the current average price for a property is over £500K. There is strong competition for housing, with demand outstripping supply quite heavily. Moving to Cambridge isn’t impossible, but you need to find the best places to live in Cambridge for your budget, and then really go for it.
Housing stock is largely Victorian terraces, 20th Century suburban or new build in character.
De Freville Avenue offers beautiful and large houses, in a peaceful area just a stone’s throw from the river. But be warned, period properties in sought after locations come with substantial price tags. There are 80 roads in Cambridge with house prices averaging at £1 million.
“…moving to Cambridge with a generous budget wanting five beds and a decent garden, I'd be looking at Newton Road, Chaucer Road, and Latham Road off Trumpington Road. It's in catchment for Hills Road and you'd probably get places at Newnham Croft or St Paul's for primary.”
Central city housing stock is largely dominated by buy-to-let or student rental properties, but Newnham regularly ranks highly in quality of life polls and is one of Cambridge's most popular areas. Families move in and stay put. But if you're looking to relocate there, expect a wait. Few properties come onto the market annually.
A great selection of properties, strong sense of community and the recently opened Cambridge North railway station make Chesterton perennially popular. Four bedroomed 1930s semis sell for around £475K.
Meanwhile, Trumpington, Grantchester and Impington have a quieter vibe for those who find city living too fast and furious.
“Other options to look at are Cambourne/Papworth and you get a lot more house for your money. Or nearer to Cambridge, there are the Shelfords." A sizeable five bedroomed semi in Great Shelford costs around £700K, with good access into Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Tell me about the schools and nurseries
The excellent schooling in Cambridge – both state and private – is one of the key reasons for the city’s popularity with families, and new junior and senior schools are springing up to accommodate city growth.
Cambridge is jam-packed with good nurseries, but be warned – waiting lists can be long. Wolfson Court Kidsunlimited (Ofsted good), purpose-built with plenty of outdoor space, is phenomenally popular with local parents. Joint Colleges Nursery, Ace Nursery School, and West Cambridge Day Nursery (for university staff and students only) are all highly regarded locally.
“Cambridge Day Nursery has a great woody area at the end of the playground with an accessible tree house, mud kitchen etc. Outdoors is free flow… My daughter loves it there and seems to be outdoors come wind, rain or shine!”
Cambridge primary schools
Many of Cambridge's primary schools are Ofsted rated good with St Matthew's, the Spinney and St Alban's Catholic all rated outstanding. The top performing Cambridge primary school (based on KS2 results in 2017) is Bourn Primary Academy.
“Cambridge have quite rigid boundaries on the catchments for their primary schools, the good ones are heavily oversubscribed. You've more chance of getting a place at a big school like Milton Road and St. Paul's than at a small school like Park Street.”
Cambridge University Primary School is also fast gaining both popularity and reputation: universityprimaryschool.org.uk/
A Mumsnet parent says: “It kind of builds on the free flow element of the EYFS – children are free to come and go indoor/outdoor. It has a huge outdoor play area with forest school elements.”
Cambridge secondary schools – any good?
Yes. They. Are.Parkside and Chesterton are both outstanding city schools. St Bede's also very good if you have a religious background…
“Wherever you live in Cambridge the secondary schools are very good. Cambridge has some of the best state schools in the country.”
Satellite village colleges are a Cambridgeshire quirk, providing education of a generally high standard for local 11-16 year olds within bussing distance of Cambridge itself. Seven of those in and around Cambridge are rated Ofsted outstanding. Chesterton Community College was the best performing school in Cambridgeshire in 2017, based on its Attainment 8 score.
Only a minority of the village colleges have sixth forms, so after GCSEs most pupils move on to large, purpose-built sixth form colleges (Hills Road and Long Road). For ambitious students with an eye on Oxbridge, state funded Hills Road Sixth Form College is the top performing UK state school in terms of pupils gaining places. Cambridge Regional College and UTC Cambridge provide a broader range of 16+ education, including vocational, practical and technical training courses and apprenticeships.
If you're looking at Cambridge private schools or a Cambridge boarding school, the city has many pre-prep and preparatory offerings, including Stephen Perse Pre-Prep, St Faith's, Perse Pelicans, King's and St John's. Parent run The Phoenix School (www.thephoenixschool.co.uk) gets very good local press.
“It's great little school, excellent OFSTED report…not your typical private school establishment – a loving ethos and learning equally as important. Places are in high demand as the word spreads.”
The Perse School (14th), Stephen Perse Foundation Senior School and The Leys School all feature in the top 10 independent schools in East Anglia, according to the Sunday Times Schools Guide 2018.
Hear more from fellow mums about schools in Cambridge here.
Things to do in Cambridge
Cambridge offers a pretty much non-stop selection of family friendly festivals and events, including the Cambridge Folk Festival. July's The Big Weekend features free events and a firework display, and the annual Midsummer Fair features fairground rides, Punch and Judy shows, stilt walkers and storytellers. Then there's the E-Luminate Festival, which transforms buildings and public spaces with magical light art
“Cambridge seems to have a higher than usual number of community and cultural events. There's generally something happening at the weekend: food fairs, arty things, music, museum outreach.”
If you've got a child who's into science-y stuff (or you'd like them to be) Cambridge is a dream come true. The free family STEAM Festival aims to raise kids' aspirations across STEM subjects (that's what living next door to one of the world's best universities does to a place), and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences has lots for kids to do – much of it dinosaur related.
The Centre for Computing History is great for educational, interactive, hands-on stuff, and intrepid explorers should find the Scott Polar Research Institute fascinating. Look out for the reopening of The Cambridge Science Centre in 2018. It's highly recommended for engaging, interactive and understandable science aimed at kids.
But it's not all about brain food – Cambridge is packed with accessible green spaces to let the kids run free; it's a veritable grassy paradise for play. Lammas Land in Newnham is very popular for outdoor fun. Nun's Way playground has a massive fort and tunnel slide for older children and a small sandy area with low frames for younger kids: (www.cambridge.gov.uk/nuns-way-recreation-ground).It seems like every other person is pushing a pram; there are tons of ‘mummy and me’ classes which made for a fun time and a great way to meet new people.
The Botanical Gardens offer 40 acres of gardens and glasshouses to explore – entry costs £6 for adults, but kids go free, and a lively programme of family events runs throughout the year.
Cambridge University offers free, term-time only stay and play and parent and toddler groups for its staff and parent students.
Sunny Steps is a local dance and movement class for two to four-years-olds, and The Joyful Babies' classes link yoga with songs in a fun way for little ones. Mr Baboon's Dancing Tunes, at Mill Road and Milton Community Centre venues, offers weekly bubbles and parachute fun, as well as ribbon throwing and singing and dancing sessions to toddlers.Indoor stuff to do – we have cinemas, bowling, loads of soft plays, an indoor climbing wall place, swimming pools with shoots and slides, loads of museums, an ice ring coming soon, theatres, Si5 Spy Mission.
The Cambridge Jumbo Toy Library meets 2-4pm on the first Wednesday of every month at Brown's Field Community Centre. Families can borrow from a wide selection of toys from just 50p.
Public swimming pools can be found at the Abbey Leisure Complex and Parkside Pools and Gym. 15 metre King's Hedges Learner Pool offers a swim school and public swimming access, and children love playing on its interactive outdoor splash pad during the summer. Like your pool unheated? Head to Jesus Green Lido, open May to September. Seating, secluded sunbathing areas and a café make it a great place for families to cool off in the summer months.
Cambridge Leisure Park is a 30-minute walk from the city centre, where ten-pin bowling, table tennis and karaoke pods are popular with tweens and teenagers. Thrill seekers will enjoy Clip 'n Climb Cambridge (http://clipnclimbcambridge.co.uk/) with its 20 unique climbing challenges suitable for children of all ages.
Several soft play zones offer kids indoor exercise opportunities whilst parents grab a coffee and ten minutes of Mumsnetting. The Spotted Giraffe offers three-level adventure play for children aged 0-12 and is a local favourite.
Cinema-wise, the Cambridge Vue, The Light Cinema and Cambridge Arts Picturehouse screen mainstream blockbusters, film classics, indie, art house and family films. Parent and baby screenings and pocket-money priced weekend/school holiday kids' films are a plus. If you're a theatre fan, the Cambridge Theatre hosts family and children's shows throughout the year, and ARU's Mumford Theatre regularly holds family productions.
Cambridge restaurants for families
Cambridge has many family friendly restaurants, including mid-to-upper chains such as Zizzi, Las Iguanas and Carluccio's. Varsity is a great place for family dining with an £8.95 three-course kids' menu. Smokeworks does a fine line in BBQ food and its quirky table-light waiting staff call system makes huge fun for kids.
Livingstone's Café has a kids' play area and is a popular pit stop for parents wanting a cuppa whilst the kids let off some steam. Bread & Meat does affordable, hearty food for hungry kids. If you love a Chelsea bun (and who doesn't?) head to the famous Fitzbillies for morning coffee or afternoon tea.
The Red Lion Grantchester is one of the many friendly Cambridge pubs, and is just a 20 minute stroll from the city. Great gardens and a play area leaves parents free to enjoy a glass of wine or local brew.
Babysitter booked? For grown-up fine dining head to Alimentum, Cotto or Midsummer House Restaurant, all three Michelin-starred. Cambridge Corn Exchange is a great live venue for a night out.
Shopping and the town
Shopping in Cambridge takes some beating. There's an abundance of unique boutiques, independent shops, high street brands, designer labels and shopping centres (Grafton Centre, Lion Yard and Grand Arcade) – all in a compact city centre.
Meanwhile, a seven-days-a-week market in the ancient cobbled Market Square sells everything from vintage vinyl and indie clothing to coffee beans, fine cheese, deli treats, second-hand books, quirky gifts, art and photographic prints and paintings. Saturday’s All Saints Garden Art and Craft Market, opposite Trinity College, is a good bet for affordable artisan products and arts and crafts pieces.
Charming, cobbled backstreets such as Trinity, Magdalene, Bridge, Green Streets and King's Parade attract shoppers from across the globe to source unique items. Rose Crescent has a unique charm and its chic cafes are perfect for a mid-spree bite. The Cambridge Satchel Company, Elegant Atelier, Muse Boutique, Cellini Pearls, and an array of high end stores selling beauty products and cosmetics (Kiel’s, Jo Malone, Molton Brown and L’Occitane) are some good reasons to visit.
Cambridge Toy Shop and The Entertainer at The Grafton Centre are a magnet for kids with birthday money to spend. John Lewis has a comprehensive childrenswear, schoolwear, nursery and toys, and children's books departments. There's also a JoJo Maman Bebe and a Petit Bateau in the city centre, and King Street-based Poco Kids sells socially and environmentally sourced babies' and children's clothing aged 0-12 years. Fulbourne is home to Lollipop, which sells an extensive range of quality, nearly new children's clothes, toys, books, games and baby equipment.
Waterstone's and Heffer's Children’s Bookshop host lots of children's author events to inspire junior bookworms. And off the beaten track (but just a few seconds from the Market Square) is Sarah Key Books. Specialising in children’s and illustrated second hand and antiquarian books, it’s a really lovely place to spend half an hour finding a special christening or birthday present for a child.
Grand Arcade is Cambridge’s newest shopping centre with more than 60 premium and high street brands. There's a flagship John Lewis, The White Company, Hollister, Apple, Kurt Geiger and Topshop and River Island, among others, all under one sky-lit roof. Linked to Grand Arcade is Lion Yard Shopping Centre – home to the Cambridge Central Library, some themed eateries, and a teen-friendly mix of shops including Superdry, Lush, Timberland and Hotel Chocolat.
The Grafton Centre is a shopping hub just five minutes away across Christ's Pieces, with high street stalwarts like Debenhams, Coast, Clarks, Oasis, and River Island. And before you ask, yes, Cambridge does have a large branch of Primark, situated in nearby Burleigh Street.
Much of Cambridge city centre is car-free and the limited parking available is expensive. The best way to get around is on foot, by bike or by bus.
Cycling is a way of life for most locals and students and one of the easiest ways to get quickly around the city. Follow cycle pathways along the Cam to access Cambridge and the outlying areas the scenic way, avoiding congested roads.
There are six Cambridge park and ride services into Drummer Street Bus Station, giving direct routes to/from neighbouring towns. Services run up to every seven minutes at peak times, and you can use the Multi-Operator Smartcard (valid for two months) for discounted bus travel. If you’re planning a day out with the kids, a family dayrider bus ticket starts from just £7.80.
The Citi Bus Network runs around Cambridge and into the city from main neighbouring towns (Royston, Ely, Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds) and satellite villages. The N1 and N2 offer limited night bus services on Friday and Saturdays for party animals, running until 3am.
What about GPs and hospitals in Cambridge?
Healthcare-wise, Cambridge has 17 NHS GP Practices in CB1 to CB5 postcode areas. Local patient satisfaction surveys rate Bridge Street Medical Centre and Huntingdon Road Surgery particularly highly. Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – known as CUH – runs Addenbrooke's Hospital and the Rosie Hospital (Cambridge's first purpose-built maternity hospital including the Rosie Birth Centre).
Maternity and gynaecology services within the Trust are CQC rated good. The Royal Papworth Hospital nearby is a world class specialist centre of excellence for cardiothoracic (heart and lung) care, and includes England’s main heart and lung transplant centre. Cambridge Nuffield Hospital and Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital offer private healthcare alternatives locally.
What’s near Cambridge?
There are plenty of pretty towns near Cambridge – among them Ely, Huntingdon, Kimbolton and St Ives (the non-Cornish version, obviously). Each town shares a fascinating history waiting to be discovered on a family day out.
Other nearby cities and towns include historic Peterborough (an hour's drive away), and Bury St Edmunds (around 40 minutes away).
Surrounding villages near Cambridge include the picturesque Grantchester, Harston, Histon and Impington. Hilersham and Linton are also a sight for sore eyes if you're moving to Cambridge for an escape to the country.
Local weather in Cambridge
Relocating to Cambridge for some sunnier skies? Well, just like the rest of England it can be variable, but the city is generally well positioned for mild, sunny weather. The air quality is another selling point, which is currently rated as being ‘Good’.
What's planned for Cambridge’s future?
A new ice rink by the Newmarket Road Park and Ride is scheduled to open in autumn 2018. The 340-seat arena will provide figure skating, ice hockey, ice dance, speed skating and ice disco facilities.
Construction of the North West Cambridge Development urban district is underway. Civic amenities, public parks and research facilities will support three thousand new homes and 2,000 postgraduate bed spaces. 1500 affordable homes on the development should help local key workers and young academics get a foot on the property ladder.
Cambridge children's centre services are being restructured with closures on the cards. Child & Family Zones will be set up at Brookfields Hospital, the Central Library and in Trumpington. The Bewick Bridge Community Primary School based centre will be reconfigured to include outreach activities. Homerton and Romsey Mill are due to close.
Plans to reopen the Varsity Line rail link by 2023 will make travel between Oxford and Cambridge easy. Linking Bicester, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Sandy, the route is set to boost the region's economy and create new jobs.