Cambridge (not that one, the other one) is a globally renowned historical city set in the heart of one of England’s finest green belts, and less than one hour from London by train. One of the most magical experiences we’d recommend to you, if you decide to visit, is visit a special place that very few people are even aware exists, let alone shown to tourists.
If you were to take a punt down the river along “The Backs” of the colleges, your guide is more than likely to glide you past a 17th century building designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who was also responsible for St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and is unusual in that it has nothing at all on the entire ground floor, not even glass in the windows. This is because that building is The Wren Library, part of Trinity College and the collections of books it houses are far too precious to risk storing on the ground floor at risk of flooding from the nearby River Cam.
It probably wouldn’t occur to you to even ask if you could see inside for yourself and entry is indeed fairly restricted, with just 15 people permitted at any one time during the two hour period the library is open each day, but those in the know will tell you that one of the most exclusive cultural experiences in Cambridge is easier to experience than you think.
You’ll need to be there between 12 noon and 2.00pm Monday to Friday and 10.30 am to 12.30 pm on Saturday mornings during the academic term time to experience the hallowed hallways of one of Cambridge’s most infamous institutions, where even the furniture and windows have a story to tell. Marvel at marble busts, statues and stained glass windows before you even get to the library’s world class collection of books.
Here you can pour over A. A. Milne’s magical Winnie the Pooh original manuscript, Isaac Newton’s very own first edition copy of The Principia, his seminal work outlining the laws of gravity and motion, and the oldest book in the library, an 8th century copy of The Epistles of St Paul from The New Testament.
You may think an experience like this comes with a high price tag, but access to the library is completely free, although there is a normally a charge if you want to walk around and have a look at the rest of Trinity College. If you’d just like to visit The Wren Library, then access from the Queens Road or Garret Hostel Lane entrances should get you around the normal college tour charges.
The college and library are situated right in the heart of the city, so you’re within easy walking distance along the cobbled streets to continue your day on the river, in cafés, shops and green spaces. Try Auntie’s Teashop on St Mary’s Passage for a step back in time over tea and cakes, or join the queue outside Benets on Kings Parade for some home-made ice-cream, weather permitting, and sit on the wall in front of the grand vista of King’s College chapel. If it is more colleges you’re after, have a walk around and look on the notice boards outside the front gates of each of them, which will tell you whether they’re open to the public or not and how much they’ll charge to let you in for a look around.