UK-born event manager Amy Cowan shares tips for seeing her hometown.

What do you love most about Cambridge?

I love the contrasts; Cambridge is a vibrant city but travel just minutes from the city and you're deep in the farming countryside. It's steeped in history but is host to some of the most promising entrepreneurs in the country — if not the world.

Why is it a good place to visit?

New Zealanders will love what everyone loves: the buildings that look like the sets from Harry Potter, the excellent independent restaurants, the local microbreweries and gin distilleries.

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What are the locals like?

Cambridge is the proverbial melting pot; locals were as likely born in Denmark, China or South America and that means they've been new to Cambridge at some point too and know how to make you feel welcome.

What's the best part of town to be based?

Depending on when you visit you can stay in the colleges out of term time, meaning you're based right in the middle of town. If you're looking for something quieter and more rural there are some beautiful villages with bed and breakfasts available — Histon, Barton and Grantchester are some of my favourites. For something a bit more luxurious, The Varsity hotel offers sylish rooms, amazing views from the rooftop terrace and an unrivalled location next to the river.

For a quieter stay, try a village like Barton. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
For a quieter stay, try a village like Barton. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

When is a good time of year to come?

September to December. It's chillier but East Anglia is one of the driest parts of the country. The 'Backs', where several of Cambridge University's colleges back on to the River Cam, are beautiful as the leaves change colour, it's quieter than the summer months and the build up to Christmas offers so much to do in the way of festivals, markets and arts.

What's the easiest way to get around?

Bike! Actually, this probably isn't true. Locals and students (Town and Gown) will cycle everywhere but cars have little patience for the less confident cyclist. The centre of town is largely pedestrianised so if something isn't reachable by foot then buses are frequent and reliable.

Where's the first place you take visitors?

Mill Road. Once home to the longest unbroken row of independent stores in the country, it's jam packed with antique stores, quirky cafes and traditional British pubs.

What's the best way to immerse yourself in Cambridge's history?

Visit the Fitzwilliam Museum. Chatting with a colleague from London recently I found he was astounded by the size and quality of the museum — and all for free!

Inside the Fitzwilliam Museum. Photo / 123RF
Inside the Fitzwilliam Museum. Photo / 123RF

Any tips for visiting Cambridge University buildings?

Follow the rules. People are used to photos being taken and visitors being on the grounds but if you step on the lawn you're in trouble.

Where's a great spot for brunch?
Old Bicycle Shop. If the name doesn't give it away, it's on the site of an old bicycle shop between the train station and the city centre and it's rumoured that Charles Darwin bought his bike from here in the 1800s. Homemade lemonade, sweet potato pancakes, a bloody mary. It's hard to go wrong.

How about fine dining?
Midsummer House has long been the landmark Michelin-starred restaurant but I far prefer the more modern and exciting Alimentum. Arrive earlier for the outstanding cocktails.

What's your favourite historic pub?

Cambridge has a historic pub on every corner so you're spoilt for choice. The Anchor offers incredible views of the punting stations and the famous mathematical bridge. The Pickeral is the oldest pub in Cambridge but top of the list should be The Eagle. Allegedly haunted, in the rear of the building you can find the RAF bar where WW2 pilots burned their names on the ceiling with lighters.

What's your favourite museum?
Sedgwick Museum recently reopened, and they have a new exhibition on dinosaur poo ...

Which is your favourite park for a picnic?

Out of town it's Milton Country Park; there's a lake, a park, cycle hire, watersports and it's huge! But in town Jesus Green has its own little community throughout the summer, barbecues are allowed, there are people playing volleyball and tennis, the people- and punt-watching is entertainment in itself, and only five minutes from the busy streets of the town centre.

Jesus Green in Cambridge is only five minutes from the town centre. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
Jesus Green in Cambridge is only five minutes from the town centre. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

Any other insider secrets you'd like to share?

Aromi off Market Square serves the best coffee in the city (possibly the world), but get there early to fuel your day before the queues build up. You can listen to the Kings College Evensong choral practice every evening and it's absolutely free but you do need to commit to staying for the duration; leaving midway is not the done thing.

Born and bred in Cambridge, Amy Cowan is an event manager and the founder of The Event Professional Network.