Cambridge Car Hire

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A university city since 1209 AD, Cambridge is located 89km north of London and is the county town of Cambridgeshire in the East of England region. With a population of over 158,000, it was founded in the 1st Century AD, received its first town charters in the 12th Century and was granted modern city status in 1951.

Packed with elegant architecture and culture, history and tradition in every crevice and corner, it’s peppered with University of Cambridge college buildings, lush riverside backs (college gardens) and verdant rolling meadows around its outer limits. An idyllic city which combines a contemporary cosmopolitan outlook with ancient eccentricities, a stroll on a sunny day reveals students studying in quiet quadrangles, bike-borne professors whizzing between lectures and enthusiastic oarsmen punting their way down the river. A serene city which has nurtured some of the world’s greatest minds, this is always an inspirational place to visit.

Prices for hiring a car in Cambridge start at just £23.59 per day for a small car like a Fiat 500 if you book off-season, a compact car like a Vauxhall Corsa costs £29.95 a day and a Nissan Qashqai SUV ̶ ideal for road trips in the countryside ̶ costs £35.07 a day. Hire a car in Cambridge and all the attractions of this capital of the intellect await, but first, take a look at a few interesting facts about this charming city.

  • Around 30,000 of Cambridge’s inhabitants are students, it’s closely packed university college buildings like King’s College Chapel and academic pursuits heavily influence its external image. However, a discrete and distinctive cultural identity has sprung up around arty areas like Mill Road and a grass roots, DIY ethic has inspired the city’s music, arts, and cuisine scene. As well as green spaces, there are gorgeous museums and galleries that showcase art and artefacts from Cambridge and the world beyond, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum, Polar Museum, and Pepys Library.

The city sits on the River Cam, hence the name originates from ‘Cam-bridge’, and there have been settlements here since the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The Romans subsequently built a fort on Castle Hill in the 1st Century AD and this led to a sustained formal presence until the decline of that empire in the 5th Century AD. When the Danes conquered the east of England in 875AD, modern Cambridge was established, and they constructed their own fortifications based on the burgh model. In 1086 the Domesday Book recorded it as a flourishing town of around 2000 people which was an administrative centre and minted its own coins. By the time the University of Cambridge was founded in 1209AD, Medieval Cambridge also had its own fair and a weekly market where traders and artisans from across the region would come to sell their goods. The city’s fortunes were bolstered by its strategic location on the Cam river, which flowed down to the Great Ouse and through to the sea at King’s Lynn, a prominent town at the time ̶ it was cheaper to transport goods on the water and the Cam was a main thoroughfare through the marshy coastal territory of the Fens. Thanks to this infrastructure, wine, salt and seafish were soon imported into Cambridge and by the 15th Century there was a leather and wool industry, as well as many carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, butchers and brewers.

Despite several early anti-student riots led by locals who resented the privileges afforded the university by authorities, it became increasingly influential in the local economy and social milieu in the subsequent centuries. The famous Addenbrookes Hospital was founded in 1766, the first bank was opened in 1788, by 1845 the railway network reached Cambridge and various civic improvements were made throughout the 19th Century including gas lighting, piped water, a sewerage system and electric trams. By the 20th Century, although the University of Cambridge remained globally prominent, industries like electronics and the manufacture of medical and scientific instruments established a more balanced and varied local economy. Today this is a thriving city with several shopping centres, museums and galleries, as well as a lively social scene supported by cultural venues like the Corn Exchange.

  • Airports and access: there’s a small private airport in Cambridge (CBG) but the nearest major public airport is London Stansted (STN) which is 36 km away, and London Luton (LTN), London Heathrow (LHR) and London Gatwick (LGW) are 49km, 90km and 117km away respectively.
  • Driving in Cambridge: this city is a great launchpad for enjoyable road trips to surrounding rural areas, historical sites and natural attractions. Here are just a couple of highlights if you want to hit the road:

Drive north east from Cambridge via the A10 or A11 roads and you can reach the stunning Norfolk coast in under two hours if traffic permits. You’ll pass through lush undulating countryside before reaching seaside spots with beautiful beaches where you can treat yourself to Great British fish and chips while enjoying the fresh salty air and sea breeze. There are plenty of places for a pitstop, including Hunstanton, Holkham, Brancaster and Cromer.

Framlingham Castle in Suffolk is around an hour and a half east of Cambridge via the A14 and it’s a hotspot for history buffs because Mary Tudor was once crowned Queen of England behind its imperious walls. There’s an interesting exhibition, you can walk along the ramparts and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area and refresh yourself with tasty tea and scones at the café. Framlington is also the inspiration for the Ed Sheeran song ‘Castle on the Hill’ so if you’re a fan of the flame-haired popstar you should pop the track on your road trip playlist!

Famous Cambridge: well-known people who hail from Cambridge or were educated here include legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, actor and writer Stephen Fry, biologist Charles Darwin, actor Ian McKellen, WWII code-breaker and computing pioneer Alan Turing, actress Olivia Newton John, social reformer Florence Ada Keynes, Suffragette Clara Rackham, and Save the Children charity founder Eglantyne Jebb.

Guide to Cambridge

A gorgeous genteel city with a world-famous university which has moulded some of history’s greatest minds, a picturesque river that’s intimately intertwined with its fascinating history and a contemporary arts scene which is fiercely independent and creative, Cambridge is a captivating place to visit.

Ancient seat of learning

The various colleges of the University of Cambridge are housed in some of the city’s most impressive buildings, so the institution has greatly enhanced Cambridge’s architectural standing as well as its international intellectual footprint.

Each of the 31 colleges that comprise the university has its own discrete grounds, with chapels, dining halls, classrooms, dormitories and gardens ̶ they’re a joy to stroll around. The distinctive brick walled entrance to Jesus College is nicknamed The Chimney and its central chapel is the university’s oldest building still in regular use. Set in the grounds of an ancient Benedictine nunnery and founded by Bishop of Ely John Alcock in 1496, this serene site is only a stone’s throw from market square in the city centre and its lush manicured lawns host some impressive sculptures.

Pembroke is another noteworthy college and it’s located on Trumpington, the city’s main thoroughfare. Founded in 1347, it’s the third-oldest Cambridge University college and its stunning chapel is not only one of the city’s most beautiful buildings, but it’s also the first English chapel constructed in the Classical style and Sir Christopher Wren’s first architectural project.

Awesome accommodation

There are several super accommodation options in Cambridge which help you make the most of the city and its attractions.

For instance, the Varsity Hotel & Spa is highly rated on comparison sites, is centrally-located with valley parking close to the River Cam, has sumptuous suites and a terrific rooftop terrace where you can watch the sun set over the skyline spires while sipping a glass of wine.

Alternatively, the elegant Gonville Hotel overlooks Parker’s Piece common, its salubrious rooms are cosy and comfortable and there’s an in-house spa and wellness centre. If you’re looking for a luxe city-centre bolthole for business or pleasure, this is it.

Arts and culture

Cambridge has a dynamic independent arts scene which features innovative collective arts spaces, magical music venues and quirky bars.

For instance, Aid & Abet is an edgy artist-run space which hosts sculpture, drawing, performance and workshops, there’s a legendary Drum ’n’ Bass scene exemplified by classic club nights like Warning and Element, live music from all genres at the iconic Portland Arms, pub, poetry, comedy and more at the Blue Moon bar, and coffee and rare vinyl at the Relevant Record Café, which is kitted out like a kitsch 70s living room and regularly hosts hip-hop and jazz DJ nights.

What to do in Cambridge?

With its winding river, ambient architecture, bustling bars and restaurants, pulsating cultural scene and superb shopping, there’s plenty to keep visitors of all tastes entertained in Cambridge.

Riverside attractions

The River Cam is the lifeblood of Cambridge and there are ample activities to embrace here. For starters there’s punting, where you enjoy a relaxed ride on the river while your boat is propelled by a pilot with a long stick ̶ if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even take punting lessons. However, if you prefer a more luxurious river experience you can also take a comfy motorboat tour where you’re propped up on comfy cushions and served afternoon tea. Whatever your vessel choice, the scenery is sublime ̶ you’ll pass neat college lawns and float under historic bridges and weeping willows.

Lively nightlife

There are lots of places to drink and be merry in Cambridge, whether you want a quiet pint or a wild night out. The Eagle might be the most famous pub and this is the local where professors Crick and Watson discussed their discovery of the structure of DNA over drinks, while The Vaults is an unusual underground cocktail bar where you can enjoy a game of table tennis in between imbibing the alchemical brews concocted by resident mixologists. Head to the Moroccan-themed Fez Club for late night dancing to world-class DJs (past acts include Jazzy Jeff and DJ Yoda) and Cambridge Corn Exchange and Cambridge Junction are atmospheric arts and entertainment venues where you can catch everything from rock and pop to opera, classical music and children’s entertainment shows.

Retail therapy

Cambridge has recently twice been named Britain’s best city for shopping, so you’ll enjoy some first-rate retail therapy here. You’ll find famous high street favourites like John Lewis and Primark here but there are also lots of lovely independent shops on Bridge Street and King’s Parade, Grand Arcade has fab fashion, jewellery and cosmetics, and Market Square offers an eclectic selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, lip-smacking pastries, bric a brac and unusual antiques.

Eating out in Cambridge

As you’d expect from an outward-looking city, Cambridge offers foodies a delicious mix of local and international cuisine, so you’ll definitely find something to suit your taste.

Sensuous seafood

If you’re partial to oysters and champagne, you’ll find these delicacies and much more at Trinity in the city centre. Relax with friends amidst the chic décor and enjoy dishes like tandoori salmon fillet with aubergine peperonata and seared gem lettuce, seared hake fillet with whipped celery root and pickled almonds, or whole baked sea bass with broad beans, bacon and fermented shrimp butter. Main courses are around £24-£26.

Inspirational Indian

Can’t get enough of the spicy, colourful curries of the Indian subcontinent? Prana Indian Restaurant is definitely the place to tempt your taste buds. A Cambridge institution for over 25 years and multiple award winner, here you’ll adore dishes like delectable salmon tikka, tender lamb jalfrezi and classic chicken tikka masala. Main courses range from £15 to £49 for a sharing dish.

Premium pub grub

It’s tough to choose the best pub grub in a city full of alehouses serving tasty snacks, but The Punter is definitely worthy of a mention. This old coaching inn set around a charming courtyard close to the river and city centre is a great spot to relax while tucking into hearty dishes like beer battered fish and hand-cut chips, ham hock croquettes with creamy mustard or a halloumi burger with crispy onion rings, coleslaw and sweet chilli sauce. Main course range from £7-£17.

Transport in Cambridge

Airports

The nearest major airport to Cambridge is London Stansted (STN) which is 36 km away. Enjoy partners with trusted car hire providers at STN like Easirent, Green Motion, Europcar and Alamo.

Trains and buses

The main bus operator in Cambridge is Stagecoach and most buses serving the city run to and from the bus station on Drummer Street and the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway which serves East Anglia also runs into the city centre. Additionally, there are five Park and Ride sites located throughout the city.

Cambridge has two train stations, Cambridge railway station and Cambridge North railway station. There are direct rail links to London and the nearby Peterborough rail hub connects Cambridge to the rest of the UK.

Driving tips

You always drive on the left of the road in Cambridge and across the UK. The speed limits here are 70 mph (120 km/h) for motorways, 60 mph (100 km/h) for non-motorway main roads and 30 mph (50 km/h) or 20 mph (40 km/h) if you’re in busy urban areas or close to schools. Seatbelts are mandatory, drink driving is illegal and hand-held mobile phone use is strictly prohibited.

It takes a while to adapt to driving in the city centre if you’re not au fait with the one-way system or familiar with the roads, so plan your route first, take your time and ask for directions at your hotel before you set off.

Parking is available at the multi-storey facility at Lion Yard, the Grafton Centre and Park street.

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FAQs about car hire in Cambridge

Most frequently asked questions about hiring a car in Cambridge

At present, an economy-sized car like a Vauxhall Corsa costs £23.95 a day in Cambridge, while a roomy Vauxhall Insignia costs £35.66 a day.
At the moment you can hire a Fiat 500 in Cambridge for just £23.05 a day.
The minimum age for hiring a car in the UK is 21.
Not typically. Excess-free packages are fairly standard with most car hire companies and packages include road-side assistance, theft protection and a collision damage waiver.
Yes, provided they hold a valid license ̶ an additional daily fee is paid.
This depends on your requirements of your group, but a reliable Citroen C4 Grand Picasso seats seven comfortably, so it’s perfect for road trips with large groups.
Always tell your rental firm immediately if you have an accident. In the unlikely event you have a serious accident in Nottingham, please call 999 immediately for emergency services.