Some useful advice for travelling to or around Cambridge.
Q: What’s the best way to get from Heathrow Airport to Cambridge?
A: There are a few ways to get to Cambridge, and how much luggage you have will likely determine the best approach. If you’re traveling with several pieces of heavy luggage, it’s probably best to take a National Express coach from Heathrow to Cambridge. You may save some money if you buy your ticket online in advance, or else you can buy the ticket at the Central Bus Station at Heathrow Airport. Purchasing a Coachcard may save you money for the trip to Cambridge and future trips. Heathrow has free luggage trolleys to use for the long walk from the terminals to the Central Bus Station.
If you are not overloaded with heavy luggage, you could take the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground (the tube) all the way to King’s Cross Station, from which you can take a train to Cambridge. This may work out to be quicker and possibly a bit cheaper than the coach, it may be inconvenient with a lot of luggage.
Whether you arrive by coach or train, you will likely need to take a taxi from either the Parkside coach stop in Parker’s Piece or the Cambridge Rail Station. There is a taxi queue at the rail station, so you can find a driver willing to take you to Churchill College. Negotiating a taxi from the coach stop may be more difficult, as you’ll need to call a taxi to pick you up from there. It is not customary to tip the taxi drivers, though they may be appreciative if you do.
Q: What is the best way to get around Cambridge?
A: Depending on when you’d like to travel, several options may be worth considering. Cycling is one of the best ways to get around Cambridge quickly, with the benefit that you can set your own schedule.
Buses can be helpful for getting to landmarks such as the city centre. Transport Direct may be useful for searching public transport or cycle routes. Bus timetables may be less reliable during heavy traffic or late at night.
Cambridge is a small city, so it is possible to walk to most places. Google Maps is a useful resource.
Q: What are all these transportation cards?
A: There are 4 types of cards you should be aware of: railcards, coachcards, travelcards and Oyster cards:
Railcards (such as the the Young Person’s 16-25 Railcard) provide a 33% discount on rail tickets in the UK. The Young Person’s Railcard costs £28 for one year, or £65 for three. If you are older than 25, you can still qualify as a full-time student; however, you’ll need to get the necessary paperwork from your department to do so.
You may apply online or at a station. The online form is designed for evaluating UK passport numbers and may not work for other country’s passports: you will need to bring a UK-sized passport photo to the rail office to obtain your railcard.
The office at Cambridge station is located in a side entry to the right of the main entrance. It also helps to print out and fill out the railcard form ahead of time to expedite the process. The most important point is that you’ll need to bring in a passport photo. The exact size isn’t important since they trim your photo anyway.
The Nation Rail Journey Planner is useful for organising rail trips.
Coachcards from National Express provide up to a 30% discount on coach fares, especially useful for London airports. A year-long Young Person card is only £10. You can buy coach cards from a National Express coach station or online. Buying online, you have to wait for the card to be mailed to you. There isn’t a National Express coach station in Cambridge, but there are in most major airports. Unlike the railcard, you do not need a photo for the coachcard.
Travelcards provide a day’s worth of travel on public transportation in London (tube, buses, trains, and some ferries). A travelcard can be combined with a return journey to/from your departure rail station, or be independent . Travelcards can be purchased online or at a train station, and can help save a lot of money for daytrips that require extensive use of the tube lines or buses in London.
Oyster cards are used for the public transportation network in London and are valid for pay-as-you-go credit on the tube, buses, and some rail lines. You can buy an Oyster card online or from one of the machines at an underground (tube) station for £3. After you have the card you can “top up” (add credit as you go) online or at the tube stations. Although the cost of London transport is determined by a complex process of zoning and timing, there is a maximum amount that your Oyster card can be charged on a given day. The Oyster card is a good investment for any trip longer than a day trip to London (where the travelcard may be more economical).
It is essential to have a tube map to navigate the underground lines in London. Closures due to maintenance can disrupt the service, so it is best to check the Transport for London website for engineering work, as well as estimated times and directions.
When using journey planner tools, remember to select that you have the relevant card to enjoy the benefits. Also, you must carry your coach or rail card with you whilst travelling, or you could face a hefty fine!