On the whole, CAMBRIDGE is a much quieter and more secluded place than Oxford, though for the visitor what really sets it apart from its scholarly rival is “The Backs” – the green sward of land that straddles the languid River Cam, providing exquisite views over the backs of the old colleges. At the front, the handsome facades of these same colleges dominate the layout of the town centre, lining up along the main streets. Most of the older colleges date back to the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries and are designed to a similar plan, with the main gate leading through to a series of “courts,” typically a carefully manicured slab of lawn surrounded on all four sides by college residences or offices. Many of the buildings are extraordinarily beautiful, but the most famous is King’s College, whose magnificent King’s College Chapel is one of the great statements of late Gothic architecture. There are 31 university colleges in total, each an independent, self-governing body, proud of its achievements and attracting – for the most part at least – a close loyalty from its students.
Note that most colleges have restricted opening times and some impose admission charges; during the exam period (late April to early June) most of them close their doors to the public at least some of the time.