Best Places to Read in Cambridge

Isabella Koos 15 October 2018

In Cambridge, reading is pretty standard practice.  However, for me, this usually delightful activity tends just to be skim reading for my course, often in a stressful environment. In fact, one of the only parts of my life that hasn’t been enriched by university is my ability to read for fun. Reading for pleasure can be a great way to relax; for me a juicy memoir always does the trick.  Perhaps, you find calm in some pulp crime fiction or rogue medieval poetry.  To encourage lots of pleasurable reading, this list is compiled of non-work related spaces, in which it is lovely to pull out a book.  Hopefully, it will provide you with some places to escape the Cambridge work life, into the pages of somebody else’s story.

The Indigo Coffee House

Tucked away down St Edwards passage in a haven of calm, especially compared to the crush of people on Kings’ Parade, is the Indigo Coffee House.  Its tiny interior lends itself to a cosy atmosphere, in which my favourite feature is their mugs.  Although perhaps an eccentric observation, their pretty mugs with purple swirls give you a sense of home comfort, impossible to achieve with the chains on Market Street.  This atmosphere of loveliness is heightened by the sheer mix of people you will observe: bubbly undergrads, academics discussing their PHDs in sombre tones, and the more adventurous tourist.  The only drawback may be, as a very small business of eight tables, the indigo relies on a high turnover of customers. So don’t expect to be able to finish that thriller in one sitting with a single coffee.  But luckily drinks there are some of the most reasonably-priced I’ve found in Cambridge. Only £2.20 for a wonderfully frothy hot chocolate and an hour’s peace to start having a go at that Byron biography.

Reading suggestion: George Orwell’s Books vs Cigarettes, a short essay, which you can satisfyingly finish with one coffee.

Fitzwilliam Museum

Standing majesticly on Trumpington Street is the neo-classical facade which is the Fitzwilliam Museum.  Not only is this space wonderful for viewing art and artefacts but can also be utilised for reading.  The many benches scattered around the museum, especially upstairs in the red galleries, are a beautiful space, surrounded as they are by the works of Moore and Gainsborough, to take the plunge into a new literary venture.  As it is a museum noise levels are reasonably quiet, especially if you visit at less popular times of the day and the mixture of people walking past is perfect for any seasoned people-watcher.

Reading suggestion: E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art;  take inspiration from the art around you with this landmark art history text.

Cambridge Botanical Gardens

The fresh and vibrant surroundings of the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens is a wonderful location to take a few minutes out and read.  You may find it inspiring and refreshing to be outside for a long period of time – the perfect combat for library sickness.  The only drawback is the 133 days a year it is likely to rain on these gardens, although the pretty garden cafe ensures the adventurous reader is never caught out.

Reading suggestion: Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden; delve back into your childhood with this Edwardian classic.