With the spires of its university buildings framed by towering trees and expansive meadows, and its medieval streets and passages enhanced by gardens and riverbanks, the city of Cambridge is among the loveliest in England. The city predates the Roman occupation of Britain, but there's confusion over exactly how and when the university was founded. The most widely accepted story is that it was established in 1209 by a pair of scholars from Oxford, who left their university in protest over the wrongful execution of a colleague for murder.

Keep in mind there’s no recognizable campus: the scattered colleges are the university. The town reveals itself only slowly, filled with tiny gardens, ancient courtyards, imposing classic buildings, alleyways that lead past medieval churches, and wisteria-hung facades. Perhaps the best views are from the Backs, the green parkland that extends along the River Cam behind several colleges. This sweeping openness, a result of the larger size of the colleges and lack of industrialization in the city center, is what distinguishes Cambridge from Oxford.

This university town may be beautiful, but it's no museum. Well-preserved medieval buildings sit cheek by jowl with the latest in modern architecture (for example, the William Gates Building, which houses Cambridge University’s computer laboratory) in this growing city dominated culturally and architecturally by its famous university (students make up around one-fifth of the city’s 109,000 inhabitants), and beautified by parks, gardens, and the quietly flowing River Cam.

The exquisite King's College choir defines the traditional English Christmas, when the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live on Christmas Eve. On top of all its tradition and history, Cambridge remains a lively city and an extraordinary center of learning and research where innovation and discovery still happen behind its ancient walls.

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