St John's College, Cambridge University
St John's College

The university at Cambridge evolved from informal teaching arrangements of scholars and students who arrived here as early as the 13th century (for a brief history of Cambridge University, click here). From these humble beginnings, a system of individual colleges evolved, funded by private donors. The university, then, is not a central institution, but separate teaching colleges gathered together under the administrative umbrella of the University.

Most of the older colleges are arranged along the banks of the River Cam in central Cambridge. The grounds of several colleges lead down to the river, creating a large expanse of parklike lawn called The Backs.

Most of the colleges can be visited by tourists, but there may be restrictions on which parts of the college buildings can be accessed at different times of the year. Remember that the colleges are active residential teaching institutions, not museums, and please respect the needs of students and masters for privacy and quiet.

The older colleges all have private chapels, and these chapels are often among the most intriguing college buildings from an architectural standpoint. Notable among these is the justifiably famous King's College Chapel, one of the most remarkable examples of late medieval architecture in England.

Here we focus on the older colleges, which are more likely to be of interest to the tourist or casual visitor to Cambridge. The date in parentheses is the official founding date of the college.


We were fortunate enough to get 'behind-the-scenes' tours of many Cambridge University colleges as our son was considering attending the university. I'll be posting LOTS of photos of the colleges as soon as possible!

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