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Punting in Cambridge: Everything You Need to Know!

Punting in Cambridge: Everything You Need to Know!

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Punting in Cambridge is one of the quintessential activities when visiting England’s historic university town. Come rain or shine, punting provides a unique perspective of the beautiful sights and colleges from the water. 

Cambridge is a popular day trip from London. As punting trips rarely exceed one hour, it’s completely feasible to factor a tour into your sightseeing plans. 

As a first-time punter, you have the option to self-punt or join one of the Cambridge punting tours. This guide will help you figure out which option works best for you and plan your activity. 

Cambridge is one of our favorite romantic UK getaways, it’s also a wonderful place to visit for families or those that want to experience a bit of British history.

What is punting in Cambridge?

A punt is a long wooden boat with a flat bottom. They were initially used by fishermen and traders to transport cargo and goods along the River Thames. At around the turn of the 20th century, they were adopted as a pleasure craft in English towns such as Cambridge and Oxford. 

While punting exists in a couple of other UK cities – for example, Stratford-upon-Avon and Canterbury – it’s typically associated with Cambridge. 

The punt is propelled and steered with a punt pole. One person is responsible for driving the punt; they stand at the rear of the punt on a small platform – the till. The punt is slowly and firmly plunged into the water until it touches the river bed and then allowed to trail behind the boat before the next stroke.  

Punting in Oxford differs from punting at Cambridge. If you’ve already tried it in Oxford, the technique is similar but there you will have stood within the boat with the till forward. 

Peaceful, entertaining, and full of photography opportunities – punting is perfect for solo explorers, couples, families, and groups.

boats for punting

Punting in Cambridge is one of the most popular things to do in this part of the country.

Best time to punt in Cambridge

Punting is actually a year-round activity in Cambridge. Even in the midst of winter, you can still take to the River Cam and explore from a punt. 

Summertime and the British school holidays bring busier conditions to the river. Unless you book punting at Cambridge in advance, you’re more likely to have to wait at peak times and face congestion on the water. 

Spring, early summer, and autumn offer a quieter experience on the water and the best weather conditions.

Do bear in mind that punting is always popular at weekends. Plan to punt early in the morning (before noon) for a tranquil experience on Saturdays or Sundays.

Punting right before sunset brings lovely light conditions. During the off-peak season, you’ll not have to contend with as much footfall at this time of day. Besides, a lot of the day-trippers will have left by this time.

If the weather is inclement but still safe to punt, you will usually have the option to proceed or reschedule. Punts are stocked with blankets and umbrellas for all seasons and weather. Besides, if you’re visiting England, a raincoat is likely at the top of your packing list! 

man on a boat rowing under a bridge in a black and white photos

You can choose to go punting with a chauffer and simply sit back and relax or you can hire the boat for the day and try rowing it yourself.

Where to punt in Cambridge

All punting stations and routes in Cambridge are situated on the River Cam.

The “College Backs” in central Cambridge is the most scenic spot for punting. This one-mile stretch of the waterway strategically runs alongside all the best sights in Cambridge. Running east of Queen’s Road – as you can perhaps hazard a guess – this is where several colleges back onto the river.

Punting along the College Backs gives you the chance to see the likes of Clare College, Trinity College, the Wren Library, and the Jerwood Library. You’ll pass beneath the Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.

The vast majority of self-punting hires and punting in Cambridge tours are clustered east of Bridge Street at the Jesus Green Moorings.

As an alternative, you may want to consider punting on the outskirts of town, towards the village of Grantchester. This punting route takes you past pretty meadows, willow trees, and traditional buildings.

Although located a mere 5-10 minute walk from central Cambridge, the river is quieter here and might be better suited if you opt to self-punt for the first time.

Self-punting v Cambridge punting tours

You can opt to self-punt or join a tour with a professional guide at the helm.  

Punting businesses generally offer a mix of shared and private punting tours. Shared works out cheaper but private tours are perfect for special occasions or larger parties. 

Not all punting rental places in Cambridge are licensed to rent punts for self-punting. But, if you do want to give it a go – those that do are listed at the end of this post. These firms will rent to novices and staff at the rental place will explain exactly how to hold the punt pole and stir the craft.

There’s no minimum age to travel in a punt but anyone who self-punts must be aged 16 or over. In the case of being under 18, there must be at least one person aged 18+ in the craft.

Punts in Cambridge typically accommodate 12 guests. Self-punt rentals can not exceed six occupants due to the punting law. 

punting boats lined up along the river

If you visit Cambridge on a sunny late-spring day or during the summer, you will likely be one of many punters along the river.

How much does punting at Cambridge cost?

The cost of punting in Cambridge is based on whether you self-punt, join a shared tour, or arrange a private session.

Shared tours are a budget-friendly option for solo travellers and couples. Private tours are economical for groups in Cambridge.

Private rentals are priced according to the package and length. Tours rarely exceed one hour but if you want to extend the activity then it will be priced accordingly. 

As a general guideline, at the time of writing, these are the approximate costs for punting in Cambridge.

  • Self-punting: Approximately £30 per punt per hour. Each punt holds a maximum of six occupants.
  • Shared tours: Approximately £20 per person for a 45-50 minute tour.
  • Private tours and experiences: These vary significantly as per the package with “experiences” being the most costly. A private punt hire with a guide costs in the region of £100-£130 per punt. If you book a food option, this is usually added separately atop the base package rate. 

Concessionary rates apply to Cambridge residents, students, and the elderly. 

It is not expected to tip your chauffeur but if you think they did a great job it’s a nice way to show a token of appreciation. The vast majority of guides are students at the University of Cambridge.

sunny day in cambridge england with people on a boat

Punting along the river in Cambridge.

How to book punting at Cambridge

You can usually secure a seat on a shared punting tour on the day in Cambridge. Punting stations accept cash and credit card payments.

At busier times (summer months, weekends, and afternoons) you might have to wait for a seat in a shared punt. Sometimes the staff might ask you to pop back in 20-30 minutes.

It’s highly advisable to book a private punting tour in advance online. As well as having the assurance that your punt is waiting for you, this often works out cheaper than scheduling a tour on the day. At quieter periods you may be able to arrange a private tour or experience on the spot.  

Recommendations for the best Cambridge punting tours and punt rentals are provided below with links to where you can book.

5 Things to Know Before You Punt in Cambridge

These are a couple of tips to help you prep for your watery adventure, whether you self-punt or join a tour.

1. Getting wet is unlikely but not out of the question 

Due to how they’re built, it’s near impossible to capsize a punt. 

However, it’s not uncommon for self-punting attempts to result in someone (usually the one holding the pole) going for a dip. But don’t let that put you off giving it a go! 

Remember to place all your valuables within the punt before you take your place on the till. That way, if you do take a topple, at least your electronics and possessions will survive. The water is shallow enough that most adults are able to stand. Life jackets are available for those who want them and are recommended for child passengers.

Realistically, your belongings shouldn’t get splashed while punting (this isn’t like kayaking or rafting). For peace of mind, you might want to pop your valuables in a waterproof pouch or dry bag.  

2. Punting technique

Punting at Cambridge is harder than it looks but with a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it! 

If you decide to take the plunge and punt yourself around the College Backs, the rental crew will demonstrate the technique in full. Listen to their advice and ask any questions before setting off.

As a heads up – you will stand at the rear of the punt on the till. This is slightly elevated and is a little challenging for those who struggle with balance. However, you’ll have more control compared to if you stand inside the punt.

Once on the river, note how the guides stand while punting. If you get stuck along the way, passing chauffeurs will usually give you a hand – they’re very amicable and friendly!

Plus, if you do end up in a pickle, your punt should contain an oar that will help you get out of a sticky situation. 

While self-punting my friends down the river near Grantchester, we (well, I) managed to wedge our punt longways with the stern and bow touching the banks. We had to wait until another punt came along and gave us a nudge to get the punt back in action. The oar came in useful at that point as we steered our way back on course. 

sitting in a boat along a river

Getting the hang of rowing can be trickier than you think!

3. Dress appropriately

If you are planning to self-punt yourself then sturdy, non-slip footwear is essential. Trainers or running shoes are ideal but walking sandals work fine as well.

Avoid wearing footwear that you can easily slip out of – such as flip flops or ballet pumps.

In terms of clothing, there’s no dress code when you punt in Cambridge. Choose loose, comfortable clothing that you can easily move in. 

If you’re only planning on punting as a passenger, wear whatever you want – fancy dress included. Conditions on the water tend to be cooler than in the city but punts always have blankets.

4. Alcohol policy

Alcohol is generally welcome aboard the punts although you are not permitted to punt while drunk or do anything that puts other passengers at risk.

If you do not book a food and drink package then you are usually welcome to take a bottle with you. It’s not uncommon to see punters sharing a bottle of bubbles. Tour companies request that you bring plastic drinking cups or flutes rather than glass for safety reasons. 

Show respect to fellow punters by drinking responsibly, especially as punting in Cambridge is a popular activity for families and children.

5. Practice responsible punting

It goes without saying not to litter while punting; take any food waste with you and dispose of/recycle it in the public waste facilities.

The River Cam is a habitat for swans, geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. At certain times of the year, you might be fortunate to spot cygnets, goslings, and ducklings. Always respect their space and never try to pet the animals or feed them. 

Dogs are welcome aboard punts but must be kept under control and not frighten the birds.

empty boats for rowing

Punting boats just waiting to be chosen!

Best punting in Cambridge tours and punt rentals

Ready to hire your own punt or join a tour? 

The following companies are licensed, top-rated service providers in Cambridge with skilled and knowledgeable punting guides. Those that offer self-hire as well as shared and private Cambridge punting tours are specified. 

Scudamore’s Punting Cambridge

  • Private tours: Yes
  • Shared tours: Yes
  • Self-punting hire: Yes

Established in 1910, Scudamore’s Punting Cambridge is the oldest punting business in town. 

Specialist packages include gin or champagne punting in Cambridge tours and dusktime bat safaris. An afternoon tea experience concludes with sandwiches, scones, and cakes at a local cafe overlooking the River Cam.

Although Scudamore’s runs shared tours, they are a little pricier in comparison to the other companies. Punt rental starts at £32.50 for 90 minutes. Advance booking is available for punt hire and private experiences.

Scudamore’s occupy three punting stations in town. Pay attention at the time of reservation to ensure you turn up at the right place. 

See the location on Google for Scudamore’s at Quayside Punting Station, Scudamore’s Mill Lane Punting Station, and Granta Place Punting Station.

Cambridge Chauffeur Punts 

  • Private tours: Yes
  • Shared tours: Yes
  • Self-punting hire: Yes

Founded in 1993, Cambridge Chauffeur Punts have a fleet of over 30 vessels that they constructed in their own workshop. 

They offer a mix of chauffeured and shared punting tours that last 45 minutes as well as punt hire. Advance booking is recommended for private bookings although it isn’t necessary for shared trips. 

Punt rental is charged at £30 per hour, and per quarter hour thereafter with discounts applied to full-day hires. 

See the location on Google here.

boat in the middle of a river with country house on the side

The River Cam.

Traditional Punting Company

  • Private tours: Yes
  • Shared tours: Yes
  • Self-punting hire: No

Traditional Punting Company is one of the best options for budget-friendly private and shared Cambridge punting tours. 

Private packages include family punting, romantic punting, and hen party punting. Their picnic punting includes the option for a luxury afternoon tea, brunch, or deli platter. 

Dogs are welcome on private tours as well as shared tours as long as no other guests mind. Tours typically last 50 minutes. Book online in advance to make a saving on the rate.

See the location on Google here.

Scholars Punting Cambridge

  • Private tours: Yes
  • Shared tours: Yes
  • Self-punting hire: No

Scholars Punting Cambridge is another option for cost-effective shared punting or private Cambridge punting tours.

Private punting tours including picnics, hen parties, and corporate trips. Romantic punting trips for couples include proposal or anniversary packages. They also host seasonal tours around the holidays, such as Mother’s Day or Hallowe’en. 

Dogs are welcome to share the adventure but you’ll need to mention it at the time of booking. Tours typically last 45 minutes and you can make shared or private reservations online.

See the location on Google here.

rowing along the river

You can even get local students to row your boat for you who are earning a bit of extra money while they study!

Cambridge Punt Company

  • Private tours: Yes
  • Shared tours: Yes
  • Self-punting hire: No

Cambridge Punt Company is a young company established in 2007. They offer shared and private punting tours with their evening cruises being the most popular. Note that this company only operates between April and November. 

These tours last 45-50 minutes and you can book shared and private experiences online in advance. Dogs are welcome on board. 

See the location on Google here.