Punting is the number one thing to do in Cambridge. It’s a traditional and relaxing way to view historic sites. As with every activity, there are a few things which you should know before booking.
I’ll include the following 4 things:
- Is your punt licenced?
- Will I get to see all the main sites?
- Is your punt self-drive or chauffeured?
- What time of day should you book?
Is your punt licenced?
The punting industry is licenced and regulated by the River Cam Conservators. They make sure that operators depart from recognised departure points. Some unlicensed operators depart from areas where there are disputed rights of way, such areas are dangerously overcrowded and don’t offer proper boarding facilities.
Unlicensed operators are less likely to maintain their vessels to a high standard and break advertising regulations designed to stop nuisance touting in the city centre.
You might have thought that buying tickets from an established shop or outlet in the city centre would authenticate your ticket as legitimate. Unfortunately, there are no rules preventing the sale of unlicensed punting tours by a legitimate shop
Places where licenced operators depart from
The recognised departure points are:
The Mill Pond
Will I get to see all the main sites?
Most people who are punting for the first time wish to see the backs of the Cambridge Colleges. The main sites being Kings College Chapel, the Mathematical Bridge, the Wren Library, the New Court and the Bridge of Sighs.
Unless you specifically want a trip through the countryside, then make sure that your trip is booked for the college backs part of the river. As long as you get to see all the buildings, then it doesn’t matter where you start because most companies offer a return trip. Depending on your departure point you will see the buildings in a different order.
Sometimes companies take a shorter trip which turns short of the buildings at either end of the river. Check with your tour operator that you get to see Queens College and Magdalene College.
Is your punt self-drive or chauffeured?
There are a few ways to go punting in Cambridge. Though summarised in the following few paragraphs, you can also read a dedicated blog here.
Self-drive punts are generally smaller than chauffeur punts. Members of the public are permitted to punt boats with no more than 5 passengers.
It’s the fun and cheapest way to take a punt out on the river.
The disadvantages of self-drive are that its quite difficult to do. You may find that you work very hard and end up punting around in circles, or worse still end up in the river.
Chauffeured Punting tours are the easiest way to do the punting because you get to just sit and relax.
The boats are generally bigger, normally taking up to 12 passengers.
You can book shared or private tours. The disadvantage of private tours is that they can cost a lot more than shared or self-drive punting. There are exceptions, private tours can be cheaper when there are 12 people or it’s a cheaper time of day.
What time of day should you book?
Most people choose to punt between 13.00-16.00. This time gives the highest chance of warmer weather and it’s also convenient if you wish to travel to and from Cambridge. The disadvantage is obviously the crowds of people and queues.
I recommend the evening as the best time to depart. The light is nicest at this time and best for taking photographs. There are often discounts available for tours booked at this later time. Check this previous blog for more information on when to punt.