Ask anyone in Cambridge, or who has visited Cambridge what the one problem is about shopping in this city and I promise you will get the same answer - separated shopping areas, meaning that for a proper shopping trip, a frustrating trek is involved across Christ Piece. On the East side of the Piece you have the Grafton Centre. This has over 70 stores including Debenhams, BHS, Next and many other of your high street stores. It also has a Warner Village Cinema here and foodcourt. Car parking facilities here are good, but as you find anywhere in Cambridge, they are expensive. The centre is looking to extend into the neighbouring streets, which have smaller shops. On the West side of Cambridge is the historical city centre and Lion Yard shopping centre. The way I personally look at Lion Yard is that it is a car park with shops close by, rather than a shopping forum. This is because most of the shops I want to visit are on the neighbouring streets. You also have the market square just around the corner from here. Some of the major stores in town include M&S, Robert Sayles, Woolworths, W H Smith, and Superdrug. Also within the Lion Yard, you have the Library. The car park works on the same prices as the Grafton Centre, and the bus station is just around the corner from here. When I go shopping, I find it is best to decide what you are going for first so you know where you have to go. If it is for clothes, shoes or fashion items only then the Grafton Centre is best for this. If it is for clothes, gifts, banking, books or other items then Lion Yard, town, is better for this. On the odd occasion, I go to both areas and this is just a 10 minute walk between the two. On a nice summers day it is quite nice to walk accross the Piece and maybe sit down and have a bite of lunch on the way. In winter its not so good, I have got soaking wet many a time from having to do this walk! Personally, I prefer town for shopping, and try to go here
as often as possible, but I keep being drawn into some of the stores in the Grafton Centre! I do find it a pain through having these two areas split, as im sure many other people in Cambridge do.
The problem with shopping in Cambridge is that the main shops are split into two seperate areas. In the centre of the city, near the market place, you get M&S, Woolworths, Boots and the John Lewis Department store (called Robert Sayle). Half a mile away, there is the Grafton Centre, which has BHS, Debenhams, Mothercare etc. There are free buses between these two areas and it doesn't take that long to walk between them. It is really inconvenient if you're with small kids though. The John Lewis is in an old building at the moment which is really claustophobic. They are planning to move to a new site near the Grafton Centre. The M&S is split across two sites, which is annoying when you know about it, and completely baffling when you don't because it has one of the worst maps I've seen in a long time to tell you how to get from one to the other. Parking in the centre of Cambridge is a pain, but its no worse than a lot of other places this size. Its just that you can't park anywhere that ends up being convenient for both shopping areas. If you know exactly where you want to go, or if you don't care exactly which shops you get to see, then Cambridge can be OK to shop in. However, there are so many other places which make it less of a chore, so often its easier not to bother with it. BTW, if you have young kids a good place to stop for a cup of tea is the cafe in a church on Regents Street, on the left hand side of the road as you come from the train station towards Robert Sayles. Its easy to get to with a pram (unlike a lot of Cambridge tea shops), and there is a good play area.
Shopping in Cambridge can be rather a nighmare at times. Robert Sayles leads the way in the old centre with its old fashioned approach to the department store policy. Always a warm welcome from the staff (well 99% of the time anyway), and if there are any problems they are dealt with immediatley. Marks and Spencers seem to be attempting to buy out the town centre having two large buildings - one of which has always been there (or so it seems) and the other at one time was a cinema. SO you can bet that you will end up in the wrong building! Woolworths - is there as ever and now complete with a cafe - a great place to stop off if your surrounded by children. Heffers - has changed a lot over the years - the small shop near to M&S and WOllies has gone and now there is a magnificent bookshop near to the college - wow - spend a day and get lost. The other larger department stores are now in the Grafton Centre with Debenhams, C&A (soon to close) BHS and a large nunmber of the smaller retailers too - if it is serious shopping you want and you don't need to go to Robert Sayles then this is the stop to get off on the park and ride scheme. (especially if it is raining as it is mainly indoors!) A number of the larger warehouse shops are sprouting up in the roads leading in to Cambridge. (This can be very annoying as Cambridge traffic is horrendous and I'm sure is lethal for the cyclists and pedestrians with all the fumes at rush hour?) The easiest way to most of these such as Staples, PCWorld, B&Q etc is by car - no park and ride stops and unless you don't mind a long hike, it can be too far to walk around them in a day. So Cambridge - work out why you want to visit - serious shopping try Milton Keynes, Bluewater, Lakeside or even Norwich and Peterborough! To visit the colleges and feel the ambience (with a little shopping)! - Cambridge cannot be beaten!