I am often asked by students at OISE where the University of Cambridge actually is, and I point them vaguely (in their mind’s eye) at the colleges. The university, I say, is everywhere.
But there is a bit more to it than that. Cambridge University is an ancient institution with a correspondingly complex, overgrown administrative structure. Broadly, the university is a collegiate university, where each college is a semi-autonomous scholarly community, and where the umbrella ‘university’ provides harmonising support networks (faculties, libraries, and laboratories, for instance). A student (but not necessarily a teaching officer) belongs both to the college and to the university, and will be taught in part in college (tutorials, known as supervisions; some classes) and in part in the university (lectures, seminars, some classes). The degrees are awarded by the university; but you make your application to a college. And so on.
Consequently, from the ground, the town is an almost unreadable hotch potch of University and College buildings. The University buildings – faculty buildings, faculty libraries, lecture theatres, etc. – are clustered in various ‘sites’, which roughly correspond to subject groupings.
For a good overview map, hit the picture below – university buildings are coloured blue, college buildings orange, and selected non-university/college buildings in pink.