Let’s staycation in...Cambridge 

SIX restaurant at The Varsity Hotel, Cambridge

SIX restaurant at The Varsity Hotel, Cambridge - Credit: Paul Winch-Furness

A weekend in Cambridge is like stepping into a live film set. Ancient, gothic-style colleges rise from historic streets once trod by some of the world’s most esteemed luminaries. A soundtrack of tinkling bicycle bells fills the air. Punters jostle for position on the river Cam, trying not to fall in as they navigate one of the most-photographed stretches of water in the country. 

We dare you not to fall in love... 

A Senior Fellows superking room at The Varsity Hotel in Cambridge

A Senior Fellows superking room at The Varsity Hotel in Cambridge - Credit: Paul Winch-Furness

The Varsity Hotel Cambridge's rooftop bar

The Varsity Hotel Cambridge's rooftop bar - Credit: Paul Winch-Furness

Where to stay in Cambridge 

The Varsity celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2021 and has become one of the go-to hotels for holidaymakers seeking a touch of luxury. As well as boasting a prime riverside location, The Varsity offers guests access to a romantic rooftop terrace with far-reaching views, two restaurants, and a full-service spa.  

The design concept is modern British, juxtaposing the traditional with cutting edge elements throughout the hotel’s six floors. All interior design elements combine fabrics and wallpapers from the likes of Colefax and Fowler, Osborne and Little, and Farrow and Ball. Although each room is individual, guests can expect to see strong patterned wallpapers from 19th Century English cotton print or botanical influences, solid oak flooring throughout, sandstone bathrooms with monsoon showers and some with free-standing Victorian baths. 

No wonder it’s attracted the likes of the Beckhams, Daniel Craig and Ralph Fiennes. 

Prices start at £155 per night.  thevarsityhotel.co.uk 

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Things to do in Cambridge 

Go punting: Come on. You can’t visit the city without giving this pastime a try at least once. It’s a bit tricky to get started, and there’s certainly a bit of jeopardy involved if you’re in charge of steering (you could fall in), but this is also a wonderful way to see Cambridge from another perspective. Head out in the direction of Grantchester for meadow views, or east to glance the colleges. The best deals are to be had by booking and paying in advance online, and there are multiple operators to choose from. Alternatively, get someone else to do the hard work for you. Varsity Tours offer fully chauffeured punt trips. 

Go on a ghost tour: Haunted Cambridge hosts one-hour tours delving into the murkier, spookier history of the city on Friday and Saturday nights, meeting outside Great St Mary’s at 6.30pm. it’s £15 for adults and £5 for children. 

Visit the museums: Top of your list should be the Fitzwilliam (free, open 10 to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday) for its magnificent art collections, swiftly followed by the Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences (open 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturday) where kids especially will enjoy seeing the fossils which form part of the vast collection of more than 2million objects. 

Explore Cambridge Botanical Gardens: From bog gardens, to a dry garden, tree walks, scented gardens, and the Cory Lawn, this is a simply splendid place to plant yourself – especially as spring comes around, and through summer. It’s five minutes’ walk from the station or 15 minutes from the city centre on foot, but worth the stroll – and you can refresh yourself at the gardens’ café. The gardens are open from 10am and entry is £6.80 for adults, free for under 16s. 

Go for a swim: Tucked between Jesus Lock and Victoria Avenue bridge, alongside the river, is Jesus Green lido – a 1920s unheated pool, sundeck and sauna. The pool is one of the longest outdoor facilities in the UK. Go to better.org.uk for prices and timetables. 

Treat yourself to a cocktail: Award-winning cocktail maker Laurie heads up the bar team at 1920s themed bar, The Lab – a luxurious spot to imbibe on signature concoctions such as the Cambridge Gravity (gin, cider cordial reduced over celery, sage and rhubarb, fresh lemon, green Chartreuse, orange bitters and apple air). 

You have to go punting if you're visiting Cambridge

You have to go punting if you're visiting Cambridge - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Where to shop in Cambridge 

You’ll find big brand names at the Grafton Centre and Grand Arcade, but it’s well worth seeking out the many independents dotted around the city, many of them in the stunning historic streets winding out of its centre. 

Mill Road (known as The Mile) is a hip part of Cambridge, known for its indys, as is King Street. The All Saints Garden Art & Craft Market just off Trinity Street is open every Saturday. 

And the city’s central market is a hubbub of activity from 10am to 4pm daily. 

Heffers: The book shop has been part and parcel of Cambridge for more than 150 years and is a book lover’s dream. You’ll also find stationery, one of the country’s biggest selections of board games, and an enormous, dedicated children’s section. 

The Cambridge Satchel Company: Started by mum and daughter Julie and Freeda at the kitchen table, this Cambridge brand has grown and grown, offering quality, stunning leather accessories. For a lasting reminder of your trip pick up the classic Cambridge Satchel, available in a rainbow of colours. The main shop’s at St Mary’s Passage. 

Podarock: A joyful collection of gifts on St Bene’t Street. From Bill Skinner’s wistful silver jewellery (think pine cones, bumblebees, lovebirds and teapots) to felt festival bunting and designer cushions. There’s something for all pockets. 

Nomads: This shop at King’s Parade is a feast for the eyes. Two floors jam-packed with the wildly wonderful, be it Afghan rugs, Tibetan singing bowls, jewellery or lampshades. It’s one of the oldest independent gift shops in Cambridge. 

Fitzbillies: Don’t you dare go home without a box of their famous sticky Chelsea buns. There are stores at Trumpington Street, Bridge Street and Clifton Road, where you can also grab takeaway afternoon teas, cream teas and picnics. 

Where to eat in Cambridge 

Midsummer House: Make an occasion of your visit with lunch or dinner at Daniel Clifford’s two Michelin Star restaurant. Food is served Wednesday to Saturday, with lunch priced at £130 per person, or £250 for the tasting menu including a glass of Champagne, water and tea or coffee. Expect refined, classic cooking at its best, using seasonal ingredients. 

The Cambridge Chop House: The corner spot is a bit of an institution, known for its expertly cooked steaks, real ale, and truly interesting plates of food putting a twist of British pub fare – think haggis fritters with beetroot and whisky mayonnaise, and beef brisket crumpets. Push the boat out by indulging in a succulent A5 Japanese Wagyu ribeye. There’s a set menu available until 6.30pm, Monday to Friday. 

The Tiffin Truck: If you like Indian food, this is the real deal, specialising in street food and with a slant towards southern Indian cooking. The menu bursts with flavoursome options that include venison keema doughnuts and buttery vada pav bombs. At lunchtimes you can dine on the thali platters – a steal at under £13 for a curry with poppadoms, pickles, unlimited rice, roti, daal, samosa and one vegetable side! 

Jack’s Gelato: Showstopping proper gelato. It’s dangerous to know they now deliver nationwide too. Don’t go here for the vanilla (delicious as it is). No. What you want to try from the Bene’t Street store is something from their almost daily changing array of specials. Japanese whisky perhaps. Roasted banana. Chocolate fudge ripple with Marcona almonds. 

Butch Annie’s: It’s easy to miss this place on Market Street – the door opening up to a downwards flight of stairs – but don’t walk on by, especially if you’ve got a penchant for American diner-style food. The cavern-style eatery and bar has a board filled with craft beer, sells insanely good burgers, and is probably one of the only places in the east of England where you can try a Detroit-style red top pizza. A deep rectangle of focaccia—like dough, baked with a Parmesan and Cheddar crust, topped with mozzarella, toppings, and a dose of their homemade tomato sauce. We like the Bruce Lee (spicy sausage, honey and rosemary).