By Katie Wilson
There aren’t many places in Cambridge where you can sip a drink as you soak up the skyline views across the city, unless you’re at The Varsity Hotel.
Popular with celebrities such as David and Victoria Beckham, Colin Firth and Jimmy Carr to name a few, it’s where the stars stay when they pass through town.
Top level rooms, many with freestanding baths, have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city’s famous spires and university buildings. Guests are also granted free access to the adjoining Elemis Spa.
We checked in for the night at this independently-run hotel owned by two former university students, which is now one of the best stays in Cambridge.
If you’re travelling by train – around a one hour journey from London – it’s worth noting Cambridge train station isn’t in the city centre, it’s just outside. You’ll likely have to get a cab to your hotel if you have a case, but there were plenty of taxis at the station and we jumped in one straight away. A 10-minute taxi to The Varsity Hotel Cambridge cost around £9 on a Friday afternoon.
Drivers should use the hotel’s CB5 8AQ postcode via Magdalene Street. There is valet parking service at the hotel or you can park at the Shire Hill & Castle Court public car park on nearby Castle Street (CB3 0AP), around an eight-minute walk away. The closest on street parking is on Chesterton Street (CB4 3BQ) a four-minute walk away. Pay & Display until 5pm.
Once you’re in Cambridge city centre, everywhere in the city is walkable and well signposted.
Look for the floral installation in Thompsons Lane and you’ll find the entrance to The Varsity Hotel Cambridge. Whether it was the hotel fragrance or the receptionist’s perfume, it smelled amazing as we stepped inside.
Friendly staff immediately greeted us and were on hand throughout our stay and it was no bother to leave your bags before or after check-in (3pm to 12pm). The service is great here and if you need recommendations on what to do in Cambridge just ask. One of the managers, Kevin, was particularly helpful with bar and pub suggestions.
There are 48 boutique rooms at The Varsity Hotel Cambridge, ranging from Graduate Doubles to Suites. Most of the King Rooms and Suites come with freestanding bath tubs, either in the room or the bathroom. Make sure to request a bath room if you particularly want one, so you’re not disappointed.
Suites enjoy skyline views from the floor-to-ceiling windows and we’re told there are potential plans to add hot tubs to the balcony rooms on the fifth floor in the future.
All rooms include air conditioning, a handy tablet to easily order room service, complimentary access to the gym and spa, a continental breakfast and priority access to the rooftop bar.
Any room you pick to stay in here will be good. Expect chic decor, quirky artwork and wallpaper, plus nods to scholars and figures of Cambridge past. Bathrobes, slippers and Elemis toiletries are also provided.
We stayed in a spacious King Room on the third floor, which had a comfy king-size bed, freestanding bath in the bathroom, armchairs and a desk area if needed. Breakfast the next morning is served in the SIX restaurant.
FOOD AND DRINK
There are two restaurants at The Varsity Hotel Cambridge, plus the only rooftop bar in the city, which has space for over 100 people. Cocktails here are top notch and there are blankets to cosy up in when the temperature dips. There is no cover or heaters though, so access to the roof on the seventh floor is weather dependent. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s worth popping in for a rooftop drink to soak up those skyline views. Check opening times on the website before visiting as they may vary.
Meat lovers will love The River Bar Steakhouse & Grill restaurant downstairs. It’s mezzanine seating looks out over the River Cam and is magical if you manage to bag a window seat. Service is impressive and you can’t go wrong with the food. We ordered an 8oz Fillet Steak (£36.50), which comes with chips and a sauce. Sides such as the mouth-watering Macaroni Cheese are extra (£4.90 each). The Tomato, Rocket and Shaved Parmesan Salad also went down a treat. Try the Madagascan Vanilla Creme Brulee (£8.50), Sticky Toffee Pudding (£8.80) or one of their Dessert Cocktails to finish, such as a failsafe Espresso Martini. Want something a bit different? Opt for a Nutella Martini or a Chocolate Orange. There is even an Eton Mess cocktail for those with a really sweet tooth.
Upstairs on the sixth floor is where you’ll find the second restaurant, SIX, which also enjoys 360 degree views across the Cambridge skyline and is a delight to sit in. Open all day, this is where to head for breakfast, brunch, a special afternoon tea (From £26.50pp) or dinner. Food is casual British and a mix of starters, salads, pizzas, or from the grill and woodstone oven. Roasts served on Sundays are £24.50. Or you can just pop in for a cocktail or one of their 30 gins, which can be paired with eight different types of premium tonic.
All guests staying at the hotel get automatic access to the Elemis Spa next door. Fitness conscious travellers will appreciate the huge state-of-the-art gym, one of the biggest we’ve ever seen in a hotel. Daily fitness classes are also available to join.
Those looking for a more relaxing experience can unwind in the sauna, steam room or Whirlpool hot tub which overlooks the river.
There isn’t a swimming pool at the spa yet, but we’re told the hotel has been granted planning permission to build one in the future.
The Varsity Hotel Cambridge is also perfectly located for punting – a must do – as Scudamores and other operators are conveniently situated a minute’s walk behind the hotel.
The Varsity Hotel Cambridge is one of the best hotels in the city and perfectly situated for a weekend break. It’s not the cheapest, but the added extras of a spa, rooftop bar and a continental breakfast included in the room price make it worth splashing out for.
Room start from £150 a night
Book a stay at The Varsity Hotel & Spa Cambridge here
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