Updated: November 4, 2019
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – Sleek boutique hotel with charming touches and spectacular views.
Behind the quiet modern façade lies a cool boutique property with a quirky sense of fun. The forty-four rooms are individually decorated, and each one takes a different college as its theme. There are colorful touches such as tactile wallpaper, sometimes on a scientific theme, plus fun bicycle sculptures and artwork throughout the hotel. Superior rooms add features like four-poster beds or private balconies to take in the views. Bathrooms are elegant, some featuring walk-in showers or roll-top baths, and a virtual concierge service via a tablet in each room is a cool twenty-first-century perk. The hotel is packed with top-notch facilities, from the two restaurants, one with fantastic panoramic views of the Cambridge rooftops, to the state-of-the-art gym and spa, and the service is both friendly and very accommodating.
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – Location
- Address: Thompson’s Lane, Cambridge CB5 8AQ.
- Area: Lovely location in a quiet backstreet in the heart of the historic center, moments from the river and punts. There’s a stunning view of the central colleges which are around the corner; Market Square and Great St Mary’s are just a bit further. Stroll from Quayside in the other direction to find the green open spaces of Jesus Green and Midsummer Common. Close to pretty much everything, including an array of good restaurants, pubs, and shopping.
- How To Get There: From Cambridge train station, take the Citi 1 or Citi 3 bus to the Christ’s College stop. From there it’s a 7-minute walk (0.4 mile) to the hotel. National Express buses are a good transfer option from London Stansted or London Luton airports; these stop on Parkside, 16 minutes’ walk (0.8 mile) away. You can also take a bus, e.g. the Citi 5, Citi 6, or the Park and Ride to Bridge Street, just around the corner from the hotel (0.1 mile, 2-minute walk).
- Handy To: King’s College, the Backs, Market Square.
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – The Basics
- Ages: Guests tend to be couples looking to celebrate a special occasion, as well as travelers on a city break, professionals, and families with children.
- View: Rooms on the upper floors have huge windows, and some also have balconies from which to enjoy views of the river and Jesus Green, or the towers of the colleges, including John’s and Trinity. The view becomes truly spectacular from the restaurant, SIX Brasserie, and the rooftop bar.
- Private Pools/Jacuzzis: No private pools or jacuzzis.
- Laundry: In-room laundry and dry cleaning services available (additional charge).
- Parking: Valet parking to a nearby location for £21.50 per day.
- Extras: DVD library and virtual concierge service via tablets in every room (as well as a team of concierges). Complimentary bike hires and discounted punting tickets with Let’s Go Punting. Gift vouchers for the hotel’s own spa and Elemis toiletries in the room. Hotel staff will mark a birthday or special event, e.g. with cake. Atmospheric roof terrace with excellent Cambridge views.
- When To Book: Book 2-3 months in advance for the late June-August high season. Consider avoiding mid-April to mid-June as this is exam term and colleges are closed to visitors.
- How to Book: Booking.com will have the best rates.
- Phone: +44 (0)1223 306030
- Email: [email protected]
- Website: thevarsityhotel.co.uk
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – Amenities
- Pool: No pool.
- Spa: The Glassworks Gym and Spa offers a wide range of Elemis treatments, as well as a sauna and steam room. There’s also a pretty flashy hot tub overlooking the river behind one-way glass.
- Fitness Center: The Glassworks Gym is large and fully-equipped. It also offers multiple fitness classes (zumba, spinning, Pilates…) daily.
- For Disabled Guests: Two rooms have been thoroughly adapted and feature wet rooms and handrails. There is a lift to the 6th-floor restaurant, though not to the rooftop bar. There is also step-free access to the River Bar through the spa.
- For Families: Children under 2 stay for free in a cot. There is a charge of £30 for an extra bed for children aged 2-5, and £50 for ages 6 and up. The tablets in each room feature games and all guests have access to a DVD library.
- Activities: Occasional special events such as a Christmas choir carol concert and an astronomy masterclass, both on the roof terrace.
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – Food and Drink
- Restaurant: SIX Brasserie – Up on the 6th floor, the look of the restaurant is chic and simple with plate glass windows – the focus is on the 360° view of the city rooftops. The brasserie menu is relaxed, emphasizing seasonal, locally sourced food, dishes from the grill, and those baked in a wood stone oven. Lunch service is 12-3 pm Tuesday-Friday (not available Monday), and dinner service is 5:30-9 pm Sunday and 5:30-10 pm Monday-Friday. On Saturday, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner 12 noon-10 pm. Brunch is on offer 11:45 am-4 pm on weekends and a Sunday Roast is served 12-4 pm Sunday. Afternoon Tea is served 12-4 pm Tuesday-Friday and 2.30-4.30 pm weekends. $$. • The River Bar Steakhouse and Grill – Specializes in dry-aged beef, with grilled fish and vegetarian options too. The setting is an attractive 18th-century warehouse, with exposed brickwork and dark wood and a lovely view directly onto the river. $$.
- Lounge/Bar: SIX Brasserie also features a stylish cocktail bar serving cocktails of the world, spirits, and wine. Gin and tonics are a specialty here, with an array of 30 gins on offer, paired with 9 different tonics.
- Breakfast: A complimentary breakfast buffet is served in SIX Brasserie. Served 7-10 am Monday-Friday and 8-10 am on weekends.
- Room Service: 24-hour room service is available from SIX Brasserie.
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – Rooms
- Room Types: Double Room • King Room • Superior King Room • Senior Fellows Twin Room • Senior Fellows Suite
- Smoking Rooms: The Varsity Hotel and Spa is 100% smoke-free.
- Best Room: The Senior Fellows Suite is bright and spacious, with a separate living area, Apple computer, and plate glass windows opening onto a private balcony. Newly-refurbished, it even features a bathtub in the bedroom. Alternatively, go for the Superior King room with a 4-poster bed.
- For Families: Suites come with sofa beds in separate living areas, and so can sleep 4. It is also possible to request adjoining rooms.
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – Local Transport
- Walking: The river and punts are just around the corner, with Magdalene College directly opposite. St John’s and the other key colleges are 3 minutes’ walk away. In the same direction, Market Square is 8 minutes (0.4 mile) away, and shopping in the Grand Arcade is 10 minutes (0.5 mile) away. Stroll along the river away from the colleges, and you immediately find yourself on Jesus Green, with Midsummer Common on the other side of Victoria Avenue. It’s an 11-minute walk (0.6 mile) to the central bus station and 30 minutes (1.5 miles) to the railway station. Walking is often the best way of getting around central Cambridge with its pedestrianized streets.
- Subway and Bus: Several buses e.g. the Citi 5, Citi 6, and the Park and Ride run from the nearby Bridge Street stop direct to the central bus station; other local buses and coaches to London airports depart from there.
- Taxis, Uber: A taxi from the train station to the hotel costs around £10. An Uber is slightly cheaper.
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – What’s Nearby?
Recommended Nearby Tours
- Punting – One of the most popular things to do in Cambridge (particularly in nice weather) is to go punting: using a long pole to steer and propel your punt along the River Cam, past the city’s many colleges. Punting companies such as Scudamore’s, Let’s Go Punting, and Cambridge Punters are found by the bridge at the top of Bridge Street (0.1 mile, 2-minute walk), at the north end of the city center. Scudamore’s also has a second location by the bridge on Mill Lane, near Queens’ College (0.7 mile, 14-minute walk). You can rent a punt by the hour or else opt for a guided tour, whereby you’ll glide past the colleges and get to hear about their history from your knowledgeable punting guide (often a current Cambridge student).
- Walking Tours – The tourist office by Market Square (0.4 mile, 9-minute walk) runs a range of walking tours. These range from a quick hour to a more leisurely stroll visiting several colleges. There is also a Friday night ghost tour where you can hear about some of Cambridge’s creepier history. Prices start at £10 per adult and go up to £25 per adult for the longer tours.
- Hop on Hop off Cambridge Bus Tour – Buy a 24-hour pass for an open-top bus tour that circles Cambridge’s main sights and then some. Take in the river, the medieval churches, even the WWII Cambridge American Cemetery. A good place to hop on is Downing St, an 11-minute walk (0.6 mile).
Best Nearby Restaurants
- Thanh Binh – The only proper Vietnamese restaurant in Cambridge, with a wallet-friendly lunchtime set menu (Monday to Friday) and classics such as pho and bun cha in a simple, elegant setting. 4-minute walk (0.2 mile).
- Trinity Restaurant – The place to go for a high-end treat. The menu emphasizes carefully sourced meat and fish, beautifully presented, and service is attentive. Order oysters and champagne for that Cambridge May Ball feeling. 5-minute walk (0.3 mile).
- Stem + Glory – Friendly vegan place that’s serious about creating delicious food to tempt everyone, from lasagna with creamy cashew bechamel to raw raspberry cheesecake. Drop by for a quick coffee and cake, or a leisurely brunch or dinner. There’s also a fine vegan bar. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- The Senate Bar & Bistro – A great central spot for a quick bite, opposite King’s College Chapel. The Mediterranean-style menu runs from breakfast to a steak dinner, via tempting antipasti sharing boards. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- Restaurant Twenty-Two – Superior modern British cuisine, hidden away in a Victorian townhouse backing onto the river. The menu is truly built on local, seasonal produce, thus changing weekly, and has earned Twenty-Two a place in the Michelin guide. Order a la carte, or splash out on a 5 or 7-course tasting menu (£45 or £55). Book in advance. 9-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- Midsummer House – The fanciest table in town, Midsummer House stands alone as Cambridge’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, and it has 2 of them. Chef Daniel Clifford’s kitchen serves cutting-edge reinventions of British dishes. There’s an 8-course tasting menu and a more modest lunch menu; in both cases, vegetarian and vegan options are available. Advance booking essential. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- Smokeworks – BBQ, cooked slow and served fast, to the delight of meat-lovers. Finish off your meal with a beer, bourbon, or alternatively a milkshake (there are alcoholic options here too). 11-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- Parker’s Tavern – New star spot on the Cambridge scene, found inside the historic University Arms hotel. British classics reinvented with precision and attention to detail. For dessert, build your own ice cream sundae. 14-minute walk (0.7 mile).
- Cotto – For some time, one of Cambridge’s foodie destinations, now housed in a sleek glass extension at the Gonville Hotel. Chef Hans Schweitzer’s 3-course menu, costing £70 on weekdays and £75 on weekends, offers superb fine dining; dishes have surprising touches, such as venison with juniper berry sauce and roasted cocoa. Advance reservations a must. 18-minute walk (0.9 mile).
Best Nearby Bars and Breweries
- The Maypole – Find this pub, nestled in a quiet street by Jesus Green, and enjoy one of their quality beers, including microbrews, or some homemade Italian food. There’s also a pleasant beer garden. 2-minute walk (150m).
- Cambridge Wine Merchants – Great independent bottle shop, with a wide selection of all things alcoholic, which doubles as a bar. Ideal for sipping a cocktail and watching the crowds on Bridge Street outside. 2-minute walk (0.1 mile).
- Thirsty and Hungry – This quirky bottle shop/bar/café serves a good selection of low-intervention wines and craft beers from Northern Europe. Oh, and the food is by a Michelin-star chef. 9-minute walk (0.4 mile). There’s also the original Thirsty bar and bottle shop on Chesterton Road (0.5 mile, 11-minute walk).
- The Eagle – Sip a pint and drink in the air of history in this cozy 16th-century coaching inn. Cambridge scientists have been drinking here for years; most famously, Watson and Crick first announced their discovery of the structure of DNA right here. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- Pint Shop – Cool yet friendly bar specializing in craft beer and gin (over 100 varieties). The food – dry aged steaks, coal-cured salmon – is likewise award-winning. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- NOVI – Specialty coffee by day; craft cocktails, beers, and organic wine by night. Open till 3 am, a rarity for Cambridge. 13-minute walk (0.7 mile).
- The Anchor – Opposite Queens’ College and on the river, this pub is great for before/after hiring a punt at Scudamore’s punt station, right outside. Alternatively, sit on the terrace in the sun, enjoy a jug of Pimm’s or some comforting pub food, and simply watch the action on the river. 13-minute walk (0.7 mile).
Best Nearby Cafes
- Fitzbillies – The oldest bakery in town has been serving its famous sticky Chelsea buns since 1920, and is still going strong. Drop in for brunch, a traditional Afternoon Tea, or just take away some sweet treats. The Bridge Street branch has a simpler menu. 2-minute walk (0.1 mile).
- Aromi – Sicilian café with a window stuffed full of sourdough pizzas, arancini, and cannoli. Everything is handmade, authentic, and delicious, as the busy interior suggests. Finish things off with the extra thick hot chocolate. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
Nearby Shopping & Cool Shops
- Bridge Street – Just cross the river to find an array of unusual shops. From records at Lost in Vinyl to designer clothing at Bowns and designer leather at Ian Stevens Leather Designs. 2-minute walk (0.1 mile).
- Heffers – A Cambridge institution since 1876, this bookshop is a true pleasure to browse. There’s a brilliant children’s department, a vast range of board games, and regular events. 5-minute walk (0.2 mile).
- Green Street – Cobbled street full of individual boutiques. Find cool, relaxed womenswear at OSKA, funky footwear at Modish, and complete your look at Laird Hatters. 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).
- Cambridge Market – The market has been the city’s hub since the Middle Ages, and still runs daily. You can find everything from books to clothes and jewelry. It’s also great for fresh fruits and vegetables, and a whole range of street food stalls, particularly on weekends, serving anything from falafel to Chinese dumplings and curry. On Sundays, local craftsmen show off their wares at the arts and crafts market. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- St Mary’s Passage – Pick up a handmade leather bag from The Cambridge Satchel Company or stop by Ryder & Amies for an official Cambridge University sweatshirt (or scarf/tie/cufflinks if you prefer). 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- Fudge Kitchen – A place of sweet, creamy delights opposite the gates of King’s College. The fudge is handmade daily in front of hungry tourists. Come in for a free sample and you’ll be sure to buy. 9-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- Bene’t Street/Peas Hill – Arty accessories and cute gifts at Podarok and Ark, and handmade jewelry, ceramics, and glass at Cambridge Contemporary Crafts. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- John Lewis – Taking up a prime spot at one corner of the Grand Arcade is this high-end department store, a British institution. Fashion to furniture, beauty, and electronics across 4 floors. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- Grand Arcade/Lion Yard – As close to a shiny shopping mall as Cambridge gets. A good mix of British and international brands, from the affordable (JD Sports, Topshop) to the high-end (Fossil, Rigby & Peller). Tech lovers can head for the Apple Store, Menkind, or Raspberry Pi. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- Ted Baker – Polished but quirky British mens and womenswear designer. By the Grand Arcade. 10-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- The Round Church – A rarity even for a town loaded with history, this is one of only 4 round churches in the country. Built in 1130, it transports visitors back to Norman times. It also houses an exhibition on the history of the university. 3-minute walk (0.2 mile).
- St John’s College – Red brick and very handsome, John’s is second in size only to its neighbor Trinity. Venture through the spectacular gate, and you will find a series of majestic courts, leading to a beautiful 19th-century chapel and Cambridge’s own Bridge of Sighs. Over the river is the neo-Gothic New Court, known as the ‘Wedding Cake’, the college gardens, and beautiful views of the Backs of Trinity and beyond. 4-minute walk (0.2 mile).
- Kettle’s Yard – Intimate gallery in the former home of H S ‘Jim’ Ede. Once a curator at the Tate Gallery, he collected art throughout his life, including works by Miró, Brancusi and Henry Moore. Here you can enjoy his house in the way he intended, as ‘a continuing way of life’, where space, furniture and art make a harmonious whole. 5-minute walk (0.2 mile).
- Trinity College – The richest and largest of the colleges, Trinity has an academic grandeur to match, boasting more Nobel Prize winners than all of France. Walk through the Great Gate, under the frowning eye of college founder Henry VIII, and wonder at the scale and elegance of the 16th-century Great Court. Behind this are the graceful cloisters of Neville’s Court and the famous Wren Library, where visitors can see Isaac Newton’s copy of the Principia Mathematica and AA Milne’s original Winnie the Pooh, among other treasures. 5-minute walk (0.3 mile).
- Jesus Green Lido – A surviving 1920s open air lido with a fantastic 100-yard long pool in a beautiful green location by the river. Now has a newly-built sauna, as well as plenty of sunbathing space. Open May to September, it makes for a perfect place to while away a sunny day. 6-minute walk (0.3 mile).
- Great St Mary’s Church – The university church stands gracefully above the market, at the center of Cambridge today as it was when erected in the 14th-century. Climb the 123 steps of the Tower for sweeping views of the colleges and the city (tickets are £4 for individuals and £12 for families Monday-Friday, £5 and £15 respectively on weekends). 7-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- King’s College – Unmissable, the most iconic place in Cambridge. The chapel is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture; buy a ticket online or from the visitor’s center across the street, then walk in to stare up at the largest fan-vaulted ceiling in the world. The chapel remains accessible from Senate House passage in spring when the rest of the college is closed to visitors. During term time, fans of choral music can hear evensong sung by the famous choir each day for free; book well in advance for the legendary Christmas concert. 9-minute walk (0.5 mile).
- University Museum Of Zoology – Gasp at mammoths and giant ground sloths and peer at insects and molluscs from one of the best collections of its kind. Connected to the history of the science as it is, the museum holds specimens collected by the great naturalists of the past, including Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, which led to their work on evolution. Good for families. 13-minute walk (0.7 mile).
- Queens’ College – A pretty medieval college of red brick, Queens’ sits right on the river. It features a 15th-century Old Court, leading to a stunningly decorated Old Hall, a Tudor President’s Lodge, and the tower in which Erasmus once stayed. The graceful Mathematical Bridge, which joins the older part of the college to the new, is rumored to have been designed by Newton and originally built without nails (both untrue). 14-minute walk (0.7 mile).
- The Fitzwilliam Museum – One of the first public art museums in the UK, this palatial neoclassical building holds a seriously impressive collection. Choose from antiquities drawn from the Near East, Egypt, and Rome; brightly illuminated manuscripts; artworks that span the 13th to the 21st centuries; and several more treasures. 15-minute walk (0.7 mile).
Nearby Markets or Grocery Stores
- Sainsbury’s – Main city branch of quality supermarket. Good selection of groceries and essentials. 5-minute walk (0.3 mile).
- Cambridge Market – The best selection of fresh produce in town (particularly on weekdays), plus an excellent cheese selection, and food stalls on weekends. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
- Marks and Spencer Food Hall – Grocery section of respected department store. On the pricey side, but high quality food. 8-minute walk (0.4 mile).
The Varsity Hotel & Spa – The Hotel
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