The Varsity Hotel & Spa

Cambridge, East Anglia, United Kingdom Book from Book from £145 per night

At last! Smart chic rooms in the centre of Cambridge with a spectacular roof terrace, panoramic restaurant and a pocket spa to boot
Everywhere, in magnificent Cambridge, narrow side streets wind beguilingly between grand colleges and student digs in Victorian terraces; few of them lead to rooms as splendid as the Varsity’s airy modern suites. Here, in a completely new glass-topped building, rooms span the gamut from swanky expanses you could roller-blade in to more typically student-size rooms; but all are blessed with floor-to-ceiling windows, superb beds and treats such as iPod docking stations and use of an Aveda spa. Regardless of size, all are impeccably designed, with sleek contemporary furniture, weighty curtains in neutral tones, and a distinctive dash of colour in bold wallpaper or unusual prints.

The roof is a stunning, astro-turfed terrace, open to 360 degree views of Cambridge - a wonderful place for an early drink, and just above the Six Panoramic restaurant and cocktail bar. Next door, their River Bar restaurant serves a reliable menu of steaks, with a superior wine list, while tucked away in their Glassworks spa are tiny havens where expert masseuses work transformative magic. A perfect base for sightseeing, or a great treat for a special weekend.

Highs

  • The views: Cambridge has never looked so grand as from the Varsity’s summer roof terrace
  • The location: perfectly situated in the heart of the city for colleges, shopping, and strolls along the Cam
  • Two restaurants: the small but superb steakhouse brasserie, with a good wine list too, and the panoramic 6th floor one serving small plates and cocktails
  • The well-equipped gym and spa: great massages, yoga and Pilates classes, plus a hot tub looking over passing punters
  • The overall feel of a smart city-centre hotel with style: something Cambridge has historically lacked

Lows

  • Graduates Rooms are small, and lower floor rooms have uninspiring views. Book the best you can afford, and as early as possible (1st come, 1st served)
  • After a period of mixed feedback, service seems to have improved again, though we still witnessed the odd confusion when checking out
  • No parking outside (or anywhere in the historic centre), but there are car parks a few minutes' walk away, or the hotel offers valet parking for a small fee
  • You have to go outside and back in again next door to enter the restaurant, or the spa
  • Corridors have alarming liquorice-allsorts striped carpet in places

Best time to go

Cambridge is wonderful all year round. Check VisitCambridge to see what's on, or to find one of the many festivals. Always book in advance if you can, as the Varsity books up quickly. The Cambridge Folk festival is late July. Bear in mind that many museums are closed on Mondays. The hotel has some good deals on Sunday nights.

Our top tips

Book early in the best room category you can afford, and request the highest floor available.

On arrival, either drop your bags and park up Castle Hill (the cheapest option; 10 mins walk back down), or use their valet service so you don't need to stress.

Any first-time visitor to Cambridge needs to see those colleges in all their magnificence, and the Varsity kindly offers a free guided tour on Saturdays. Do take advantage. This is a great introduction to the city.

Great for...

City Style
Spa
Wedding
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 48
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

Never has ascending through academia seemed so appealing. The Varsity’s rooms are named after colleges, priced according to bed size, and ranked from Graduate Rooms to Senior Fellows. Sadly, price rather than talent determines where you lie on the scale, but we advise heading for the Senior Fellows Superking, or higher if you can afford it; and booking early so you can get an upper floor room. All rooms have free WiFi, large flat screen TVs, iPod docks/radios, DVD players, with use of the spa and gym also included.

Graduates Rooms, though well designed, are distinctly small, and some give more intimate views than you might like of terraced houses or the neighbouring substation. Those on the upper floors have tremendous views, which compensate for the size, so check before you book. Bathrooms are sleek, with monsoon showers and Elemis toiletries, but are otherwise uninspiring.

Fellows King Rooms are worth the extra cash for the space. Again, request an upper floor room for the views. Design here tends to be a little more exciting, with swirly wallpaper and bold colours.

Some of the Senior Fellows Superkings are truly special, with floor-to-ceiling windows, four-poster beds or free-standing baths. We lucked out on our first visit, with spectacular views from two walls of glass and a decked strip of balcony. The tea-making facilities and Illy espresso machine were a nice touch, and the abundance of space was glorious.

Features include:

  • Air-conditioning (most rooms)
  • Bathrobes
  • CD player
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • DVD player
  • Elemis toiletries
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Irons and ironing boards
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • TV
  • WiFi

Eating

There are stunning views across the colleges from the Six Panoramic Bar & Restaurant on the top floor beneath the Rooftop Garden. Open all day serving pizzas, small plates and cocktails (including over 30 different gins), plus a proper afternoon tea with all the trimmings, this is a lovely spot for dining.

You get a lavish spread at breakfast. Freshly squeezed juice, good fruit salad, delicious pastries, a proper range of cereals and muesli with nuts, seeds and fruit compotes, ham, brie and quartered tomatoes for continental types. The full English is served too - bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, black sausage, eggs - and other variants at a small premium. The brick and glass River Bar Steakhouse and Grillrestaurant faces the Cam, the view of willows on the opposite bank is serene.

At night, the restaurant becomes a brasserie, when its leather banquettes and low lighting complete the steakhouse feel. Our steaks were superbly cooked - 4 different cuts are offered, with wild mushroom and port, Béarnaise, peppercorn or Roquefort sauce. There are fish dishes, too - swordfish or fishcakes - and 2 vegetarian options, and an excellent wine list.

Cambridge is overflowing with restaurants, bars and pubs serving food, so if you feel like stepping out, ask reception staff for recommendations.

Features include:

  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Spa and Gym: Unusually for a boutique hotel, the spa and gym here are serious and professional. The Glassworks health club, designed by Richard Rogers, converts a lofty glass works into a great space to work out. Spa treatment rooms are small, but the massages, from a long menu, are excellent, as are the Elemis products. Yoga, Pilates and Aerobics classes are on offer (some free for guests) in the mirrored hall
  • Drinks on the rooftop garden: A fabulous place to sit and take in the details of Cambridge’s impressive architecture, with a glass of champagne in hand
  • Stroll: Cambridge is a wonderful city to explore on foot. Take a map from reception; buy picnic food in the market and lunch by the Cam before taking a punt, or walk to Grantchester’s water meadows
  • Kettle’s Yard: Just a short walk from the hotel is one of Cambridge’s most lovely small galleries, founded by Jim Ede (ex Tate curator) to show a permanent collection of early 20th-century art in a beautifully serene house. Open Tues-Sun; free
  • The Fitzwilliam Museum: A grand collection of fine art and antiquities to rival any world-class collection. Open Tues-Sun; free
  • Shopping: Cambridge is now a major city centre, and has all the usual high-street shops, but retains some smaller individual galleries and boutiques sprinkled through its streets. Don’t miss the central market, which has a wonderful cheese stall

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cycling
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Nightlife
  • Private guided tours
  • Punting
  • Shopping / markets
  • Yoga

Kids

Children of all ages are allowed, but this is definitely a grown-up hotel, and there are no concessions toward making children especially welcome. That said, the larger suites could easily accommodate a rollaway bed or a baby cot. Cots are available free of charge, as is a baby monitoring device.
.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available

Kid Friendly:

Location

The Varsity is in the old city centre of Cambridge, near to Magdalene College, St. Johns College and the river Cam. Cambridge is an hour's drive north of London.

By Air
London Stansted airport is just 30 miles away, and 45 minutes' drive along the M11 motorway. Otherwise you can fly (in order of proximity to Cambridge) into London Luton, London Heathrow or London Gatwick. From the airport, the hotel can prebook a taxi for you (see rates). Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving these airports.

By Train
Frequent trains from London King’s Cross (1 hour), or other British cities via Ely and Peterborough.

By Car
Central Cambridge is largely pedestrianised. Look very carefully at the directions with a detailed map before setting off. Navigating the one-way system takes patience.
No car parking outside, but two nearby car parks are suggested. Always drop luggage at reception before trying to find the car park, and pick up the hotel’s helpful map.
If you want to hire a car see our car rental recommendations.

Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.

More on getting to the UK and getting around

Airports:

  • London Stansted 52.0 km STN
  • London Heathrow 146.0 km LHR

Other:

  • Beach 130.0 km
  • Shops 0.5 km
  • Restaurant 0.1 km

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 2 independent reviews from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
10/10
Food
10/10
Service
9/10
Value
10/10
Overall

This modern boutique hotel is located in a side street, in a partly residential area near the river and the centre of Cambridge. The upper floor room was reasonably roomy, very inviting and well furnished with polished wood flooring, soft deep pile rug, a comfortable bed and best of all, a full width full height windows and wood floored glass balcony. It all exceeded expectations! Nice touches included a cafetiere to enjoy the complimentary Illy coffee and a useful footstool in the bathroom. The reception is suitably stylish without being intimidating and every member of staff we dealt with was friendly and professional. Having real keys to the individually named rooms underlined the boutique aspect and added to the perception of the hotel as being individual and rather special. The hallways are hung with interesting paintings. As soon as I had unpacked I felt completely at home ( we arrived a little early but our room was ready ) and we were soon off to visit Kettles Yard gallery a few minutes walk away across the nearby river. We enjoyed a meal on our first night in the Sixth Brasserie. There is a smart cocktail bar and good food and a pleasantly buzzy atmosphere. The adjoining spa and gym matched up to expectations in friendliness and appearance. Thank you to everyone at The Varsity Hotel for giving us a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable break in Cambridge.

10/10,

We were really happy with the hotel, the staff were all really helpful and the rooms were clean, comfortable and spacious. We had a great view from our room on the 4th floor despite having booked at short notice. Obviously the parking could be considered an issue, however as we were aware of it we just went to one of the long stay car parks and then walked. Once we were there the staff offered to go and pay for the parking ticket each day so that we did not have to go back there everyday. We really liked the room and the breakfast was very good, although I was a little disappointed with the poached eggs I had one morning. The dinner was excellent and we had a really nice table overlooking the river. Unfortunately the roof bar was closed due to damage caused by the very windy weather before we arrived, however we asked if we could go up and have a look at the view and they were happy to escort us up there. For the location and access to the spa it was good value for money, the only thing which could have improved it would have been more clarity at breakfast; it was not immediately obvious that the hot food was extra.

10/10,

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