Take a punt on Graduate Cambridge, an academic study of the city’s colleges and architecture to pleasingly studious results (the walls are lined with punts, for a start). The riverside setting means an expanse of the fens in one direction, with all the enlightenment of Cambridge in the other. Learned local references include the pattern of the gates of St John’s worked into the wallpaper, penny-shaped lamps to hint at a certain ill-advised student-drinking habit during formals, and bathroom mirrors in the form of a crest. And, helpfully, the rooms have desks – just in case you want to start work on your thesis…
All ages are welcome. Some room categories have two queen-size beds that are ideal for families, and there are rooms with twin beds.
The sustainability-loving chef goes to great lengths to minimise waste and get creative with seasonal ingredients in the kitchen, and he’s got a thing about innovative, planet-friendly packaging, too. Single-use plastic is minimised and local suppliers are used wherever possible.
Sit on a stool at the bar counter to watch the mixology mastery, or go for a table out on the riverside terrace for obvious reasons.
Leave the academic-regalia gowns for the students (and Harry Potter).
Garden House has an open grill in the kitchen so you can watch the flame-cooking in real time from the comfort of a green velvet sofa, or sit by the window to enjoy glimpses of the river-edge garden instead. Dishes include beef with sour cream and salted cranberries, fried courgette flowers with the hotel’s home-made honey, and grilled artichokes with dandelion. The private dining room may lack windows, but it makes up for it in leafy wallpaper and elaborate chandeliers.
The showpiece bar takes up most of the room just behind reception. Cocktails that live up to the Garden House moniker are mixed with house-made cordials and local spirits. When the restaurant is closed, food is available at the bar.
Breakfast is from 6.30am to 10am on weekdays; 7am to 10.30am at weekends. Lunch hours are 12.30pm to 3pm on Friday and Saturday, and noon to 6pm on Sunday. Dinner (6pm to 9.30pm) is available Thursday to Saturday. The bar is open from noon to 11pm daily.
Dishes from the bar and restaurant menus can be ordered upon request during normal service hours with a tray charge of £7.50
With the Coe Fen meadow in one direction, the river in another and all of Cambridge’s colleges, cobblestoned streets and famous museums and bridges at the end of various other compass points, it’s fair to say that Graduate Cambridge has a handy location.
The closest airport is Stansted, a 45-minute drive south; hotel transfers can be arranged on request. From Heathrow, the journey should take an hour and a half.
The train station is a 25-minute walk or 10-minute taxi ride from the hotel. Services from London King’s Cross take around 50 minutes, with slower options available from London Liverpool Street.
Cars and cobbles don’t mix, and everything is easily reached on foot – stow your wheels in the hotel’s bigger-than-average car park for a nightly fee.
If you want to fit in, bicycle is Cambridge’s official mode of transport.
Worth getting out of bed for
In case you didn’t get the hint from the punts lined up by the garden and hanging on the walls in reception, drifting along the river upright on a wooden craft (the original SUP) is kind of a big deal around here. Scudamore’s, helpfully located next-door, is the city’s oldest purveyor of punts. River Cam-straddling structures of note include the Bridge of Sighs in St John’s College and the Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College. Admire the modern art on display at Kettle’s Yard, or amuse kids by showing them the size of prehistoric PCs at the Centre for Computing History. The concierge can arrange perfectly suited guides to take you on walking tours of the city and its many colleges, including King’s and Trinity. Or do away with intellectual enlightenment and learn how to make chocolate instead, with an equally educational workshop at Chocolat Chocolat.
At The Cambridge Chophouse, steaks and Sunday roasts come with a view of King’s College Chapel – and there are plenty of options for vegetarians, too. For champagne, oysters and all the other finer things in life, head to Trinity, or try its sister restaurant Varsity, which, in a city of old things, can lay claim to being the oldest restaurant in Cambridge. The riverside Victorian villa that is Midsummer House may look like you’re entering someone’s home for a meal, but you’ll be in for a dinner party with two Michelin stars.
Sit out on one of the street-side tables at The Senate, for sandwiches and sharing boards as you watch the geniuses go by.
Cocktails of every kind (herby, fruity, spicy, even bean-based) await at Novi, which has barbecued sliders and skewers, all smoked on-site, for the perfect snacking accompaniment. Pay homage to the pint at Pint Shop, which, unsurprisingly, serves a lot of beers (in 568ml servings, of course).
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this studious hotel in East Anglia and unpacked their mortarboards and Master’s, a full account of their riverside break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside the Graduate Cambridge…
Part of an enlightened collection of hotels in the great learning centres of the world, from Ann Arbor to Oxford via Berkeley, Graduate Cambridge joins a very clever bunch. A hotel for almost 100 years before its current incarnation, it’s seen its fair share of impassioned student action, including the Garden House riot in 1970. These days, the rowdiest it gets is with cow auctions on a Thursday night. The rest of the time, it’s a genteel affair with a tartan backdrop: punts lined up outside to take you along the college-lined river; naps in a deckchair on the terrace; days out in search of the Market Square’s legendary ‘Doughnut Man’; and dinners in the floral Garden House restaurant, where the sustainability-obsessed chef serves a flame-cooked, conscience-free menu. It’s such a prime spot, Stephen Hawking used to come here for his Christmas and Easter meals. So here’s to you Mrs Robinson – and you, Graduate Cambridge.