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Hotel Highlights

  • Excellent riverbank location in Cambridge's collegiate heart
  • Elemis treatments, Jacuzzi and spa
  • Yoga and city views on the roof in summer

Overview

The Varsity Hotel & Spa may be a smart, crisply decorated stay in the centre of Cambridge, but it's anything but studenty. Set right on the river, the modern hotel has a spiffy gym, an Aveda spa and rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mediaeval rooftops and cobbled streets. The best sweeping views of this academically and architecturally gifted city, though, are from the seventh-floor rooftop garden.

Smith Extra

Here's what you get for booking The Varsity Hotel & Spa with us:

Late check-out (12.30pm), and a room upgrade (subject to availability)

Facilities

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The Varsity Hotel & Spa - Cambridge - United Kingdom

Need To Know

Rooms

48, including four suites.

Check–out

11.30am, but flexible subject to availability and a charge, depending on the time. Earliest check-in, 3.30pm.

Rates

Double rooms from $188.87 (£129), excluding tax at 20 per cent.

More details

Rates include the Continental buffet breakfast; hot dishes are also available (from £6).

Also

All public areas are accessible to wheelchair users, all bedrooms are accessible by lift, and some have been specially adapted for mobility-impaired guests.

At the hotel

Glassworks Elemis spa with gym,Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna, roof garden, TV lounge (with decanters of brandy and whisky to hand), DVDs and CDs available, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD and CD players, iPod dock, bottled water, Elemis bath products. Suite guests get Nespresso machines, a selection of books, and access to an iPad and Wii on request.

Our favourite rooms

With floor-to-ceiling windows in most rooms, it's a crime against viewpoints not to go as high up the hotel as possible – stick to the north or east ends of the building if you can. We were wowed by the objêts-d'art-dotted Master's Penthouse Suite on the sixth floor, which has two glass walls, a long balcony where you can ogle Cambridge's most famous bits, and a colossal four-poster; a room made for dirty weekending. The smallest rooms, Graduate Doubles, are on the weeny side, but fine for a quick city stay.

Poolside

There's no pool, but bring swimwear if you fancy a soak in the spa's river-view Jazuzzi.

Packing tips

With historical architecture (and architectural history) around every cobbled corner, a camera is obligatory. Don't forget swimwear for the Jacuzzi. If you plan on punting the Cam (and you should), bring clothes you don't mind getting damp. NB No one really wears mortarboards.

Also

The Glassworks Elemis spa is housed in a Conran-designed building next door (you have to pop out into the street to get there). In addition to well-priced facials, massages and beauty treatments, you can book in for reflexology, aromatherapy and waxing. Yoga, pilates and boxercise classes are held in the beamed gym and, in summer, on the hotel roof. There's also an Aveda hair salon.

Children

This hotel is better suited to couples - leave the children at home!

Food and drink

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The Varsity Hotel & Spa - Cambridge - United Kingdom

Hotel Restaurant

Looking out over the water at mediaeval Magdalene College, the River Bar is a sophisticated split-level take on a traditional steakhouse, with warehouse-style exposed brick walls, a smart little coffee/cocktail bar and a grilling fixation.

Hotel Bar

Big beefy wines and competent cocktails are served in the River Bar, but it's more of a pre-dinner drinks place than somewhere to hole up for an evening.

Last orders

The River Bar shuts at around 11.30pm each night (12.30am on Fridays and Saturdays, food orders till 10.30pm). On weekends, lunch is served from 12 noon to 4.30pm. After hours, there's always a decanter of brandy to be plundered in the first-floor lounge.

Room service

Staff will bend over backwards for you 24 hours a day, but the menu of drinks, snacks and light meals should cover most in-room cravings.

Smith Insider

Dress code

Blend in with all the students' parents staying for the weekend, and go for pastel-toned Home Counties casual, paired with a beam of maternal pride.

Top table

Downstairs by the window, looking out over the river – the view's better upstairs, but the atmosphere's a bit buzzier below.

Local Guide

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The Varsity Hotel & Spa - Cambridge - United Kingdom
Eat, drink, see, do: local favourites and more…

Worth getting out of bed for

Varsity Hotel runs morning yoga sessions in its panoramically endowed roof garden in summer, and every Saturday, hosts walking tours of Cambridge which take in all the juicy bits of the university city’s academic and architectural history. Close by is a quartet of big-hitter colleges – St John’s, Trinity, Magdalene (whose library contains Pepys’ diaries) and King’s – all of which make an inspiring wander (some charge for entry). Over the bridge, at the top of Magdalene Street, Kettle’s Yard art gallery showcases some fascinating modern works, whereas the Fitzwilliam Museum beyond King’s showcases the university’s hoard of arts and antiquities. Varsity’s Quayside position makes it ideal for messing about in boats – hire a punt (with or without a chauffeur) from Scudamore’s (+44 (0)1223 359750) next door and set out on the Cam.

Local restaurants

Varsity's within easy reach of almost all Cambridge's headliners. Big daddy is Victorian villa Midsummer House (+44 (0)1223 369299; www.midsummerhouse.co.uk), the twice Michelin-starred shrine to molecular gastronomy where Daniel Clifford has been hosting quiet culinary revolutions since 1998. A lower-key city stalwart, 22 Chesterton Road (+44 (01223 351880; www.restaurant22.co.uk) occupies a terraced house just out of the centre, and has a cosy, intimate feel, like dining in a Dickensian parlour. The menu changes monthly and features studied British dishes with occasional glances over the Channel. Closer to the hotel, by Magdalene Bridge, Galleria (+44 (0)1223 362054; www.galleriacambridge.co.uk) is a competent Frenchie – and, in summer, its little balcony over the river is the most scenic spot to eat in Cambridge. Côte (+44 (0)1223 311053; www.cote-restaurants.co.uk) at the end of the road on the corner of Bridge Street, is the acceptable face of chain French dining. Jamie’s Italian (+44 (0)1223 654094; www.jamieoliver.com/italian), a short walk away on Wheeler Street, plays the same role for rustic Italian fare.

Local bars

Bridge Street is lined with watering holes, many of them thronging with students. Magdalene College’s pet pub and one of the city’s oldest, The Pickerel (+44 (0)1223 355068), is a black-beamed, low-ceilinged affair, serving good real ale. Although it’s always packed with tourists and King’s students, The Eagle (+44 (0)1223 505020) on Bene’t Street is worth a quick visit for its World War II graffiti, supplied by carousing RAF airmen, and its historic value as the site DNA-pioneers Watson and Crick chose to announce their discovery of ‘the secret of life’.

Local cafés

Close to Varsity on Bridge Street, Bridges Patisserie (+44 (0)1223 300 800) is an unexpected café-noodle bar combo. Clowns (+44 (0)1223 355711) on King Street is a friendly, family-run Italian café that serves reliable, unpretentious pasta, coffee and cakes in a cheery, if creepily clown-themed, environment.

+ Enlarge
College-lined banks of the Cam

The Varsity Hotel & Spa

Thompson's Lane, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB5 8AQ, United Kingdom

The Varsity Hotel & Spa is Cambridge's most central hotel, on the quayside opposite Magdalene College, with its main entrance off a side street.

Planes

London Stansted's the closest airport, about 45 minutes' drive outside Cambridge. Helicopters and private planes can land at Cambridge Airport, three miles away.

Trains

Cambridge station is on the other side of the city, a little over two miles away. There are regular direct services to London (Liverpool Street and King's Cross) and Birmingham, and easy connections to other UK cities. Buses into the city centre from the station are frequent.

Automobiles

No, no, and no. London's an hour away down the M11, but Cambridge's centre was designed to maximise driver confusion and render parking near impossible. However, the hotel does provide valet parking (£19.50 a day) in a lot near the hotel for intrepid drivers, with unlimited in and out privileges from 7am–10pm (it's closed outside these hours). Guests should note that, due to roadworks, Thompson's Lane – the road leading to the hotel – will be closed from Monday at 6am to Saturday at 6.30pm. Instead, follow the diversion via Jesus Lane and New Park Street.

Reviews

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The Varsity Hotel & Spa - Cambridge - United Kingdom
The Varsity Hotel & Spa
The Varsity Hotel & Spa Thompson's Lane Cambridge CB5 8AQ Cambridge United Kingdom

Anonymous review

by , Gin Smith

Rating: 10/10 stars
At last. I have a place at Cambridge, and I can look down on the rest of the world. To be precise, I’m standing gin and tonic in hand, seven floors up, on the roof terrace bar of the Varsity hotel, with views in every direction of the dreaming spires, watching people scurrying below. Converting the roof into a stunning brushed-wood bar was a brilliant idea. As is, in fact, the Varsity ho…
Read more

The Varsity Hotel & Spa

Anonymous review by Fairfax Hall, Gin Smith

At last. I have a place at Cambridge, and I can look down on the rest of the world. To be precise, I’m standing gin and tonic in hand, seven floors up, on the roof terrace bar of the Varsity hotel, with views in every direction of the dreaming spires, watching people scurrying below.

Converting the roof into a stunning brushed-wood bar was a brilliant idea. As is, in fact, the Varsity hotel in general. The founders noticed that the town was missing a cool place to eat, sleep, drink and be pampered (yes, it has a spa as well). So they found a space right in the heart of the action, on the banks of the river, smack in the middle of the world-famous centuries-old colleges, and they built a modern, slick, fully mod-conned yet quietly unassuming boutique hotel. Genius. And little wonder – the founders being Cambridge grads. Indeed, everyone we meet in Cambridge seems to be switched on – our taxi driver even has the scoop on how the boys managed to build the hotel.

It’s an entertaining tale of a dispute between previous owners and the council, which our cabbie says ended with one side walking away from the property leaving the taps running. It was a year, he says, before anyone found it and by then the foundations were so irreparably damaged that the entire building was unusable. Turns out the tale isn’t quite the truth, but anyroad, so the property sat neglected until the current owners unpicked the legal mess, razed the building to the ground and built the Varsity.

Refreshed from our rooftop sharpener, we make our way down a level, to our room. There is also a four-poster bed, a massive flatscreen TV, a monsoon wet room with Elemis products and fluffy white bathrobes. A floor-to-ceiling window comprises one whole side, dominating it – stand next to the glass and you might as well be standing outside. It’s not the biggest room I’ve ever been in, but the window makes it feel airy.

In the morning, having slept like kings (well, our room is called Kings, named after a college at Cambridge, as are all the rooms), I make a strong pot of freshly ground coffee and order up breakfast. After a full English for me, and fruit salad and a pain au chocolat for Mrs Smith, boating along the backs beckons – so-called because the college lawns ‘back’ onto the River Cam.

Punting, these novices discover, is a dog-eat-dog world. But once you’ve got the hang of it it’s rather fun. For me, that means moving forward while avoiding falling in; for Mrs Smith it translates as reclining into cushions, soaking up the sun and the sights. Oh, and there are sights. As we pass a portly chap regaling his family with stories of the punting glories of his youth, he is blindsided by Japanese tourists and pitches headfirst into the river.

Still chuckling, we park our punt pretty much outside the door and head to the hotel’s Glassworks Spa. Mrs Smith has booked in for Aveda treatments with names like ‘Outer peace’, which involve aromatherapy, hot stones and products she is positively cooing over. I opt for a sports massage, then try out the steam room and sauna. Deciding both are a bit like hard work, I flop instead into the Jacuzzi. Positioned in front of a huge window looking out over a riverside path, it’s ideal for people watching. One-way glass means those passing can’t resist checking their reflections in what seems a big mirror – unaware that a few feet away I’m in my bubbly tub ogling them.

Amazing how doing nothing for a few hours works up an appetite; so we pop round the corner to the hotel’s restaurant, the River Bar Steakhouse and Grill. Greeted by a buzzing bar, we grab a table overlooking the river, and get stuck into a carnivores’ dream of a menu. There is nothing that reaffirms one’s sense of man after a few feminine hours in a spa, like a massive hunk of red meat, served perfectly rare and washed down with a potent Malbec.

Retreating to our room, we take in that gorgeous river view one last time. I can’t help but say once again to Mrs Smith how intelligently this hotel uses light and glass to accentuate its best feature: the location. Perhaps if you spend long enough hanging around these hallowed walls, intellect seeps in by osmosis. After all, I’ve only been in Cambridge for a couple of days and already I’m feeling rather clever. Well, I did suggest this weekend away.

The Guestbook

Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel with us, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members have to say about The Varsity Hotel & Spa in the Guestbook below…

SilverSmith

Stayed on

We loved

The excellent service and welcome on arrival. The rooftop restaurant for a warm flatbread sandwich in the sunshine and a cocktail early evening with a buzzy vibe and wonderful views. After a good supper, walk down to the Cambridge wine shop to drool over the boundless whiskey choices and a glass of desert wine or 2! Travelled with 2 teenagers who loved the rooftop and steak house.

Don’t expect

Rooms to be huge or have a great view, but nicely designed.

Rating: 8/10 stars

SilverSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Great room (I had a room upgrade courtesy of Mr & Mrs Smith). Really friendly helpful staff. Good breakfast - which was included. Plenty of places nearby for eating drinking. Walking distance to all the colleges. I went to Fitzbillies for coffee a Chelsea bun!

Don’t expect

My room had a monsoon shower - I always prefer a bath!

Rating: 8/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Great location by the river, quiet, comfortable, clean, very helpful and friendly staff. Delicious spread for breakfast sitting by the large window next to the river watching the ducks land. Fabulous views of the city from the rooftop terrace - even if a little chilly in April - even had blankets provided. Great hotel and staff....

Don’t expect

To get to the the roof terrace in a hurry - only 1 lift but really nothing else in my book.

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

The valet parking - at £19.50 from 12noon until 5:30pm the next day, it is cheaper than the short stay car park, and save the hassle of not knowing the one-way system of Cambridge. The all-inclusive breakfast was great - a brilliant selection of high quality food and drinks.

Don’t expect

A big luxurious foyer - it's a bit cramped and feels busy with guests checking in/out, porters and valet car service attendants.

Rating: 8/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Upgraded room was spacious and comfortable. I'd recommend visiting Kings College. 

Don’t expect

Can be noisy in the side rooms when rubbish/bottles are collected early in the morning. 

Rating: 5/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on We didn't take the kids, and this was probably a good thing. Good for grown-ups.

We loved

The friendly staff, the bed, and the restaurant. Unbeatable location for exploring Cambridge.

Don’t expect

A crazy nightlife, and not the best for families.

Rating: 8/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on No

We loved

We loved the whole experience at the Varsity Hotel in Cambridge! It was a truely special break. We were excited to find that we had been upgraded on arrival, to the Master Penthouse Suite! This was a incredible birthday treat and the room really took our breath away! My partner is originally from Cambridge and we were visiting. I honestly think we had one of the best views in town; the bedroom overlooked Magdalene and St Johns colleges, as well as the River Cam and Castle Hill. The room was immaculate and had quirky antiques such as the telescope and books. We also had two stylish sofas, a wonderful coffee machine and a Mac computer, not to mention the comfortable four poster bed and balcony! All of the staff members were extremely welcoming and friendly. The included continental breakfast was plentiful and delicious; there was an option to order extra breakfast items, but we didn't feel the need. All in all, this was one of the best hotels we have ever stayed in and we were treated extremely well. We eagerly await our next visit!

Don’t expect

To be able to tear yourself away from your room to explore Cambridge or use the spa! We couldn't!

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Valet parking is definitely the stress-free way to go and Cambridge parking is not cheap anyway! Roof terrace cocktails were fantastic.

Don’t expect

The lift to be quick - it takes ages to get to all the floors as it doesn't know if you want to go up or down when you call it - so use the stairs if you can!

Rating: 10/10 stars

SilverSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Being on the 6th Floor we had an amazing view over Cambridge, the rooftop terrace is lovely but busy with non-residents. The location on the river is great, and the nicer end of town to explore the shops.

Don’t expect

Great water pressure in the shower. Service in the hotel restaurant was a bit slow, but food was tasty enough.

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on Not very suitable for children

We loved

The rooftop terrace and the warm reception from the staff. We have just had a fabulous two day break at The Varsity. Every staff member we encountered was caring and friendly and the service over all was exemplary. The rooftop terrace is unrivalled by anywhere else that we could see in Cambridge and is a perfect setting for a memorable get together. Because it's so central, mooching around Cambridge is a doddle plus the hotel offers guidance to the less commercial retailers in the city. We had been given two days away from our kids (thanks to my mother) and so wanted a sexy, romantic and lazy holiday somewhere lovely and that is exactly the holiday we have just had. I would strongly recommend The Varsity Hotel and in fact Cambridge City also-An affable and accommodating reception all round.

Don’t expect

Your stay to be cheap.

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Rooms were fab and the Rooftop bar was awesome!

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

the floor to ceiling windows on two sides of the room and balcony giving great views over Cambridge

Don’t expect

check-in was slow

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

The professional and friendly service; its central location; the best view in the city from the roof terrace; stress free efficient valet parking and our large bedroom/bathroom with panoramic views from the floor to ceiling windows.

Don’t expect

Large communal lounges and reception areas.

Rating: 9/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

The roof terrace and the lovely styling of the whole hotel, as well as the extremely helpful and charming staff.

Don’t expect

Massive rooms are out (except the large suite) but comfort is in!

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

We were upgraded to an apartment style room, with lovely views of Cambridge. The roof top bar was great for a drink prior to popping out for food! An evening punting ride made the trip as it was just getting dark and gave an eerie impression of the Colleges.

Don’t expect

The entrance and location of the hotel is not in the most beautiful part of Cambridge, however if you leave the entrance and walk down by the restaurant to walk into Cambridge it is a lot nicer. This is quite a modern hotel, so don't expect lots of character, but strolling around the college's makes up for this.

Rating: 6/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Location by the river, close to Magdalene and Kettle's Yard; Modern decor; restaurant next door small but food very good; very helpful staff.

Don’t expect

Only rooms 4th floor up and above seem to have a view; I didn't think the bathroom very luxurious for the price; the downstairs reception was a very small space in my opinion.

Rating: 8/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Great location right in the heart of Cambridge. Rooms were clean and the bed was amazingly comfy!

Don’t expect

The spa was a little on the small side, and the air conditioning in our room made a dreadful noise all through the night.

Rating: 8/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

The rooms are absolutely stunning, with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the rooftops of Cambridge. The contemporary oak furnishings and stripped-oak floors are beautiful. The staff were all lovely and our stay was simply perfect.

Don’t expect

I cannot imagine what could improve it; I thought it was just perfect.

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

I liked the rooftop bar and breakfast service.

Don’t expect

Not having to walk out in rain for breakfast would've been better.

Rating: 6/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Hotel spa and restaurant staff were terrific… very friendly and super helpful..cheerful but with underlying efficiency and enthusiasm

Don’t expect

I would like to experience a room with a view if at all possible.

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Great service, huge rooms with very comfortable bed. Good price.

Rating: 9/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

Location was perfect for exploring Cambridge. Bedroom was very comfortable and had everything you needed. Staff very friendly and helpful.

Don’t expect

The view from the bedroom window could've been better.

Rating: 10/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

The staff were lovely, the gym and facilities superb and the bed was one of the most comfy I have slept in!

Don’t expect

I thought the hot breakfast should be included in the bill, at the prices paid for the room. 

Rating: 8/10 stars

BlackSmith

Stayed on

We loved

I liked absolutely everything. The hotel, spa, restaurant and service were totally faultless.

Don’t expect

The card machine could be better.

Rating: 10/10 stars