Staycation review: Cambridge University Arms

Anna Walker

Make the most of the travel bans by exploring the beauty on our own doorstep, starting with this gorgeous heritage hotel right in the heart of Cambridge. 

With the ever-evolving reality of COVID-19, most of us have had to put plans for international travel on hold for 2020.

Rather than wallow in disappointment at missing sunnier skies, now is the perfect time to explore the beauty on our very own doorstep, and support the British travel and hospitality industries while we're at it. With that in mind, we paid a visit to the Cambridge University Arms Hotel for a luxury two-night staycation. 

 

The hotel 

Cambridge University Arms exterior

The Cambridge University Arms Hotel has struck a statuesque figure, perched at the top of Parker's Piece common, for over 175 years. This ideal location means the hotel is just a short walk away from all the best parts of Cambridge, and as the hotel offers its own beautiful dutch bicycles (free to rent for guests), getting around the city is a breeze. 

Inside, the building is just as striking, with an elegant traditional design throughout, complemented by subtle, fun modern twists. The look was created by interior designer Martin Brudnizki, the man behind The Ivy and London's famous members-only club, Annabel's. There's a literary theme, in a nod to some of Cambridge's most famous residents, which means a supply of books in each bedroom as well as a light and welcoming library room in which guests can relax, work or read. The recording of Alan Bennett reading The Wind in the Willows, which is played in the toilets, is a delightfully eccentric touch. 

Cambridge University Arms driveway

It's all about the details at the University Arms, and the hotel reveals itself more to guests each time you look. The hallways, for example, are decorated with the same pattern as college neckties—nods to the city's academic prowess are incorporated at every turn, without ever feeling too earnest. 

The hotel has adapted marvellously to COVID restrictions with clear markings throughout, sanitiser available at every corner and friendly staff wearing masks throughout. 

 

The room

Cambridge University Arms bedroom

Staying in one of the hotel's suites, we had a spectacular view over Parker's Piece and enjoyed sipping the champagne that welcomed us to our room while people-watching from up high. 

University Arms bathroom

The bedroom is supremely comfortable and spacious without feeling empty—everything is expertly staged, down to the smallest details. The bathroom was by far my favourite room, with a large centre-piece bath, powerful shower, white-tiled walls and calming accents of duck egg blue. 

The University Arms has 192 rooms in all, offering views over the common, the hotel courtyard or famous nearby Regents Street. 

 

The restaurant

Parker's Tavern interior

Parker's Tavern, accessed through the hotel's main lobby and spilling out welcoming outdoor tables into Parker's Piece in the summer months, is everything a hotel restaurant should be. Continuing the sophisticated-yet-cheeky interiors of the hotel, but with its own knowingly modern twists, it's a charming spot to enjoy breakfast (included with overnight stays), lunch or dinner. 

The food—predominately traditional dishes—created by chef Tristran Welch, is sumptuous and generous, complemented by an enthusiastic staff.

The indulgent spaghetti bolognese is a must-try as is the creamy-yet-light Cambridge Burnt Cream (a British take on the French crème brûlée). Though service was a little slow at times, it was offered with a smile and thorough knowledge of the dishes and wines on offer. Be sure to reserve your meal well in advance, as Parker's Tavern is popular with guests and locals alike. 

 

Where to explore?

punting alongside Cambridge colleges

Cambridge Botanical Gardens: A peaceful oasis in the midst of the city—and just moments from the University Arms—it's easy to while away the hours enjoying these stunning gardens. 

Fitzwilliam Museum: Admittance is free to the permanent collection of this fascinating museum, which houses half a million diverse curiosities from antiquity through to the present day. Pre-booking is essential during COVID-19. 

Fitzbillies: Sticky buns from Fitzbillies are an essential component to any stay in the city. These delicious baked goods have been made by Fitzbillies for over 100 years, and it's not hard to understand their enduring appeal. Grab a box with a coffee and enjoy them by the riverside. 

Punting: A time-honoured Cambridge tradition, punting is a bucket list activity for any visitor. There's a wealth of providers to choose from (pre-booking highly recommended), but Parker's Tavern has recently teamed up with Ruterhford's to provide a "punting and pizza" experience, perfect for a picturesque date night. 

 

Senior guests (aged 62+) booking University Arms receive up to 30% off the best available room rate. The senior discount is available in all room categories, on any day of the week and a complimentary Afternoon Tea for two is included for those booking a two-night stay or more between Sunday - Thursday. Rates from £149 per night for senior guests with the 30% discount. For more please visit: www.universityarms.com

 

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