When it comes to a romantic getaway, some couples prefer the beach, while others might want to visit a wine region or go on a high-octane adventure. But what about those couples who want to expand their horizons in a different way?
If the two of you are a pair of bookworms, a duo of diehard scholars, or (and we mean this in the best possible way) just a couple of nerds, perhaps you should consider a romantic getaway to the university town of Cambridge in Great Britain. Home to its eponymous university since the 13th century, this approachable town just two hours north of London has a long, distinguished history of churning out writers, scientists, philosophers, and politicians at the top of their game. It's also a charming and, dare we say, romantic setting.
Nestled on the banks of the River Cam, in a gorgeous stretch of the quintessential English countryside, Cambridge is remarkably accessible and endlessly engaging. Think of long walks down cobblestone streets, exploring medieval walled gardens, dropping in on university lectures, perusing endless book shops, and enjoying deep conversations over long afternoon teas. There is no better place for a couple who enjoys learning together.
Where to Stay
There are a number of places to stay in Cambridge, but the best is the University Arms Hotel, Autograph Collection, a stately Edwardian building that occupies a corner of Parker’s Piece, an enormous field where students can often be found throwing a frisbee or lounging between classes. The hotel completed a four-year restoration in 2018, and today is an exercise in collegiate charm—complete with antique maps and prints lining the walls, elegant leather-topped writing desks in every room, and, of course, a first-floor library lounge that lends itself to lazy afternoons curled up with a good book.
As soon as you check in, the best thing to do is borrow the house bicycles for a spin around town—that way you can familiarize yourself with the landscape. Upon your return, spend a few minutes talking with the hotel’s affable and knowledgeable concierge team about setting up tours, visiting lectures, making restaurant reservations, and the like. While the location and setting of the University Arms are obvious strengths, the hotel’s hidden weapon is the knowledge of its well-trained staff.
Where to Eat
It wouldn’t be a proper university morning without a strong cup of coffee to start the day. It’s hard not to fall for the nostalgia at Espresso Library, a charming cycling-inspired café with vintage bicycles hung from the ceiling. But nothing beats the people-watching at Bould Brothers, especially when school is in session. For the real Cambridge student experience, opt for the “Full English” at the Copper Kettle.
Later on, for lunch or dinner, Parker’s Tavern offers up traditional English cooking with a sprinkle of whimsy. The brown butter sole and the savory pie of the day are foolproof choices. You’ll also find a diverse range of international options in town, from dumplings and pork buns at Zhonghua Traditional Snacks to authentic and hearty Polish treats at Klub Polonia Club.
What to Do
Attending a lecture or exhibition is one of the great joys of visiting such a vibrant and prestigious university town as Cambridge, and the university maintains an excellent “What’s On” website with all the listings. There are hundreds of events open to the public each year, many of which are free of charge. Expect to find anything from a lecture on Rembrandt’s nudes to panel discussions on contemporary politics.
Museum lovers, especially those who love curios you can’t find anywhere else, will be thrilled at the collections on display in town. In no particular order, those include articulated dinosaur fossils at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences; all things (Ant)arctic exploration at the Scott Polar Research Institute Polar Museum; indigenous artifacts from around the world at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; 16th-century German suits of armor at the Fitzwilliam Museum; and medieval manuscripts at the Wren Library.
And of course, no trip to Cambridge is complete without some "punting" along the River Cam—cruising along on a long, flat-bottomed boat similar to a Venetian gondola. There are numerous operators offering tours and punting rides, so just ask your hotel to recommend the best ones. It’s an excellent way to experience the town and provides a bird’s-eye view of private sections of the University that can only be seen from the water. Because, as you’ll find out even after spending just a few days in this town, there are infinite nooks and crannies to explore, and each has its own history to reveal.