When it comes to a romantic getaway, some couples prefer the beach. Others might want to visit a wine region. Still, others might crave 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 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 darling university town of Cambridge—by which we mean the other Cambridge, across the pond in jolly old England. Home to its eponymous university since the 13th century, this perfectly 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. But beyond Cambridge’s academic credentials, Cambridge is actually a delightfully charming and, dare we say, romantic locale.
Nestled on the banks of the River Cam, in a gorgeous stretch of quintessential English countryside, Cambridge is remarkably accessible and endlessly engaging. Think 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. For the couple who loves to learn together, there isn’t anywhere better.
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Where to Stay
There are a number of places to stay in Cambridge, but the best of all 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 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 curling 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 with the hotel’s affable and knowledgeable concierge team about setting up tours, visiting lectures, 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, which will set you back only about £5.
Later on, for lunch or for dinner, Parker’s Tavern offers up traditional English cooking with a sprinkling of whimsy. The brown buttered 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 Italian classics and a fabulous terrace at Don Pasquale, to authentic and hearty Polish treats at Klub Polonia Club.
Finally, of course, is the quintessential Varsity Restaurant, the oldest in Cambridge and lovingly updated for today’s foodies. It’s hard to find a more comforting and elegant dish than Varsity's wild mushroom risotto with smoked mozzarella and enoki mushrooms.
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—just ask your hotel to recommend the best ones. It’s an excellent and quintessential way to experience the town and provides a bird’s-eye view of private sections of the University that can only be viewed 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.