Though younger than its rival, Oxford, this university city has no shortage of its own history.
Straddling the River Cam, which gives the city its name, Cambridge is as resplendent and fine an English city as one could find.
Easily rivalling its boat race opponent of Oxford for splendour and history, Cambridge is the suffix in the ‘Oxbridge’ amalgamation which refers to Britain’s oldest and most prestigious two universities that have spawned many a prime minister, novelist, renowned scientist and – in Cambridge’s case at least – comedian. For Cambridge’s Footlights is perhaps the poshest yet most consistently good comedy troupe in all these isles – introducing to the world Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and even Oscar-winner Olivia Colman.
Much like its adversary, the university and its many colleges dominate Cambridge’s skyline. Oxford is the older of the two universities, founded in 1096, with Cambridge’s story beginning in 1209 when a group of scholars arrived following trouble with Oxford townsfolk, though it would be another 75 years before its first college, Peterhouse, was founded by the Bishop of Ely.
Other colleges were gradually introduced, by a succession of powerful figures, from the Countess of Pembroke (Pembroke College) to Henry VI (King’s College) and Henry VIII (Trinity College).
King’s College’s Chapel is one of the city’s most adored buildings yet, it very nearly didn’t happen as building was interrupted following the imprisonment of King Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses. But work recommenced during the reign of Richard III and was completed by Henry VII and Henry VIII, making it a true ‘work of kings’.
At the end of a busy day sightseeing, retreat to a comfortable room at the University Arms, a historic hotel, centrally located, and with views over Parker’s Piece – a big green where a huge coronation feast for Queen Victoria was held in 1838 (look out for the illustration of the event in the lobby). In recent years the hotel has been restored in a modern Edwardian style with little nods to the boat race and characters from the university's past in the photographs and artworks on the wall, with a smattering of English eccentricity throughout.
Fittingly for a city that's proud of its cycleways, the hotel offers free bikes to guests, and it also runs daily free tours of sights, including the Senate Building and St Benet's Church.
Rooms come with huge beds and beautiful white-tiled bathrooms, while the Parker's Tavern restaurant and its 'feast-Anglian' menu, which focuses on local produce, is very good. Spa treatments are also available in some serene treatment rooms. Just remember to explore the wonderfully historic city while you're here, too.
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