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I survived a UK city break with a toddler and actually managed to relax


Yes, it is possible (Picture: Rosy Shearman)

City breaks are not always the first thing you think of when planning a relaxing weekend away with a toddler in tow. But let’s be honest… is anywhere relaxing with a toddler in tow?!  

Thoughts that immediately spring to mind range from: ‘How do we get there?’; ‘How do we get everything we need (even for just one night) onto the train?’; ‘How busy is it going to be?’; ‘Will it be noisy at night?’ to ‘Why are we doing this?’.  

If reading the above paragraph brings you out in a cold sweat… please stay tuned because I have the answers to your city break prayers. 

The Graduate Cambridge hotel offers an oasis within the historic city. The beautiful and unique riverside location ensures visitors can soak up a tranquil atmosphere while having all the best things about the city, right on their doorstep.  

Punting is essential (Picture: Rosy Shearman)

Family-friendly things to do in Cambridge

Take punting for example. A classic, must-do activity while visiting Cambridge. There are multiple companies offering both guided punting trips and self-punting hire right next to the hotel. So close in fact that you can watch the rather brave self-punters try and master this skill at the beginning of their hire, all while sipping a delicious cocktail in the hotel’s riverside garden.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Punting with an energetic toddler? Surely not.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by how interested in the experience she was. There were families of ducks along the way which helped entertain her and, while I would still recommend packing a ‘distractions bag’ with a couple of toys, she made minimal fuss and didn’t even try to go overboard. A success in my book.  

For the parents, a short walk from the hotel lands you right in the city center surrounded by all the incredible architecture, history and old pubs that your adult heart could desire.  

A peek inside (Picture: Rosy Shearman)
Views from the hotel (Picture: Rosy Shearman)

Your toddler on the other hand may not be so interested in these, but if you cleverly time this self-guided walking tour during a nap (fingers crossed they sleep in the pram) then you could find yourselves with an hour or two of meandering through cobbled streets and poking your noses around impeccably manicured quads. 

We stumbled upon a lovely craft market in the All Saints Garden as well as the main Saturday market in the Market Square. I recommend popping into Fitzbillies for a famous Chelsea Bun, washed down with a glass of something bubbly from the Cambridge Wine Merchants.  

Where to stay in Cambridge

Keeping with the city’s student reputation, we were presented with our ‘student ID’ room key cards upon check in. 

Upon entering the hotel lobby you immediately notice the double helix light installation above your head which is inspired by Rosalind Franklin. Franklin studied at Cambridge University and is known for her contribution to the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. 

The room came with a cot (Picture: Rosy Shearman)
Perfect for al fresco dining (Picture: Rosy Shearman)

Hanging from the walls behind the reception are a number of 100-year-old punting boats, another nod to the local history.

Not only is there a lovely view from the hotel garden, we were also treated to the same view from the balcony of our room. This was a great spot for us to unwind and indulge in a pre (and post) dinner drink while knowing our daughter was trapped in our room with us and couldn’t run away! 

Having been blessed this year with an Indian Summer last year, we were able to spend the rest of the afternoon in the hotel garden – a people watching haven directly adjoining the banks of the River Cam. I’m sure it’s just as lovely a spot during the colder months – albeit wrapped up in winter warmers.

A happy customer (Picture: Rosy Shearman)
Yum (Picture: Rosy Shearman)

As well as the odd groups of people punting or walking down the river in front of us, there also happened to be a wedding taking place in the Graduate Cambridge garden right next to us.

Being sat almost amongst the guests as a member of the general public was a first for us and going by the faces of most people in the garden, it was a first for them too.  

Before we knew it, it was time for our early dinner reservation and by early I mean we were the first ones through the door when the restaurant opened at 6pm in order to get our daughter to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour.  

Cambridge highlights

The highlight of our stay was the genuine interest and care the restaurant staff took with our daughter. As soon as she entered the room they were chatting with her and even walked with her down to look at the river at the end of the garden while we had a cocktail. I cannot speak highly enough of them, and it made our dining experience enjoyable and stress free.  

Despite the wedding reception going on further along the hotel, we were able to get a peaceful and quiet night’s sleep and woke up ready to hit the breakfast buffet followed by a swim in the indoor pool before check out.  

We left Cambridge feeling both refreshed and a tad smug after a very successful city break. A parenting win, to say the least.

Getting there:

Staying at the Graduate Cambridge: 

Rooms start at £231. The hotel is family and pet friendly and offers complimentary bike rentals and overnight parking from £25. 

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