The City of Ely offers the best of both historic and modern times. Look around this unique city, enjoy the sights, do something energetic or just sit and watch the world go by.
Ely is steeped in history and is principally renowned for Ely Cathedral, a magnificent building with its unique Octagon Tower which dominates the landscape for miles around.
The Cathedral you see today had its origins in the 11th century and the City of Ely developed around this awesome structure. You can wander around the magnificent building at your own pace or enjoy a more informative experience by taking a guided tour. Tours also include optional visits to the Octagon and the West Towers where the spectacular views make it well worth the climb!
The Cathedral is also a cultural centre and hosts many concerts and events throughout the year.
While in the Cathedral be sure to visit the Stained Glass Museum in the South Triforium. It houses a stunning collection of stained glass and is the only one of its kind in the country. An audio-guided tour is highly recommended as it tells the story of stained glass through the ages.
Oliver Cromwell’s House is the only remaining house used by Cromwell with the exception of Hampton Court Palace in London. Cromwell lived with his family in Ely for just over ten years and the house provides an evocative insight into 17th century life. Audio tours bring the story of this fascinating building to life. The City’s Tourist Information Centre and Gift Shop can also be found in the building.
Ely Museum, two minutes from the Cathedral, is another of the City’s main attractions. Discover the story of Ely from prehistoric times to the twentieth century, set in the City’s former Gaol. The Museum houses a fascinating collection of memorabilia and is popular with all age groups.
We strongly recommend that you follow the city’s heritage public art Eel Trail. This circular walk, self-guided by brass waymarkes, takes you past the oldest parts of Ely and down to the beautiful riverside area.
Ely is rightly proud of its connection with eels as the name Ely is derived from the Isle of Eels when the City was surrounded by water and marshland. Eels are still caught in the River Great Ouse. Smoked eels are considered a delicacy and can be bought at Ely’s award winning Farmers Market; dishes such as eel stew and eel pie regularly feature on several of the city’s restaurants’ menus.
Ely’s riverside is a favourite spot for visitors wishing to relax, take a boat trip, browse through shops and galleries, enjoy afternoon tea or simply watch the activity on the river. The River Great Ouse is a natural magnet for visitors to Ely and the long riverside frontage is a great place to watch the world – and a host of aquatic birds – go by.
The Surrounding Area
The Fens, famous for their big skies and rich black soil, stretch for miles and miles and display some of the most dramatic scenery you will ever experience. Dispersed in this unique countryside is a host of interesting and diverse attractions.
If you really want to know what life was like in the Fens, then a visit to Burwell Museum is essential. It recreates scenes depicting life as a farmer, blacksmith, housewife, soldier and many more occupations spanning the years. The most frequent comment you will hear is: ‘I remember that!’.
Further features of fen life can be found at Prickwillow Drainage Engine Museum which houses a collection of large historic engines and pumps, together with related memorabilia telling the story of ‘The Drainage of the Fens’. Try to visit on a Run Day when these magnificent engines spring to life.
Wicken Fen, owned by the National Trust, is the place to explore the fen landscape as it once looked. This nature reserve is one of the few remaining fragments of undrained fenland, and home to rare species of plants, insects and birds. A patchwork of different habitats has encouraged a vast range of wildlife making the reserve one of the most important wetlands in Europe.
Anglesey Abbey Gardens & Lode Mill, another National Trust Property, is a Jacobean-style house built on the site of a 12th century Augustinian priory, which contains a priceless art collection (look out for the Canaletto!) and one of the National Trust’s largest collections of clocks. It is surrounded by a 98-acre landscaped garden and arboretum with over 100 pieces of sculpture and is famous for its snowdrop walks in winter and its collection of dahlias in the summer.
The area is well known for its range of windmills which can be seen dotted about the landscape throughout the whole area. Many of them are open to the public on certain days.
Shopping in Ely
A gentle stroll around the compact city centre, some window-shopping or some serious spending will be a feature of any visit to Ely. For those looking for something a little different, the city abounds with the sort of small, independent shops which you thought no longer existed, and there are many gift shops, craft shops, bookshops, antique shops, and art galleries where you can while away many a happy hour.
For those who love a bargain, Ely holds three different sorts of markets, from the award winning Farmers Market on the second and fourth Saturday of every month to the regular Thursday General Market and Saturday Craft and Collectables market.
Market Days change the ambience of the City Centre and creates a real buzz. Regular cookery demonstrations on the market and a series of street entertainers, along with special themed markets held throughout the year adds to the city centre’s vibrancy.
And there are plenty of places to sit and relax and a number of pavement cafes for a drink and a snack in the summer.
Anyone with restricted mobility is welcome to make use of the wheelchairs and power scooters available free of charge under the Ely SHOPmobility scheme.