One of the top attractions in the Fens, this little market town is mostly known for its stunning cathedral.
Ely is a compact town comprised of medieval streets and surrounded by quaint countryside. Admire its impressive cathedral, go for a walk along the charming riverside footpath or browse the traditional shops that line its main thoroughfare.
Ely takes its name from the eels that once lived in the undrained fens surrounding the town. Until the 18th century, Ely was a true island, encircled by dangerous marshlands that were difficult to cross. Visit Wicken Fen, a nature reserve found 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) south of town, to see what the undrained fenlands once looked like. This important wetland is home to more than 8,500 species, including Konik ponies, hen harriers and numerous types of dragonflies.
Don’t miss the town’s most famous attraction, the 11th-century Ely Cathedral. The imposing cathedral’s gorgeous Gothic octagon took nearly 20 years to build. This domed stained-glass skylight is considered to be a masterpiece of medieval engineering.
Near the entrance of the cathedral is the Stained Glass Museum, where you can inspect a beautiful collection of glasswork dating between the 13th century and the present day. To the north of the church, check out the charming shops and Georgian houses lining Ely’s High Street.
Explore Oliver Cromwell’s House, a half-timbered residence where the controversial military and political leader lived with his family in the 17th century. The interior has been decorated with period furnishings, as well as exhibitions and displays dedicated to its infamous former occupant.
Take a look inside the interesting little Ely Museum, which traces the history of the Isle of Ely and the Fens from prehistory through the 20th century. You’ll see displays of original prehistoric tools, Anglo Saxon jewelry and Roman pottery. The museum’s other exhibitions focus on the formation of the Fens, as well as old-fashioned trades like eel fishing and leatherwork.
Ely is easily visited as a day trip from Cambridge. Ride an express train or stagecoach bus from Cambridge. Trains for Ely also depart regularly from London's King’s Cross Station.