Ely has the distinction of being one of the United Kingdom’s cathedral cities and, as such, has been a center of religion in Cambridgeshire for centuries. An abbey existed here as early as the 7th Century, and the cathedral came along starting in 1083 before the Dissolution of the Monasteries reverted all Church property to the Crown. The area around Ely is also known for the Fens, a marshy plain that has been important to farming and the local environment. These places are just a sample of what Ely has to offer visitors, so be sure to check out the ten spots below and let us know any favorite Ely spots of your own in the comments.
It may not seem like it on its face, but Ely certainly has a lot of wonderful places to shop. The markets are the first place to go for antiques, fresh food, and more unique or artisan items. Market Place is the location for all of the city’s markets from its General Market on Thursdays and odd week-Saturdays to the Craft and Collectibles Market every Saturday and then to the Farmers Market on even-week Saturdays.
As you might guess from the name, the Jubilee Gardens opened in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s a lovely community park with green space, playgrounds, and benches (of which one features an eel statue in celebration of the area’s eel-catching trade). Of course, such a public area is also home to many events and concerts throughout the year.
Tea is a quintessential English meal, and Ely has plenty of great tearooms in which to take your respite. Peacocks Tearooms is one of the most recommended in the city thanks to its location along the riverside as well as the gorgeous array of flowers and the menu. If you’re looking for a place to stay, Peacocks also offers two suites above the tearooms that operate as a bed and breakfast.
The River Great Ouse is one of the most picturesque parts of the city. The riverside connects to many parts of the city including the Jubilee Gardens and Ely’s Eel Trail which makes a loop around the Ely. It’s also the site of the World Eel Throwing competition and Ely’s Aquafest every year. Normally, though, it’s just a nice place to go for a walk, enjoying the tranquil waters and the riverboats lined up along the Great Ouse.
Just a bit north of Ely near the town of Wenley, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Center is a great place to see the wide array of wildlife that call the Fens home. No matter when you go, you’re likely to catch a feathered friend as ducks call WWT Wenley home in the winter and martins and swallows in the spring and summer.
Located within Ely Cathedral, the Stained-Glass Museum is a must for lovers of art, religion, or both. Existing as an independent museum, the Stained-Glass Museum has well over 100 panels with some dating as far back as the 13th Century. The museum is the only one of its kind in the UK and as such is one of the places that makes Ely a must-visit city in Britain.
Oliver Cromwell House
One of Britain’s most notorious historical figures, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely for ten years, and his house has been perfectly preserved as a memorial to his life and his time in the city. In addition to exhibits on Cromwell himself, the home offers a chance to see life as it was in the 17th Century while the audio headsets are a great way to get more information about life in those times.
Wicked Fen National Nature Reserve
One of the best ways to experience the Fens is to visit the Wicked Fen National Nature Reserve just south of Ely. The reserve comprises 629 acres and is home to over 9,000 species of plants, birds, and insects. Wicked Fen is owned by the National Trust and was the very first nature reserve owned by the organization, adding to its special history.
And speaking of history, the best way to learn about the history of Ely is to visit the Ely Museum. The museum takes visitors from the earliest prehistoric settlements up through the modern era, focusing not only on Ely’s history but that of the Fens as well. Of course, that means the exhibits include fossils, Roman ruins, Saxon artefacts, and much much more. It’s truly the best place to learn about the surrounding area.
Last, but certainly not least, is the main draw for Ely. As mentioned in the intro, Ely Cathedral has been part of the city since the 11th Century, and its long building history (it was still unfished when King Henry VIII came along) means that it has plenty of architectural styles throughout. It’s absolutely gorgeous within and without, which also explains why it’s been such a prime filming location for productions including The Crown, The King’s Speech, Jupiter Ascending, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and more.