Fri. May 24th, 2024

This is the best way to explore Ely!

Apr 24, 2024 #Cambridgeshire #Ely
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Ely in Cambridgeshire is one of the smallest cities in the UK. Despite its diminutive size, though, it’s home to one of the country’s largest cathedrals.

It also boasts an impressive history, great architecture and plenty to see and do during a day visit. Ely has its own train station, and with direct train routes to and from London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Stansted Airport, Norwich and various Suffolk stations, it’s easily accessible, too.

If you want to see as much of the city as possible in a day trip, I highly recommend following the Ely Eel Trail. Waymarked by bronze eel plaques set in the pavements, it takes around one and a half hours to complete (although you’ll want to stop at various points along the way!

I’ve shared some of my highlights below – scroll to the end for the link to the trail map and route!


1. The Cathedral

It would be wrong to visit Ely without a stop at its famous cathedral – and you’d be hard-pressed to miss it, towering over the landscape from every angle. At 161m long it’s the third-longest medieval cathedral in England, and it’s surrounded by many monastery buildings that are still in use (by the cathedral and by King’s School) today.

Constructed from Barnack limestone (for which the monks paid 8,000 eels per year), it’s worth paying £14 per adult for an entrance ticket. There are also various tours you can pay for – including tours of the Octagon Tower, built from wood over the course of 18 years after the original central tower collapsed in 1322.

Ely Cathedral is also home to a stained glass museum (featuring kids’ activities too). When we were there we were lucky enough to be able to hear a local music group practising too, which was beautiful!


2. Oliver Cromwell’s House

Oliver Cromwell’s former family home is just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral. Previously used as the St Mary’s Church vicarage, the City of Ely Council bought the building in 1988 and refurbished it to resemble how it would have looked in the 1600s.

Now, it features a comprehensive Civil War exhibition (with interactive features for the whole family) and an audio tour, as well as escape rooms and a gift shop.

Tickets are priced at £7.50 for adults and £5.20 for children aged 6-16. Even if you don’t fancy going inside, look for the circular bench in front of the building, on which you’ll find inscribed Mrs Cromwell’s recipe for roast eel.


3. Ely Markets

Yes, markets, plural! For over 800 years the marketplace has been at the heart of Ely’s community, and things are no different today. There’s the Charter Market every Thursday, the Craft, Food and Vintage Market every Saturday and the Sunday and Bank Holiday Market every Sunday.

There are also Foodie Markets and Farmers’ Markets on a regular basis – you can see the full schedule here.

While you’re there, you might be lucky enough to enjoy some free entertainment, as we did when these Morris dancers arrived!


4. The Riverside

Ely’s riverside is great for a wander! Enjoy spotting the boats, feeding the ducks or dining at one of the riverside venues by the water. There’s also The Maltings: an events venue with theatre and cinema that’s always got something going on.

There are also boat hire and river cruise opportunities…and if you’re with a child who’s a train fan, like we were, walk down the footpath with Urban Fresh on your right. There, you’ll walk under an incredibly low train bridge and if you time it right, the trains will come thundering right over your head!


5. The eels!

Historically, Ely’s eels were not only a staple part of the residents’ diets. Prized for their incredible flavour, they were also used as currency.

While eels are still caught in the city’s river, the activity certainly isn’t at the same scale as in previous centuries. Wandering around the city, though, you’ll see plenty of places that pay homage to Ely’s prized local fish.

There are, of course, the bronze plaques that mark the Eel Trail. There’s a sculpture near The Maltings that depicts the spears used to catch eels. Jubilee Gardens also has a 3m high eel sculpture made from galvanised steel that looks out over the river.


Visit during the May Bank Holiday weekend and you’ll also be able to enjoy Ely Eel Day: an annual celebration of the humble eel. As well as a parade through the city, there’s entertainment, street food, stalls, an eel throwing competition (using toy eels, don’t worry) – and, of course, eel-based dishes to enjoy.

Have you ever visited Ely? If so, share any of your favourite Ely hidden gems in the comments!

Download the Ely Eel Trail leaflet (PDF) here.


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