Built on a chalk hill, the city is thought to be named after the eels in the nearby River Ouse. The hill was once an inaccessible island in the middle of the Fens. It was also the last stronghold of Anglo-Saxon resistance, under Hereward the Wake who hid in the original cathedral until the Normans crossed the Fens in 1071.
Despite the transformation of the surrounding landscape from watery marshland to fertile farmland, and the continuing growth of nearby Cambridge, Ely's character as a tiny, isolated city remains largely untouched, and the "Ship of the Fens" dominates the surrounding landscape in much the same way it has done for most of the past millennium
Ely is a major junction of a number of lines and so it's possible to enter and exit from a large number of directions.
Ely has direct trains to London Kings Cross, Stansted Airport, Ipswich, Norwich, Kings Lynn, Peterborough, and via Peterborough to Birmingham and Liverpool. You can also connect at Peterborough for fast trains to Scotland.
If you want to get to London, then it is quicker to go to London Kings Cross (70 minutes) with the train running non-stop after Cambridge, although tickets to London Liverpool Street station are a bit cheaper. The latter journey will take about 90 minutes via Hertford North (transferring at Cambridge).
Trains depart Ely to both Liverpool Lime Street and London Liverpool Street Station. Be careful as they are 200 miles apart!
Ely is situated on the A10, some 16 miles north of Cambridge, where it is possible to join the M11 for fast access to/from London (72 miles). Nearby roads may be flooded in the winter (typically the A1123 at Earith, and A1101 at Welney). Many of the smaller roads across the Fens have uneven surfaces and unguarded ditches, which lead to a number of fatalities each year.
For the more adventurous it is possible to cycle into Ely from Cambridge . The 16 mile journey follows the river and for an average person takes around an hour and a half, with the majority of the route being a designated cycle path.
Ely's small city centre can easily be traversed on foot. Local villages are served by buses running from Market Street, check the boards or tourist information centre for departures.
- Ely Cathedral. Founded by St Ethelreda as a monastery church in 673, the present cathedral building was started in the 11th century and upgraded to a separate diocese in 1109. The cathedral has a unique octagonal tower and lantern, completed in 1328 after the collapse of the original Norman tower. Charges for admittance, but you can get a year pass alongside your regular ticket. Enquire inside for a tours up the west tower for fantastic panoramic views.
- Stained Glass Museum. Located in the South Triforium of Ely Cathedral.
- Oliver Cromwell Museum, 29 St Mary's St. Situated in Oliver Cromwell's house opposite the cathedral, including tours of the building and a history of the fens.
- Wicken Fen, Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely, CB7 5XP, ☎ +44 1353 720274. Fenland National Trust nature reserve between Ely and Cambridge. One of the few remaining areas of the region's former marshland, preserved today as a Nature Reserve of international significance
- Welney Wildfowl Centre, Hundred Foot Bank, Welney, Wisbech. Wildfowl Wetlands Trust bird sanctuary. The visitor centre and café were upgraded in 2006.
- Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum, Ely Road, Waterbeach, CB25 9PQ (9 miles south of Ely), ☎ +44 1223 860489. adults £5.00, children £3.00, concessions £4.00.
- TESCO 24 hours, Monday 8AM to Saturday 12 Midnight, Sunday 10AM to 4PM - next to the train station.
- The Hereward, 45 Market Street, ☎ +44 1353 772050. A large pub. Advertises cheap food. Only allows people aged 18 or over. Hit the headlines when they banned an 82 year old for wearing a hat indoors, so that they can record any trouble on CCTV BBC News.
- The Minster Tavern The Gallery. Nothing remarkable, but it's possibly the cheapest pub food in town and have "and beer" nights where you can enjoy a curry, grill or Sunday roast with a free pint depending on the day. Snacks from £2.
- The Business Market Square, Thursday and Saturdays only. All sorts of sausage, burger, chicken, bacon, egg and cheese combinations. £2-4.
- Streetcafe Coronation Parade (High Street), 7AM to 7PM daily. Very wide menu, ranging from full English breakfasts to Salads, Fish and Chips and some wonderful desserts. Expect to pay around £2.90 for a sandwich and a coke, up to £8.10 for a full English breakfast with toast and your beverage thrown in (Breakfast "C"). Very good food.
- Ely Market Market Place and Dolphin Lane, every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 8.30am - 4.00pm. Wide range of street food from curries, samosas, curry goat, burritos, dim sum, thai noodles, artisan roast coffee, chimney cakes and even traditional English. Ely Farmers' Market (every second and fourth Saturday) also has a good range of vegan food.
- Montaz, 39-41 Market Street, ☎ +44 1353 669930. A fantastic Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant, serving excellent food in a nicely refurbished building (previously The Stagecoach). Has Tuesday specials for £10.95, which are excellent value.
- Pizza Express, 43 High Street, ☎ +44 1353 665999. The Ely branch of this reliable pizza chain. Pizzas £6-£8. Average meal for two £20 with a drink. Vouchers all over the place on the internet so you could get a bargain.
- Prezzo, 12-14 High Street, ☎ +44 1353 659832. Italian style pizza, pasta and chicken. Opened in December 2006, with views across to the Cathedral. Pizzas £6-£8. Average meal for two £20 with a drink. Lots of space over two floors.
- Five Miles from Anywhere (No Hurry Inn) (Located in Upware/Wicken). this place does great pub food and beers. All sorts of A4 sized post-it notes advertise gigs on the small stage in the huge outdoor beer garden. The food is very good, the beer is very reasonable. Highly recommended, and more reasonable in terms of price than the Lazy Otter.
- The Cutter Inn, 42 Annesdale, ☎ +44 1353 662713. A riverside pub which was refurbished in 2006. Traditional Pub Food, Bar Snacks & daily Specials Board. Very overpriced sadly, with food which comes nowhere near what you're paying for.
- The Maltings, Ship Lane, ☎ +44 1353 662633. an exhibition centre, bar and restaurant. Sandwiches, bar snacks and main courses for £8. Restaurant closes over Winter period due to lack of bookings. Used to have semi-regular gigs. Check for listings.
- The Old Fire Engine, ☎ +44 1353 662582. 200 m from the Cathedral. A relaxed restaurant for lunch, dinner as well as morning coffee and afternoon tea. There is a homely sitting room and an art gallery upstairs and the garden is lovely in good weather. The main courses at lunch cost approximately £15 and are generally very good. They also offer second helpings!
- Grand Central (Formerly The Boathouse), 5-5A Annesdale, ☎ +44 1353 664388. Nice riverside location in a converted boathouse. This place is meant to be some sort of American diner.
- Peacocks Tearoom, 65 Waterside, Ely, ☎ +44 1353 661100. near the river. Winner of the UK Tea Council’s Top Tea Place 2007. Afternoon tea is £12 per person, including a choice of 40 teas, finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cake.
- The Minster Tavern, Directly across from Cathedral entrance. Generally inexpensive drinks (£2.00 for a Tennant's Lager up to £3.00 for a Guinness). One of the oldest pubs in town with lots of character, including its very own ghost (a Benedictine monk who likes ale). Can be quiet during the day, generally busiest Fridays and Saturdays pre-10pm and post-midnight.
- The Royal Standard, Slightly out of the way down the hill from the market square (although distance is hardly an issue in Ely!), the Standard is great fun on Fridays and Saturdays in particular with fun cover bands and a charismatic, Hawaiian short wearing landlord. Beer is relatively inexpensive and the back of the pub has been extended so the place is now an odd mix of traditional pub and old people's home.
- The Town House, On Market Street opposite the Hereward, the clientele and atmosphere of the pub is very variable depending on the day of the week. During the week, in particularly in summer it is a nice place to enjoy a drink outside. On Fridays, Saturdays and occasionally Sundays the pub is so busy it operates a one-in, one-out policy so expect a queue after 10:30pm, but in a group it can be worth it for a fun night. Great during events such as the World Cup with a BBQ outdoors and the beer festival in July is a MUST in terms of pub beer festivals.
- The Prince Albert, Half way down Silver Street is the former "Best pub in Ely". Recently under new management from the pub's former cook, the Albert still holds the vote of many for the highest standard of beer in Ely, particularly Greene King. The beer garden is lovely in summer, although it's not been as floral since the takeover. Food is great, and the pub still retains it's living room feel. Not the best place in the world for a large group of people, but much better choice than the Fountain on a pub crawl.
- The Hereward, A functional drinking barn on the Market Street, this place is like any chain pub in any city, with little atmosphere but everything you may need a hand. Formally the hardware store Cutlacks, the pub offers relatively cheap food which is variable in quality, live sport, and occasional karaoke and bands. Best avoided on Fridays and Saturdays unless you're starting a bit of a party (in which case the Town House is conveniently located across the street for the conclusion!). Worth noting that the occasional beer festivals there are great, with inexpensive guest ales served at one end of the bar.
- The Fountain, South end of town (1 Silver Street, near Barton Square). Good real ale and nice interior, but very pricy (£3.90 for a pint!). Take two minutes to walk further up Silver Street to the Albert.
Various Bed & Breakfast establishments can be found in the city. A web search should turn up a vacancy. Most are within walking distance from the train station.
- Travelodge, Witchford Rd,, ☎ +44 871 984 6028. Has cheap rates if you book in advance (as low as £15). The Ely Travelodge is at the A10/A142 junction, which is convenient for motorists, but noisy and a mile from the centre. There is a small Budgens supermarket nearby for cheap self-catering.
- The Lamb Hotel, 2 Lynn Rd, ☎ +44 1353 663574. Can't miss it if you drive into Ely from Cambridge, as the old A10 road makes a sharp left in front of it before meandering on to Littleport. Looks posh, and is about 100 yards from the Cathedral. You may find it difficult to park during the day.
- Braham Farm (campsite), Little Thetford, ☎ +44 1353 662386. 1.5 miles south of Ely on the A10, - Barely marked junction. Don't get it confused with the Two Acres Campsite (at Little Thetford) (which REALLY smells bad, is expensive, has a grumpy owner and is noisy). The Braham farm campsite is run by a friendly couple, it's far enough from the road not to be noisy, and is closer to Ely. It's got a footpath to Ely from it. It's got a good view of the cathedral too. Quite small (will need to book on summer weekends maybe?). Lovely! (Note: Quite basic; No shower facilities).