Visit Ely: Places to stay, things to do

Katie Reynolds discovers Ely, a small but beautiful cathedral city


Image: © Copyright John Salmon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Why go there
Sitting in the heart of historic fenland, Ely is home to a majestic cathedral and pretty waterside. About 20 miles north of Cambridge, the town was once one of the wealthiest dioceses in the country and home to Oliver Cromwell, whose house is now the Cromwell Museum. The cathedral, dating back to the Norman Conquest (with the site as old as 673), remains the greatest attraction, with its extravagant exterior and imposing tower, visible for miles across the fens. But it’s not just tourists who pay a visit – Ely has welcomed film crews and Hollywood stars, with the likes of Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Other Boleyn Girl choosing the charming town as a backdrop.
Waterside, with its sweeping willows and Muscovy ducks, promises a delightful afternoon, where you may see the Cambridge Blues practising for the Boat Race on the calm water of the River Ouse. Following the river along the quiet, grassy banks makes a great walk, offering scenic marshy views with plentiful wildlife.
The town centre hosts a regular farmers’ market, and offers lots of green spaces to enjoy a picnic of the fresh produce. For a small town, Ely is bustling with events and activities, from regular talks about local history and archaeology to cathedral concerts and folk festivals, so visitors are sure to find an interesting way to spend an evening.
Ely is also a short drive from Wicken Fen nature reserve and mill, Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and for the young at heart, the nearby village of Witcham is home to the World Pea Shooting Championship in July.
Where to stay
The Lamb Hotel, a former coaching inn, is a well located and one of few hotels in Ely itself. Referred to by Bishop Fordham in historical documents dating from 1416, it boasts an interesting history and close proximity to the cathedral. Rooms start at £90 for a double. Smaller B&Bs can be found in nearly all of the surrounding villages, with more luxurious options available in nearby Cambridge.
Where to eat
The well-established Peacocks tearoom attracts visitors from across the world, and is a former winner of the prestigious Britain’s Top Tearoom award. Serving traditional cream teas on antique china and delicious lunches in a quintessentially English tearoom, cluttered with books and pretty teapots, Peacocks is not to be missed. For an evening meal, the riverside Boathouse Restaurant serves traditional English meals, often featuring eels – an old local speciality (and the origin of the town’s name).
Tell us a local secret
After her death in 679, princess (and now saint) Etheldreda, who founded the cathedral site, was buried at her original church. When the body was recovered to be placed in a larger sarcophagus, they found it perfectly preserved, and her mummified hand was claimed by Ely’s St Etheldreda’s Church on Egremenont Street and remains there today.