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Ely Cathedral (© Neil Lang |


Situated at the heart of the Fens, Ely (pronounced 'Eely', pop. 11,800) is England's second smallest cathedral city after Wells in Somerset.


Painted ceiling with sunbeams, Ely Cathedral (© Neil Lang |

The city was founded as an abbey in 673, and became the centre of the Isle of Ely, a traditional region that was granted county status between 1889 and 1965 - before being merged with Cambridgeshire. The city's name derives from the eels once abundant in the nearby River Great Ouse.

The abbey was destroyed by raiding Vikings in 870, and not reconstructed until 970, when a Benedictine monastery was established. Abbot Simeon ordered the erection of the present Romanesque cathedral under William I in 1083.

The diocese of of Ely was founded in 1109, although the cathedral was not completed until 1189.



There aren't many attractions in Ely, but the impressive and architecturally unusual Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely is a definite must-see for any visitors to the region.

The cathedral was founded in 673 by Saint Etheldreda (also known as St Awdrey), daughter of the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia, and queen of Northumbria by marriage.

The distinctive feature of the Norman cathedral is its rare octagonal tower topped by a lantern tower, reconstructed in 1351 after the original central tower collapsed in 1322.

The whole building is 172m in length, with a 75m-long nave. The cathedral was restored in the 18th and 19th century, then again between 1986 and 2000, with the funds from collected from the admission fee (incidentally, Ely was the first cathedral in England to charge visitors).

It is open Monday to Saturday from 7am to 7pm between Easter and August, or 7:30am to 5pm on Sundays and every day between September and Easter. Entry is 4.

Stained glass window, Ely Cathedral (photo by Haros - Creative Commons Licence)
Ely Cathedral & Palace Green (photo by Magnus Mansk - Creative Commons Licence)
Stained glass window, Ely Cathedral (photo by Haros - Creative Commons Licence)

Other attractions

Oliver Cromwell lived and worked in the city as the local tax collector from 1636 to 1646. His 13th-century half-timbered house can be visited (2.50).

Apart from that, there is the small Ely Museum, the 1000-year-old King's School and the late-15th-century Bishop's Palace.


How to get there

Ely is located on the A10 road between Cambridge and King's Lynn.

Trains link Ely to London King's Cross (1h10min, 18.80), Cambridge (15min, 3.80), Peterborough (40min, 7.10), Kings Lynn (30min, 5.20) and Norwich (50min to 1h, 10.80).

Local buses No X8 (Cambridge-Ely-Kings Lynn), X11/X12 (Cambridge-Bury St Edmunds-Ely) and 19/19A (Cambridge-Ely-March) take approximately 45min to 1h from/to Cambridge.


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