Ely is a beautiful, albeit small cathedral city in England. It is steeped in interesting history that can be explored by backpackers visiting through. Most obviously you will find a number of spectacular cathedrals, luscious green countryside and oddly enough, even an eel throwing competition. Ely England, in the county of Cambridgeshire, was once named The Isle of Ely.
It’s beautifully surrounded by an insurmountable landscape of watery fenland. The name Ely comes from eels, this creature during Medieval times when Ely was at its height was the backbone of the English economy.
To this day some people still eat jellied eels, a traditional English dish that consists of chopped eels boiled in a stock that is allowed to cool and set, forming a jelly. In this article, we list the top 10 things to do for those on a backpacker budget in this English city.
When talking about a cathedral city it’s only right that we start the list of things to do with the main cathedral. Ely Cathedral is a spectacular feat of engineering and art that was started in 1080 and completed towards the end of the 14th century. The stunning architecture is a mix of Roman and Gothic making it the most impressive cathedral in Cambridgeshire.
The best feature of the cathedral is the Octagon; the result of a catastrophe in 1322. Whilst being built in 1322 the Norman central tower collapsed. So, it was then replaced with Octagon; a visually striking hollow decorated Gothic tower. The Ely Cathedral is free for all to roam and enter. It’s great for anyone on a backpacker budget looking for free activities.
Cambridgeshire is well known for its natural beauty and Ely riverside displays some of the best this quaint city in England has to offer. Anyone on a backpacker budget should take the opportunity to walk down by the river and explore the area. This is the River Ouse and backpackers can wander aimlessly here for the day. Here, backpackers can check out all the wonderful narrowboats, cafes, green spaces and pubs along the way. Also, having a cup of tea on the riverside is a must for anyone wanting to experience quintessential Ely England.
The riverside also hosts a number of events for locals, visitors, and backpackers. However, the biggest event held is Ely Aquafest. Its activities include the Raft Race where locals have designed and built their own rafts for everyone to see. While at the Ely Aquafest, you will also find a funfair, beer festival, plenty of local grub, and crafts stalls.
Oliver Cromwell’s House
Oliver Cromwell was one of the most prominent figures throughout English history. He lived during the 17th Century and was a military and political leader. During that time, he also served as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
“I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else.” – Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell’s house was built in the 15th century and he lived in it from 1638 to 1646. Additionally, the house is also known as St Mary’s Vicarage. Restored by the local council in 1988, today it’s one of the top highlights for backpackers visiting Ely England.
You can also take an audio tour of the house which gives you a real feel for what life would have been like for Oliver. It’s also a chance to learn about the man himself. Watch out though; one of the rooms is claimed to be haunted!
If on a strict backpacker budget and you happen to be hanging around the Ely Riverside, you can take a walk through the wonderful Jubilee Gardens. These marvelous gardens were opened in 2002 to commemorate the Queen of England’s Golden Jubilee. In England, a Green Flag is awarded to any public green space that meets top standards. Amazingly, the Jubilee Gardens have been awarded one every year since 2005!
Oddly enough, you may find a huge statue of an eel in this park. This is to celebrate Ely’s history of trade and the eating of the creature. If planning to visit the Jubilee Gardens during the Summer, make sure you look ahead for events as they host a number of fun ones here. They include Sunday concerts performed by local bands which draw in a lot of the locals. Other events include food and crafts markets.
Liberty Belle River Cruise
Hanging around Ely Riverside is one thing. However, taking a cruise down the River Ouse itself with Liberty Belle is a whole other experience. It’s the opportunity to see Ely England in all its glory from the narrowboats, willow trees that line the river, wildlife and greenery. The cruise only lasts 30 minutes and is affordable for anyone on a backpacker budget. The route allows you to get a unique view of Ely Cathedral and you may just catch sight of some British wildlife on your way!
It’s also an opportunity to meet people and get a lot more interesting history about Ely and the riverside from your captain.
Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve
As discussed earlier in the article, Ely was once a land of watery fens and the landscape was extremely difficult to navigate. The captivating Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve gives backpackers the chance to see the land as it once was but with some nifty boardwalks to help you get around the area.
Also, the area is considered to be some of the most important wetlands in Europe and is therefore owned by the National Trust and protected by its Nature National Reserve accreditation. Here you will find a number of interesting walks which will take you on a Medieval-esque adventure through the countryside of Ely.
Don’t miss the water pump along the way, for it’s the last remaining in the area and dates back to 1912. The biodiversity in the Wicken Fens is also staggering with 8,500 species of animals. These include no less than five different species of owl, crested grebes, sparrowhawks, and kingfishers. This is a great spot for lovers of nature.
Cherry Hill Park
Continuing with things to do in nature, backpackers should head to Cherry Hill Park (also known as just Ely Park. You will find this beautiful green space wedged in between the Jubilee Gardens and Broad Street.
Here you can expect to find more unique views of Ely Cathedral, perfect for those that want to get some more great photos. Like most places in Ely, the park is steeped in history and was once home to Ely Castle which was built by William the Conqueror but then demolished in 1268 when captured by rebels in the Second Barons’ War.
Today you can’t see much of the castle, just a small mound but back in 2000, excavations began here and all manner of interesting artifacts and information were discovered dating all the way back to the Vikings.
Samovar Tea House
When thinking of things to do in a quintessential city in England like Ely, having a good cup of tea should be one of them. Don’t worry, Samovar Tea House has you covered with hundreds of loose tea leaves available for your picking.
The food here is a brunch style with lots of cakes and sweet treats available too. On the menu, you will find wraps, bagels, and delicious homemade soups. This is the perfect place to wind down after a morning walk or sightseeing. You will find this cozy little tea house at 23 Fore Hill, just a 5-minute walk from Ely Cathedral.
Dojima Sake Brewery
One of the more unique things to do in Ely is to visit the Dojima Sake Brewery. Its roots are set in Settsu Tonda in Kansai, Japan where they have been brewing Sake for over 500 years. Sake is Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. The result? A delicious, but very strong, alcoholic beverage.
The Dojima Sake Brewery says: ‘The sake we make here in England, is rooted in the soil, climate, and culture of Japan, and in its taste, we hope to express these things to the world. This is our driving force, our “ikigai”.’
The brewery now holds tours of its grounds and facilities. This gives visitors the unique chance to discover everything there is to know about sake; from the fermentation process to bottling without having to fly to Japan. Once you have roamed the brewery, head upstairs to the Sake bar to taste a number of different bottles. Here, you can also grab a fantastic view of their walled garden and the English countryside.
Also, the tour is priced at a reasonable £30 per person.
Welney Wetland Center
Those interested in the fens of Ely, you can visit the Welney Wetland Center. It’s one of the best things to do to get more information on the fens and discover more about nature and wildlife in this incredible area. This is a fantastic day out with plenty of experiences available. It includes pond dipping where you have the chance to use water technology situated here to analyze the water wildlife.
There is also a bird feeding station and an interactive swan research center open for visitation. Additionally, in October they will also give you the chance to watch thousands of swans take flight at sunrise; a truly unforgettable experience.