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 lanscape 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 millenium
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.
If you want to get to London, then it is quicker to go to Kings Cross (70 minutes) with the train running non-stop after Cambridge , although tickets to Liverpool Street station are a bit cheaper. The latter journey will take over two hours as it travels east via Ipswich and right down the Essex commuter line.
Trains leave 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 travesed on foot
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.
Stained Glass Museum - located in the South Triforium of Ely Cathedral
Oliver Cromwell Museum - situated in Oliver Cromwell's house opposite the cathedral, including tours of the building and a history of the fens.
Wicken Fen - fenland National Trust nature reserve between Ely and Cambridge
Welney Wildfowl Centre - Wildfowl Wetlands Trust bird sanctuary. The visitor centre and café were upgraded in 2006.
The Hereward 45 Market Street, tel +44 (0)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 .
Pizza Express 43 High Street, tel +44 (0)1353 665999, . The Ely branch of this reliable pizza chain. Pizzas £6-£8. Average meal for two £20 with a drink.
Prezzo 12-14 High Street, tel +44 (0)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.
The Cutter Inn 42 Annesdale, tel +44 (0)1353 662713, . A riverside pub which was refurbished in 2006. Traditional Pub Food, Bar Snacks & daily Specials Board
The Maltings Ship Lane, tel +44 (0)1353 662633,  - an exhibition centre, bar and restaurant. Sandwiches, bar snacks and main courses for £8.
The Old Fire Engine, 200 m from the Cathedral, tel +44 (0)1353 662582, . 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!
The Boathouse, 5-5A Annesdale, tel +44 (0)1353 664388. Nice riverside location in a converted boathouse, with some outdoor seating. The building is nothing special architecturally, but the food is good. Main courses are about £10 at lunch, £15 in the evening.
Peacocks Tearoom, 65 Waterside, Ely near the river, tel +44 (0)1353 661100, . 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!). Possible pre-requisite for entry is being a bit of a dick (!) Take two minutes to walk further up Silver Street to the Albert.
Braham Farm (campsite), 1.5 miles south of Ely on the A10, tel +44 (0)1353 662386 - 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).
Travelodge 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.