Things to do in Ely with Kids
The Cambridgeshire city of Ely (AKA the Isle of Ely) is most recognisable for the magnificent cathedral perched on a hill, which in times past was an island. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen it before it could be the cover of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell album cover. Ely is one of the most picturesque places in the fens. There is also a lot of things to do in Ely with kids. This makes it a great day out or a side trip from Cambridge. Here are five things we love to do in Ely with kids:
1. Ely Cathedral
Ely sits as an island above the low-lying Cambridgeshire fens. Because of this Ely Cathedral is visible for miles around and is known as the Ship of the Fens. You can’t miss it. Ely is a small city, and the cathedral dominates.
Ely Cathedral is awe-inspiring from all angles. You can visit the foyer, gift shop and stroll around the grounds for free, which is enough for us. I would love to do the tower tour one day, but children have to be over 10, so that’s on hold for a few years. Alternatively, you can pay a fee to walk the length of the interior.
2. Ely Museums
For a small town, Ely has several museums to visit. If you are interested in the history of Ely and the fens the head to the Ely Museum at the Old Gaol. It is a bright museum that covers the history of the area all the way from prehistoric times to the 20th century.
For a slice of national history, try Cromwell’s House. Cromwell is a divisive character from English history who ultimately helped shape democracy as we know it. The museum provides a snapshot of what life was like for the Cromwells.
The third museum I want to highlight is the Stained Glass Museum at the cathedral. This museum gives an insight into the history and techniques used to create beautiful windows.
3. Ely Parks
Another great thing to do in Ely with kids is to take advantage of the parks. There’s plenty of green space around Ely. Cherry Hill Park and Jubilee Gardens are easily accessible from the city centre. However, we think it’s worth going a little further to Ely Country Park. There’s a fabulous play area with a view of the train line which only adds to the fun for the little ones.
The park is connected to Roswell Pits Nature Reserve which is the perfect place for a stroll. This area of wetland habitat was created from flooding disused clay pits. Like all flooded pits, the water is very deep, so keep the kids close.
4. Ely Riverside Walk
Another beautiful walk in Ely is down by the river. Head through the Jubilee Gardens, and you’ll find yourself in one of my favourite places in Ely. This area has it all, ducks to feed, canal boats to watch, parkland and places to eat. We like to wander along the river towards the train station to see the geese. It’s a short walk down to the main road where you can either turn back or cross and continue for as long as you like along the cycle path.
5. Ely Market
Ely market runs every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday in Market Square. It’s fairly typical of the markets in the area in many respects with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, flowers and local produce. We like to head down there on a Thursday to see what unusual trinkets we can turn up.
Be sure to visit the Ely Markets website for information on which market is running on the day you visit. Also, have a look at the special markets they run. We particularly like the vegan ones they put on for the good food.
Parking in Ely
There are numerous small car parks around Ely which are well-signposted. None are too far to walk from the city centre, and they are all free, although some do have time-restrictions on them. The notable exception is the car park at the station, which is neither a quick walk from the station or free.
Getting to Ely
Ely is a comfortable place to get to by car, although if you are driving a high vehicle take extra care. The main route into Ely has a very low bridge, and despite the bright yellow warnings, many drivers still hit it. Access to the town for high vehicles is via a brand new bypass and takes just a few minutes longer.
Alternatively, there is a well-connected train line into Ely. Trains run directly from London Kings Cross (1 hour 18 minutes) and Cambridge (18 minutes). The train station is a 10-15 minute walk from the Cathedral and other Ely attractions.
Things to do near Ely
If you are making Ely your base the excellent news is there are lots of interesting things to do near Ely with kids. Cambridge is the obvious choice for a day trip, but there are other small towns, attractions and experiences to have across Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Here are a few of my recommendations.
Towns and Cities:
Cambridge has many fantastic museums and attractions which make an effort to include children. Many of them are free, making it even more tempting. Cambridge is really easy to get to from Ely on the train, just 18 minutes.
Bury St Edmunds is a smooth 26 minutes on the train from Ely. This quaint little market town boasts a stunning park around the ruins of a medieval abbey.
Newmarket is the place to go if you have any interest in horse racing. There is a horse racing museum, and if you get there early enough, you can watch the horses as they exercise on the gallops. If you are here at the right time, you could also get tickets to a race meet. Newmarket is the closest town to Ely (just 20 minutes in the car), but there is no direct train line. If you are travelling by train, then it is a 50-minute journey via Cambridge.
The best place to go if you would like to learn more about the history of the area is The Farmland Museum at Denny Abbey, just a 15-minute drive outside of Ely. This outdoor museum has lots for kids to do.
If you want to get out of the fens and into the woods, then Thetford Forest is a 45-minute drive away. High Lodge, Brandon Country Park and Santon Downham all offer different experiences within a few minutes of each other.
Another museum packed with things to do is the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket. We were seriously impressed with the well thought through activities on offer. It is easy to get to as well, just 42 minutes direct on the train from Ely.
Wicken Fen and Anglesey Abbey are two very different National Trust properties close to Ely. Wicken Fen is ideal for long walks, bike rides, and exploring the natural landscape of the fens. Anglesey Abbey is a stately home surrounded by acres of parkland. The gardens are stunning all year round, making it worth the trip whenever you are in Ely.
More Around Cambridgeshire
Here are some recommendations for books for exploring Cambridgeshire with kids:
I have plenty more suggestions in this post on Day Trips from Cambridge. Almost all of these would work from Ely too.
For more things to do in Cambridge check out my A-Z of Cambridge with kids.
If you are interested in learning more about our local zoos and zoo passes, have a look at this one on East Anglian Zoos.