Everything a Traveller Should Know About Visiting Ely

One of the UK’s smallest and oldest cities, Ely is particularly known for its spectacular cathedral. Travellers who want to explore this Norman gem will need to go through the new UK ETA system. Read on to learn about how this will affect your trip and everything to know before you travel.

Prehistoric and Early Ely

Ely has been inhabited by humans since at least the Bronze Age, and fossils found in the area indicate that dinosaurs once roamed around this quiet corner of Cambridgeshire. The Romans settled here, though it did not become a significant part of their empire. Ely was to truly flourish in later centuries.

Roswell Pits


The clay Roswell Pits offer a tantalising glimpse into Ely’s earliest history. From the 17th century onwards, the pits were excavated to provide clay for construction. This process led to ancient fossils being unearthed, including many reptiles, such as crocodiles and turtles. Dinosaur fossils were also found here, the most impressive being the complete skeleton of a plesiosaur. Some of the fossils found in Ely are now on display in the Sedgewick Museum in nearby Cambridge. Today, these pits are a nature reserve and are a haven for birdwatchers, thanks to their numerous species. Bats, otters and water voles also live in these wetlands.

The Religious Growth of Ely

An abbey was founded in Ely in 673 by Saint Etheldreda. The first abbey did not last long, destroyed by raiding Danes in 870. It was rebuilt a century later and became a flourishing religious community. In the year 1083, the site of the abbey was transformed into Ely Cathedral under the Normans. As this magnificent structure was built, Ely grew around it. Ely Castle was constructed at the same time. It was later completely destroyed, although recent excavations have unearthed some ruins.

Ely Cathedral


On its construction, Ely Cathedral was considered a masterpiece of engineering and architecture. Its most famous feature is its enormous octagonal tower, a unique feature that sets it apart from other religious buildings of the era. Over the centuries, the cathedral has been expanded and restored, but it retains many of its original Norman features. The cathedral was sacked during the Protestant Reformation, with the old shrines that had been dedicated to Anglo-Saxon saints destroyed and many statues decapitated.

Cromwell in Ely

Oliver Cromwell lived in Ely from 1636 to 1646, at which time he was working as a tax collector. Later, as Lord Protector of the realm following the execution of Charles I, Cromwell took a particular interest in his former town. His armies occupied Ely and imposed puritanical rules of worship. The Bishop of Ely at the time was arrested and imprisoned for 18 years in the Tower of London. Parliament even wanted to demolish Ely Cathedral, planning to sell the building material to raise money. Fortunately for Ely, the restoration of the monarchy led to the cathedral being restored.

Oliver Cromwell House


Cromwell’s family home is the only one of his residences that still exists, apart from Hampton Court Palace. The house has been restored to look like it did during Cromwell’s lifetime and contains a museum. Inside, visitors can learn about the English Civil War, complete with interactive exhibits and historical costumes. Special events, such as murder mystery evenings and escape rooms, also occur in Cromwell’s former home.

Draining the Fens

Some maps still refer to the “Isle of Ely”. The city once stood on an island, the highest ground in the surrounding fens. For centuries, fishing these marshy wetlands was a key driver of the economy in Ely, and eels were used not only as food but also as a form of currency. The clay of the wetlands also made Ely a major centre for pottery, an industry which began here in the 12th century. In the 17th century, the fens were drained to provide land for farming, and the Isle of Ely disappeared.

Wicken Fen Nature Reserve


The oldest nature reserve owned by the National Trust, Wicken Fen, offers visitors a taste of the wetlands. There are hiking and biking trails available, as well as boat trips through the marshy waterways. Over 9,000 species have been identified here, including different kinds of swans, owls and butterflies. Birdwatchers come throughout the year, as the migratory patterns mean that many different species can be seen as the seasons change.

The UK ETA for Ely

From the year 2024 onwards, travellers visiting Ely will need to understand the new UK ETA system. The ETA stands for Electronic Travel Authorisation, and it is an effort by the government to digitalise the borders for greater control and oversight of entries and departures. It is based on programmes currently in place in countries like Canada and the United States.

The introduction of this system will affect those travellers who do not currently require a visa to enter the UK. There is a list of 92 countries whose citizens are covered by the current UK visa waiver programme. They will need to apply for an ETA when the new system is implemented.

Once granted an ETA, a traveller can spend up to six months in the UK. The application system will be used for tourists, people on business trips and short-term students. Travellers who would like to spend more time in the country or who plan to work in the United Kingdom will need to apply separately for a visa.

The UK ETA Application

Travellers are advised to apply for their UK ETA for Ely with plenty of time before their journey. Carriers might deny boarding to passengers who do not have an approved ETA. The application process is fully online, with no alternatives for travellers who prefer paper applications.

Check the list of requirements before applying for an ETA. Travellers will need to complete a form with their personal details, including address, date of birth, employment status and so on. They will also need to have a valid biometric passport.

Applicants should provide some information about their personal history. If they have a criminal record or have committed immigration offences, this should be disclosed. They will also need to disclose membership of a proscribed organisation. The application will contain some questions about their plans while in the UK, and they may need to provide a contact address, for example, the hotel at which they will be staying.

There is an application fee that must be paid when completing the ETA application. This fee is non-refundable, and applications will not be processed until it has been paid in full. Once an application has been correctly submitted, the approval process can take up to 72 hours.

Travelling With the UK ETA for Ely

A traveller with an approved UK ETA for Ely can explore the entire United Kingdom without the need for any further permits or paperwork. As well as England, travellers can visit Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no internal border control, meaning travel between the four constituent countries is completely free. However, the new ETA is only valid for the United Kingdom. Travellers who want to continue their visit by crossing into the Republic of Ireland or other European countries will need to check the relevant entry requirements before they begin their trip.

A Trip to the UK With the UK ETA for Ely

Ely’s remarkable cathedral has enjoyed a full millennium of history, and visitors have come to the city since its earliest days. Whether you plan to spend time seeing the cathedral — known locally as the Ship of the Fens — or you prefer to immerse yourself in the spectacular natural surroundings of Cambridgeshire’s wetlands, Ely has something to offer for all visitors. Be sure to check the requirements for your UK ETA for Ely before travelling, and complete the application process early. With your UK ETA for Ely in place, you can enjoy total freedom to explore the town and the surrounding area.