Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire is an beautiful sight with a rare octagon tower. It’s considered one of the 7 medieval wonders which makes it well worth a visit to this amazing cathedral! Ely Cathedral is also known as ‘The ship of Fens’ because it can be seen rising from the hills of Ely.
This building made the list of the medieval wonders made the list because of the amazing engineering used to design it and it’s unique octagon tower. If you’re curious about what other locations are on the list you can find it here. The Ely cathedral also has been used in filming of The Crown, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, & The Other Boleyn Girl just in case visiting film sites is something you enjoy as well 🙂
We wanted to visit the cathedral and tour a tower, although I didn’t realize that there are actually two tours at the cathedral. We choose to do the total experience for £19.50 adult, £16 concession (students 16+) so it was £55 for us and our teen. The total experience includes visiting the cathedral, a tower tour (you chose which tower), a cup of tea/coffee in the cafe, and entry to the Stained glass museum.
Our teen choose the Octagon tower for our visit and it was a great choice! It’s known as the crown jewel of the cathedral and I’d highly recommend touring it. The tower was completed in 1342 and the tour takes you behind the scenes as well as provides you with a ton of information. Our guide was great and super knowledgable about the cathedral and tower.
Note the tower tours are not for those who are claustrophobic or unable to walk easily. There are 170 steps for the tower tour and some of the passageways/staircases are only 18 in wide! Some of the doorways are tiny and you have to duck through as well. Those scared of heights may have some issues on the roof walkway as you can see down easily. My hubby & teen aren’t super fans of heights but they did well and just stayed away from the edge wall, LOL!
After we purchased our tickets we had about 30 mins before the tour was going to start. We headed into the cafe and had our delicious tea/coffee that was included in our ticket as well as a slice of yummy carrot cake. Then we met at the meeting location and read over all the ‘rules’ for the tour & signed a waiver.
As the tour starts you start on the ground floor with basic info about how the octagon tower came to be, and it had a tragic start. The original design had collapsed and a new structure needed to be rebuilt. They used ginormous timbers and stones to create this amazing structure.
While your in the cathedral if you gaze up at the octagon tower you’ll notice some amazing angel panels that surround all sides of the octagon. They are so high up and are beautiful! This info is important for later in the tour…
Then you head up into the first staircase where you’ll get your heart pumping on the steep and spiral journey to the top. After you’ve made it up the first set of stairs there is a storage area where you can leave any bags that you don’t want to carry up. This is locked up during the tour so it’s secure. From here you have a nice view of the lower ground floor and again you can see the angel panels that are higher up.
Another round of spiral and small staircases takes you up to the roof walkway where you get some amazing birds eye views of the area!
The entry door to the next area is tiny, as you can see from this photo of my teen climbing through it. We all managed to climb our way through.
It’s here were you enter the inner workings of the octagon tower. Touching the ginormous timbers that have been supporting the tower since 1342 is amazing, I just love how old and historic Europe is! As if walking around this amazing inner areas isn’t enough then comes the best part…
Our guide then opened some of the angel panels and we were then able to look down into the church from the panels! What a surreal experience! And then I flashed back to when we were standing on the ground floor looking up at the panels, I had to look again when we got back down…we were up so high!
There is plenty of time to peek out from all the panels opened and take photos.
Our last tiny stairwell trek led us up to the roof the of octagon tower! Again amazing views of the area as well as some great views of the other tower of the cathedral.
The spires are ornately decorated and you can get some good photos from the roof.
The trek back down is fairly easy, still a bit steep, but much easier than climbing up. I was highly impressed with the tour and the hour seemed to fly by!
We set off to explore the rest of the cathedral, including the Lady’s chapel, where your guide insisted that we should clap loudly to hear it echo. While we didn’t clap some fellow tour mates did so we experienced it through their clapping. Just past the Lady’s chapel is restrooms.
Our final stop was up to the Stained glass museum, this is back towards the entrance and up a set of stairs. You show your entrance ticket at the gift shop up there or entry. There is a free audioguide if so desired.
The stained glass works ranged from old to much newer, I found a few pieces that I loved! There was also and informative video at the entry area where you could watch an 8 min clip about how the stained glass works are made.
We were at Ely Cathedral for 2 hours and had a great experience. If we visit again to take family I’ll make sure to do the other tower tour, which I’m told has 288 steps! This can easily be combined with some other sights in Ely as well, see my Ely, Cambridgeshire – Easy Day Trip post.
Know Before You Go
What: Ely Cathedral
How To Get There: It’s located approx. 30 mins from the Lakenheath area.
Parking: I prefer to use Waze here in the UK, we parked at Barton Road Car Park and entered that into Waze. Free parking at the car parks in Ely. There are also free restrooms located at this car park. There are also a few other parking areas available as well. This one is a short walk from both the cathedral as well as the Tourist Information center which is located in Oliver Cromwell’s house. It’s easy to get to and there is quite a bit of parking available.
Cost: There are several options available:
Visiting the cathedral – £9 adult, £6 concession (students 16+), Free kids under 16
Visit + Tower Tour – £16.50 adult, £13.50 concession (students 16+), £7.50 Child tower tour (must be 10 yrs or older)
Visit + Stained Glass Museum – £13 adult, £9 concession (students 16+)
Total Experience – £19.50 adult, £16 concession (students 16+)
The total experience includes visiting the cathedral, a tower tour (you chose which tower), a cup of tea/coffee in the cafe, and entry to the Stained glass museum.
Traveling with little kids: Free restrooms located at the Barton car park, as well as just outside the cathedral to the left if walking towards the cathedral. Also restrooms near the Lady’s chapel in the cathedral. Children need to be 10 years or older to go on the tour of the towers.
Traveling with pets: Dogs are allowed in the cathedral but must be on a leash. They are not allowed on the tours, in the towers, the refectory cafe, or during services/events.
How long: Plan on at least 1.5-2 hours if taking a tour. The tours are an hour long and then you can walk around and visit the cathedral before/after, as well as stop in the cafe. There is also a stained glass museum on site as well. If not doing a tour I’d plan at least 30 mins to an hour to walk around.