Laser Doppler velocimetry (LDV) and video flow visualization are used to investigate the creeping motion of a highly elastic, constant-viscosity fluid flowing past a cylinder mounted centrally in a rectangular channel. A sequence of viscoelastic flow transitions are documented as the volumetric flow rate past the cylinder is increased and elastic effects in the fluid become increasingly important. Velocity profiles clearly show that elasticity has almost no effect on the kinematics upstream of the cylinder, but that the streamlines in the wake of the cylinder are gradually shifted further downstream. Finite element calculations with a nonlinear constitutive model closely reproduce the evolution of the steady two-dimensional velocity field. However, at a well defined set of flow conditions the steady planar stagnation flow in the downstream wake is experimentally observed to become unstable to a steady, three-dimensional cellular structure. The Reynolds number at the onset of the flow instability is less than 0.05 and inertia plays little role in the flow transition. LDV measurements in the wake close to the cylinder reveal large spatially periodic fluctuations of the streamwise velocity that extend along the length of the cylinder and more than five cylinder radii downstream of the cylinder. Fourier analysis shows that the characteristic spatial wavelength of these flow perturbations scales closely with the cylinder radius R. Flow visualization combined with LDV measurements also indicates that the perturbations in the velocity field are confined to the narrow region of strongly extensional flow near the downstream stagnation point. A second flow transition is observed at higher flow rates that leads to steady translation of the cellular structure along the length of the cylinder and time-dependent velocity oscillations in the wake. Measurements of the flow instability are presented for a range of cylinder sizes, and a stability diagram is constructed which shows that the onset point of the wake instability depends on both the extensional deformation of the fluid in the stagnation flow and the shearing flow between the cylinder and the channel.