While I had visited Stonehenge as a teenager, I hadn’t even heard of Avebury. I first learned about it when Russell suggested we visit back in May. He described it to me as a village within a stone circle. I was intrigued and had no idea all that the area had in store for us.
Avebury is part of the Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites Unesco World Heritage Site. Check out my previous post about Stonehenge for more information about that area.
Avebury is a small village located in the northern part of the English county of Wiltshire. The closest towns are Devizes and Swindon. It’s also near the town of Marlborough and about 100 miles due west of London.
Things to See Around Avebury
While the headline attraction for the Avebury area may be the stone circle, there are several other Neolithic sites that are also worth a visit. During your visit to Avebury, you should check out West Kennet Avenue, West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill, the Sanctuary, and Windmill Hill in addition to the Avebury Stone Circle. It’s nice that these outdoor sites are open during reasonable daylight hours, which during the summer ends up being quite late. In addition to these ancient sites, you will also find the Alexander Keiller Museum and the Avebury Manor.
Avebury Stone Circle
The Avebury site is one of the greatest wonders of prehistoric Britain. It’s the largest stone circle in the world with a diameter of over 1000 feet. There are two smaller stone circles inside the larger circle and a huge circular bank and ditch encircling all the stones. In the middle of it all, you will find the Avebury village. Considering the stone circle was built between 2850 BC and 2200 BC, it is impressive that many of the stones are still there. They have placed markers in spots where the Avebury stones are now missing.
It’s hard to get a sense of the size of the Avebury stone circle from the ground, especially since there are roads and a village in the middle that stop you from seeing the whole circle. Still, I loved being able to go right up to the stones and touch them. I felt like I was literally touching history. One morning of our visit to Avebury, it was foggy and sheep were grazing in one part of the stone circle. Walking next to the stones that morning was magical.
West Kennet Avenue
West Kennet Avenue originally consisted of about 100 pairs of standing stones, raised to form a winding 1.5-mile link between the Avebury Stone Circle and The Sanctuary. Many of the stones are still standing.
We actually didn’t plan on visiting West Kennet Avenue. I hadn’t read much about it and for some reason, it didn’t sound exciting. We actually happened to drive by it and decided to stop. Unlike the Stonehenge Avenue, this Avenue is well-marked and easy to see. The huge parallel stones lining the way to Avebury was awe-inspiring.
West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the largest Neolithic chambered tombs in Britain. It was built in around 3650 BC and closed sometime around 2000 BC. The main passage was filled and the entrance was blocked with sarsen stones. During excavations, they found some cremations and the partial remains of at least 46 individuals along with grave goods like pottery, daggers, and beads.
It’s a bit of a walk (15 minutes) from the road (A4) where you park the car to the West Kennet Long Barrow. It is not visible from the road. You have to walk a bit uphill before you will see it. I wasn’t expecting to be able to walk on it or go inside it but you can (and should!).
Inside felt spooky, they had put in a small window in the ceiling to let light in but it was still dark. The temperature inside the barrow was significantly colder than outside. I was amazed the chambers were still intact. I knew they had removed any bodies but it felt a bit unsettling to be walking inside an ancient burial mound.
There are steps next to the entrance of West Kennet Long Barrow that take you to the top. The views from here are spectacular, especially of Silbury Hill. We saw several people picnicking on the top and sides. I would have never thought of doing that but I think I might do that next time.
Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe, completed around 2400 BC. It is roughly the same height and volume as the contemporary Egyptian pyramids. The mound is about 100 feet high and more than 500 feet wide. Experts think the construction took 4 million hours of work and half a million tons of material.
Surprisingly, Silbury Hill is not a burial mound, its purpose remains a mystery. They have done several excavations over the years to try and get answers. Unfortunately, the tunnels that they dug were not fully backfilled, causing a crater to open on the summit.
I had read some Tripadvisor reviews that Silbury Hill wasn’t that impressive and not worth seeing, but I totally disagree. I thought Silbury Hill was a good size and like the other monuments, it’s hard for me to comprehend how it was built over 4000 years ago. The one thing I was disappointed by is that you are not allowed to go very close to it, much less climb it. You have to take your pictures from a distance.
Note: Silbury Hill has its own free parking lot which is right next to the viewing area.
Construction of the Sanctuary began around 3000 BC. Like many ancient monuments, it was built in stages, changed and modified over long periods of time. It started as a structure with timber posts, and these were later replaced by stones during the fourth building phase. These components are now indicated by concrete slabs. The circle connected to West Kennet Avenue which leads to the Avebury Stone Circle.
Experts are not sure about the Sanctuary’s function. Archaeologists found lots of human bones and food remains at the site. They think it was the home of a wise man early on, then may have been a ceremonial site later.
To be honest, the Sanctuary doesn’t look like much from the ground. They have marked spots in the ground but I couldn’t tell what the Sanctuary was from those spots. When you visit, park on the street next to the Sanctuary instead of the parking lot across the street. The A4 is a busy road and the cars are driving fast.
Windmill Hill is the largest Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Britain. There are three large concentric ditches (covering 21 acres) on top of the hill. None of these ditches are continuous. Based on the all the animal bones found on Windmill Hill, experts believe it was used for feasting, animal trading or rituals. It was first occupied around 3800 BC.
Unfortunately, we did not get to visit Windmill Hill. First, we had a little difficulty finding Windmill Hill. When I put Windmill Hill into google maps it directed us to Swindon. In case, you are wondering there is a Windmill at Windmill Hill in Swindon, but it’s not something you need to go out of your way to see. I realized I should have put “Windmill Hill Avebury” into Google maps.
After our little detour, we headed back towards Avebury to the correct Windmill Hill. It is not easy to find. The road to drive to Windmill Hill is very rough and we didn’t feel comfortable parking in it. If you want to visit Windmill Hill, it is probably best to walk from Avebury (about 25 minutes). I am not sure how well you can see the ditches from the ground though.
The Avebury Manor is not part of the UNESCO World Heritage site but since it is located right in Avebury, I thought I would mention it. It’s a 16th-century manor that was renovated in 2011 as part of the TV series The Manor Reborn. The rooms in the Avebury house have been individually designed to show the living conditions in five periods: Tudor, Queen Anne, Georgian, Victorian and 20th Century. There are lots of hands-on exhibits for the kids. The gardens are supposed to be beautiful. I also heard that the Avebury Manor Tea Room is a lovely spot for afternoon tea in Avebury. You can read reviews of the Avebury Manor on Tripadvisor here.
Alexander Keiller Museum
It’s not a big museum but it does house an important collection of prehistoric artifacts and some interesting information about the history of Avebury. We spent less than an hour visiting the Avebury museum. You can read the Tripadvisor reviews of the museum here.
Note: The only public restrooms you will find in the area are by the Alexander Keiller Museum.
How to Get from London to Avebury
We drove to Avebury and it was nice to have a car to explore the area. I recommend driving to Avebury if you can. It’s the easiest way to get there by far and you will be able to see more once you get to Avebury.
Visiting Avebury by public transportation is possible. Once you are in Avebury, the sites are all within walking distance, although it would be a lot of walking to visit all the sites. To get to Avebury from London, take the train from Paddington Station to Swindon. Then transfer to the bus station and take bus 49 towards Trowbridge. Get off at the Red Lion, a pub in Avebury. Book your train ticket in advance for the best fares. (Click here to check price and schedules)
How Much Does it Cost to See the Avebury Sites?
It is free to visit all of the Avebury sites mentioned in this post. You will have to pay for parking by the Avebury Stone Circle unless you are an English Heritage or National Trust Member. We joined English Heritage so that we would be able to visit over 400 historic sites in England for free. Click here to get more information about the benefits of an English Heritage membership.
For £4.40, you can also visit the Alexander Keiller Museum. This gets you into the exhibits in the Barn and Stables. The museum is free if you are an English Heritage or National Trust member.
Admission to the Avebury Manor and Gardens costs £11.60 for adults and £5.80 for children. National Trust members get in free.
Avebury and Stonehenge
I think both sites are impressive and worth visiting. In some ways, I actually liked the Avebury sites better than Stonehenge. It was nice that you could get close to everything (except Silbury Hill) and even touch the stones. I liked that you weren’t fighting crowds (although it looked like the Avebury Stone Circle did get crowded later in the afternoon). And you can’t beat the price – the Avebury sites are free.
If you are planning on a weekend in Wiltshire, I suggest spending a day visiting the Avebury sites and a day visiting the sites around Stonehenge. See the Avebury Stone Circle first thing before it gets more crowded.
Can you visit Avebury and Stonehenge on the same day?
It is possible to visit both Stonehenge and Avebury on the same day, but it will be rushed. Keep in mind that there are many associated sites that are also worth visiting. If possible, it’s best to plan a weekend in Wiltshire. Even then, you will wish you had more time!
If you are planning to visit Avebury and Stonehenge on the same trip, it is best that you drive. It is only a 40-minute drive from Avebury to Stonehenge, but there are no viable public transportation options. If you enjoy long walks, you might want to do the 26-mile long Avebury to Stonehenge walk. Click here for a detailed map designed specifically for walkers.
If you prefer to have your visit organized for you, there are a few different tours of Avebury available. As you might expect, the tours only take you to the highlights in Avebury, not all the sites I mention in this post. All of the tours also go to Stonehenge, and some tours also allow you to see other tourists attractions. Here are some Avebury tours from London to choose from:
- Stonehenge Special Access Evening Tour from London – This is a premium tour that includes special access to the Stonehenge Stone Circle, plus a visit to the village of Avebury and the West Kennet Long Barrow. Click here to check prices and availability.
- Stonehenge and Avebury Day Tour from London – This tour visits Stonehenge (but you do not get to go inside the stone circle), Avebury, and West Kennet Long Barrow. Click here to check prices and availability.
- Small-Group Day Trip to Salisbury, Stonehenge, and Avebury from London – They only allow 16 people on this tour and you get to visit the Salisbury Cathedral, Old Sarum, Stonehenge, Avebury, and the West Kennet Long Barrow. As of 7/30/18, the tour is offered at a 10% discount on Viator. Click here to check prices and availability.
The bottom line is that Avebury and the associated sites are a must see. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before, but I guess it gets overshadowed by Stonehenge. The history in Avebury is incredible and you will love being able to get close to it. Check out our video to see more.
Expert Tips for Visiting Avebury
- Visit the Avebury Stone Circle first thing, as it’s the only site that might get crowded.
- It is helpful to have a car to visit all the different sites, but it can be done by foot too.
- The only public restrooms in the area are located next to the Alexander Keiller Museum
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