The most famous ancient site in England is Stonehenge. Funny enough, I had visited before as a teenager and Russell, who has lived in England his whole life, had only driven past it. Since we were in the Wiltshire, I thought I should visit again and I am glad I did. I learned a lot on our Stonehenge trip and it was more impressive to me the second time.
Stonehenge is one of those places everyone should visit and there is more to it than just the stone circle. It is located in the countryside in Wiltshire, England. You could easily spend a week exploring the area (more on that coming up on the blog) or you could just do a day trip to Stonehenge from London.
In this post, I will share all the information you need to make the most out of your visit to Stonehenge, including how to get Stonehenge tickets, directions to Stonehenge, what to expect during your visit, Stonehenge tour options, other monuments to see in the area, and a few helpful tips.
Note: Stonehenge along with Avebury and other “Associated Sites” have been designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also, be sure to check out my post about Avebury and its associated sites.
We drove to Wiltshire from Norwich. As we approached Stonehenge on the A360, I was surprised that we could not see the stones. I had remembered that it was right next to a road. Instead, all we could see was the modern visitor center. The Stonehenge stone circle is actually located next to the A303 about a mile away from the visitor center. There are buses to take you there or you could walk.
As you can imagine, Stonehenge is a popular attraction – 1.6 million people visited in 2017 – so you should purchase your timed entry tickets online in advance. The Stonehenge entrance fee includes admission to the exhibition at the Visitor Center and the bus ride to the stone circle. Buying tickets online will save you a few pounds and you can also purchase a guidebook and/or audio tour. Both the guidebook and audio tour are available in several different languages.
English Heritage members (like us), England National Trust members, and those who hold a National Trust Touring Pass can visit Stonehenge for free, but they still need to book online in advance. They also get the Stonehenge audio guide for free. National Trust Scotland members, National Trust staff or other National Trust affiliated organization members do not get free entrance.
Once you make your Stonehenge booking online, you will receive an email confirmation. Print the email or make a note of the confirmation number to show when you arrive at Stonehenge to pick up the actual tickets. English Heritage and England National Trust members will also have to show their membership cards. If you join English Heritage (or National Trust) right before going to Stonehenge and don’t have a membership card, bring the print out of your membership email. Want to get into Stonehenge for free? Become a member of English HeritageClick To Tweet
The Stonehenge Visitor Center has a large parking lot. During peak times, if you are not an English Heritage or National Trust Member and have not booked in advance, they charge 5 GBP for parking but that is refunded when you purchase your ticket. Another reason to book in advance!
Visiting Stonehenge on the Solstice
The solstice is a special time to visit Stonehenge. The stone circle was designed to align with the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset making it a spiritual event for many. The summer solstice is when the Earth’s northern hemisphere is most inclined towards the sun, and that’s why we get the longest day of the year. Conversely, the winter solstice is when the northern hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the sun, meaning fewer hours of daylight and the shortest day.
People camp out at Stonehenge to be there for the summer solstice sunrise which is a little before 5 am! On the solstice, you can see Stonehenge for free! This is the only time that you can actually go inside the stone circle without paying for a premium private Stonehenge tour.
If you do plan on visiting Stonehenge during the solstice be prepared for crowds and please be respectful of the monument! Several thousand people visit Stonehenge for the solstice. In some ways, you’d actually get a better view of the stones by avoiding the solstice, but people that go, say it is a unique experience.
You can visit the exhibition at the Stonehenge Visitor Center before or after you go to see the stone circle. The exhibition is not big, you can easily see it in around 30 minutes. In the first room, there is a 360-degree video of Stonehenge which the kids there were loving. We went through to the back room which was more informative. You will also see some interesting artifacts.
I liked the way they presented the information in the exhibit. Seeing that Stonehenge was built at the same time as the pyramids put things into perspective. I was also impressed that Stonehenge was continually being built over 1000 years. Compare that to the Duomo in Milan (about 600 years) and La Sagrada Familia (about 150 years).
Note: In addition to the exhibition, the Stonehenge Visitor Center also has a cafe, gift shop, and restrooms.
Seeing the Famous Stone Circle
We picked up our audio guides and were ready to visit the Stonehenge stone circle. The line for the bus looked long but it moved fast. I don’t even think we waited five minutes. Once the bus starts moving, it takes about five minutes to get to the stone circle. I was surprised that you don’t have a view of Stonehenge until you arrive at the bus stop. You can also walk to Stonehenge from the Visitor’s Center if you like – it’s about a mile away.
Stonehenge is roped off, so you cannot go close to the rocks, but it is still impressive to see. You should follow the audio tour and walk all the way around it. I thought it was interesting how different Stonehenge is from the back. The stones are not shaped as well as in the front. Plus, many of the stones have fallen, so it gives you a glimpse inside the circle.
I enjoyed the audio tour, it was thought provoking. It is impressive that Stonehenge was built with such large rocks so long ago. The thought process and engineering capability that went into the design of Stonehenge amazed me too. I can’t believe that they could build something aligned with the sun at the solstices in ancient time. I was also impressed with how much archaeologists have learned about the site, even though there is still a lot they don’t know.
How Long Does it Take to Visit Stonehenge?
Our whole visit took about two hours. That includes taking the bus to Stonehenge, doing the audio tour, taking the bus back, and visiting the exhibition. You may want to allow more time if you are planning to walk from the visitor’s center to Stonehenge. If you already know about the history behind Stonehenge you may need less time to see the exhibit and do the audio tour.
How Close Can You Get to Stonehenge?
The answer is that depends. On a normal visit, you walk around the stone circle. At certain points, they keep you pretty far from the circle but as you complete your loop you do get a bit closer, maybe 25 feet away. You can go inside the stone circle during the solstice or an Inner Circle tour (more on those options below).
Is Visiting Stonehenge Worth it?
A lot of people think that Stonehenge is overrated and overpriced. True, you are not allowed to get very close to the stones, but this landmark needs to be preserved. Some people that say the stones are not big, I think that is ridiculous. The largest sarsen stones are 9 feet tall and weigh 25 tons. These were transported to the site by people that hadn’t even invented the wheel yet! You can’t help but be impressed.
I can see why people think Stonehenge is overpriced though. When you think about paying £17.50 (adult ticket purchased in advance) to see Stonehenge plus £3 for an audio tour, that adds up, especially for families. I read about people camping out and then sneaking into Stonehenge for free, but I think that’s wrong. The admission price goes towards the upkeep of Stonehenge and that is important.
We decided to join English Heritage and that allows us to visit Stonehenge and more than 400 other historical sites in England for free. Annual membership costs £56 for individual or £99 for couples and families. Click here for more details on English Heritage Membership. If you are not a UK resident, you can get a 9-day or 16-day single or family English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass. Click here for more details on the Overseas Visitor Pass.
How to Get to Stonehenge From London
If you can, consider driving to Stonehenge since there is so much to see in the area that tours won’t take you to. While there are no direct trains from London to Stonehenge, you can go by public transportation. Take the train from London Waterloo Station to Salisbury, which will take about an hour and a half. I recommend buying train tickets in advance to get the lowest fares. (Click here to check pricing and schedules).
Catch the Stonehenge Tour bus that will take you from Salisbury to Stonehenge. You can pick it up from the Salisbury Train Station. The bus to Stonehenge runs at least hourly and more frequently during the summer. The bus from the Salisbury Train Station to Stonehenge takes about 40 minutes and includes narration which is available in several languages.
You can also pick up the Stonehenge Bus from Salisbury at Stop U on New Canal or on Catherine Street. If you like there are stops so that you can also visit at Old Sarum and the Salisbury Cathedral. More on Old Sarum coming up on the blog!
You can buy tickets for the Stonehenge Tour Bus online in advance or on the bus. If you decide to go this route, I recommend that you also buy your Stonehenge admission with your bus ticket. Tickets bought with the bus fare are not subject to the timed entry. That way even if there are train or bus delays you don’t have to worry about missing your time slot. It’s also slightly cheaper than paying for the bus and Stonehenge tickets separately.
For those not comfortable navigating to Stonehenge independently, there are plenty of tours to Stonehenge to choose from!
Stonehenge Tours from London
For those looking for an organized Stonehenge day trip from London, tours are the logical solution. If you are tight on time, it might be best to book a Stonehenge express tour that includes your transportation from Central London and Stonehenge visit – (Click here to view the details). This type of London to Stonehenge tour will take around five hours. If you have more time, you should consider a tour that combines your Stonehenge visit with other attractions like Windsor Castle. There are plenty of different options for Stonehenge tours from London:
Stonehenge Inner Circle Tours
If you want to go closer to the stone circle and you are not able to visit during the solstice, you can apply to do a Stonehenge Inner Circle Tour online through English Heritage but spaces are limited. You can also purchase an inner circle tour through Viator. This premium Stonehenge tour includes after-hours access to the Stonehenge circle, a stop in Avebury, a visit to West Kennet Long Barrow, and round-trip transportation from central London. Click here to check pricing and availability.
Other Ancient Sites Within Walking Distance of Stonehenge
For those who want to see more ancient sites in the area, there are a few that you can either drive or walk to. The Stonehenge World Heritage Site covers 800 hectares of ancient landscape and includes the following 10 sites. All of these sites are free to visit and there is a free parking lot right by Woodhenge. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see all of them, but I would love to go back and do more exploring in the area.
Note: The only public restroom for all of these sites is the one at the Stonehenge Visitor Center.
Woodhenge was probably built about 2300 BC, but was damaged by plowing over the years. Aerial photography detected rings of dark spots in a crop of wheat in 1926. After excavation, they learned the dark spots formerly held large upright timbers. A structure similar to Woodhenge may have been built at Stonehenge before the stone circle and trilithons were erected.
Woodhenge consisted of six oval-shaped rings of wooden poles marked now by concrete blocks. The longer axis points towards the sunrise of the summer solstice and sunset of the winter solstice. The circular bank and ditch around the rings measures 360 feet in diameter overall with a single entrance to the north-east. You can hardly see this now, but the bank used to be 33 feet wide and the ditch was 40 feet wide and 8 feet deep. Don’t miss the drone footage at the end of our video.
Several questions about Woodhenge remain unanswered:
- Did Woodhenge have a roof? Since the wood in the third ring seems to have been larger and more deeply set than the others, they think the posts may have been the uprights of a large roofed building with a small courtyard. Or the site could have been completely open to the sky with the posts carved and painted like totem poles.
- What was the purpose of Woodhenge? They don’t know the purpose for certain. If Woodhenge had a roof, it may have served many functions, like churches did in the Middle Ages. Archaeologists discovered a three-year-old child whose skull had been split open with an ax – apparently a sacrificial victim – in the middle of the monument, so they think Woodhenge was used for ceremonial purposes. Based on the radiocarbon dating of artifacts from within the henge, we know that it was still in use around 1800 BC. Evidence of settlement during the Iron Age and Roman periods in the immediate vicinity show that it was used for more than just ceremonies. Archaeologists think that the banks and ditches were used for defensive purposes.
Durrington Walls was a place where people lived for part of the year and held feasts and rituals. You can see it from the Woodhenge parking lot. The bank and ditch form the largest henge monument in Britain measuring more than ⅓ of a mile from north to south and more than ¼ mile from east to west. The A345 road from Netheravon to Durrington goes right through the Durrington Walls. Most of the area is now covered with grass and bushes but the henge was originally cut out of the chalk bedrock.
There have been several excavations over the years to learn more about this huge area. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of many different structures inside the walls. Since the entrance to the Durrington Walls is not too far from the River Avon, experts believe that Durrington was linked physically and spiritually with Stonehenge. They think it was the place relatives held wakes for the newly deceased and feasted. Then, the body would be taken on the 4-mile journey down the Avon, and up Stonehenge Avenue to Stonehenge where it would be part of ceremonies within the stone circle.
The Cuckoo Stone is a sarsen stone that now lies on its side about 1600 feet west of Woodhenge. It is the same type of stone as the largest stones used in the Stonehenge circle. The Cuckoo Stone was the focus for several cremation burials around 2000 BC. When they excavated it, they found a posthole indicated that a wooden pole was there before the stone. Southwest of the Cuckoo Stone, they know there was a rectangular building from Roman time, which they believe was a small shrine.
Stonehenge Avenue is a 3-kilometer long ancient pathway that connected Stonehenge and the River Avon. It is lined with parallel banks which are 110 feet apart at the widest section. The farming in the area over the centuries has made some parts of the Avenue almost invisible on the ground. The Avenue is best seen from Stonehenge where you can see the pair of parallel ditches emerging from either side the Heel Stone and running northeast.
Stonehenge Cursus (Greater Cursus) and Lesser Cursus
In the Stonehenge area, there are actually two cursuses. Cursus is the Latin name for racetrack or hippodrome, although the actual function of these monuments is unknown. As you might have guessed, the Stonehenge Cursus is much bigger than the Lesser Cursus. The Stonehenge Cursus stretches for 1.75 miles from east to west to the north of Stonehenge Unfortunately, little is visible from the ground. The Stonehenge Cursus is located about 100 yards north of Cursus barrows where you see a ditch and bank. A few hundred yards further northwest you will find the smaller Lesser Cursus.
The Cursus Barrows can be seen north of the path between the Visitor Center and Stonehenge. There were 18 round burial mounds but now some are no longer visible.
King Barrow Ridge
The king barrows are graves along a ridge to the east of Stonehenge. They include several round burial mounds built in the Early Bronze Age and a Neolithic long barrow.
Normanton Down Barrows
The Normanton Down Barrows includes one Neolithic long barrow and some 40 or more Bronze Age round barrows located south of Stonehenge. The most famous one is called the Bush Barrow and is 40m wide and 3m high. It got its name from the trees planted on top. When they excavated it they found a shaped piece of gold, a spearhead, and a set of bronze rivets buried with what they believe was a wealthy and influential man. These artifacts have been called “Britain’s first Crown Jewels” belonging to the “king of Stonehenge.”
Winterbourne Stoke Crossroads Barrows
The Winterbourne Stoke Crossroads Barrows are a collection of about 25 Bronze era round barrows that are deliberately aligned with a Neolithic long barrow. When the barrows were excavated they found beaker pottery which indicated that the people buried here were some of the earliest users of metals in Britain.
Stonehenge Landscape Video
I do think Stonehenge is worth a visit. It was fascinating to learn more about its history. While Stonehenge might be the most famous ancient monument in Britain, it is not the only one. If you can see some of the other monuments in the Stonehenge Landscape, I think you will be impressed with those too. Check out our video to see what it is like.
Expert Tips for Visiting Stonehenge
- If you want to visit Stonehenge independently from London using public transportation, you can take the train to Salisbury and then catch the Stonehenge bus.
- Book your Stonehenge entry online in advance, even if you are a member.
- Try to make time to see some of the other monuments around Stonehenge.
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