Visiting Stonehenge In England | Everything You Need To Know
We’ve all wondered what Stonehenge was really built for all those years ago. Was it an ancient burial site? Maybe it was used as an astronomical observatory. Some people (you know who you are) even believed that the stones were put there by aliens!! Whatever your theories are, visiting Stonehenge should be on everyone’s UK bucket list, and I’m going to give you all the information you need to plan your visit!
The mystery surrounding Stonehenge brings in tourists from all over the world. On average, over 800,000 people visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site every year. In 2014, a record 1.3 million people visited the ancient monument, including former president Barrack Obama. Other celebrities who have visited Stonehenge in the past include Russell Brand, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Walken and Miley Cyrus.
I’ve visited these rock stars (get it?) a few times now and I want to tell you everything you need to know. Who built Stonehenge? What was it used for? How do you get the best prices and when are the aliens scheduled to return?
What Is Stonehenge?
The history of Stonehenge is long, dating back thousands of years. It’s important to know that the stones were part of a bigger monument. If you look at the area from the air, you’ll see many lines and circles around Stonehenge.
Many of these lines were made before Stonehenge itself was built. The whole complete was built in many stages over centuries and millennia. The first known manmade structures in this area were poles or posts dating back to 8,500 – 7,000 BCE! That’s pretty old!
More and more features appeared over the centuries, including a circular ditch around the location of Stonehenge. The first stones were placed in the centre of that area around 2,500 BCE. Over the centuries, more stones were placed to create the famous stone circle you see today. Or maybe not, since there are many stones missing now!
How Was Stonehenge Built?
With the help of a lot of people and some clever engineering! The large sarsen stones and smaller bluestones were shaped to create interlocking joins. These stones would then be lifted using nothing but rope, a wooden frame and a lot of manpower! I can’t imagine how their knees and backs felt!
The feat is even more impressive considering the stones that were used. The large, heavy sarsen stones (up to 30-ton blocks) were thought to have been transported by wooden rollers from the Marlborough Downs some 20 miles (32km) away. And the ‘smaller’ 5-ton bluestone came from Preseli Hills in Wales. Some 150 miles (250km) away!!
If that doesn’t make Stonehenge an impressive feat of engineering then I don’t know what is!
What Was Stonehenge Used For? *Solved 2022*
In the years it was built, the site was used as a burial site as well as a place of worship.
However, the mystery of Stonehenge was finally solved in 2022! The stone circle was indeed a giant calendar! This theory was put for many times in the past but researchers have recently confirmed the positioning of the stones was to help people keep track of the days, weeks and months of a 365.25-day year.
There would have been 30 stones in the circle, each representing a day in the calendar month as it was during 2,500 BCE. The calendar was so accurate that it even accommodated for the extra day in the leap year we have today. To top it off, summer and winter solstices would’ve been framed by a pair of stone pillars every year in the same place. Possibly to represent the start and end of the year.
How To Get To Stonehenge
Stonehenge is located on the Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire. Its location in the southwest of central England makes it an ideal place for a day trip from central London, but more on that later.
England is a fairly small country so the easiest way to get to Stonehenge is by car. It’s very clearly signposted in brown (all landmarks are this colour). Just enter ‘SP4 7DE’ in your sat nav or map app (I recommend maps.me) and start driving!
You can reach Stonehenge by us or train although it’s a little trickier. Head over to Connecting Wiltshire to plan your route.
Visiting Stonehenge From London
If you’re staying in London then there’s good news! Visiting Stonehenge is very straightforward and there are plenty of easy options.
If you can drive on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right, through the crazy London traffic, then I recommend hiring a car. The journey takes around 2 hours to drive around 90 miles (145km) so you can easily make it there and back on a Stonehenge day trip.
Another option is using public transport from London although this can also be quite time-consuming. The easiest way to get to Stonehenge is to take the train from Waterloo Station to Salisbury. You’ll then need to take the bus. Unfortunately, there are no public buses but the Stonehenge Tour offers a hop on hop off service with the entry fee included.
You can also take a public bus from Waterloo Coach Station but this will also terminate at Salisbury. Although is normally the cheapest option, it will eat up a lot of your time and therefore, I don’t really recommend the bus.
The other option is to visit Stonehenge on an organised tour. This is the easiest option if you don’t mind sticking to a schedule. There are plenty of options available from Viator and GetYourGuide and you can combine your trip with a visit to somewhere like Windsor or even Bath.
There are several ways to buy tickets to Stonehenge. The easiest and most obvious way is just to turn up and pay at the visitor centre. Although this is the easiest option, you will also pay a little more than if you prebooked your ticket. It may take a little more planning but pre-booking a time slot would be the option I recommend!
When buying your ticket online, you can purchase it with or without a donation. During off-peak season, without a donation, adult tickets can be as low as £19.50 ($26/€23). At the height of peak season on a weekend, with a donation, an adult ticket can be as high as £26.00 ($35/€31). A child (5-17 years) ticket is considerably less – £11.70 ($16.5/€14)to £15.60 ($20/€19) and you will save even more by buying a family ticket. You can book your ticket and see a full list of prices on the official website.
Choose when you want to go and prebook your ticket to save money and time. The first time I visited Stonehenge I waited in the ticket queue for ages, in the rain, without an umbrella. Luckily the rain did clear up by the time I got my ticket. I would say that my next visit, where I booked my ticket online first, was a much better experience!
English Heritage Memberships
If you are really into your historic sites in England then you can become a member of English Heritage. Not only will you get free entry to Stonehenge but you also get free entry to over 400 other historic sites. There’s free parking thrown in too.
You can even join as a couple or family to save even more. Head to the English Heritage website for more information and the latest joining fees. Members of National Trust also get free entry!
Visiting Stonehenge | What To Expect
There is parking available although you may have to pay. During peak periods, there is a parking charge of £5 ($6.7/€6) but this can be redeemed when you purchase your entry ticket. Members of English Heritage, National Trust and those who have pre-booked tickets will not be charged.
Stonehenge Visitor Centre
One of the coolest things about visiting Stonehenge is the modern visitor centre. This incredible building houses exhibitions that tell the story of Stonehenge and houses archaeological artefacts that are thousands of years old.
You’ll also find the obligatory souvenir shop here and a little cafe where you can munch on some award-winning pastries!
Just outside of the visitor centre are the Neolithic houses. Excavations in 2006 and 2007 uncovered enough remains of houses from the year 2,500 BCE to recreate these small dwellings. There are usually volunteers on hand to talk about the houses and give small demonstrations.
There is a chance to test your strength too as you can try and pull one of the large stone columns along the wooden rollers. Here’s the spoiler – I don’t think it was made to be moved!
Stonehenge Shuttle Bus
After you have enjoyed the visitor centre (or maybe you will go there later) you need to get to the Stones themselves. The free shuttle bus departs from the visitor centre to the Stone circle every few minutes. If you have the energy you can also walk along the bus route – it takes around 30-40 minutes.
This is, without a doubt, the thing that could determine whether love or hate Stonehenge! I have been to the rocks twice and the first time was fine. There was a small group of us and we wandered around the Stones not really knowing what they were, who built them or what they were used for.
The second time I went to Stonehenge I was much more prepared! I prebooked my ticket and downloaded the Stonehenge audio guide app beforehand. The app is free, interactive and can really add to your Stonehenge experience!
Best Time To Visit Stonehenge
The English weather is usually pretty reliable at putting a dampener on things, literally. You can get glorious days in the winter and rainy days in the summer. The best days are ‘usually’ the summer as the opening hours are longer. However, pay attention to the weather reports as it can rain at any time.
If you want a quieter experience then the off-season (winter) would be a better option as long as you wrap up warm. You will also pay less for your entry ticket at these times. Early in the morning and later in the evening as well as on weekdays would also give you a better experience if you don’t like crowds.
Summer Solstice At Stonehenge
You may have seen images of people going right up close to the rocks. This was something you could do many years ago but, for obvious reasons, this is no longer allowed.
However, there is a date in the calendar when English Heritage opens up Stonehenge to everyone for free – and you can go right up to the rocks! That is the Summer Solstice which happens every year on the 21st of June.
You’ll be visiting Stonehenge with tens of thousands of people including Druids and morris dancers in one of the biggest religious events in the country. I recommend booking a place to stay nearby and avoiding the car park for this one!
This is your chance to get up to the Stones but please do not climb them or carve anything into them. No one cares what your initials are or what year you were there!
Places To Visit Near Stonehenge
After visiting Stonehenge, you can always make a weekend of it, if you have the time, and explore some of the surrounding attractions. The ruins of Old Sarum are close by and are one of the most historically important sites in England. The perfect place to continue your English history lesson!
Had enough of ruins? The small city of Salisbury is only 20 minutes away by public transport and is home to one of Britain’s most beautiful cathedrals! You can also see the famous white horses on the hills around Wiltshire.
If you’ve hired a car then why not take to the opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the UK. The Roman city of Bath is only an hour’s drive away and you can visit one of the best-preserved Roman bathhouses in Europe.
Another popular attraction an hour’s drive away is the Fleet Air Arm Museum. It has Europe’s largest naval and aviation collection and makes a great half-day trip. The highlight for many is the Concorde 002 which took its last flight to the museum in July 1976.
What Was It Really Like To Visit Stonehenge?
I enjoyed Stonehenge and I think it should be on everyone’s UK bucket list!
Having said that, I’ve met quite a few people who didn’t enjoy their Stonehenge experience for whatever reason. Whether it be the weather, the long queue for expensive tickets or the fact that they’re not really sure what they’re looking at!
I probably enjoyed visiting Stonehenge more because I booked my ticket online, read a little about the history and made a weekend of it by exploring other nearby places. Oh, and the sun happened to be shining all weekend long. That helps!
Also, we used the interactive audio guide which I highly recommend. You will have a much better experience, understand how incredible this 2000-year-old monument really is, and you won’t be leaving the stones thinking ‘it’s just a pile of rocks!’
I hope you enjoyed reading this post on visiting Stonehenge. If you have any questions or suggestions then feel free to get in contact. Or just let me know in the comments below.