One finds it magical, the other only sees a pile of stones: Stonehenge in England. So… is Stonehenge worth visiting or not?
The Travel Tester did the research for you and paid a visit to this ancient site in the town of Salisbury, in the county of Wiltshire in southern England.
In addition to practical information, we also answer questions such as: “How was Stonehenge made?”, “Can you enter the stone circle?” and “what’s in the museum at Stonehenge?”
VISITING STONEHENGE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHAT IS STONEHENGE EXACTLY?
Stonehenge in England was one of many important ceremonial monuments built in Britain, Ireland and continental Europe during prehistoric times. It is the most architecturally refined and only surviving stone circle in the world.
The structure helps us to learn more about the history of this region and to understand more about the life of the people who lived and visited here. Stonehenge has given us a better understanding of how prehistoric society was organized.
Stonehenge does not stand on its own, but is part of a remarkable ancient landscape of Early Neolithic, Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monuments.
TIP: You can learn all about the history of this magical place in England at the temporary exhibition “The World of Stonehenge” at the British Museum in London.
One of the items on display in this exhibit is the Nebra Sky Disk (Nebra Sky Disc), a bronze disc containing the oldest representation of the universe known to date. You can read more about this unique find on our space blog “The Space Tester”, where you can also see all objects from the exhibition The World of Stonehenge that have to do with the universe in a separate article.
WHERE IS STONEHENGE?
Stonehenge in England is close to the town of Amesbury in the English county of Wiltshire. If you Google the map of Stonehenge, it says it’s in the town of Salisbury, but it’s about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northwest of Salisbury on the Salisbury Plain.
View the Stonehenge location on Google Maps here:
Address Stonehenge: Salisbury SP4 7DE, United Kingdom
HOW OLD IS STONEHENGE?
The exact age of Stonehenge is unknown, but the remarkable monument was built somewhere between 5000 and 3500 years ago as a place where people gathered.
The history of Stonehenge begins as a burial site for the cremated remains of between 150 and 200 people. Chemical analysis suggests several lived and died in West Wales before their remains were buried in the memorial.
Apart from this place, the surrounding landscape was also used for religious devotion by farming communities. Even at this early stage, observations of the sun played a role.
Around the year 4500 it was discovered how you could extract metal from stone, that you could melt it down and use it to make new objects. In addition to a sense of magic among the people, it also enabled critical innovations in carpentry, joinery and boat building, as metal could be reused and transformed into objects such as copper and bronze axes.
Stonehenge took on its familiar form around this time. More than 80 massive boulders, each requiring at least 1000 people to be transported, were moved about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from West Woods in England, southwest of an area called “Marlborough Downs”. The bluestones were transported over 155 miles (250 kilometers): they come the Preseli Hills in Wales.
This effort required unprecedented communal labor, patience and planning. It took generations to complete.
HOW WAS STONEHENGE BUILT?
Building Stonehenge began by marking the sacred ground by digging a trench into which rubble was thrown to form the henge’s outer surrounding bank.
Inside, they raised a circle of huge, mottled dolerite Bluestone boulders. This was done by digging a large hole, with a slope on one side. The back of the hole was lined with a row of wooden posts. The stone was then positioned and lifted upright using plant fiber ropes and probably a wooden A-frame. Weights may have been used to tilt the stone upright. The hole was then packed tightly with rubble.
Wooden platforms were probably used to place the horizontal lintels (the stones on top, as the “table top”). Then the structure was reinforced by precisely interlocking connections, unseen in any other prehistoric monument.
Afterwards, the stones were decorated using advanced techniques.
There were two original entrances to the enclosure – a wide one on the northeast and a smaller one on the south. There are many more roads and potholes in the circuit today, mostly the result of later tracks that once crossed the monument.
Just inside the bank were 56 pits known as the Aubrey Holes. About half of these were excavated and marked with white concrete circles in the 1920s.
How did Stonehenge get there? Learn more in the video below:
WHAT DO I SEE WHEN I LOOK AT STONEHENGE?
I can imagine that many people see Stonehenge as “just a pile of boulders”. Compared to structures such as the Pyramids in Egypt, the whole thing may not look very spectacular today (well, for history geeks like myself, of course they do look spectacular).
Here’s what you’re looking at, and what Stonehenge must have looked like in its heyday:
- The stones of the central cluster, which were brought to the site around 2500 BC, are of two types: the larger sarsens and the smaller bluestones.
- The sarsens were erected in two concentric arrangements: the inner one is a horseshoe of five trilithons (two vertical stones capped by a horizontal lintel). Three of these are still completely upright.
- Around the horseshoe you can see the remains of the outer sarsen circle, capped with lintels. There were probably 30 stones in this circle once, but many have fallen and most of the lintels and a few uprights are missing.
- Near the center is the “Altar Stone“, which is largely buried under the fallen stone of the highest trilithon.
- There are several other stones around Stonehenge. Two of the four “Station Stones” are still in their original position, marking the corners of a rectangle. These could be related to the erection of Stonehenge or to the alignment of the solstice, which we’ll talk about later.
- Immediately outside the northeast entrance you will find the “Heel Stone“, a huge unformed sarsen boulder. It may have been an early stone on the site, standing up from its original position nearby.
- Also at the northeast entrance you’ll find the “Slaughter Stone“, a fallen sarsen that once stood upright with one or two other stones across the access road.
- From the entrance of the enclosure runs the “Avenue“, built to link Stonehenge to the River Avon and the small henge on the bank, discovered in 2008, in West Amesbury. The construction of this processional route confirmed Stonehenge’s sacred status.
Learn more about Stonehenge on this detailed map of Stonehenge and see all the stones, holes and other markings on the English Heritage website >
WHAT DID PEOPLE DO AT STONEHENGE?
There are many myths about Stonehenge, but what exactly was the monument for? Was it a Druid temple? An astronomical computer for predicting eclipses and solar events? A place of worship? A coronation place for kings? A center for healing? There are various (sometimes somewhat wild) theories out there.
We’ll never know for sure, but Stonehenge was definitely a place where the course of the sun was observed and celebrated for hundreds of years.
In the centuries that followed, however, few monuments of solar importance were built. The introduction of metal to Britain and Ireland about 4300 years ago enabled cosmological beliefs, represented by Stonehenge and other monuments, in a range of wearable objects.
The impact of this was great, as previously there were only permanent monuments to observe and worship the sun at set times of the year – and now you could have your own personal connection to the heavens above by holding its image in person, or even wear it.
Gold discs, in particular, became the symbol of the sun cult, marking a believer or pilgrim returning from places such as Stonehenge.
WHAT IS THE STONEHENGE SOLSTICE?
Marking the passage of time was important to many ancient cultures. For the people of Stonehenge who were farmers, grew crops and herded animals, it was important to know when the seasons changed. The summer and winter “solstice” was a real benchmark for this.
A solstice is the time or date (twice a year) when the sun reaches its maximum or minimum declination, marked by the longest and shortest days. This falls around June 21 and December 22 every year. Stonehenge is perfectly attuned to the movements of the sun.
At Stonehenge, during the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone in the northeastern part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge.
During the winter solstice, if you stand in the entrance of the enclosure and look towards the center of the stones, you can see the sun setting in the southwestern part of the horizon.
The winter solstice may have been more important than the summer solstice to the people who built and used Stonehenge. Excavations at Durrington Walls (a Neolithic settlement just over 2 miles (3 kilometers) from Stonehenge) suggest that people held huge celebrations around this time of year.
You can read much more about the solstice at Stonehenge on the English Heritage website >
WHY DID STONEHENGE TO DETERIORATE?
About 3700 years ago, Stonehenge was at the heart of the densest concentration of burial mounds in Britain, including some of the richest in Europe. The emphasis had shifted from building communal monuments to erecting mounds in cemeteries.
About 3500 years ago, the influence of the Stonehenge region began to wane. Communities on the south coast of England sought social and political relationships in continental Europe, which became an increasingly important source of valuable bronze.
As new types of objects emerged, so did new ideas about offering precious items to repay or seek protection from nature or ancestral spirits. Older religious beliefs and the role of monuments such as Stonehenge became less influential as a result.
The arrival of the “Beaker People” in England around 2500 was a turning point in the world of Stonehenge. While it is possible that some of the early newcomers assisted or inspired the great achievements in stone, it is also clear that they had different priorities and beliefs.
Fragments of bluestone found at the site around this time suggest that the monument was reworked or even destroyed. Elsewhere, henges were broken up and dismantled. Construction of these types of monuments slowed dramatically as death and the afterlife became dominant cultural concerns.
The world changed, and will always change… and Stonehenge is a beautiful reminder of this.
WHAT CAN YOU SEE IN THE STONEHENGE MUSEUM?
The museum allows you to discover the story of Stonehenge and learn more about the stones, the landscape, the people and their significance, through a combination of audiovisual experiences and more than 250 archaeological artifacts discovered in the landscape.
You’ll see everything from jewelry, pottery and tools to ancient human remains. Many of these items are on loan from the Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. You can view the highlights of the collection on the English Heritage website >
There are also regular special exhibitions in the visitor center.
TIP: There is a regular bus service between the visitor center and the stone circle if you are not able to walk. This takes about 10 minutes.
WHAT ARE THE COTTAGES AT STONEHENGE’S MUSEUM?
Interesting to visit are the reconstructions of five Neolithic houses, which are based on archaeological evidence of houses found at Durrington Walls.
Dating showed that these houses were inhabited for about 50-100 years in about 2500 BC, the very time the sarsen stones were erected at Stonehenge. So it is very likely that the people living in these houses were involved in the construction and celebrations at Stonehenge.
Each room had a chalk floor, a fireplace, and walls made with poles. Some had traces of furniture and chalk walls.
All houses are made by volunteers in an authentic way with local materials. On some days they are also there to talk to you about the houses and demonstrate the day-to-day activities of Stonehenge’s builders, from grinding grain to making rope from rushes.
IS STONEHENGE FREE?
No, unfortunately the entrance to Stonehenge is paid. The cost is £20 for adults and £12 for children aged 5-17. There are also family tickets for sale, see the bottom of this blog.
A visit is free for English Heritage members. Check their website for more information and to find the most current Stonehenge prices.
DO YOU NEED A RESERVATION FOR STONEHENGE?
You don’t need to book your ticket in advance, but you will always get the best price and guaranteed entry by booking online before your visit.
IS THERE A STONEHENGE AUDIO GUIDE?
This was always there, but nowadays there is no longer an audio guide that you can rent at the visitor center. I don’t know if this is because of the pandemic or if it will come back in the future.
CAN YOU ENTER THE INNER CIRCLE OF STONEHENGE?
The interior of the stone circle at Stonehenge is not only special but also very tight, so it is not just for everyone to visit. With the special “Stone Circle Experience” you can get as close to the stones as possible in the early morning or evening with up to 30 people per session.
With no other people besides your group at Stonehenge, you’ll have 45 minutes to wander among the stones and discover all the fascinating details that can only be seen up close. An expert guide will answer all of your questions and allow you to take as many photos as you like.
The cost for this unique experience is £48 for adults (18+) and £29 for children aged 5-17. Children under 5 are free. Discounts are available for English Heritage members.
Book this experience on the English Heritage website >
Would you rather spend your money on something else? Then you can access this interactive tour of Stonehenge, which will give you a 360 degree view from the inside of the monument >
CAN YOU TOUCH STONEHENGE?
Short answer: no.
Not that you can get close to the monument during your walk, but also during the special “Stone Circle Experience” you are not allowed to stand on the stones or touch them.
FUN FACTS STONEHENGE
The Stonehenge World Heritage Site is huge: it’s an area 7.5 times the size of New York’s Central Park! Want to know more fun facts about Stonehenge? Then read on:
- The average Stonehenge sarsen weighs 25 tons. The largest stone, the Heel Stone, weighs about 30 tons!
- Some of Stonehenge’s stones are even bigger than they look. For example, “Stone 56“, the highest standing stone on the site, protrudes 2.13 meters above the ground, but with the part that is underground, it measures no less than 8.71 meters!
- Stonehenge was bought at auction in 1915 for £6600 by local businessman Cecil Chubb, who (allegedly) came to the auction to buy some dining room chairs.
- About 1500 Roman artifacts have been found at Stonehenge, including coins, pins, jewelry and fragments of pottery. Not only were these left by Roman tourists, they are said to have been left behind by people visiting Stonehenge as a shrine – large pits were dug in the monument at the time as well.
- Stonehenge, along with Avebury, was one of the very first sites in the UK to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986.
- Stonehenge is more than just the stone circle. Half of the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge contains more than 700 known archaeological sites, including more than 180 scheduled monuments such as henges, wooden structures, enclosures and many burial mounds.
- Want to see unique historic Stonehenge photos? Then click through to the website of English Heritage >
- This boy built a LEGO Stonehenge from 7000 blocks… you just have to make time for it! >
IS STONEHENGE WORTH SEEING?
After reading this article you will already know a lot about the history of Stonehenge, the construction of the stone circle and the stories and myths about Stonehenge and the people who lived in the area. What do you think? Would a visit be worth the fairly long travel time from London?
I certainly think so! My father is an archaeologist, so I grew up with the idea that it is important to map history and pass that knowledge on to new generations. Partly because of this, I think that a visit to Stonehenge has extra value for me.
Seeing objects and nature that is so many thousands of years old, that always has something special, something that you cannot experience online. I really think Stonehenge is an icon of the past and understand why it is still the subject of many paintings and poems and has been featured in so many books, music and films.
If you are planning a trip to southern England, I can definitely recommend a visit to Stonehenge. If only to form your own opinion. Will you let me know how you liked it?
MAP OF STONEHENGE
FROM LONDON TO STONEHENGE: BEST ROUTE BY CAR
Are you going to visit Stonehenge from London by car? Then the monument is signposted from the A303, coming from the A360.
In your SAT NAV you enter:
- Postal code: SP4 7DE
- Lat: 51.1831565223
- Lon: -1.85887471623
You can park on site. You have to pay for this, but you will get the money back after purchasing your ticket for Stonehenge. There are also special parking spaces for motorhomes.
TIP (or rather a warning): Driving from London to Stonehenge theoretically takes 2 hours from the center of London, but keep in mind that it often takes more than an hour to get out of the city in the first place and that on the single road past Stonehenge there is always a impressive traffic jam. The last time it took us 5(!!) hours by car. Just so you know 🙂
I personally wouldn’t do a day trip, the distance is really a lot bigger than you think. On the way back from Stonehenge to London, why not book one or two more nights in a nice hotel? Thank me later, haha. Fortunately, there is a lot to see in the area, for example the green New Forest!
CAN YOU GET FROM LONDON TO STONEHENGE BY TRAIN?
Yes, you can, but not all the way to Stonehenge itself. This is the route:
The London to Stonehenge train is called “South Western Railway” and departs from London Waterloo. After approximately 1.5 hours (5 stops) you will arrive at Salisbury station.
There are no public buses to Stonehenge from Salisbury, but you can choose to buy a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off “Stonehenge Tour” bus.
This is basically a tour lasting just over an hour (including stops at Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral + on the bus live coverage from a guide on the history of the area) – but your ticket also allows you to travel from Salisbury to the Stonehenge Visitors Centre, this takes about half an hour.
The following tickets are available:
- Bus only (£17 – adults, £11.50 – children 5 – 15 years)
- Including entry to Stonehenge and Old Sarum (£35.50 adults, £23.50 children 5 – 15 years)
- Including entry to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, & Salisbury Cathedral (£42 adults, £28.50 children 5 – 15 years)
Your ticket is valid all day, so you can take the bus as often as you like, or just back and forth from Salisbury to the Visitor Center.
The bus departs from the train station in Salisbury Train Station, as well as from Stop U on New Canal and Catherine Street in Salisbury.
With this combination of train and bus you can count on a total of just over 2 hours travel time one way, or just over 3 hours if you do the entire bus tour. Now you understand why going up and down from London to Stonehenge is quite an undertaking, and I can’t really recommend it!
IS THERE A BUS TO STONEHENGE FROM LONDEN?
Traveling from London to Stonehenge by bus is not really the best option.
There are no direct buses (only a National Express bus to Southampton, after that you still have to take a train and a bus) and in total it takes almost 4 hours one way.
The journey by train in combination with the Stonehenge Tour bus is therefore a better choice, or you could opt for an organized bus tour, as we have already suggested above.
IS THERE A BUS TO STONEHENGE FROM SALISBURY?
From Salisbury to Stonehenge there is no ordinary “city bus”, the only option is the special “Stonehenge Tour” bus that takes you to the Stonehenge Visitors Center in 33 minutes.
More information about this hop-on-hop-off bus can be found above under the section about the train.
IS THERE A BUS TO STONEHENGE FROM BATH?
Travelling from Bath to Stonehenge is best done in a combination of train and bus.
From Bath to Stonehenge take the “GWR” (Great Western Rail) to Salisbury. This takes about an hour (5 stops). From Salisbury take the “Stonehenge Tour” bus as described above.
If you travel by car, it will take you about 50 minutes (not counting traffic jams around Stonehenge, haha)
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