LAST UPDATED APRIL 2019
Nobody knows for sure why or when Stonehenge was built and perhaps that’s one of the reasons the UNESCO World Heritage site is such a draw for travelers. At only about 90 minutes from central London, it’s a manageable, inexpensive day trip outside the city if you’re into 5,000 year old ruins with a side order of mysterious origins.
9 Tips for Visiting Stonehenge
1. Figure Out How to Get to Stonehenge
Stonehenge is one of the most mysterious ancient wonders in the world, and it’s definitely the most recognizable prehistoric monument in Europe. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to get to! It’s about two hours without traffic to central London, so keep that in mind when deciding how to get to Stonehenge.
- Public transportation. You can take a train from London to Salisbury and then the Stonehenge Tour Bus. It’s a bit of a slog but a great option if you’re on a budget and only want to see Stonehenge and nothing else in the area.
- Rent a car and drive yourself. As scary as it can be to rent a car and drive on the other side of the road, if you want to take photos at Stonehenge without lots of other visitors, you had better get to the rural Salisbury Plain before the hoards! Renting a car and setting an early alarm clock is the best way to do just that.
- Group Tour. The easiest way to visit Stonehenge is via organized tour. Your tickets are handled in advance and usually all you have to do is hop on the bus!
Stonehenge Tours We Like:
- Magical History Full Day Tour
- Stonehenge Visit with Private Driver
- Stonehenge Tour Direct from London
- Private Tour of Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
2. Make Time to Explore the New Visitor Center
Stonehenge is rather starkly situated along a busy highway, though the entrance procedure has changed quite a bit since my first visit in 2011. On my first trip, it seemed we’d been driving for an hour and then boom! The stone circle came into view in the middle of the Salisbury plain. When we visited in 2018, I was happy to see the new visitor center with interactive exhibits and plenty of bathrooms and space to stretch your legs.
The English Heritage Visitor Centre opened at Stonehenge makes visits super easy and seamless. Most tours drop you at the visitor center, which is about 2 kilometers from the actual monument. You can walk if you’re up for it, or take the shuttle. (Included in ticket price.)
At the visitor center, you can buy tickets, souvenirs and audio guides, grab a bite at the cafe and see 250+ prehistoric objects and a Neolithic home. There used to be no mystical lead-up to the ancient wonders, but the new visitor center does a nice job of prepping you for what you’re about to see.
3. Book Your Tickets to Stonehenge in Advance
For what amounts to a pile of big rocks, Stonehenge is extremely popular! Only so many tickets are available to visit Stonehenge each day, and there’s a timed entry system in place. If you arrive on your own and don’t have tickets pre-arranged with a tour, you might have to wait. I recommend buying your tickets in advance to save time, avoid potentially long lines and ensure you get in.
You can book tickets in advance here and choose the time you’d like to visit.
4. Arrive Early if You’re Driving
There’s a reason Stonehenge’s circle is still so popular… even if scientists and historians aren’t quite sure what it is! It’s a place like no other, but between high school field trips and pushy tripod-wielding tourists, you might just be miserable if you come after about 10 a.m. and are seeking some of that mystical Salisbury solitude. If you are in control of the schedule, try to arrive as early as possible to get the place somewhat to yourself.
5. Get an Audio Guide
They’re included with the price of admission and provide a ton of information on what Stonehenge is all about. Much of what is known about Stonehenge is hypothetical, so I don’t think I knew any more when I left than when I arrived, but still, it’s nice to have a little tour in the palm of your hand.
6. Expect to Have More Questions Than Answers
So who actually built the stone circle on the Salisbury Plain? NO ONE REALLY KNOWS.
7. Solstices at Stonehenge
The shortest day of the year and the longest night in the Northern Hemisphere is known as the Winter Solstice, and it’s a particularly special time to visit Stonehenge. If historians are correct in thinking that Stonehenge is an ancient timepiece, then it’s been monitoring the change of seasons for 5,000 years.
It’s free to visit Stonehenge for the Solstices, aside from parking charges. For the Winter Solstice in December, it’s likely to be cold and wet, so dress accordingly.
8. Spend the Day at Stonehenge
Most folks who visit Stonehenge have limited time to spend, but if you’ve got a half day or more, consider exploring more of the 6,500 acre site. Plus up your itinerary with the following activities:
- Stonehenge virtual stones experience
- Prehistory in the exhibition
- Neolithic Houses, take time to talk to the volunteers about how our Neolithic ancestors lived and handle replica artefacts
- Have a picnic in the grass near the Stone Circle
For more ideas, click here.
9. Explore the Region
Unless you are wildly obsessed with the idea of an ancient druid stone circle, you might be a bit disappointed, or at the very least underwhelmed, by only visiting Stonehenge. Experts recommend about two hours for the visit, but if you had less time I don’t think it’s the end of the world.
There’s so much to see and do in the area, I recommend taking a day tour and incorporating some of the region’s other top sites. On both of my visits to Stonehenge, I coupled my visit with a bus tour of the Cotswolds, including several Harry Potter and Jane Austen adaptation filming locations. That made the trip worthwhile when it seemed like Stonehenge alone might not have been enough.
Tours with Stonehenge + Additional Attractions
- Windsor Castle, Lacock Village, Bath and Stonehenge
- Winchester Cathedral and Stonehenge
- Private Tour of Bath, The Cotswolds and Stonehenge
Visiting London and the surrounding areas? Check out these posts to help plan your trip!
- Guide to a Romantic Weekend in The Cotswolds
- 5 Whirlwind Adventures to have in London
- Jane Austen’s London: A Mini-Pilgrimage
- Must-See Sites in Bath
Fun Facts About Stonehenge
- Though not the only mysterious stone circle in England (there are hundreds of them in the British Isles), it’s the most recognizable, constructed sometime between 3000 and 2000 BC.
- Stonehenge is an amazing place to experiment with camera settings! If ever a place has been photographed to death, it’s Stonehenge.
- Drones are not allowed at Stonehenge.
- Two varieties of stone are found at Stonehenge. The Bluestones weigh nearly four tons and came from 240 miles away. The Sarsen stones weigh nearly 25 tons and were up to eighteen feet tall.
- So who actually built the stone circle on the Salisbury Plain? Theories include Druids, the Greeks, aliens and Atlanteans.
- Scholars agree many of the stones traveled 150 or more miles from a mountain in Wales before coming to rest in the Stone Circle.
- Visitors used to be allowed to climb on the stones, but don’t get any ideas. That’s definitely not allowed anymore.
During my visit to Stonehenge, I learned that we don’t know who built it, or when, or why… so this curious pile of rocks transported from far and wide may always just be one of those places that make you scratch your head and go HUH?!?!
Where to Stay Near Stonehenge
- Salisbury – The Queen’s Head
- Winchester – Hotel du Vin
- Southampton – Harbour Hotel & Spa
- Bath – The Bath Priory
- London – Hilton Park Lane