Stonehenge is a bucket-list item for many tourists heading to the UK. But it’s one of those attractions that are a little outside the city that force you to make plans in order to plan a good visit. Here are some tips for anybody planning their Stonehenge tours or visits in the near future.
A word on Stonehenge
Stonehenge and the surrounding structures date back as far as 5,000 years ago. Today, the location is still full of mystery with some speculating that the site was for astronomical purposes while others have pointed to more sinister happenings like human sacrifice. Considering that the structure has existed for so many centuries it probably served a multitude of purposes.
Just recently, geophysicists discovered around 15 more underground monuments that may take our understanding to a whole new level (pun unintended). Clearly, there’s a lot more to Stonehenge than just the monolithic stones that make it up.
If you can get into the fascinating history and mystery of Stonehenge and take advantage of a few simple practical tips, you’ll have a great trip to Stonehenge even if you aren’t excited about the prospect of paying to see “a bunch of rocks.”
To make your Stonehenge tours or visits better, here are some things to know about Stonehenge.
Stonehenge ticket prices
- Book online: Adult prices are £16.50 per person; kids (5-15) are £9.90 per person
- Walk-up prices: Adult prices are £19.30 per person; kids (5-15) are £10.50 per person
- There are also family prices you look into
- Free! – We didn’t do this but apparently some people will simply walk from the parking lot to the outside barriers of Stonehenge to see it. This is actually not that bad of an idea if your goal is to simply see the structure.
Book in Advance
If you just show up to Stonehenge, you are not guaranteed admission any longer. Thus, you really need to book your tickets in advance, plus you save a pound if you do so. Generally, you can book your tickets the day of or day before so there’s usually not a huge rush to book them but the morning time slots will fill up sometimes.
Stonehenge tours from London
A lot of tourists visiting London want to make it out to Stonehenge. The problem is that not everyone has a vehicle or is willing to drive through London to get there.
The good news is that there are Stonehenge tours from London! If you’re interested in booking a roundtrip tour from London to Stonehenge, then click here.
It’s going to be a day trip since the entire trip will last around six hours. But if you really want to see Stonehenge and you’re staying London, this might be the best option for you.
- Quick tip: while it’s a good idea to respect the time slot you selected, the admission folks don’t require you to enter during that time. We happened to show up an hour early and we were able to get in just fine.
Getting to the Stonehenge parking lot
If you put Stonehenge into your GPS it might just lead you to the rocks and not the entrance like it did us. However, just follow the signs showing Stonehenge and you will eventually wind up seeing a huge parking lot with big charter busses parked inside.
Find a parking spot and then head towards the ticket booth. Another reason why you want to book online is that the line is much shorter to get in.
The hike or the trolley?
You have a choice to walk or ride a trolley to Stonehenge from the visitor center area. Because we had some little ones with us and the wind was pretty brutal we opted to take the trolley. However, the walk to the rocks would definitely add more excitement to the trip as well as an adequate build-up to seeing the stones.
There are tons of burial mounds that you will see along the way and it’s really cool and fascinating to think about the stuff that probably occurred in and around the area. So if the weather’s not too bad, go ahead and make the walk to the site; you can always take the trolley on your way back.
You’ll be walking in a circle… enjoy it
Stonehenge seems to receive a fair amount of criticism for being a boring destination. A lot of that stems from the fact that the visit is a bit anti-climatic (and to some over commercialized). You show up, walk around in a circle, head to the gift shop, and then it’s over.
So my advice is to take your time, admire all of the different view points, take plenty of photos, and really take time to ponder the history of this place. And like I mentioned, that’s key to having a great visit. Try to read up on at least a little bit of history before your visit so you can appreciate this place.
There’s some truly fascinating history to find out about. And not just stories of the past, read up on some of the recent developments and breakthroughs that historians and scientists have discovered — it’s pretty mind-blowing that we are just now discovering more about what this civilization was all about.
It can get pretty windy and a little crowded
We went to Stonehenge on a relatively cool and calm September day in southern England.
However, when we arrived to Stonehenge the wind was really strong and whipping us in the face pretty much the entire time. For that reason, you want to be sure to bring some sort of defense against the wind because you will likely be standing still as the wind batters down on you.
Also, around peak times mid-day it can get a little crowded. The good news is that there is room for you to wander off into the grass and get away from the crowds a bit.
Cloudy days are great for Stonehenge photos
Don’t be discouraged by the forecast upon your visit to Stonehenge. While I prefer the look of the sun casting stark contrasting shadows among the stones, even cloudy days will offer you spectacular view of the site. In my opinion, the cloudiness allows you to capture the mysteriousness of Stonehenge in a way that a bright blue sky doesn’t offer. So regardless of what the weather looks like, you will be in able to capture this place in unique and interesting ways and shouldn’t feel discouraged.
You either appreciate it or you don’t
At the risk of sounding slightly offensive, in my opinion, visitors to Stonehenge fall into two categories: those who appreciate it and those who don’t. And I’m not saying that if you don’t appreciate Stonehenge you’re somehow ignorant, uncultured, or less of a traveler or something along those lines.
I think it’s just a personal preference thing.
Some people enjoy hiking, others don’t. Some people enjoy ruin sites, others don’t. For me, seeing Stonehenge was an absolute bucket list item. For others, it’s just a “bunch of rocks” that you have to pay to look at.
Hopefully, you’ll fall into the “appreciator” category and will enjoy the visit as much as I did. Otherwise, you’ll probably be ready to leave after about 10-15 minutes, honestly. If you are fairly confident that Stonehenge will not do much for you but still feel the urge to visit it, then perhaps the free option described above will best for you.
Consider a Stonehenge private tour
A Stonehenge private tour or private access will allow you to actually walk amongst the stones. Here’s the deal, though: it’s not easy to book. If you book a private tour through a company it’s usually going to cost you close to £100 per person (though these tours usually offer more than just seeing Stonehenge).
There is a way to book a private Stonehenge tour (non-guided) without paying that much, however.
English Heritage Association Stonehenge tours
You do this by applying with the English Heritage Association. The inner circle access costs 38.50 for adults (16+) and £23.10 for children aged 5-15. The times available for the tour differ throughout the year — you can find out more about these inner circle tours here and here.
You can only book for either sunrise or sunset times (which happen to be the times for the best pics). The only real catch is that you have to plan this well in advance. You will likely have to plan this at least a month in advance unless you get lucky and there are some open slots.
I recommend doing the private access route because I think that being able to move about the inner circle adds a whole other dimension to your experience — not to mention plenty of unique photo opportunities that are not available to the general public.
The new visitor center ain’t too shabby
They recently built a visitor center and gift shop and it’s pretty nice. Take some time to stroll through the shop and you’ll find plenty of quality souvenirs for all budgets. There’s also a cafe on-site, though we didn’t choose to eat there so I can’t comment on the quality of the restaurant.
Final word on Stonehenge tours and visits
So there you have it. The recipe for successful Stonehenge tours and visits: read up on the history, book in advance (really try to get the inner-circle access), choose the walking option from the entrance gate, take your time soaking in and marveling at the site, and bring plenty of wind-resistant/cold weather apparel. If you do all of these things and harness the power of your imagination along the way then you are setting yourself up for a great visit.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.