Daytripping From London: The Prehistoric Wonder of Stonehenge

It’s true – London has enough to keep you busy for weeks.  If you’ve been wandering the metropolis for days though you may just want to get out and check out some rural sights.  With Stonehenge’s location in Wiltshire, roughly 90 miles west of London, it is conveniently situated for a day trip from England’s capital city.

I lucked out with beautiful, cloud-laced skies for my February visit to Stonehenge.
That’s me, all serious.  I lucked out with beautiful, cloud-laced skies for my February visit to Stonehenge. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy.

What Is Stonehenge?

Stonehenge is a collection of, well, stones.  Yes, that’s all it is.  But it’s perhaps the world’s most famous collection of stones.  It’s famous because the sarsen stones and bluestones are huge and mysterious, seemingly placed in the middle of nowhere.  Archaeologists date the earliest stones of the monument to roughly 3000 BC!

The massive stones are situated in a circle with some placed horizontally atop others.  The site also includes burial mounds.  It was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

Stonehenge England United Kingdom Britain Stone Rollers The Honeymoon Guy
Historians and engineers surmise that prehistoric humans moved the massive stones to Stonehenge using logs as rollers, as seen in this replica near the visitors center. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy.

Why Does Stonehenge Exist?

This may surprise you – no one knows the answer to that question with certainty.  The current consensus is that it was built as an astronomy device – a temple aligned with the movements of the sun.  However, other historians believe it was a memorial or even a coronation site.

The large stones of Stonehenge sit isolated on a grass field, about 90 miles west of London.
The large stones of Stonehenge sit isolated on a grass field, about 90 miles west of London.  Many historians believe it was designed to align with movements of the sun.  Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy.

What is a Stonehenge Visit Like?

Let’s get this out of the way right now: You don’t get to touch the stones.  The closest you’ll get, without breaking the rules anyway, is about twenty feet from the stones.  That is close enough to get a great feel for the monument.

To get to the site, which is somewhat isolated, you’ll take a shuttle bus from the visitors center which is next to the parking lot.  The shuttle bus ride is included with your admission fee.  It takes less than three minutes to get from the visitors center to the stones.

You can avoid paying but you’ll have to walk approximately 30 minutes from the visitor center.  You’ll get decent view of the stones but not from all the angles that paid guests get.

The Admission Fee is Steep for Stones

Let’s be real here – Stonehenge is a collection of stones that haven’t moved in approximately 5,000 years.  Though the English Heritage crew will wax on and on about their “upkeep” of the site and the cost of the new visitor center (that seems more elaborate than necessary), the reality is that an advance purchase price of £14.50 is high.  The official website indicates that listed prices are valid until 25 March 2016.  Could the price be going up further?  That’s borderline ridiculous.

If you are indeed planning a visit, I’d recommend booking online, especially if it’s high season.  The last thing you want is to get all the way out to the area and find a busload of people in front of you snapping up all the remaining tickets for the day!

You Can Skip the Paying and Do it Free

As I previously mentioned, the price to visit the stones seems excessive to me.  It is supposedly justified in part by the bus ride from the visitor center to the stones.  Of course a bus ride wouldn’t be necessary at all if the visitor center wasn’t built so far away from the stones.  It is nice that while you’re visiting the stones you are surounded by fields as opposed to modern structures.  That said, I can’t help but get the feeling that the location of the visitor center was intentionally chosen so that visitors wouldn’t be likely to walk to skip paying and instead walk to the site.

You can avoid paying but you’ll have to walk approximately 30 minutes from the visitor center.  You’ll get decent view of the stones but not from all the angles that paid guests get.

Paid access to Stonehenge provides visitors with views from some vantage points, like the one shown here, which are unavailable to visitors who trek out to the site on foot. Photo ©The Honeymoon Guy.

Driving to Stonehenge is the Fastest Option

Stonehenge is relatively easy to access via car.  From London, you head west, taking the M3 and the A303 for the majority of the journey.  The journey should take under two hours.  You could easily rent a car in the morning in downtown London, visit Stonehenge, and then return the car by evening.  Driving on the left side of the road can of course be challenging at first though!

Another option is to make the journey by train.  You can catch a South West Train at Waterloo Station in downtown London and take it to Salisbury, a town a bit south of Stonehenge.  From there you would catch a half-hour bus ride to the Stonehenge visitors center.  The train/bus combo will take around three hours though so it’s not for those that are time-crunched.

Time Your Visit for a Stonehenge Sunset if Possible

Entrance to Stonehenge is managed via timed tickets – you purchase a ticket that’s good for a specific half-hour time slot.  The last time slot you can book is the one which ends two hours before the site closes.  In other words, if Stonehenge is scheduled to close at 5:00PM, the last time slot for which you can purchase tickets is 2:30-3:00PM.  This time slot is really the time for which you can take the bus out to the site.

Though the advertised closing time for Stonehenge for the day of my visit was 5:00PM, the last bus of the day left the site at 4:30PM.  I was the last visitor straggling behind at the site.  It was quite nice to have it to myself (other than a few employees).  Given that the closing time was advertised as 5:00PM though, it’s not clear why the last bus left at 4:30PM.

In coming months the site will, according to the Stonehenge website, be open past sunset.  Watching the sun set completely from the site would be enjoyable.

Stonehenge England United Kingdom Britain Sunset The Honeymoon Guy
The late afternoon sun provides nice light for photos. If you’re a photographer, check the official website to see if you can visit the site during the golden hour.

Plan for One to Two Hours at Stonehenge

Stonehenge isn’t a dynamic attraction.  The stones will be in the same place when you leave as they were when you arrived.  For the average visitor this means a visit time of 30-60 minutes will suffice.  I would imagine kids would be bored by that time.

If you’re an avid photographer you may want closer to two hours to get shots untainted by other humans and to capture the stones with various natural light conditions.  I definitely recommend timing your visit so that you are at the stones for the golden hour.

Should You Include Stonehenge In Your Vacation or Honeymoon?

Stonehenge was impressive to me but I wouldn’t say it rocked my world.  So giving up the better part of a day in London to visit the site isn’t a no-brainer.  My recommendation depends on the number of days you have in London.  If your London visit is slated to last five or more days, Stonehenge probably warrants consideration.  If your London visit is shorter than five days you’ll probably find the massive city’s attractions keeping you busy for your whole visit.

Now if you or your partner are historians, it’s an easy decision – go visit this piece of history!

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