I’ve always wanted to see Stonehenge in person. I’ve seen dozens of pictures of it, being that it’s one of the most-photographed attractions in England, and it has always intrigued and beguiled me, much like Easter Island in Chile and other similar archaeological mysteries. I mean, how DID they do it? And why? It would have taken a lot of hard work and innovative thinking to move such heavy stones so they must have had a very compelling reason.
When VisitBritain invited us to explore the south west of England in March, we were excited to finally be able to visit Stonehenge. We spent a couple hours there recently and I’m happy to report that Stonehenge really is as impressive as it looks in pictures.
Dating back at least 4,500 years, Stonehenge was not something that was built over a short span of time. In fact, it was likely built up and added to continually over thousands of years, as the rituals of the people and ceremony it was used for evolved. History points to its use as a burial ground, evidenced by the presence of dozens of burial mounds and human bones that were excavated from the sight in the 1900s. But with very little supporting evidence, there isn’t a clear understanding of how the sight was used and why. Speculation is part of what makes it so mysterious.
Perhaps we’ll never really know the real history behind the construction of the monument, but you will definitely get a glimpse into the theories and evolution of the area at the Visitor Center, where an exhibition is set up with artifacts and objects found near the sight, along with a great amount of information on its significance.
Many of the stones used to build the monument weighed 30 tons or more, and the smaller blue stones were hauled in from up to 150 miles away in Wales. When I saw the monument in person, the enormity of the task became evident. Not only is it an impressive show of prehistoric engineering, it is quite evident that it was a sacred place, highly valued by the inhabitants of the area.
Due to its historical value, Stonehenge was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 and has since been restored and maintained in a manner that will preserve it for future generations. Visitors are no longer allowed to walk within the circle of stones, which will cut down on erosion and damage to the monument.
The most impressive part of Stonehenge to me is the incredible length of time over which it was built. Based on carbon dating and a lot of scientific research that I won’t pretend to understand, researchers have concluded that construction was started near 3000 BC and continued at least until 1600 BC. There are very few monuments in the world that were continually improved upon or reconstructed like this, over such a long period of time.
Tips and Information for Visiting Stonehenge
If you want to visit Stonehenge and see it in person, like we did, here are a few tips and notes we gathered from our visit.
- Getting to Stonehenge is incredibly easy, even if you’re coming from out of the country, like we were. For us, it was as easy as hopping a direct flight from Seattle to London’s Heathrow airport, where we rented a car and drove just over one hour to the Stonehenge Visitors Center. There is also a tour bus you can take from the train station in Salisbury if you arrive via train. It’s only an hour from the historic town of Bath.
- The center contains exhibits, a gallery, a gift shop and cafe. It is located about a mile from the actual monument, so you need to catch a shuttle that will take you there. Shuttles depart the visitor center every 5 minutes. You also must reserve a time for your visit. This helps cut down on overcrowding and ensures a better viewing experience. If you book in advance on the website, you’ll get a discount on your tickets and have peace of mind that you won’t be turned away if there are no remaining slots for the day.
- The current cost of a ticket is £14.50 for adults and £8.70 for children. There are family discounts available too.
- There is an audio guide you can download one you’ve reached the Visitor Center. They offer free Wi-Fi you can easily download it. However, you’ll need your own smartphone and headphones to take advantage of this.
- The best times to go are early and late in the day. If you don’t want to wait in long queues and have to vie for the best views, don’t go during peak operating periods (in summer or on weekends).
As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own honest reflection on our travel experiences.