Two years ago I took a trip to the UK and included a day trip to Stonehenge. When I told people about this trip, they almost always had a response of their experience. Either they’ve been to Stonehenge, know someone who’s been to Stonehenge, or heard about it some other way. And then they’d tell me:
- “the visit was years before they roped it off – it was too crowded.”
- “the visit was after they roped it off – couldn’t get close enough.”
- “drove by it – the stones seemed small, nothing spectacular.”
- “why go to to Stonehenge when there are other, more accessible, stone things in ____.”
Then they would all agree, as if in unison even though these conversations happened separately, “Stonehenge is a bit overrated.”
I took their message to heart.
My trip to Stonehenge
I’d already visited the UK five or six times when I went with a friend. My friend, who was going to the UK for the first time, included Stonehenge on her list of places she’d like to see. This seemed as good a time as any to check it out.
My only Stonehenge stipulation was that I didn’t want to see it from a distance. I wanted to get as close as possible. I then spent an obscene amount of time trying to figure out how to make that happen.
I needed Stonehenge Inner Circle Access
At the time, Spring 2014, there were several tour companies promising “stone circle access”. Each had them different days of the week, some were already all booked up, and some were only seasonal.
We picked the best one for our schedule. Then crossed our fingers.
The Stonehenge Inside the Circle Tour
Our trip to London included several day tours and Stonehenge’s tour was right in the middle of it. We’d had a decently exhausting walking tour the day before. And a food walking tour scheduled for the next day.
Obviously, this was a bus tour. And, for adventurous types, buses that aren’t public transport feel like cheating. We were wary of how good the tour would actually be, would it be rushed? Would it be boring? What if I read the paperwork wrong and we weren’t really going to get to the stones?
I think we realized right away that the tour was going to be very cool and pretty rushed. Our tour guide was filled with information about everything we were about to see, everything we were seeing, and everything we just saw. The build up for Stonehenge, though, was perfect.
After leaving Oxford, he started setting the scene for Stonehenge. The mystery of the stones. The history of the stones. The theories. The distances these rocks travelled. And why it’s an important structure today.
Arriving at Stonehenge
Getting access to the stone circle at Stonehenge is not a spontaneous activity.
It’s governed by English Heritage, which is in charge of many of England’s historical and cultural sites.
Rule #1 of accessing the Stonehenge stone circle
The visit can only happen before and after the Visitor Center’s normal operating hours. This means early in the morning, or late in the evening.
For us this rule meant that we would be arriving on site right as the shop was closing. We knew this in advance, but we all wanted to get inside for a souvenir. Because chiseling off a piece of the stones is strictly prohibited.
We also didn’t get to tour the displays the Visitor Center has to explain the background. We did get a nice explanation, but based off of what I’ve seen online, the exhibits are super cool.
Access to the Stone Circle was the most important thing
But that’s ok. We were going to get access to the STONE CIRCLE.
The Stonehenge staff loaded us into a smaller bus and we headed to the stones. The trip was longer than I expected. For good reason. The modern museum facilities are far enough away, and kind of hidden behind a small hill, that you can’t see it from the circle. This, coupled with the fact that the only man-made structure nearby was the ropes and a road off in the distance, gave the stone circle a certain ambiance. We imagined Stonehenge from the perspective of what it has been for centuries.
For those who have driven by only and feel that it’s unimpressive. You’re right. The intention of keeping it far away is so that the Stonehenge experience is special. Something that can’t be felt from far away.
Approaching the stone circle
My friend and I were the first off the bus. We headed to the empty stone circle. There was no one around the roped perimeter. No one inside the roped area, save for the two security guards.
Rule #2 of accessing the Stonehenge stone circle
Groups are limited to 30 people for an hour. For our tour, it meant that they allowed access to half of us for 30 minutes, then the second half went in for 30 minutes.
Inside the Stonehenge Stone Circle
For about 15 seconds my friend and I were the only people inside the stone circle.
And that was cool.
Then it filled up to the 25 people our tour allowed. And the tour guide. Plus the two guides. So 28 people.
Stonehenge is huge and 28 people in the interior and 25 people all the way at the barrier is still nothing. Our guide let us walk around and observe and that’s what we all did. Camera’s ready. There was only one main rule inside the stone circle.
Rule #3 of accessing the Stonehenge stone circle
Don’t touch anything!
So, we couldn’t touch anything. That’s ok. We could walk under the huge rocks, get really close, and really see the damage that these rocks have suffered from pre-protection days.
By the way, I’m sure going into the stone circle years ago was not fun. It wasn’t regulated then and the crowds probably made it really difficult to enjoy.But these small groups really made it special. It was so quiet. We could look at a large stone and really examine it without worrying about someone pushing in front of us.
Also, those other stone structures people will tell you are cooler than Stonehenge? Maybe. I love cool rocks anyway. But, the reason Stonehenge is so popular is because it’s the only structure that had a rock laying across the top of two others. And with this tour – we got to walk under that!
Outside the Stonehenge Stone Circle
When we switched places with the rest of the tour group, we walked around the barrier. Unlike most tours that visit Stonehenge during the day, the rope barrier wasn’t THAT bad. There were only 50 of us total. We never felt like we were overcrowded. We had the space and time to take things in.
However, one benefit of going to Stonehenge during the day is that you can get an audio guide to explain everything. We had to rely on remembering what our tour guide told us. There were a lot of details to shuffle through. Our tour guide was accessible, but everyone had questions. But, in the end, that’s ok.
If I had to choose between a day trip with the audio guide, or an after hours trip with stone circle access… I’d pick the stones every time. Even after getting close to the stones, I hated having that rope barrier. I just wanted to get closer. The experience of Stonehenge from many feet away is just not the same.
Finishing up at Stonehenge
After the second group finished, we took our final pictures of the emptied stones, and took the bus back to the visitor center. Where we all agreed, as if in unison even though we were all separated, “Stonehenge is so underrated.” Stonehenge, if done right, is so cool.Want to get access to #Stonehenge's Stone Circle? Read this. #travel Click To Tweet
Want to do this trip?
I don’t blame you.
Here are three tours offered by Viator that give you access to Stonehenge’s Stone Circles: (these are affiliate links)
Please note that tours fill up quickly, and there are several times throughout the week and year that Stonehenge does not allow access. Check your schedule and their schedule closely.
So – what about the history, mystery, and theories of Stonehenge
Well, I’ll be honest. I don’t remember all the details from the tour. And that’s ok. Since then I’ve found children’s books about Stonehenge to help me fill my memory. There’s nothing like being there, but reading about is pretty cool.
The Secret of Stonehenge, | A review
This book finds a way to give a comprehensive history of the stones, series of theories about their origins and possible purposes, secrets uncovered, and the people who may have used it. What I appreciated most about this book is that it was entertaining. While the stories of really big stones half a world away may not appeal to everyone, I think this book does a great job of keeping it interesting while not getting bogged down in the other details.
- Author: Mick Manning
- Illustrator: Brita Granstrom
- Age Range: 7 – 11 years
- Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
- ISBN-10: 1847803466
You can buy the book on Amazon.
Digging into History, Solving the Mysteries of Stonehenge | A Review
Solving the Mysteries of Stonehenge offers to give more details for kids by asking what, who, why, how, and what again. It uses a combination of photos and illustrations to enhance the descriptions and answer those questions. This book is definitely aimed towards children who need specifics. Still, it finds a way to keep it interesting for older kids who want to learn. I especially like the glossary of terms.
- By: Leon Grey
- Age Range: 9 and up
- Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books
- ISBN-10: 0761431101
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Jessica Friend says
You know what I’ve driven pass Stonehenge several times on the way to Cornwall, next time I will stop! I wondered if there are any of the tours like you went on leaving from Oxford… I really like the sound of going after hours?
This one doesn’t actually leave from Oxford unfortunately. It was just a stop along the way. I wish it did and if i find one that does, I’ll update the post! You can also try to book directly with English Heritage. Here is the form: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/properties/stonehenge/plan-your-visit/stone-circle-April-Sep-2015
Oh, just to add – booking with English Heritage would mean it’s not part of any tour. You would have to drive yourself.
Valen Dawson says
This is something I really want to see in person. I can’t imagine what the energy is like there!
This information is fantastic. I have not been but plan to and I have also heard the complains similar to what you listed but I will be keeping this information in mind for when we go. Glad you got to be in the circle!
I think it makes such a difference having all the information. I think the visitor’s center is probably really cool and makes up for the fact that you can’t get too close, but it’s just not the same.
Shelly Rivoli says
I’ve always been curious about getting out there for a visit! Great tips, and good to know about “the rules”!!! 😉
I really enjoyed your article. It is a good thing with the smaller groups. I went to an must see attraction a couple of month ago and it was so crowded that you had enough from the beginning! ( I just say selfi stick fight xD ). Btw. I love your Pinterest pins that you create under every post it is such a great idea. Do you mind if I would try it for my site as well? You inspired me 🙂
I can’t handle large crowds when I travel IF I know there’s a way to avoid it.
ANd, yes, go ahead and take that pinterest pins idea. I took the idea from someone else who mentioned it’s a great way to get more pins. We’ll see if it works!
Paige Conner Totaro says
Great information! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I didn’t know you could go in after hours!
Thanks! There’s also the added benefit of after-hours in the summer – it’s not too hot!
I visited Stonehenge many many years ago when I was a little kid – but having read this, I would love to go back one day and get the experience you did. Great insider information for getting into the stone circle!
I hope you make it back!
Ava @ My Meena Life says
I tend to be wary of overly touristy attractions – but it seems like you found a great way to experience the stones! I’m saving your post in case I ever make it over that way.
Off-season and special access are the best ways to experience overly touristy places.
I so want to do this. Glad I found this post and now I know how to get close to these ropes.
It’s nice to know it’s an option.
Karen Burns-Booth says
I haven’t been to Stonehenge for ages, and your post today has fired my imagination to go again, it’s such a mystical place and your photos bring it alive! Karen
Thank you! Writing this post made me want to go back, too!
Kevin Wagar says
I had been hestitant about visiting Stonehenge as I thought you wouldn’t have any access to the inner circles, and I hate the coldness of being behind a barrier. It’s awesome to know that there are options to get closer!
I think it’s the best of all worlds! The stones conditions are kept up, people who just want to “see” them can, and people who want to get closer can do so away from the crowds.
Jessie Voigts says
So cool! I went years ago (1994) and hated the bus trip – SO many people around. Glad you can choose another option now.
Yeah. That seems a common theme for any place that’s overcrowded. And it stinks when its a popular tourist attraction that doesn’t have an off season.
Alina Popescu says
I’ve been to the UK three times so far, but haven’t made it to Stonehenge. I hope I do make it there though on my next trip. As for overrated places, I strongly believe you should just decide for yourself. I’ve been warned like that about many other places and most of them I still enjoyed immensely.
There are so many outside factors contributing to a visit that I always find it hard to take someone else’s hate (or love) of a place as a determining factor of if I go. And if I have to time to visit somewhere that is usually deemed overrated, I’d rather just do it and judge for myself.
Rashmi & Chalukya says
We had been to Stonehenge on a group tour and we loved it. The stories and the mysteries. But after reading through your experience getting close seems much intriguing and exciting. May be next time ?
The stories are definitely a huge part of it! I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your trip.
I have heard so many things about Stonehenge when I was a kid and I was always curious to have a more closer look at them. This place fascinates me a lot and Iam waiting to read your theories, you have filled me with more curiosity now.
Thanks! It is a really fascinating place.
Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad says
Alright, hands up, I was one of those people who said it’s not that impressive to drive past. So you’ve changed my opinion now! I had no idea you could book tours to take you in after hours, that’s definitely something I’d consider. And you know what, even small and from a distance you can tell what a magical place it is. Must be incredible up close.
It’s ok! Even when we were driving up to it, stuck in a little bit of traffic, I felt the same way. I remember telling my friend that the only reason there’s all this traffic in the middle of nowhere is because of Stonehenge. And locals must really hate it.
I read so many mysterious stories behind Stonehenge and you were so lucky that had a chance to have look all that huge stones very near
I love this!!! I’ve visited London twice, but have not yet been able to venture outside the city. I most definitely want access to inside the circle. Thanks so much for sharing! (and for linking up with us!)
samiya selim says
Have lived in UK for 11 years and can’t believe haven’t been here yet! your tour sounds pretty good, would enjoy that!
Sarah Harvey says
I live in England and rather embarrassingly, have never seen the stones. I understand completely the issues people have with taking a ‘tour’ as if its somehow cheating or too ‘touristy’. Friends of mine would see it as lame and would rather hike up there on their own with tents and do it their own way– which obviously wouldn’t work and they’d be sent away. I really enjoyed reading this as you broke it down wonderfully! Nice shots too.
Bernard Tan says
This is something that i always long to see in person! I am a huge sucker for UNESCO world heritage sites
Rob Taylor says
It’s never been on my bucket list, but you’ve really sold me on the experience. It sounds a bit otherworldly and amazing. Perhaps I need to reconsider.
Well you sold me! Although I feel like I’d want to do both audio tour and the after hours close up!
Wow, that sounds so cool! We actually lucked into a day at Stonehenge when there were only a handful of other tourists. We couldn’t go past the ropes, but I get what you’re saying about how serene it can be without the crowds. I would have loved to get up close and see the history of those ancient rocks, though. Maybe next time!
This is beautiful, when we were in UK we could not make it out to Stonehenge and reading this post makes me feel even worse about it, well next time. Your tips are helpful and I will definitely choose the easily morning tour when I go there.
xx, Kusum | http://www.sveeteskapes.com
Great post! It is still on my bucket list. When I read you post I realized once more how many place there are which I still wanna see. Way too many! 🙂
I’ve always wanted to visit Stonehenge but have heard not-so-great reviews of the experience. I’m glad to hear that you CAN enjoy the experience if you do it right!
Renne Simpson says
Ok now I’m curious! I want to know the mysteries behind this place. I’m going to keep a lookout for your next post about the Stonehedge stories.
Grey World Nomads says
Funny enough we just drove by Stonehenge on our way to Newquay two days ago and had the discussion if we should go. We decided against it as it is quite pricey. But the scenery was impressive to see from the highway, although surely not comparable with your experience. If we were to do it, we would choose a tour like you did. #TravelTuesday
Ha ha! That’s awesome.
Sarah @ 2paws Designs says
Pinned for future reference. What a great experience! My husband & I spent almost a week in England for our 10th anniversary. We split our time between Oxford (where he had a business trip the first part) and London. I LOVED Oxford. London was a bit too busy & touristy for me. If and when we manage to get back to England, Stonehenge is on my “to see” list. Fingers crossed I don’t have to wait another 10 years (or really 6.5 now 😉 ).
You have de-mystified Stonehenge and a great tip about getting close, that is something that will stand us in great stead when we do visit here.
I visited Stonehenge when I was a kid and before it was roped off but I haven’t been back since. I often drive past it when we got to visit my in-laws and I always think that it looks like such a hassle to visit!! But having read your post I now know that a visit is not only possible….but enjoyable. Thank you!
I’ve never been to Stonehenge but this sounds like an ideal way to get up close and personal and be fully immersed in the stones. I know that my daughter is interested in visiting one day, so I’ll have to keep this tour in mind!
Oh cool! I’m actually going to the UK this summer and we thought about visiting Stonehenge but heard it was very underwhelming. Nice to know there are options for getting really close to the stones! I’ll have to check out the tour options. Thanks for the info!