Stonehenge ★★★

The ancient stone circle (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
The ancient stone circle

This 5,000-year-old circle of standing stones is one of the world's ancient wonders, a monument to the mysteries of antiquity and among the most famous sights in Europe

Stonehenge can be, in some ways, a bit of a letdown.

Don’t get me wrong, Stonehenge is still a must-see.

But keep in mind that—unless you pay extra for a special before- or after-hours visit—a rope barrier keeps you 50 feet away from the concentric circles of enormous standing stones (unfortunately, past visitors were fond of scratching their names into the venerable rocks).

A walkway mars the beauty of the site, but does allows you to circle the massive sarsen monoliths (sarsen is a local type of sandstone)—each weighing an average of 25 tons, and brought here from 20 miles away—and smaller bluestones—weighing two to five tones and somehow dragged here from a site in Wales, some 150 miles distant.

Who built Stonehenge?

Although Stonehenge is associated in many people’s minds with Druids, that Celtic religious sect was merely using an existing site.

Stonehenge was an ancient mystery even to the first century B.C. Druids. Stonehenge was begun by an unknown Neolithic peoples before 3,000 B.C. and added to up until 1,500 B.C.

(More fanciful explanations across the ages for Stonehenge were that it was the work of the Devil, or of the magician Merlin, or everybody's favorite 20C explanation for all weird and mysterious ancient things: aliens did it.)  

All we really know about Stonehenge is that it represents a remarkable feat of engineering—some of the stones came from dozens of miles away.

Also, the stones act like a huge astronomical calendar, aligned with the summer equinox while still keeping track of the seasons after more than 5,000 years.

Why was Stonehenge built in the first place? No one really knows. The cremated remains of some 64 people have been found in 56 Neolithic “Aubrey holes” pits, so it was some kind of cemetery early on. (More gruesomely, the beheaded skeleton of an AD 7C Anglo-Saxon man was also found here.) 

A good video explaining Stonehenge


Stonehenge Tours

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Book ahead

Entries are limtied and timed in half-hour blocks.

By booking ahead you will note only guarantee a slot, but also save a few pounds per person.

Note that even if you have a pass that covers Stonehenge—English Heritage or National Trust—you must still book an entry time in advance to use it.


Get inside the circle itself

At dawn and dusk, before the site opens to the public and again after it closes, you can pay for special access to the stone circle itself. It is pretty amazing—pricey, but worth it.


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