Salisbury Plain embodies two textural extremes. On one hand, sheep, which spot the viridian landscape in happy little blotches of white and grey. On the other: Stonehenge.
This 25 tons of rough, stalwart Neolithic architecture is one of the planet’s most mysterious human constructs—a scrambled broadcast from millennia past still undergoing deciphering today. But despite its reputation, a visit to Stonehenge won’t necessarily provide a solitary experience for contemplating time and space. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it welcomes over 800,000 visitors annually.
With that many moist-breathed, smudgy-fingered, and potentially clumsy bodies eager to soak up such an iconic view, you’re not likely to get an intimate look at the bluestone behemoths, much less touch them. If you expect to re-enact your favorite This Is Spinal Tap scene, that’s not going to happen without some extra effort. Rather, you’ll stay behind a rope about 100 feet back. That’s luckily still close enough to snap some gorgeous photos, even without your zoom switched on. It’s the price you pay to preserve one of the most breathtaking monuments in history for future tourists.
Exclusive access experiences are available to groups of 30 or fewer people, but they take place before or after regular hours and only with the approval of English Heritage. Still, there's no touching. Weddings, ash scattering, animals (other than service dogs), drones, smokeables, incense, and candles aren't permitted either. So if you always dreamed of a decadent handfasting or promised Great Uncle Tarleton you’d bring his cremains home, you’re going to have to make other plans. That doesn’t mean you can’t still have quite a bit of fun out on Salisbury Plain. You can meditate, dance, take non-commercial photos, conduct research, hold religious ceremonies, and even perform live music inside the circle during these pre-approved private visits.
Stonehenge attracts large crowds throughout the year, but the site (shockingly) exudes a sense of tranquility. There’s plenty of space to walk around and explore, with the nearby sheep fields adding a dash of the pastoral. Rather than taking the shuttle from the visitor’s center, you can walk about a mile to the site to further soak up the atmosphere. Just make sure you dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes—you’re going to be spending almost the entire time outdoors. Proper hydration is non-negotiable, too. While no English summertime ever comes close to the nightmare hell-swamp that is our May through October, it still gets much hotter than you might think.
Luckily, if the weather starts getting to you—gentle reminder that it does snow in England and snow to Houstonians is basically like salt to a slug—there’s also a museum and scale replicas of Neolithic housing to explore near the visitor's center. Both debunk the many, many myths about Stonehenge and the people who built it. Sorry, Druid fans. You’re going to have to learn more about your favorite ancient Celts elsewhere. With their sophisticated grasp of astronomy and engineering, the builders had more in common with the Flintstones (sans the “Eh, it’s living!” animal appliances, that we know of) than the grunting brutes of our collective imagination. It’s fascinating information that puts the legend into its proper historical context.
Advanced ticket purchases are a must if you want to guarantee entry on your chosen date at the chosen time. The last admission time is always two hours before closing. If you don't plan to stay in Salisbury, official tour buses operate from the train stations with recorded instructions and tour information available in several languages, too.
Also very helpful—English Heritage allows patrons with disabilities to bring a helper into Stonehenge for free. For more information about their accessible accommodations, read the official website here.
So, is Stonehenge worth it? Yes, if...
- You enjoy ancient history and/or architecture.
- You don’t mind spending time outside.
- You weren’t expecting to stand inside the circle itself on a general admission ticket.
- Crowds aren’t a dealbreaker for you.