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Is Stonehenge a must see destination

I've been to England a number of times and have not been to Stonehenge. For this trip my daughter, a wife and mother will be travelling with me on a well deserved vacation. I would like to see a stone circle, however, is Stonehenge too popular, or should we scout out another stone circle.

Thank you

Posted by
7626 posts

I’ve been fortunate to make several trips to England now, but haven’t yet made it to see Stonehenge. So it hasn’t been a do-or-die-must-see destination. The British museum had a great temporary exhibit last spring on the Stonehenge Society and similar sites around Europe from that approximate time, plus the trading and shared designs and ideas among people. The sun was the focus of life, and stones (or wooden poles) were a means to connect. One thing about Stonehenge - I don’t know if it’s too popular, in the sense that there would be 5,000 people crammed there all at once, trying to take a perfect selfie (I don’t believe that’s the case), but it’s vulnerable enough now that it’s barricaded off, and viewable only from a distance.

I’ve been to other stone sites, in Scotland, Ireland, France, and Portugal, where you can get closer to the stones, and walk around and amongst them. For the most part, there weren’t very many other people there at the same time. But they were relatively close to where I was vacationing already. Are you planning on being near Stonehenge this upcoming trip? Or is this the right time to make an effort to get there?

I’ve not yet been to Avebury, either, but Rick Steves has said he prefers it to Stonehenge, both for more solitude, and I believe also it’s easier access from London. Avebury is about 20 miles north of Stonehenge, actually has 3 circles, and is older and bigger than Stonehenge. Fewer visitors, too.

Posted by
801 posts

Cant really say as it is a personal opinion l
But I will tell you my experience. I am a hasty buff, and Structures are some of my favorite things to see and fill most of my bucket list,
But Stone Henge was NOT on my bucket list. But it was on my Fathers. So in ‘18 when we were in England we did a day trip that included Stone Henge.
And frankly I was MUCH more impress seeing them in person, And now I am very glad I saw them. I cant really say what it was about them but thier definitely was SOMETHING about that when I saw them in person/real life that the photos and videos just could not get across.
Maybe it was the age and the amazing amount of effort the builders had to put into the place. The way the stones are joined is unbelievable considering the tools the builders had.
So to me if you asked me before I went I would have rated it as a “if you are in the area with time on your hands”. And now I rate it more as a “I am really really happy I went” and I would not swap out that day if I could have.
Once again I cant really explain what it is about the place.
Obviously your reaction is likely to differ.

Posted by
6670 posts

I went to Stonehenge on my first trip to England in 1963, when you could go right up to the stones. I was blown away, but a lot of things blew me away those days. I've been back to England several times in recent years but not back to Stonehenge. However, I'd revisit if it worked with my overall trip plan, even though you can't get that close any more. I understand that the new visitor center is excellent, and they have found good ways to manage today's much bigger crowds. So if stone circles interest you and you're nearby, I'd say go for it. Or another one, like Avebury or Castlerigg (much smaller and more remote in the Lake District). Depending on your overall itinerary, and if your companions are at all interested, look for the stone circle nearest you.

Posted by
1695 posts

Just FYI, if you do decide to go, you can book inner circle access either early in the morning, before opening, or late in the day, after closing, that allows you to walk among the stones (but not touch them).

I loved it, but then I enjoy most things I see, so I may not be a critical judge of "must see."

Posted by
5119 posts

I think it is a must see, if it, and ancient ruins like it, are important or hold great interest for you or your family. IMO, if you have to ask, then chances are it's NOT a must see for you.

I have a passing interest in these kinds of things, and on one trip we had the time and a car, so we actually saw both Stonehenge and Avebury on the same day. We didn't have inner circle access at Stonehenge, so we viewed it from a bit of a distance. There was an indefinable something about the place. At Avebury you can roam all around the circles, and touch the stones. But wear study closed toe shoes. The ground is uneven under the long grass, and the sheep have been there- watch where you're walking.

Posted by
6703 posts

I'm over 60 and have lived in the UK all my life but have never been to Stonehenge.
I've been to plenty of stone circles, including ones in the Lake District that only locals know of.
I can't say I am madly attracted by Stonehenge because of the crowds, because of the "managed access" which I accept may be necessary, and really because it is felt by many to be a "must see" place.
I think it is over hyped. Also, as pointed out in other threads it has been restored over the years so how "authentic is it now".
If I was ever in Salisbury with time on my hands I'm not saying I wouldn't go, just way off my priority list.
IMHO there are plenty of other stone circles where you will get the more "authentic" experience.
I am not a fan generally of the "tick box" culture.
I'm pleased to see Castlerigg mentioned above- that's very easy to get to and far more the "real deal" to me. You can walk there from the centre of Keswick if you are ever there, or even passing through. Minutes off the two main roads, but in the middle of the country.

Posted by
1177 posts

It’s a case of deciding what type of places you enjoy spending time in. Stonehenge is a huge visitor attraction with a big car park, buses for visitors, a museum, large cafe, recreations of Stone Age huts and so on. There will be a lot of people there.

It’s a good trip out (I went last year for the first time) but it’s very much a managed experience. I wouldn’t say it’s essential to visit, I don’t think anywhere is, but if a place intrigues you then it’s sometimes worth going for that reason alone. I do like the sound of the early morning visits where you get closer to the stones.

Posted by
470 posts

Stonehenge is largely a Victorian and later reconstruction
I have driven past but never felt the need to visit
Suggest you visit somewhere less overhyped such as the Rollright Stones near Chipping Norton

Posted by
1316 posts

Well, without wishing to falling out with Roger here, I think calling Stonehenge a ‘Victorian reconstruction’ is pushing it a bit. The Victorians certainly did some re-erecting of some of the stones and some clumsy restorations, but William Stukeley’s sketches from 1722 show Stonehenge as recognisable when compared with what we see today.

I think Stonehenge is a personal preference, but if you just want to see some standing stones then I’d head to Avebury. It’s bigger, it’s free to wander round and you can get up close and personal with the stones. If after exploring you’re left with the impression that “well, it’s just a big circle of upright rocks”, then Stonehenge probably isn’t worth your time and effort.

I think the whole megalith thing is better appreciated if you take the rest of the landscape into consideration about how, who and why this extensive landscape was constructed. For the record, I’m not one who attaches solely ritual and spiritual attributes to these constructions - I think they had a utilitarian purpose, at least initially even if they gathered more esoteric uses later. And also for the record I’m not talking about Druids! In summation, it depends whether the wider context interests you.

I’ve always found Stonehenge to be rather smaller in person than I’d imagined, but later when thinking about it from afar it assumes much larger proportions!

Ian

Posted by
4595 posts

I made a special point of seeing it after a Christmas cruise that debarked in Southampton. It had been on my bucket list since learni g aniut it in elementary school. I was underwhelmed but enjoyed the museum more than the stones. Part of that may have been the raw weather and me without a hat...and a cold coming on. It wasn't so much crowded as 'structured' with shuttle busses and paths and restrictions that were so far removed from the origins.
I didn't have time for Avebury, but that could be more informal and allow for more focus on the stones than the rules to allow you to see them. It also means you can break up the group between the keen and not so keen standing stone interests.

Posted by
7715 posts

If any of you have an interest in it, then sure, it is a must see destination. If you only want to stop because that is what everybody does, then probably not...and I suppose that advice applies to most sights. The challenge with Stonehenge is context. If you know nothing of it, it's history, purpose, how it fits into the landscape and other sites, then it is just a pile of stones rather crudely jumbled together. They are impressively large stones, especially compared to the literally hundreds of other stone circles and structures you could visit, and that is part of the appeal. The visitor center there offers a decent, (but I think lacking) overview of the site, so I would do some research ahead of time...National Geographic has had some excellent articles over the years, and there are plenty of resources on the web.

You don't mention having a car or not, if you do, then a stop can be more easily justified, especially with a stop at Avebury. By public transport, or by tour...that is a different calculus, then you are looking at dedicating a big chunk of the day, if not all day. If by car, get there early, before the buses roll in, and it will be much more pleasant.

Posted by
8635 posts

For me, it was both a must-see and a disappointment. Some things you just have to see so that you know.

Posted by
6806 posts

We saw it before the new visitor center and the side road being closed. We enjoyed it since parking was directly across the street, it didn’t take but a minute or two to get to the stones, and after seeing them, didn’t take long to leave. Seems like a much longer process now. Depending on where you are going on your trip there may be other stone circles you could enjoy equally, although the stones won’t be as large. Is Stonehenge a must see, not really, depending on how much time you have, but it might be to you.

Posted by
11485 posts

After many trips to England we finally went to Stonehenge in 2019 and we were truly happy we did. We arrived at opening so a bit ahead of the throngs (this was in May) and by the time we were leaving 3 hours later it was getting very busy. Good weather helps one appreciate the site. Not sure we would have spent 3 hours in the rain.

Posted by
4295 posts

Just FYI, if you do decide to go, you can book inner circle access
either early in the morning, before opening, or late in the day, after
closing, that allows you to walk among the stones (but not touch
them).

What BB said.

We did the inner circle tour in September and it increased the enjoyment of being able to walk among the stones and see up close the details of how they were connected together (think Lego). I get how people may be unimpressed if they go during regular hours and have to stand behind a fence at a distance to see them. The early hour and the extra cost was worth it to me.

Posted by
4295 posts

The challenge with Stonehenge is context. If you know nothing of it,
it's history, purpose, how it fits into the landscape and other sites,
then it is just a pile of stones rather crudely jumbled together. They
are impressively large stones, especially compared to the literally
hundreds of other stone circles and structures you could visit, and
that is part of the appeal. The visitor center there offers a decent,
(but I think lacking) overview of the site, so I would do some
research ahead of time.

What Paul said.

It is just a pile of rocks, but if you take the time to understand the area, you may get a lot more out of it. I thought the same way about the Forum in Rome. It's just a pile of rubble unless you take the time to understand what it is you're looking at, then it can all come together and it becomes a fascinating experience.

Posted by
84 posts

The more I read about this, the more I think about going to the visitor's center and skipping the stones themselves. Would it be an informative place to spend a few hours on a rainy day?

Posted by
457 posts

I wouldn't say it is a 'must see' for me, but I'm going anyway with the expectation of crowds and not being able to get 'up close and personal' ... going to Avebury in the morning (so I'll do my rock touching then) before going to Stonehenge around 3pm, hoping the crowds have dissipated somewhat ... just please no rain that day.

Posted by
1177 posts

There seems no point only going to visitor centre. The stones are a 2 min shuttle bus ride so you might as well see them. And you have to pay to get in as far as the visitor centre anyway.

Posted by
3821 posts

"The more I read about this, the more I think about going to the visitor's center and skipping the stones themselves. Would it be an informative place to spend a few hours on a rainy day? "

Charlie, it is an informative place, but I wouldn't go out there on a rainy day.
The museum is small, very good, and would take perhaps 20-30 minutes to see. The visitor's center's other two parts are a cafe (decent food and coffee) and a small gift shop.
You would definitely want to walk outside the museum to see the huts, and you may as well see the stones, as long as you're making the effort to go there and pay the fee.
Better to choose a sunny day or even a misty day, but don't go when it's rainy. That would be miserable.

If you would be starting from Salisbury, taking the Stonehenge bus out, your ticket includes bus ride out & back, admission to Stonehenge, plus on the way back, a stop at Old Sarum. You'll want to walk around there for perhaps 30 minutes. There's no building there; no shelter, all outdoors.
You can't get out and enjoy that in the rain.
Better to go on a sunny day if possible.

The OP seems to have lost interest in this thread.

Posted by
15681 posts

Stonehenge was never on my bucket list. Too touristy, I thought. Then it was included in a group tour I took. I was surprised how much I like it. We had a guide who explained it all to us so that made it more interesting.

I've also been to Avebury and enjoyed that. Also with a guide. A completely different experience from Stonehenge. Also enjoyable.

If this seems like something you would like, then visit. If not, spend your time doing something else.

If you do go to Stonehenge, visit the museum. There is a wall of quotes about Stonehenge. One is from a fictional character. See if you can find it.

Posted by
7906 posts

Yes, it was a must see for us and we were very glad that we visited it.
Also, we have visited Avebury's Stone Circle as well as another Stone Circle near The Lake District.

Posted by
1695 posts

What Allan said.

We did the inner circle tour in September and it increased the
enjoyment of being able to walk among the stones and see up close the
details of how they were connected together (think Lego). I get how
people may be unimpressed if they go during regular hours and have to
stand behind a fence at a distance to see them. The early hour and the
extra cost was worth it to me.

Going early on a somewhat misty morning, with a fairly small number of other visitors, and with ravens flying overhead lent an entirely different atmosphere to the experience than going during regular hours would have, I'm sure.

We do make a point of visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites when we're in their vicinity, and we've never regretted it. Even though we've travelled a lot, we haven't become so jaded that we sneer at people for "ticking boxes." Those boxes are popular for a reason, and if they're good enough for UNESCO, they're good enough for us!

That said, YOU know your own interests best. Do you think you would eventually regret not seeing Stonehenge? Then see it. If you have a mild interest in seeing a stone circle and don't care which it is, then, as posters have noted, there are others that are free and less protected.

Posted by
4295 posts

I may be wrong about this, but are the stones here the only ones that have other stones running along the top? This alone makes it unique, and as I mentioned above; how they connected them together was more interesting that your typical stand-alone standing stones.

Posted by
3821 posts

To return to the OP's question,
" I would like to see a stone circle, however, is Stonehenge too popular, or should we scout out another stone circle."

Go to Stonehenge.
I've been twice, and both times there were perhaps 20 to 30 other people wandering around the stones and the museum. If you're expecting a crowd of hundreds of people, that is not going to happen UNLESS you are there on a bank holiday weekend or other special holiday.

It's easy to get to from London. Take the train from Waterloo station to Salisbury. Take the Stonehenge bus from the train station out to the stones.
Salisbury is a lovely place, so when the bus returns you to Salisbury, you may wish to walk around and see Salisbury Cathedral.

You can take the train back to London in late afternoon or evening.

Some people experience a "mystical" or "spiritual" feeling at Stonehenge. Both times we were there in the early morning, with a mist in the air. The peace and quiet at Stonehenge gives you a chance to think about the things you have seen in the museum and to contemplate what life may have been like for the early inhabitants.

It's up to you to decide if this experience would appeal to you.

Posted by
36 posts

I agree that this is personal preference. We went to Stonehenge a few years ago. I would now consider it a "Been there...done that" location. It is interesting but I would not make a special trip to see just Stonehenge. We also went to Bath on that trip (bus trip out of London for the day), and Bath was more interesting. We thought it was a must do to go to Stonehenge, but in retrospect, we got as much out of seeing it from the road as up close.

Posted by
26 posts

I was first in England and to Stonehenge 1989-ish. At that time no one could be in among the stones without some credential or "need" - I was a graduate student in English Lit, and one of my profs sent a request for me to be allowed in the inner circle as the sun went down and the night birds flew home - also got admission to the reading room of the British Library, a rare treat then.

In daylight it was smaller and the facilities around it tackier than I'd thought - but when the light dimmed it was special.

Went with college aged daughter 7 years later and could buy evening tix - weather wet, transport less reliable pre-cell phone - she said the night time was the best part and she didn't need to go again.

3 years ago took 13 yo grandson and another daughter - daughter loved it, grandson liked it - in June he and I are taking another grandson and it's on the list.

Really, I enjoyed Avesbury much more - surreal, feels more organic than landlocked Stonehenge - on an overcast day you'll swear you hear old voices. And Avesbury is free, not crowded with student groups - just as authentic an experience.

Posted by
5 posts

I finally made it there last year... I loved it...I honestly can't explain why, but is was just a beautiful site, rather majestic I thought..peaceful and quiet. when I was there it wasn't very crowded and walked all around it snapping pictures, I think I took about 50 pictures of the same stone...haha....I would go and hopefully you won't find it a wasted trip.

Posted by
222 posts

Not everything has to be WOW! It has historical significance, isn't far from Salisbury, which is nice, and falls into the same category as the Big Ben clock, Tower of London, or Buckingham Palace, as important British historical sites. I thought it was worth it. If you don't like crowds, you could go at a time where there will be less people: early in the morning maybe? You could do a tour of stone circles, much like people do with cathedral tours: just go from one to the other. It's the journey, remember!

Posted by
2631 posts

I saw it as part of a long day trip that included Windsor Castle and Cambridge, and while I am pleased that I saw it, I would not have gone out of my way to do so. It was a gloomy day and that actually added to the atmosphere, and we were only allowed in the outer area and had to view from a short distance.

Posted by
1874 posts

I had been to both Stonehenge and Avebury before, but when I was in Bath last year I went on the Mad Max tour. It visits both sites and I really liked seeing them both in one day because they are each very different and unique. It was a day tour and we also visited great villages like Lacock and Castle Coombe. It's a great day tour and I really recommend it.