I'm planning a day trip with a car during our 3 night stay in Bath the first week of June and I'm trying to decide which place(s) to go. We are active walkers, in our early 60's, like history, gardens and nature. We will have just one day to spend outside of Bath. Although Stonehenge seems to be a "must see", we are not really sure if that appeals to us. It's hard to say since we've never seen anything like thato maybe we will like it? Avebury has been suggested as an alternative site. We don't like to cram to much into a day and my husband, much to my dismay, cannot be persuaded to get going early in the morning, so I have to work within those constraints. The cathedral and close in Salisbury sound beautiful, but we will be seeing cathedrals in Bath, York and London on our 3 week trip. I know from experience on other European trips that they can all start running together. I also read the gardens in Stourhead are beautiful. So what's the best way to spend the day?
You most probably need to have a reserved time ticket to see Stonehenge in June. I have been there twice...it is a different experience from Avebury as the Stones are very big while the Avebury Stones are just people sized. You can't walk thru Stonehenge unless you have special arrangements while Avebury is pretty much open. They at both worth a visit and are not that far apart. Salisbury is one of the oldest cathedrals and has a very tall steeple. They also have a copy of the Magna Carta. Read "Sarum" by Edward Rutherfurd. If you are going north of York; don't miss Durham Cathedral...all the columns are carved differently. The Venerable Bede is buried in a closet.
If you visit Avebury and like a walk, park in Avebury (there's a large-ish car park as I recall) walk round the stone circle, then down to Silbury Hill, cross the road and walk up to West Kennet Long Barrow, a large chambered burial tomb on top of the hill. Retracing steps walk to the start of the processional way - Beckhampton Avenue I think - and walk this back to Avebury. You'll probably get a more detailed leaflet on this walk in Avebury - it's not a very long walk, but worthwhile if the weather is good.
We did a walk similar to what ianandjulie describe. We went by Silbury Hill to West Kennett Long Barrow and back via the Ridgeway Trail. We spent the morning poking around Avebury to see it thoroughly and ice cream in Avebury after our walk. It was a very pleasant day.
Salisbury is a wonderful cathedral. Do the roof/tower tour. And the Magna Carta is magnificent! We also really enjoyed Stonehenge. Did Old Sarum the same day. One day isn't enough. This took us 3 day! Do you'll have to choose.
And I agree about Durham. I love Durham -- wonderful cathedral and very pleasant town.
Stourhead is of international significance and should not be missed. One of England's most important sites.
You should be able to do Stonehenge, Salisbury - which has a stunning Cathedral and Stourhead all in one day. Put hubby to bed at 9pm!
I've not been to Stourhead but I will comment on the cathedral aspect having been to Salisbury, Bath, York, London and elsewhere. It's the Close and the setting that make Salisbury different. Bath, York, St Paul's, Westminster Abbey all are right in busy areas and open to them. While Salisbury is in the city it feels insulated with the wall and close surrounding.
However, I am not sure I would want to try and park around there!!
If you go to Stonehenge take the tram out to the stones then walk back to the Visitor Center thru the fields to the nearby barrows and the Circus.
I am not a fan of must dos. If something doesn't appeal, don't spend the time and energy. There are plenty of other things to do!
Personally, I don't see the fascination with Stonehenge - it's not in my top 100 places to see in the UK - why feel that you have to go there just because others go there?
It's your holiday, so spend it seeing what interests YOU!
I have never heard of Stourhead being described as of international significance - not sure why as it hasn't been owned by any of the great UK families. The house was rebuilt a hundred years ago after a fire, so it isn't that old. The gardens are worth a visit if you like landscape gardens and the weather is good. I prefer my gardens smaller and more colourful, but it is a good example of a parkland garden.
Salisbury is pleasant, but as you say, you are visiting plenty of other great cathedrals during your stay. Salisbury town centre is OK, but there are better towns around IMO.
Other options in the area are Lacock, a gorgeous village with an Abbey - (nationaltrust.org.uk) and it is the birthplace of photography, hence the museum. It has been used for countless film and TV programmes including Downton and Pride & Prejudice. Worth a 2-3 hour stay. Lacock and Avebury form a convenient loop from Bath, without spending half your day driving, rather than actually seeing places.
Wells and Glastonbury are also other options, but Wells is renowned for it's cathedral, so it falls into the same category as Salisbury.
Easy to combine with Lacock are two other National Trust houses and gardens - The Courts (closed Wednesdays) and Great Chalfield Manor (open Tuesday to Thursdays and Sundays). Short term overseas NT membership is available, which may be of benefit to you during your stay.
Are they worth visiting?
Stonehenge? Yes, for sure.
Salisbury Cathedral? Most definitely.
And you also have Wilton House, with its gorgeous Palladian Bridge, just outside Salisbury.
Plus then there's also Longleat House.
Stourhead is significant because of the grounds, not the owner or the house. It's perhaps the oldest example in Europe of large quantities of earth being moved to create a landscape for human enjoyment. It's not just a decorated scene!
Another vote for Avebury and West Kennet Long Barrow (you probably will be the only one at the barrow )
It all depends on your interests, of course, but of all the possibilities you list, my favorite was Stonehenge.
We have seen all the sights you mention, except Stourhead. They are all beautiful, and worth a visit, so you really can't go wrong. But...
I agree that one more cathedral might be one too many, though Salisbury Cathedral and the town are lovely.
Avebury is more accessible, which is nice, but because it's so spread out, it doesnt have the "wow" factor of Stonehenge.
I'd heard about Stonehenge all my life (like everyone has), but the first time I saw it for myself, in 2013, it took my breath away. The scale and setting are awe-inspiring. The stones are so huge, and so close together, and when you first see them rising out of the plain as you approach, you'll never forget it.
I'm sure it's too late for the after-hours access, but if you like history, I think you'd be glad you visited Stonehenge.
But honestly, you can't go wrong!!!
I was at Stonehenge last fall and it is amazing, the visitors center is nice and they have buses to take you the mile or so to see Stonehenge. You must stay on the path that goes around it but you are still close enough to enjoy it! They have audio tour that gives so much information. We also went to Avebury the same day and enjoyed being able to walk amongst the stones, some of which are over 10 feet tall, and touch them there were times we were the only ones there!! We had lunch in the pub which was built in the circle, the food was very good and after London the prices were cheap!! We went to the Kennett long borrow it was worth the 30 minutes to walk and tour it and the view from the top was beautiful! Two stone circles but totally different, it was a bucket list thing for me so head to see both. Both places were easy to do in a day especially since you won't have the long drive to and from London like we did! Enjoy!!!
We stayed 5 nights in Salisbury and wish we had stayed longer - it's just a delightful town, so we recommend staying a few days. We chose the Cathedral View B&B and were extremely happy and pleased with our experience. Steve and Wenda are warm, generous, genuine hosts who are happy to give you great suggestions for where to go, what to see, where to eat, and how to get to all of it! The rooms are very nice, comfortable, and quiet; and breakfast (included) is delicious and sustaining (loved the locally sourced sausage and Steve's home made strawberry jam).
The Cathedral View is right across Exeter Street from the Salisbury Cathedral and the huge grounds (the Close). It is a short and easy walk from the front door of the Cathedral View, but the best walk into the town center is through the Close - scenic and peaceful, you may want to linger for hours. For us the highlights of Salisbury were the Cathedral, the Magna Carta (incredibly impressive to us), the Salisbury Museum, Old Sarum, and St. Thomas's Church (for the common folk - yet, beautiful and tranquil). We also found the common folk of Salisbury friendly, pleasant, and helpful.
As others have stated, seeing Stonehenge is a matter of personal interest and preference. We LOVED it - especially on the Sunset Inner Access Tour with Pat Shelley (www.stonehenge-tours.com); Note: this requires advance arrangements. I've seen Machu Picchu, Prehistoric Cave Paintings in France, Tiotihuacan in Mexico City, The Callanish Stones in Scotland, Mesa Verde, the Napali Coast, etc., and Stonehenge is right up there with the best. It IS a World Heritage Site. Avebury Stone Circle was impressive in its own right, but it doesn't have the visual "pop" and majesty of Stonehenge.
If you are staying in Salisbury, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND the Cathedral View B&B and Pat Shelley's Stonehenge Tours.
I've been to both Avebury and Stonehenge. It felt like "cattle call" at Stonehenge. Yes, the stones are larger, but you can't walk among them.
Loved Avebury. Not crowded. We had a lovely walk at our leisure among the stones and took lots of pictures of our group standing by the stones. If you are deciding between the two, I recommend Avebury.
Nancy, you can walk among the inner circle at Stonehenge if you arrange special inner-circle access through English Heritage or through special inner-access tours - such as Pat Shelley's Special Access Stonehenge Tours. Special inner-circle access is arranged prior to and after the general public, so it is much less crowded. It costs more, but number of participants and time are limited, so one does get an more intimate, up-close experience with the stones and trilithons.
We found Avebury to be almost too large and spread out to get a true sense of the site. I thought the village and roads through the site were distracting and intrusive at Avebury (although in the context of time, you can't really blame the locals who did this so many years ago). In spite of this, we did like Avebury, as it and Stonehenge are perhaps best considered through their "archeological connectedness". From that perspective, they are each part of the same larger context.
For me, the main attribute of Stonehenge is that its magnificence is spatially concentrated into a relatively small area; although Pat Shelley's tours will expand the archeological context to other less visible, but archeologically significant, features.
You said you will have a 3 night stay in Bath. I would suggest that you reduce that to a 2 night stay, and move for one night to stay in Salisbury. Bath has its charms, but Salisbury has a quieter less busy type of charm. This would make it easy for you to get out to Stonehenge (you can take the Stonehenge bus out from the center of town if you do not have the car at this point). You would also love Salisbury Cathedral and its quiet and beautiful close. Do go to the Salisbury Museum which is directly across the lawn from the Cathedral. Do walk around the cobbled streets of Salisbury and look at Tudor and medieval buildings.
I have a medieval era hotel to suggest if you want to do this. There is plenty in Salisbury to keep you busy for a day, even without a car.