For hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, people have wondered what Stonehenge is and who built it. Today Stonehenge is possibly the most famous monument in the world, yet we still don’t entirely understand this set of standing stones, why they are here, and who brought the stones to this particular location. It’s this mystery that makes Stonehenge such a fascinating place and an interesting and intriguing visit for adults and older children.
Seeing Stonehenge for the first time
I remember the first time I saw Stonehenge… one single word “wow” came out of mouth, and then I was humbled into silence. When you walk around the site it’s almost like being in a library or a museum – you feel as though you should whisper even though you’re outside in the open air. It’s as though you don’t want to disturb the ancient ancestors who built Stonehenge. The problem comes when a coach load of tourists arrives as the volume goes up and the moment is somewhat ruined!
My first view of Stonehenge is usually from the east, as you drive along the A303 from the village of Amesbury in Wiltshire, England. The road starts going downhill and you can see Stonehenge in front of you, though if you’re coming from the Salisbury direction you won’t be able to enjoy this view.
You may be tempted just to stop at the side of the road and take some photos, but Stonehenge can only really be appreciated by parking your car, paying the entrance fee and seeing it a little closer up. This way you also get to listen to the audio tour that’s included in your ticket price, and at least get some insight into what the archaeologists have discovered about Stonehenge.
Walking around Stonehenge
The actual standing stones of Stonehenge have been fenced off for decades now, in order to preserve the stones for generations to come. When visitors were allowed to go inside the circle and touch the stones there was inevitable damage, and as visitor numbers are on the increase the damage would have got worse and worse.
Today you can only look at the stones from the pathway that encircles them (unless you visit on a special day – see below). This is a shame, though understandable in order to preserve Stonehenge for many years to come. Take some time to just look at the stones and come up with your own thoughts as to why they are here – is it a calendar, or a temple, or maybe a burial site? But also be sure to make use of the audio guide as you walk around Stonehenge, as it really does make your visit more meaningful.
Getting inside the circle
As I mentioned, the majority of visitors to Stonehenge will never get to go inside the stone circle, yet there are a couple of ways in which you can do this. Most days of the year, but outside of normal opening hours, a group of up to 26 people can go inside the stone circle for an hour. These visits must be arranged in advance and you have to pay about double what a normal admission fee would cost. You’re still not allowed to touch the stones, but this is a privileged visit all the same.
There are two days every year during which you can come to Stonehenge very early in the morning and have unrestricted access to the stones i.e. you can touch them – this is the summer solstice and the winter solstice. The summer solstice is extremely busy and for this reason I prefer to visit on the winter solstice. It may be cold, but there are fewer people, making the experience far more enjoyable and memorable. There really is a certain magic and power in the air on these days!
Stonehenge is the most famous collection of standing stones in the world and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Which ancient World Heritage Sites have you visited, and why would you recommend them?