Stonehenge: Is it Worth It?

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Like the Great Pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sydney Opera House, Stonehenge is one of those attractions that is immediately recognizable.

Mostly because there are so many photos of it floating around out there, and it's on a lot of people's “must-visit” lists.

Stonehenge

But why? Is Stonehenge actually worth the visit?

The mystery

Stonehenge is nothing more than a ring of large stones, many of which have toppled over and broken over the years. The real draw of the site is not the stones, but the mystery behind them – the fact that no one knows exactly how or why the ring was built in the first place.

Stonehenge

The site dates back to at least 2000 BC (though scientists can't really agree on that date, either), but the rest of its history is anybody's guess. Theories about how and why Stonehenge was built range from it being a religious site erected by the Druids to a work of Merlin of Arthurian legend. If it wasn't for this mystery, chances are this little ring of stones wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

Stonehenge

The size

When you see it in photos, Stonehenge looks pretty big; pretty impressive. But, in real life? Well let's just say that you're likely to hear “I thought it'd be bigger” (that'swhatshesaid) while you're walking around the site. The stones are quite tall, but by no means mammoth.

Stonehenge

The commercialization

Over the years, as Stonehenge has grown in popularity as a novelty site in England, it has also become highly commercialized. AKA very touristy.

Stonehenge

Today, you cannot get up close to the ring of stones for preservation's sake (and also for safety reasons, since they've decided to just let nature take its course and no longer reinforce the stones that are falling over).

You park at the visitor's center (with requisite cafe and gift shop) about a mile away, are bussed to the stones, and then are kept from getting to close by low ropes.

Stonehenge

The visitor's center IS much better these days than it used to be (there's a cool 360-degree video presentation inside that lets you feel like you're standing in the middle of the circle), but it's bound to be crowded with busloads of people day tripping to Stonehenge from London.

Stonehenge

If it's peace and tranquility you want while pondering the significance of a ring of standing stones, then Stonehenge probably isn't the site you want to visit (go to Avebury instead).

The verdict

So, considering the above, is Stonehenge worth a visit?

Well, believe it or not, I still think it is.

Stonehenge

The site does have a curious history, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's very easy to get to from London.

Plus it's just kind of cool to say you saw it in person.

However, I wouldn't recommend making a visit to Stonehenge the only motivation for a day trip from London. Pair it with Bath or Salisbury or another place of interest to make it worth your time. You'll be sorely disappointed if you drive all that way only to realize that you really only need about 30 minutes to fully experience this mysterious ring of stones.

Do YOU think Stonehenge is worth a visit?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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54 Comments on “Stonehenge: Is it Worth It?

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  1. I agree completely. Worth visiting once, but also pair it with Bath. A day-trip from London just to see Stonehenge is not worth it.

    I think it is absolutely worth the visit, though I agree that it is best combined with another destination. We were there on a lovely day, so after the requisite pictures and audio info, we enjoyed picnicking/ lounging on the lawn to take in the site.

    I have always regretted not going there on my first trip to England. This was when you could still walk right up to it. I still would like to see it in person.

      It’s worth a trip to see, but, like I said, just don’t get your hopes up too high!

    Thanks for the honest review! I think I’d still like to see it to be able to say that I did. And now I have that scene from European Vacation when Chevy Chase knocks over all the stones stuck in my mind…

      Yeah I figured I couldn’t very well go to England and NOT see it.

        That’s what I’m thinking as well.
        If I’d be ‘int he neighborhood’, I’d probably want to go and see it. Nice to know that it can be combined with Bath.

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree – Stonehenge just plain isn’t worth visiting.

    All of it’s allure and majesty does come from its mysterious origins. At the end of the day, I don’t think you really get anything out of visiting Stonehenge that you wouldn’t get from reading about Stonehenge. At the end of the day, it’s a pile of rocks with an interesting backstory – and you can save yourself £8 by looking at it from the window of your vehicle as you drive to some place actually interesting. (Ooh, that may have been a bit harsh…)

      Haha nah, not too harsh – you are of course entitled to your opinion, and I’m sure it’s one that plenty of other people share!

    I think it’s very much worth visiting, especially if you arrange to go inside the circle (which you can with English Heritage). We saw the sun rise between the stones one very early, misty morning and had the place nearly to ourselves. Even my then 6-year-old (who wasn’t too happy to get up for a 5am visit in the first place) was in awe.

    When we visited the U.K. we actually skipped Stonehenge. We had been told that it wasn’t really worth the visit, not to mention the cost.

    Instead we happened upon the little town of Avebury. All throughout the town there are rocks that form a circle. The circle is huge though, so it just looks like there are a bunch of rocks. We really enjoyed our experience there. I don’t remember there being any admission fee, although there might be now. And you are able to walk right up to the rocks and touch them. There were also virtually no tourist. Not quite the same as Stonehenge but really neat.

    Website about Avebury:
    http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury/

    Briana C.

      Yeah, I’ve heard Avebury is good, too! It’s actually included in the UNESCO site along with Stonehenge – a similar mysterious ring of rocks!

    A friend told me that he’d been there several years ago and you could walk right up to the stones, but that now it was awful and not worth going to. But I do think he was exaggerating–after hearing his rant I imagined it behind a fence, 100 yards back, you need binoculars… it doesn’t look THAT bad! 🙂

      No, it’s certainly not THAT bad! They just have a low rope around the whole thing now to dissuade people from going up to it. I understand it – with the amount of people visiting every day now, they’re just trying to preserve the site. Such is tourism development!

    Wow, I never realized how small the stones were until just now when I saw your picture with people in it. This really helps reaffirm my choice in going to the Isle of Wight as my day trip instead. The island wasn’t very exciting but it’s where my boyfriend’s ancestors are from so it made a fun visit for the two for us :]

      Yeah, the stones aren’t nearly as big as you’d expect!

    I visited Stonehenge on a daytrip to Bath and Stonehenge, and I think it was the best thing to do. The rocks just don’t deserve more than an hour or two (especially with the annoying noise coming from the motorway nearby). There are SO many tour companies that offer this daytrip for a cheap price, it’s a perfect daytrip out of London.

    Even though the rocks are much smaller in real life and the audioguide is nothing short of a verbal diarrhea of information, it’s still worth it. Nice photos!

      I spent maybe half an hour there, and that was honestly long enough for me (though I didn’t do the audio tour). Still think it’s worth a visit, though, especially combined with Bath!

    Sure, it is. Stonehenge is a must see place. The mystery of it will always fascinate people. And, since it is not getting stronger, it is better to visit it soon.
    Thanks for the story, Amanda. Always enjoy your articles and waiting for new ones 😉

      I think you’re definitely right that the mystery will always interest people!

    There have been a lot of recent advances in the study of Stonehenge that, while certainly not completely removing “the mystery,” have narrowed down the realm of possibility. Probably not aliens, they now believe. 🙂

    I know anyone can Google wikipedia, but since I’m lazy and don’t want to do deeper research:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge

    Archaeologists are making some of the same advances on Easter Island, and I’d argue that even though there isn’t as much mystery surrounding these places, they are actually far more interesting because the science gives you an appreciation for the people who left these incredible relics. For me, the more I know about a place like Stonehenge, the more connection I feel to that place.

      Yes, probably not aliens. 😉

      I agree, though! The more we learn, the more interesting these places become.

    If you time your visit for September you can take in the ‘End of the Road’ music festival which is held nearby. Make a long weekend of it. Stonehenge not worth making a special journey.

    I’m glad we visited Stonehenge though it pays to have patience for the couple of places where people vie for the same vantage point. Getting onto a sunrise or sunset tour would have been great but we didn’t have the flexibility. As a NZer, a good day trip would be Stonehenge and Bulford for the chalk kiwi on the hill above the military camp. I see Avebury has been mentioned; that was great (and you only pay a car park fee) though SH is best for photos of stone groupings.

      I totally agree about the patience – you definitely need it sometimes at sites like this!

    Maybe it’s because its just up the road from where I live, and so I pass it whenever I’m doing Big Trips but Stonehenge is not so interesting to me.
    Avebury, on the other hand, less touristy, and in a village is similar and more impressive in my opinion.

      I’m sure if I lived there, I would quickly lose interest in it, too!

    I struggle with the is it worth it question a lot – I hate to go see a sight that has been built up and over touristed.. there have been some that I definitely think were worth it and some where I left within 15 minutes of arriving!

    Glad to hear you still think it was worth it.. and I’ve always wanted to make a trip to Bath 🙂

      Well if you want to go to Bath anyway, it’s probably worth it to at least stop at Stonehenge, just to see it in person!

    I stopped off to see Stonehenge but didn’t really get any ‘feeling’ from the place, being as you described kept a distance away on the path –

    I’d recommend (if one has time), looking on Ordnance Survey maps for ancient circles and going on one’s own discovery expedition 🙂
    I found a circle of stones and a nearby cairn in Scotland, when hiking the hills, where by being able to get up close you could feel the presence of history and ancient ceremonies that had taken place there right under your feet!

      Good advice, Linda! It’s always more fun to get off the beaten path.

    It quite regularly tops lists of “things people wish they hadn’t bothered visiting” and I have to say I’m in that camp. I just don’t see the appeal of the mystery- when they work out how it was done, then I’ll go and marvel at how impressive a feat it was. But I don’t know enough to have any input on the mystery beyond “aliens lol” so it doesn’t interest me much. If you’re down that way anyway though, I can see why you might pop in!

    (I also didn’t realise it was such a big deal to people visiting the UK! You learn something new every day).

      Totally understandable. Like I said, I don’t think I’d make a trip JUST for Stonehenge. But, at the same time, I AM glad I finally saw it in person.

    I partied there last year for the summer solstice. They take down the fence, so you can spend the whole night in the stones until the sunrise (with thousands of other people). It was freezing but worth it.

    Maybe my expectations were really low, but I really liked it and am very glad I went (with additional time in Salisbury tacked on). No regrets here. Would I go again? Probably not.

      Yeah I don’t think I’d go again, either, but I’m with you on being glad I saw it!

    I’ve heard this repeated in one form or another from a fair number of people. I wouldn’t mind seeing them (and I know Ali wants to, so we will happily go), but I think I might hunt out one of the other stone rings with fewer people to do some more exploring. Ever the upstream swimmer, tourist busloads of people not my thing.

      Sounds like a plan. I think it’s worth seeing simply for the recognition factor, but it sounds like some of the other stone rings in the UK might be more up your alley!

    If you go either on the Summer or Winter Solstice, you can visit for free and go right up to the stones (no fences!). It’s the pagan holidays and tons of people show up, party/stay all night, watch pagan rituals and then wait for the sunrise in the morning. The Winter one will have much much less people.

    In regards to the fences, they’ve been there for over 20 years now. I was bought up nearby and think the last time we visited without the fences was in 1990 when you could still go up to them…and for free!

    It’s all changed now.. you park for £5 (after paying for your ticket to go to the site) at the new massive visitor centre complete with shop and cafe, then you either walk or catch the free bus to the Stones and join hundreds of people doing the same thing. I went recently and just found the number of people too much, everyone has the audio guides but they stop in groups to listen to what is being said or take photos.

    I’ve been twice now and I’m still not sure that it’s worth it but I think it’s one of those things that you just have to see regardless.

      I went for a second time just this summer. I actually think the changes they’ve made are good – the new visitor’s center is much nicer, and I kind of like that you don’t see the stones right away when you get there. As for the crowds… that’s just something you’re never going to avoid – it’s a famous site, so it’s always going to be popular.

      I still recommend going – just as part of a trip to see other things in the area, too.

    […] my mom as part of a day tour we took from London with City Wonders. The tour had us visiting Bath, Stonehenge, and some Cotswolds villages for lunch and […]

    I found this page by googling stonehenge not worth it, and clearly, the opinions shared reinforced my thoughts. Next time when I’m in London I will down load a photo for everyone to see, ugh, Stonehenge.

      If you can pair up Stonehenge with a visit to another site, then I think I would probably go. But I wouldn’t make the trip out there JUST for Stonehenge.

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