The Getaway
Stonehenge is Worth a Visit

Stonehenge recently celebrated its 30th year as a World Heritage site in 2016. In 1986, the site and its surrounding prehistoric monuments was one of the very first places in the UK to be added to the UNESCO list. Stonehenge, which translates to "Hanging Stones" in Saxon, has inspired countless people to study and interpret its meaning. Yet questions still remain—who built it? And why?

These unsolved mysteries are what gives this Neolithic monument its enduring charm


01 Where is Stonehenge?

Stonehenge is located on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire, about 90 miles west of Central London. Amesbury is the nearest neighboring town, with the nearest public bus stop two miles to the east.

Salisbury is the closest large town, 9.5 miles to the south, and has the nearest rail connection.

Stonehenge hept27 / Getty Images

02 How do you get to Stonehenge from London?

There are three ways to get from London to Stonehenge:

  • Board a guided tour bus, which will take you directly from London to Stonehenge
  • Take the train from Waterloo Station in London, and then hop on a Stonehenge tour bus in Salisbury
  • Rent and drive your own car to Stonehenge from London

Drive time is approximately two hours from central London, allowing for traffic.

mature men friends take a selfie in the Stonehenge archaeological site nautiluz56 / Getty Images

03 Why was Stonehenge built?

Despite countless theories, no one knows for sure why Stonehenge was constructed. It might have been a place to worship ancestors, a place where Danish kings were coronated, a Druid temple, or a cult center for healing.

Today, it's generally accepted that Stonehenge was a prehistoric temple built to align with the movements of the sun.

Sunrise and long shadows at Stonehenge Nicholas E Jones / Getty Images

04 When was Stonehenge built?

The construction of Stonehenge began about 5,000 years ago. It started out as a simple earthwork enclosure where people buried the cremated remains of their dead. It's one of the largest known cremation cemeteries in Neolithic Britain.

The iconic stone circle that we recognize as Stonehenge was constructed much later, around 2,500 BCE.

Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom Photo by Aindrilla Mukherjee on Unsplash

05 How was Stonehenge built?

Even the experts are baffled by this question. Nobody knows for sure how Neolithic people created such a masterpiece of engineering with only the simple technologies and tools available to them. But somehow, they did. And it's certainly stood the test of time, standing in its original upright position to this day, over 5,000 years later.

Mortice holes and protruding tenons were created to fit the upright stones with horizontal lintels, and tongue and groove joints were used to slot the lintels together. These precisely interlocking joints are usually only found in woodworking.

A photograph of Stonehenge. A very popular landmark for people visiting England. MattStansfield / Getty Images

06 What type of stone is Stonehenge built with?

  • The larger stones are sarsens, which are sandstone boulders formed on the chalk downs of Southern England. The sarsens used at Stonehenge probably come from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away.
  • The smaller stones are bluestones, which were likely sourced from the Preseli Hills in southwest Wales, 140 miles away.
  • The Altar Stone is a type of red sandstone from the Senni Beds in southern Wales.

Stonehenge krzych-34 / Getty Images

07 How were the stones transported?

Some think that the stones were transported to Salisbury Plain by the glaciers, but most archaeologists believe they were brought there by human effort. Nobody knows for sure exactly how these stones were carried a distance of more than 150 miles, but it's possible they were either hauled over land or carried via water networks.

June 1985: Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Chris Wood / Getty Images

08 How were the stones shaped?

Broken hammerstones and a large quantity of sarsen and bluestone waste material were found in a field north of Stonehenge. The larger hammerstones would have been used to chip and flake the stone, and the smaller ones would have been used to smooth and finish the surfaces. Some parts of the monument were more finely finished than others, particularly on the northeast side and on some of the inner faces.

Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone monument in Wiltshire, UK, circa 1960. Archive Photos / Getty Images

09 How is Stonehenge linked to astronomy?

Since the dawn of time, cultures the world over have built structures to augment their view of the heavens, and Stonehenge is, without doubt, one of the best places to contemplate the cosmos.

In 1771, John Smith estimated that the 30 sarsen stones multiplied by 12 astrological signs represented 360 days of the year, and the inner circle portrayed the lunar month.

Stonehenge', 1944. From Pictorial England and Wales. The Print Collector / Getty Images

10 Why visit Stonehenge during the summer solstice?

Stonehenge is believed to be an ancient astronomical computer built for predicting eclipses as well as solar events. The stones are so carefully aligned that if you sit at the center on the summer solstice, you have a perfect view of the sun rising over the heel stone. For this reason, it has been a place of worship and celebration of the Summer Solstice since its construction. Even today, people make the pilgrimage to witness this timeless event.

2: People take selfie photographs as druids, pagans and revellers gather at Stonehenge, hoping to see the sun rise, as they take part in a winter solstice ceremony at the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge near Amesbury on December 22, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. A large crowd gathered at the famous historic stone circle, a UNESCO listed ancient monument to celebrate the sunrise closest to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. The event is claimed to be more important in the pagan calendar than the summer solstice, because it marks the 're-birth' of the Sun for the New Year. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

11 Has Stonehenge been damaged by tourists?

Grass field leading to Stonehenge on a cloudy gray day

Stonehenge has been declared a "sorry state" for a while now, with ten recorded excavations and reports of leaning sarsens going as far back as the start of the 20th century.

Since 1978, ongoing conservation efforts mean that tourists can no longer go right up to the stones and touch them. Bear this in mind if you're going to Stonehenge to get in "touch" with history.

However, it is still possible to enter the stones with a Stone Circle Access Visit, which is available upon special request and has very limited availability. These rare tours take place outside of normal admission hours.


12 From London: Stonehenge and Oxford

Located just 55 miles west of Central London, Oxford is the perfect day trip stop. There are frequent bus and coach services between the two cities. It takes over two hours to reach Stonehenge from Oxford by public transportation, including buses and trains. Driving takes about an hour. Things to check out in Oxford:

  • Oxford University, the oldest university in the English-speaking world
  • The River Thames, which is called "The Isis" for a 10 mile stretch in Oxford
  • Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill

Passageway connecting two college buildings, modeled after an even more famous one in Venice. peterspiro / Getty Images

13 From London: Stonehenge and Bath

Bath is an easy get from London: fast trains depart twice hourly from Paddington Station to Bath and take only 90 minutes. They run all day long, until late. You can then take the bus or train from Bath to Salisbury, and then on to Stonehenge. Things to check out in Bath:

  • The Roman Bath, an ancient Roman temple and bathing complex which still flows with hot water
  • Some of the most exquisite Georgian architecture on earth
  • The upscale shopping district

Pulteney Bridge by dusk, the main tourist attraction in Bath, UK. narvikk Getty Images

14 Windsor and Salisbury

Getting from London to Windsor is a piece of cake—Windsor is right on the outskirts of the city, near Heathrow Airport. The journey from Windsor to Salisbury, which is about 10 miles north of Stonehenge, takes just over an hour by car or coach. The trip takes two and a half hours by train. Things to check out in Windsor:

  • Windsor Castle, one of the Queen's three residences
  • The cobbled streets of Windsor Old Town

Things to check out in Salisbury:

  • Salisbury Cathedral, which contains an original Magna Carta document
  • Old Sarum, an ancient fortification which is conveniently located on the route between Salisbury and Stonehenge

Ancient cathedral of Salisbury, England RPBMedia / Getty Images

15 Avebury and Lacock

Avebury boasts the largest megalithic stone circle in the world, and Lacock is famous for being the filming location for Harry Potter and Pride & Prejudice. Both towns are not to be missed, and both are about two hours from London. Lacock and Avebury are about a half hour's drive from one another, and about 40 minutes from Stonehenge.

Standing stones at Avebury, England. The prehistoric stone ring is so large that the village of Avebury fits inside it. Avebury is a UNESCO World heritage site. stockcam / Getty Images

16 The Cotswolds and Cornwall

The Cotswolds are within easy driving distance from London, and the region contains some of England's best countryside. A coach tour to the Cotswolds takes two hours from Central London. The drive from the Cotswolds to Cornwall (via Bath) is a long one, just over three hours. But it will be scenic and pleasant, with many worthwhile stops along the way: Wells, Glastonbury, Exeter, Taunton, Dartmoor, and Plymouth. Things to check out in the Cotswolds:

  • Sleepy villages of thatched-roof houses running up against tranquil streams, with a few traditional pubs mixed in

Things to check out in Cornwall:

  • Tintagel Castle, on an island peninsula
  • The road from St. Ives to Land's End, supposedly the most beautiful coastal drive in the world

Traditional cotswold stone cottages, Arlington Row, Bibury, Gloucestershire, England VictorHuang / Getty Images

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