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Stonehenge & Avebury–The Perfect Day Trip From London

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I’ve known about Stonehenge as long as I can remember. Seeing it in person earlier this year was everything I expected. 

Yes, I've read plenty of mixed reviews online, but there was no way I was traveling all the way to England from California and not seeing this prehistoric site. 

But then I went down the “research rabbit hole.” That’s my own phrase for becoming obsessed with travel research. Do you have any idea how many different Stonehenge tours are offered? Hundreds! Each a different price and many including other stops in the area. 

In this case, my obsession paid off, and I’m eager to share with you what was one of the highlights of our trip to Europe--a day trip from London that included both Stonehenge and Avebury.

A portion of Avebury stone circle in England

A portion of Avebury Stone Circle in England

Day trips from London–How to choose

If you Google "London day trips", be prepared to spend the rest of the day in front of your computer because the options are endless. With just a short drive from the city center you can experience charming villages, historic sites and lovely castles. To make the right decision, it really helps to be clear what you want to accomplish.

My recommendation is to find a theme and stick with it. If you want to experience the charms of English country villages, then check out tours of the Cotswolds. If you’ve always been fascinated by the British system of higher education, then visit Oxford or Cambridge. Downton Abbey fans can arrange to tour its Highclere Castle and Churchill history buffs may want to explore Blenheim Palace.

Rainbow over Stonehenge

Rainbow over Stonehenge

But as I was researching Stonehenge tours, I decided that the theme for our day trip would be neolithic history, because this is a period of time about which I know nothing. I thought this would be a great way to learn more. 

I also realized that Stonehenge is not an isolated monument. There are in fact 313 stone circles in the United Kingdom in addition to 300 ancient burial grounds. I discovered a few Stonehenge tours that included the Avebury stone circle and West Kennett Long Barrow, and decided this would be how we’d spend our day.

Headed to the Cotswolds? Check out our post about walking The Cotswold Way.

Jason walking along the Avebury stone circle

Jason walking along the Avebury stone circle

First stop–Avebury

The gathering point for our tour was in central London. We boarded a bus and drove for two hours to our first stop, Avebury. On the way our guide, Emily, gave us an overview of the day and a bit of history of the area we’d be visiting.

Most people haven’t heard of Avebury stone circle, and yet it’s the largest one in Britain. Its believed that it was constructed between 2850 and 2200 BC and derives its name from the medieval village that it encircles.

Originally the Avebury stone circle was made of 100 stones. After Christianity came to England, stone circles became symbols of paganism, and often were destroyed. Today, some of the original stones remain while smaller pillars have been used as placeholders for the ones that no longer exist.

Avebury Stone Circle in England

A variety of stones in Avebury

Our guide gave us a quick introduction to Avebury and then allowed us about an hour to view it. Unlike Stonehenge, visitors are allowed to wander through several fields and pastures that contain the stones in order to see them up close. 

When you stop to consider that these enormous stones--some weighing 40 tons--were moved into place prior to the invention of the wheel, it gives you a new appreciation for the accomplishments of the neolithic people. And we may never know the purpose of the stone circles, but judging by the amount of time dedicated to building them, they must have been central to their lives.

West Kennet Long Barrow in England

West Kennett Long Barrow

Second Stop–West Kennett Long Barrow

After Avebury we reboarded the bus and drove a short distance to West Kennett Long Barrow. This part of the tour involved a 45 minute round-trip walk, so it was optional, and some people chose to remain on the bus.

A long barrow is an ancient burial ground that looks like an oblong hill supported inside and out by large stones. West Kennet Long Barrow is one of the best preserved examples in the country.  It contained chambers that held between 36 and 43 bodies. The structure dates back 5,500 years, predating Stonehenge and Avebury.

After some information from our guide we were permitted to explore the long barrow--inside and out--and then returned to the bus for our final stop of the day.

Selfie at Stonehenge

Selfie at Stonehenge (after the rain, but still very cold)

Third Stop–Stonehenge

Stonehenge was a 45 minute drive from the long barrow. I loved leaving the best for last.

In case you’ve seen the pictures, but don’t know much about the structure, here’s a few interesting facts; 

~Construction on Stonehenge began in 3000 BC

~It took 1000 years to complete

~Some of the stones came from 200 miles away

~The average stone weighs 25 tons

~The purpose of Stonehenge is unknown, though there are many theories

Our tour included admission to Stonehenge and an excellent audio guide. On the day Jason and I visited, it was cold and rainy, so we rushed a bit through the audio guide, but I highly recommend it.

Visiting Stonehenge in person was such a joy for me. I’ve seen it in photos hundreds of times, but they don’t quite do it justice. 

Stonehenge

Stonehenge on a stormy day

It’s important to know that visitors can no longer walk into the center of Stonehenge, or touch the stones. In previous years this was permitted, but over time this caused too much damage. While some people find that really disappointing, I did not. I still enjoyed the view from a few yards back and understand the need to protect this prehistoric site. (There are a limited number of spaces available during special access hours during which visitors can go inside the circle. These must be requested through English Heritage.)

If you’d prefer a shorter day trip, Stonehenge tours from London are plentiful. The trip from London to Stonehenge is less than two hours. However, if you have the time, I highly recommend the day trip we experienced in order to round out your understanding of this period of history.

Stonehenge in the shadows

Stonehenge in the shadows

Get Out Of London For The Day

While I love London, it was fun to get outside the city for a day. I highly recommend booking the Stonehenge and Avebury tour we’ve shared through Get Your Guide.  And while you’re there, feel free to explore the dozens of other day trips from London that they offer.

Have you been to Stonehenge or Avebury? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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14 Comments

  1. A lovely part of England. I remember when we could just wander around the stones and touch them. Probably a good thing it has now been stopped.

    1. I’ve had American friends that visited Stonehenge when the stones could still be touched and they have great memories of that. But I agree, probably better in the long run for conservation purpose.

  2. WOW didn’t realize there were so many stone circles! Thank you for sharing your research techniques and tips!!

    1. You are welcome Nadia!

  3. Stonehenge and Avebury are some of my favourite places in England. I know that Stonehenge is touristy but I still love it. It has an energy about it that’s hard to explain. Avebury is also wonderful and much less touristy. I love that animals can still graze amongst the stones and that life carries on around them as if they’re ordinary!

    1. I totally agree–Stonehenge may be touristy, but its still very special. And I loved the laid back feel of Avebury including all the sheep.

  4. I watched a Nat Geo show on Stonehenge recently and even more keen to visit now. Great post especially about Avebury. It has been added to my must see list.

    1. Now I’m eager to watch the Nat Geo show about Stonehenge. Like I said in the post, since the weather was so lousy the day we visited we didn’t take full advantage of the audio guide and I would still like to learn more about this place. Hope you get to Avebury soon!

  5. I had a really shitty time when we were in London, cuz I got really sick and people have said that I have to back and give the city a second chanse. But Ive been kind… njae… but taking a daytrip to visit the Stonehenge, not THAT could make me go back!

    1. Being sick can really skew the perception of a city–I know that has happened to me. And if London isn’t your favorite place, there are many lovely day trips that may make the the experience worthwhile.

  6. I’ve driven by this iconic area so often, living in Taunton although never actually visited, to my shame. Must rectify it one of these days. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. You live in a beautiful part of England, as I’m sure you know! Hope you do visit these sites one day.

  7. Wow you are so lucky to see the rainbow at the stonehenge, such a picture-perfect moment! I am visiting London next year so this is a great post for me. I didn’t know anything about Avebury before. What a thrilling day trip!

    1. We were so lucky to see the rainbow, I’ll never forget it! And you will love London, it’s an exciting city.

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