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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!