What are Stonehenge and Avebury?
Stonehenge is a world-famous monument located on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. The prehistoric circle of stones is arguably one of the most popular megaliths in the world. It is made up of an outer ring of standing stones and an inner ring of smaller stones. While the exact purpose of the stone circle is still unknown, many believe it was built about 4500 years ago for ceremonial purposes during the Neolithic period and Bronze Age.
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Avebury, while not as famous, is the largest prehistoric stone circle in the world. It encircles part of Avebury Village in Wiltshire and was originally comprised of about 100 stones in the outside circle, with two smaller circles inside of it. It was built around the same time period as Stonehenge, between 2850 and 2200 BC.
The UNESCO site includes other monuments associated with each of these such as the parallel lines of standing stones that connect Avebury to other smaller monuments in the area. Another example is Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric mound in Europe.
Why are Stonehenge and Avebury a UNESCO World Heritage site?
Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites were added as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1986 for several reasons, one being the architectural achievements of the circles during the time period. “Stonehenge is the most architecturally sophisticated prehistoric stone circle in the world. It is unrivaled in its design and unique engineering…”
These sites were also added because of the “outstanding illustration of the evolution of monument construction and of the continual use and shaping of the landscape over more than 2000 years.” They also “provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.”
What can you expect on a visit to Stonehenge or Avebury?
A visit to Stonehenge can be as long or as short as you want based on your interests and timeframe. A typical visit will range between 1-2.5 hours.
Of course, everyone wants to visit Stonehenge’s Stone Circle first, but to make the most of your experience, you should start at the exhibition. There you will learn about the people who built Stonehenge and see almost 300 artifacts found at Stonehenge and the surrounding areas. It will give you some basic information before heading out to see the stones for yourself.
From the exhibition, you can either walk to the monument, which takes about 25 minutes, or you can jump on the bus that shuttles visitors back and forth from the site to the parking lot area. Guests are able to walk around the entire Stone Circle, getting a 360-degree view of the megalith. You can also use the free audio guide app to give you more info while you’re walking around the stones.
For those who want a more in-depth and close-up experience to the stones, you can book a special VIP Stone Circle Experience. This takes place outside of normal visiting hours, either in the morning or in the evening.
Once you’ve finished marveling at the Stone Circle, you can head back to the visitor center and check out the Neolithic Village, which gives visitors a glimpse at what the houses might have looked like when Stonehenge was built.
Avebury doesn’t take a lot of time to see if you drive between the sites. There are six separate areas to visit spread over several miles. You can walk between them all if you’d like, although it will take you a bit longer to visit if you do. You can also visit the Alexander Keiller Museum which has artifacts on display found around the monuments.
Are Stonehenge and/or Avebury worth visiting?
Stonehenge is a great place to visit for those who love English history, architecture, and unique experiences. While many people are excited to see Stonehenge in person, it may be boring for children or for those who are not all that interested in museums or history. The price may also dissuade people from visiting if it’s not something high on your list to see.
If all you want to do is catch a glimpse of the Stone Circle, you can actually do that from the road while driving along A303. You cannot stop and take a picture here, but you can see it if that’s all that interests you. If you are in the area, it’s probably worth taking the drive by to view it even if you don’t want to see it up close.
Avebury is probably not a site that is worth making a special trip for. If you are traveling in the area anyway, it’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time to stop and see the monuments.
Tips for visiting Stonehenge
You can spend as much time at Stonehenge as you want, but a typical visit will probably last about 2 hours if you see everything and utilize the audio guide app. For those who just want to walk around the Stone Circle and take a few photos, an hour is all you need.
The earlier in the day you go, the smaller the crowd, so if you’re itching to get some good photos with fewer people, aim to arrive right at opening time. As mentioned previously, if you want to get up close and personal with the stones, you’ll have to book a separate Stone Circle Experience that happens before and after general admission times. This might be a good option for you if you want photos with dramatic lighting and no other tourists in them.
If you want to get there early or take a late tour, it might be easier if you find a hotel nearby in Salisbury.
You should also wear comfortable shoes since you’ll do a bit of walking here. Even if you opt to take the bus to the Stone Circle, you’ll probably want to walk around the perimeter of the stones. The ground can be a little uneven in places, so sturdy, comfy shoes are best.
While you are in the area, you should combine a visit to Stonehenge with a road trip around Southcentral England, where you can visit Salisbury Cathedral, the Cotswolds, and Bath. You are also not far from the UNESCO-listed Dorset and East Devon Coast.
Where is Stonehenge?
Stonehenge is located near Amesbury, Wiltshire, with signs posted along the A303 with the entrance off the A360.
From Salisbury, Stonehenge is about 12 miles (19 kms) away. Parking is available on-site and is free with a paid ticket to Stonehenge.
If you decide to take public transportation, you can take the train to Salisbury. Then catch the hop-on hop-off Salisbury Reds tour bus from either the train station or downtown Salisbury which will take you to Stonehenge.
Avebury and Associated Sites are located right in Avebury, which is 7 miles west of Marlborough and 45 minutes from Stonehenge. There is a paid National Trust car park (South of Avebury off A4361) that you can use for parking while visiting the monuments.
If you want to take public transportation to Avebury, you’ll need to take the train to Swindon and then the Stagecoach Line 49 bus in Swindon to Avebury Red Lion.
For more information about Stonehenge, its opening hours, and admission fees, visit its official website here.
Text and photos provided by Stef of Open Road Odysseys. She aims to inspire anyone with a desire for adventure to plan unforgettable road trips around the world. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Have you been to Stonehenge and/or Avebury? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!