Tour Stonehenge The Right Way — Private Access

The first time I saw Stonehenge, I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now I live five miles from it and see it on a regular basis, out the window of my car whenever I drive into town. I’ve also taken plenty of visitors to see the stones, plus watched others arrive for viewings. I’ll go through some of the options below, mainly to highlight the best one — private access, if you can make the time.

Visit During Regular Opening Hours

Most people go to Stonehenge during its regular opening hours, which you’ll find here. Do this, and you’ll walk along with maybe hundreds of other people about 100 to 500 feet around the outside of the stones. There’s a small rope to keep you back. Here’s a pretty typical example of what your viewing experience will be like:

IMG_0172

Mystical! Exhilarating! Well, better than nothing, I suppose.

As a side note, you’ll be given a little audio wand to listen to as you walk. I always joke that it’s like seeing people from Star Trek who can never look at things directly. They always look with their tricorders instead.

At Stonehenge, it’s like that. People listen to these incredibly boring audio wands, trying to get them to work at the right points and always giving up about 1/3rd the way around. My advice? Read a nice book about Stonehenge before you arrive and skip the wands.

Visit After Regular Opening Hours

Missed the regular opening hours, because perhaps you’re driving by on the way to somewhere else? Sure, you can see Stonehenge, if it’s still light. Drive off the main road (the A303) onto the road that goes past Stonehenge (the A360) and go past the stones, toward Shrewton/Devizes. Just past the stones, you’ll see a small dirt road that goes to the left and right of the highway. Park on either side, doesn’t matter which. Then walk the very short distance back along the path in front of the chain link fence. You’ll get a glimpse, but that’s better than nothing. However, if it’s dark, don’t bother. You’ll see nothing. The stones are not lit. It will be pitch black, and shining a flashlight out toward them won’t help.

Private Access

This is the way to go, if you can swing it. Stonehenge is available for private bookings in the mornings and evenings. Do this, and you’ll have the stones along with maybe 20 other people. In reality, I’ve never found myself sharing them with more than 10 people, and usually it’s just the people in my actual party there.

Private access — “Stone Circle Access” — is explained more here. The hours and times are all listed. Pick the ones you want the most, then CALL (that’s right, use the phone) to see if the times you want are free. The number is here, but if you’re calling from the US, here’s the exact way to dial: 011-44-1722-34-38-34. The office is only open from 9:15am to 1pm UK time, so use something like the World Clock Meeting Planner I describe here to find the right time to call from your end. If you’re in the UK, the number is (01722) 34-38-34.

Bookings are sometimes hard to get, so try to make them well ahead of when you plan to go. However, I’ve had plenty of luck getting bookings at the last minute. I just arranged one last week for a trip I’ll be doing with a friend in two weeks — so three weeks out, I could still get space.

When you call, give your preferred dates, and you’ll be told if those will work. If not, ask for what good alternatives are available.

After you’re given a time, you need to send a form. GET THE TIME FIRST, THEN SEND THE FORM. It’s totally fine to do this. You’ll find the form via this page. Once you’ve got it, fill it in, then post, fax or email it back. There’s an email address on the form — and you might be able to use this rather than call to arrange times as described above. But I’d still call. That’s the fastest way.

The form has a few scary sounding parts. They want you to list all the cameras you’ll be bringing, whether you’ll be doing commercial stuff, publicizing your visit and all that. Use common sense and keep things to a minimum. If you’re going to blog your trip and there’s AdSense on your blog, I wouldn’t consider that a commercial thing to worry about. Just say no, that’s my advice.

Why’s private access the best? I’ll let some pictures answer that question:

104-0468_IMG

104-0470_IMG

104-0466_IMG

104-0466_IMG

You’re in the stones, basically. You walk around them, can sit on them, touch them, commune with them, if that’s your style. Sure, you can do the same at Avebury any time. Tim Bray just posted some nice examples of this not too long ago here. And yes, I highly recommend Avebury if you want something better than the standard Stonehenge experience. But it doesn’t compare with private access to Stonehenge, not at all.

Indeed, Stonehenge is pretty boring with regular access. Honestly, it’s a bunch of rocks that you’ll walk around for 30 to 45 minutes and probably not look back on. But private access is a great experience. It’s also the experience people used to get up until the 1970s or so, until the stones were roped off to protect them.

The Solstice

A rival to private access is going to Stonehenge during the summer solstice. I’ve never been to Burning Man, but it sounds somewhat akin to the solstice. About four years ago, they started allowing celebrations at Stonehenge during this time again. You and 5,000 or so other people will be wandering around. Yes, you can get into the stones during this (and the Druids are somewhere deep in the middle). See Photos & Video From 2008 Stonehenge Summer Solstice for some pictures and video of what that’s like.

You won’t be able to drive near the stones to park. Instead, you’ll have to park in some fields set aside and walk a half-mile or so. Bring something warm. It’s cold on the Salisbury Plain. Bring an umbrella in case of rain, but a good raincoat would be better. If it rains, with so many people, that umbrella won’t help much.

Postscript: After your visit, you might be hungry. If so, then I’ve got food recommendations for you. See my Visiting Stonehenge? Eat At Reeve The Baker! post.


Comments

  1. vicki says

    thanks for the info, we are signed up for an inside view of stonehenge on our summer 2008 visit to england

  2. vicki says

    thanks for the info, we are signed up for an inside view of stonehenge on our summer 2008 visit to england

  3. says

    Thanks so much for the information. I am bringing my son in April so I am going to follow all of your suggestions. I wish that you could be our tour guide. You seem to really know what to do and more importantly, where to eat afterwards! LOL

  4. Ant says

    I’ve wanted to vist stonehenge for years and recently became more mobile after passing my bike test and so I stumbled on to your posting on the subject. I just wanted to let you know that the form for private access has changed. The new form can be found here.

    Also in the T&Cs under section 3 it explicitly forbids contact with the stones, how rigidly this is enforced is anyones guess and it may be they are somewhat more relaxed with this onsite and the clause is simply there to enable them to take action should anyone start to overstep the bounds of reasonable conduct.

    If you have any further feedback on this it would be much appreciated.

  5. says

    Thanks, Ant — I’ve updated the link. While the terms say you can’t have contact with the stones, you won’t have any problems if you touch them, trust me. People do it all the time.

  6. Eralyn says

    thanks for the info! Btw, i can’t find the cost of the private access… how much pounds does it cost? (am from overseas)

  7. Eralyn says

    No wonder.. went through the site.. just not the application form itself. Thank you!

  8. Helen says

    Danny is right, Stone Circle Access is amazing – by far one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I did this in 2007 when i was visiting from Australia, and plan to go again when I visit in April this year. Really is worth it, though a note to those applying for access- if you order and pay for the guidebook (you can elect to do this on the form), you must pick up the book during regular visitor hours – NOT after hours. I missed out last time as I did not realise this!

  9. BH_SG says

    Hi – I stumbled on this site and it’s just on time. Thank you very much for the post! Am planning to visit Stonehenge on 16/6. Tips come in useful and right on time.

    Unfortunately link to download form for inner cicle visit not working. Anyone has correct link?

    Cheers!

  10. says

    Yes, they keep moving it. I’ve updated the link to lead to the main page about Stonehenge private bookings from English Heritage. You’ll find the form listed there, top right corner.

  11. Brent says

    This is great info, thank you. Do you have any other tips for visiting Englands most famous sites?

  12. Alexis says

    I wish I had seen this sooner! I am going to the UK on holiday in July and I really wanted the inner circle access but wasn’t sure how to organise it. I have contacted the office as mentioned above and unfortunately it is too late now, all the spaces are booked over the time that I am there. :-(

  13. sawen says

    Hi. I went for a private access view two years ago. It was awesome BUT we were told in no uncertain terms that if ANYONE in the party touched the stones we would ALL be throw out. Just keep that in mind of one of your key objectives is to touch.