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Budget tips for visiting Stonehenge from London

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StonehengeThe famous rocks of Stonehenge. Photo: lenickah

The monumental and mysterious stones of Stonehenge are a quintessential symbol of Britain, as much as the red telephone box or double-decker bus. A record 1.3 million visitors visited Stonehenge last year, but how can you join them without busting your budget?

If you’re thinking of making a day trip from London, you have several options, from using a tour company to going on your own. We’ll help you get there, book your admission tickets, tell you how to get up close to the stones, and save a few British pounds along the way.

The cheapest ways to visit Stonehenge

Basics

Address: Wiltshire, England (8 miles north of Salisbury)

Admission: £17.50 (advance booking required)

Hours:
March 16 – May 31: 9:30 am to 7 pm
June 1 – August 31: 9 am to 8 pm
September 1 – October 15: 9:30 am to 7 pm
October 16 – March 15: 9:30 am to 5 pm

What exactly will you see?

Ancient Stonehenge is a mixture of constructions from different periods: an outer circle bank and ditch, and an inner circle of stones, and the distinctive Stone Circle itself, assembled around 2,500 BC. It’s been estimated that it would have taken around 600 people to carry each of these stones (in contrast to the Spinal Tap version!).

No one knows why these stones were assembled like this, but there are all sorts of theories, from it being for healing, burial, or astronomy — along with a few UFO conspiracies thrown in for good measure.

Stonehenge Tourists

Yes, you will stand behind a rope with many other tourists, unless you get a special after-hour access pass. Photo: Adam P

To protect the site, there’s a rope between visitors and the stones (unless you apply for “special access” or visit at equinox — see below for details on both), but a new visitor center

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(opened in 2013) provides context to how these stones have been viewed over their thousands of years of history.

Should you go?

Visiting Stonehenge is an easy day trip from London. But, even with the tips below, it’s not super cheap. Furthermore, some visitors are slightly disappointed when they see the stones in real life — mainly becaus ofe the fact that it’s a busy tourist sight can kill the mystical atmosphere somewhat.

Bearing this in mind, I still find it to be a very special place to visit. Even without knowing why it was made, it’s amazing to realize that you’re standing somewhere that has symbolized so much to so many different people over thousands of years, and that it still has secrets waiting to be discovered.

Stonehenge is located southwest of London.

Stonehenge is located southwest of London.

Getting there by coach: The cheapest option

By far the cheapest way to visit Stonehenge from London using public transportation is to go by coach. There are lots of competitive offers for these organized bus tours. Premium is the cheapest coach I’ve found, offering a half-day trip to Stonehenge — including entrance fees — for £53 (£43 ages 3-16). They, like many other tour companies, also offer the visit in a combination trip that also includes visiting Oxford and Bath. This would make for a really busy day but could be worth it if you don’t have much time to spend in the UK.

There is always competitive pricing between coaches, but be sure to check the small print carefully when deciding, and note that

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some of the coach tours don’t actually include the Stonehenge entrance ticket in their price.

What if I want to make my own way?

It is possible to get to Stonehenge independently, but it can be more expensive and also requires a bit of planning. Read on…

Ticket options

First, you need to book your ticket before you set out for the site. Entrance tickets for adults are £17.50 and must be purchased in advance.

Free admission: Members of English Heritage and National Trust (the national organizations that help manage the site) get in free with their annual membership. At £49 or £58 a year respectively, it’s probably not worth it unless you are a history buff planning on hanging around the UK for a while.

However, an English Heritage overseas visitors pass might be worth it. At £33-35 (depending on the time of year) for nine days, it allows free entry to many of the different historic properties managed by the organization, including Stonehenge.

Stonehenge Bus

One of the Stonehenge buses you can take from Salisbury. Photo: Ed Webster

Getting there by train, bus & taxi

To get there using public transportation from London, you’ll first need to book a train to Salisbury and then take a bus or taxi to the site. The train is about a two-hour journey from London’s Waterloo station and will cost about £25-40 per person depending on the date and time of day (book online in advance at thetrainline.com for the best deals).

However, that only gets you to Salisbury, and Stonehenge is located about eight miles away in an isolated spot. The easiest way to make this journey is by bus — the Stonehenge bus costs £15 (entry not included) or for £36.50 you’ll get the transport from Salisbury plus entry to Stonehenge and Old Sarum, a former Iron Age hill fort that was the original site of Salisbury.

If your group includes four or more people, it might be cheaper to share a taxi from Salisbury instead.

Walking is possible, but you need to cross a really busy road en route. If you want to follow in the steps of our ancestors and arrive on foot, see details here for a five-mile circular walk.

In short, this train-and-bus combo (plus ticket price!) all adds up to a more expensive trip than the coach option, and it includes a lot of pre-planning. But Salisbury also has a lovely cathedral, so if you do want to travel independently, it may be worth considering spending a night there instead of heading straight back to London.

Related: Search for cheap hotels in Salisbury

Getting there by car

If you plan to rent a car in the UK, then you don’t have to worry about the bus or train schedules at all. Stonehenge is located about 85 miles southwest of central London and could take two to three hours to make the drive (more during rush hour).

Stonehenge offers free parking for ticket holders on the grounds next to the visitor center. From there, you can catch a 10-minute shuttle ride (frequent departures) that takes you right up to the stones. If you want a little more fresh air, you can also get off the shuttle early, and walk halfway to the site.

Check out this handy map to see the layout of the facilities.

Getting up close to the Stones

During normal visiting hours, you have to view the stones from behind ropes. However, it is possible to get “special access” to go beyond the ropes, when visitors are restricted to only 30 at a time. You can arrange this through coach companies (for a premium price) or book it yourself (using the form here), although you’ll need to apply well in advance.

Remember that if visiting outside normal visitor hours, there will be no access to visitor facilities, including the gift shop and visitor center, and no hot tea after you’ve been out looking at the stones (so wrap up warm!). But that might make the whole experience even more special.

Stonehenge Solstice

Over 35,000 people gathered at Stonehenge for the solstice in 2014. Photo: Paul Townsend

The Solstices: Free admission for all

Another option for visitors looking for easier access to the Stone Circle is to visit on the summer and winter solstices in late June and late December. On these dates, everyone is free to gather at the stones and communally witness the sunset and sunrise. This draws an eclectic mix of pagans, druids, and those who just like to celebrate this freedom. In the summer it can see crowds of up to 35,000 — another reason to work out how you’re getting there well in advance!

Your tips

Have you been to Stonehenge? What are your tips for doing it on the cheap?

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