Stonehenge is one of those iconic British sights. If you’re in London, it makes a great day trip. After all, there’s nothing like stepping back 5000 years in time! The easiest way to visit Stonehenge, in my opinion, is to go through Salisbury. Stonehenge is a short ride away from the Salisbury train station, and, as a bonus, you’ll get to see the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral and one of the few remaining copies of the Magna Carta.
Getting to Stonehenge
Return train tickets to Salisbury from London Waterloo off-peak are around £15.
When I visited Stonehenge, I went on The Stonehenge Tour. The £28 tour includes transport to and from Stonehenge and Old Sarum and admission to both. The bus can pick you up right from the train station or in the centre of town. On the way to Stonehenge, you’ll get a little history of the town of Salisbury and Stonehenge to keep you occupied!
If you wish to provide your own transport to Stonehenge, tickets are £15.50 for adults, £13.90 concessions, £9.30 for children, and free entry for English Heritage members.
Stonehenge has timed entries, and you must book in advance (especially during the summer months). However, when I visited, the site was not very crowded, so I recommend a winter visit. It may be cold but you’ll be able to see it right away with fewer people around!
Once you get to the Stonehenge welcome centre, you’ll take a 10-minute land train to the actual site.
The Stonehenge Welcome Centre
The Stonehenge Welcome Centre provides its visitors with a history of the site. It also has an exhibition containing some excavated artefacts and some recreated Neolithic huts that were supposedly built near the site. I also found out that during World War I, the area around Stonehenge was the largest military training complex in the world! Very cool.
Before you take the land train to Stonehenge, I recommend getting one of the complimentary audio guides. There are a few plaques around the area, but the audio guide will give you an in-depth history surrounding Stonehenge.
A few interesting facts: No one will probably know exactly why Stonehenge was built, but they know that it was built in three stages. It’s incredible how astronomically correct Stonehenge is, even after all these years. During midwinter and the summer solstice, there are two stones that the sun sets directly over, called sarsens. All around the monument and in the surrounding area are burial mounds called barrows that tell the archaeologists a lot about the people who lived around Stonehenge.
If you choose, the bus tour also stops at Old Sarum on the way back to Salisbury from Stonehenge. It is the site of earliest settlement in Salisbury. It was an Iron Age fort, turned into the first cathedral and occupied by the Romans, Saxons, and Normans. I chose not to go because the bus only made a stop there every hour and I wanted to make the most of Salisbury and the cathedral (you know my obsession with them…).
Once back in Salisbury, head straight for the Cathedral. It’s one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever laid my eyes upon and it has an incredibly fascinating history.
Did you know that the Germans were ordered not to bomb Salisbury because the pilots used the cathedral spire as a navigation point? This is because the Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in Great Britain and the 3rd tallest spire in the world!
It was consecrated in 1258 and was also the first cathedral to found a girls’ choir (in 1991…). It houses the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, built in 1348. The clock doesn’t have a face but it chimes every hour. The baptismal font was built to commemorate the 750th anniversary. Salisbury Cathedral and the Magna Carta are free to see and explore, but a donation is encouraged as the church gets no funding from the state.
The Magna Carta
The Cathedral also houses the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta in its Chapter House. Only 4 copies remain. The one in Salisbury is the best preserved of the four original copies from June 1215. It is written in abbreviated Latin on vellum. Can you believe that 2015 was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta?! It was amazing seeing the document that inspired the Bill of Rights and so many other constitutions!
The Parish Church of St. Thomas and St. Edmund
After marveling at the Magna Carta, head to the Parish Church of St. Thomas and St. Edmund, which was built for the men working on the Salisbury Cathedral. It was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury around 1220. The Church has one of the best Doom Paintings in Europe. It depicts the risen Christ, his disciples, and the judgment of souls into heaven and hell.
The Town of Salisbury
If you have the time, walk around Salisbury. It was exactly what I pictured old English towns to look like: old, beautiful, timbered houses and storefronts; lots of green; and lots of history. I spent over an hour just meandering its streets and taking photos. You should too!